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Are you dreaming of your very own vansion van conversion? Today the list of ideas and products that are being generated to maximize space in a tiny van is endless.
Gone are the days when van life meant roughing it. Living in a converted van doesn’t need to be a spartan existence. The industry that has emerged around the van building is churning out revolutionary ideas on a daily basis. The growing demand for minimalist and tiny living has driven a whole new movement, one committed to turning small spaces into something functional and rewarding
Let’s be clear, creating your vansion is not about spending huge amounts of money. It is about thoughtfully creating a space that is perfect for you. You don’t necessarily need a massive budget to turn your regular old van conversion into your personal vansion. You simply need to concentrate on what features will add the most value for you and your life.
We have completed two van builds by ourselves for under $5000 USD each, and through the process of building our vans and researching our builds, we have discovered some truly inspirational van conversion ideas to help create the perfect tiny home, no matter what your priorities. While we haven’t used every idea from this list ourselves, they are concepts that we have seen that give us pause.
This comprehensive list of vansion build ideas is designed to provide inspiration and ideas to help you conceptualize and design your perfect vansion to take you as comfortably through van life as possible.
Top 10 Van Build Ideas to Create a Vansion
These items will help elevate your van life experience and get the most out of your new tiny living space.
- ARB Awning
- Roof Top Deck
- Indoor Shower
- Indoor / Outdoor Kitchen
- Swivel Seats
- Fold Away Tables
- Lithium Batteries
- Compressor Fridge
- Outdoor Lightening
- Onboard Toilet
Vansion Interior Van Furniture
Slide Out Table
Having sufficient countertop space is important in your DIY conversion. You will need ample space to cook and work while not sacrificing valuable floor space. A simple solution is a slide-out table. A slide-out table can be added to bed frames or countertops to provide extra tabletop space for working, meal prep, or eating. You can find pre-made slide-out tables or DIY.
Drop Down Indoor Table
Another simple and practical solution to help create more bench space without losing floor space is a drop-down indoor table. Perhaps not as neat or elegant as the slide-out tabletop, it is going to be simpler and cheaper. You can buy pre-made drop-down tables directly from Amazon, or design your own.
Seats With Storage
Building things in a van with a dual purpose is the best way to maximize space and comfort in your vansion. Bench seats with storage underneath can create a great workspace for those working from the road as well as storage for clothes, gear, or even your electrical setup. You can find plenty of seats with storage online or custom design one to fit your van.
Swivel Car Seats
Replacing the standard front seats of the van with rotating swivel seats was high on our list during our first van conversion. In the end, with only five weeks to complete the build and a tight budget, this idea hit the workshop floor. Nevertheless, it’s a great idea to win back functional space from the van cockpit and make it available for day-to-day living space. It’s an idea we definitely plan to incorporate in future builds.
Adding a drop-down or slide-out table, two other great vansion ideas, can quickly turn the space into a functional place to work from the road.
Drop Down Elevator Bed
To create a living and sleeping space without the need to compromise on space a drop-down bed is an ultimate dream. The only downside may be that you won’t be able to have both at the same time meaning if someone wants to sleep and someone wants to work, a compromise will need to be made.
A drop-down bed uses a suspension system to raise the bed when you are not using it revealing a seating space underneath. You will likely have to compromise on certain aspects like potential storage space, but it will create a larger feel when you lift the bed. Another bonus is that not making your bed each morning won’t make the space feel untidy as you won’t be able to see the unmade bed anyway.
Creating a drop-down elevator bed is a serious undertaking and should probably be left to the professionals or the serious DIY’ers but if you feel up to the challenge, check out this instructional from Drink Tea Travel.
Fold-Down Murphy Bed
Another option for those who want to reclaim floor space during their waking hours is the classic murphy bed. This fold-up bed sits on the wall during the day and folds down to sleep at night. This is another project that will probably have to be DIY because standard murphy beds are often stored vertically and will be too large for most van set up. Check CargoVanConversion.com for inspiration!
Slide Out Bed Frame
A collapsable slide-out bed frame has been a long-time favorite of van lifers everywhere. Simple and cheap to build yourself. A slide-out bed reclaims half the floor space a permanent bed would take up and creates a lounge area during the day. There are heaps of instructionals on the web to help you build your very own slide-out bed.
Slide-Out Clothes Hanger
A great way to save space, keep the van tidy and preserve clothes is a hanger that can slide out from the wall to store hanging clothes. Much more organized than a shelf haphazardly piled with all your clothes, a slide-out closet will help alleviate some of the mess-induced stress that can sometimes accompany van life.
Vansion Kitchen Upgrades
We’ve written a lot in the past about ways to elevate your van life kitchen, but the best way to ensure a great van life cooking experience is to nail the kitchen build. Here are some ideas and vansion hacks that are worth considering in the planning phase.
A kitchen sink, like the Ruvati premade kitchen sink, can be a really great addition to your van kitchen. Somewhere to wash dishes and hands, a sink can be used as extra storage while traveling. Your vansion kitchen sink is limited only by your imagination, DIY skills and budget. You could get by with a disposable water jug, but it’s easy enough to cut a hole out of a bench for a basin and rig up a faucet and foot pump from a water tank. Then again, if you have the skills and the budget there is no reason why you can have an electric pump, and hot water system feeding a regular kitchen sink and faucet.
A Compressor Fridge
A portable camping or RV fridge with a compressor is a huge addition to your van life vansion. While ice boxes can do the job, other solutions like thermoelectric coolers drain batteries and do a poor job of keeping food cool. We highly recommend investing in a quality brand compressor fridge. You can pick on up second-hand for a few hundred dollars.
An oven can really open up your options when it comes to dinner time. Not that you can’t make some great van life meals on the stove, but an oven will certainly add to the versatility of your van life kitchen. Of course, you don’t necessarily need to install space consuming, and expensive full-sized oven. There are plenty of small van life ovens and even stovetop oven solutions available.
Sure, you could carry your wine around in a cardboard box, or you could design or buy a wine rack to maximize style points in your vansion build. Don’t forget to upgrade your wine rack with some bungee cord to keep your precious cargo safe and avoid any messy accidents.
Indoor Vansion Bathroom and Shower
Nothing says vansion like an onboard bathroom and shower combo.
Three vans down and we are yet to have an indoor shower, but it’s definitely been something we have wished for dearly from time to time. If your van is big enough, it could be a game-changer on the road. There are so many inspirational designs online for elegant, functional, and tiny indoor vansion bathrooms.
Hot Water System
Today, LPG instant hot water systems are fast, reliable, safe, and surprisingly cheap! You can hook one up easily to LPG gas and a water supply and away you go.
Van Life Toilets
Much like a shower, we have gone without a van life toilet in three builds so far, making do with public toilets and the great outdoors. However, if you are looking for the vansion of van builds, a toilet is definitely worth considering. This can be anything from a permanent cassette toilet with a removable waste tank, a portable camping/RV toilet, or just a bucket with a bag and an attachable toilet seat lid.
If you do end up purchasing a toilet, we recommend Nature’s Head Self-Contained Composting Toilet, one of the only compositing RV toilets available.
We have traveled with simple portable water containers and we have used permanently mounted large capacity water tanks. There are even designs that mount under your vehicle or over the awkward wheel arch area, saving precious indoor space. In our opinion, a large permanently mounted water tank that is easy to refill will make life on the road that little bit easier than lugging 20-liter jugs around every few days.
Vansion Outdoor Space
If you’re considering the van life, it’s a pretty safe bet that you enjoy spending time outdoors. And, if you plan to travel somewhere where the weather and climate are temperate then there is nothing preventing you from making an awesome outdoor space.
Van Life Awning
A van life awning is a great way to add outdoor space to your vansion. An awning can quickly, easily, and cheaply double the functional space a van can offer.
Today there are plenty of awnings available on the market to suit any size vehicle and budget. If you want you can even create a DIY awning to save money and weight! We recommend ARB awnings for their high-quality construction and simplicity to mount and use.
You can even add walls to your awning to create an even more functional space come rain, hail, or shine.
If you plan to visit places prone to mosquitos, grabbing a mosquito screen for your doors, windows and awning will allow you to keep cool inside or stay outside even when the mozzies are out. You can buy these accessories premade or you can save money by creating your own with mosquito netting and a sewing machine.
Sand-Free Outdoor Camping Mat
This simple and handy mat creates a clean floor to walk around outside on. The genius of this design is that it doesn’t allow dirt and sand up, but sand and dirt fall right through the mat when you walk your dirty shoes or feet onto the mat. A small and simple addition to your outdoor setup that will elevate your van to vansion status and make you and your clean feet the envy of the campground.
Vansion Outdoor Kitchens
Cooking inside is great when the weather isn’t so nice outside, but if you are traveling to gorgeous sunny destinations, having the option for outdoor cooking is priceless! An outdoor kitchen doesn’t need to be fancy, you could simply use a fold-up table and use a camp stove to create a functional camp kitchen that can be set up however you need. Alternatively, you may wish to go the whole nine yards and permanently install an outdoor kitchen set up in your vehicle.
Slide Out Kitchen
The slide-out outdoor kitchen is the envy of van life chefs everywhere. This fully contained kitchen compartment extends out of the car and into the outdoors to create an instant outdoor cooking area. You will need a bit of time, skill, and planning to pull off a DIY slide-out kitchen, but, if you do, vansion status is assured.
A kitchen built in the rear of the van accessed from outside the van is a common kitchen set up in smaller vans where there isn’t room for an indoor kitchen. These vans often come with a hatchback which can act as an awning in poor weather. Our first van, a tiny Suzuki APV was far too small for an onboard kitchen but our outdoor kitchen saw plenty of use.
In our second van, we had our kitchen inside, but it was made of components that could be removed and repurposed outdoors to make a camp kitchen. Our stove was a camp stove that could be easily removed, our sink was a basin that could be taken out from the bench and our bench could be removed and repurposed into an outdoor table by screwing in a set of legs.
We used this van to travel through Mexico so the weekends were often spent cooking outside but whenever the weather was bad, the mosquitos were out, or we needed to stealth camp in a city, we could easily cook inside.
Roof Top Deck
Nothing says van life luxury more than a rooftop deck. Somewhere to relax. A great vantage to watch the sunset. A perfect spot to recline with a book. The van rooftop deck is a stylish and awesome addition to any van conversion. However, making a structurally sound rooftop deck, takes money, expertise, and time. As well, you have to give up prime real estate for solar panels if your rig runs on solar.
Nevertheless, if you’ve weighed the pros and cons and decided to forge ahead with this vansion addition there are plenty of resources online to help point you in the right direction.
The back deck gets top marks for style and luxury but might not be practical for all builds. There are a number of approaches for securing a usable porch to the rear of a van most of them involve a platform that folds down from the rear of the van or slides out of it and is supported by fold-down legs or suspension.
An outdoor table is a no-brainer when it comes to utilizing your outdoor space. Great for meals, to gather round for games, drinks, or get a bit of work done. You can pick up a basic folding camp table relatively cheaply from a hardware or camping store. Alternatively, you can make an existing countertop inside the van removable and create removable legs out of the threaded galvanized pipe and a few flanges. This is an easy way you save weight, space, and money.
Slide Out Outdoor Table
If you can’t bear the thought of pulling apart your kitchen to set up your outdoor table, you might be interested in a more elegant solution. A slide-out outdoor table like this one Tranquila Travels installed will make setting up and packing down your outdoor living area extremely quick. The only downside is your setup won’t be as flexible as a moveable table which you can set up anywhere.
Drop Down Outdoor Bench
If the slide-out table looks a bit too complicated or will take up too much space, drop-down benches might be the way to go. Simple cheap and practical, drop-down benches can easily add plenty of handy space for meal prep or resting drinks. By dressing a piece of ply and attaching to hinged van doors and securing it with wire, you’ll win some extra outdoor bench space every time you open your doors.
Camping chairs are going to make your outdoor space a lot more useable giving you somewhere to eat, sit and relax outside. Lightweight and easy to store, camping chairs are an obvious solution to outdoor seating. You can spend a lot or a little when it comes to camping chairs, but between you and I, we have relied on the same cheap $10 hardware camping chairs in every single one of our van builds!
Permanent Outdoor Light
Permanent, hardwired lights fixed to the exterior of your van are a surprisingly simple way to make your setup that extra bit more functional and enjoyable. You can easily mount an LED spotlight or bar light to the side of your vehicle or to your awning to create an awesome evening alfresco area. You can even install motion detectors for extra convenience and security.
Outdoor Camp Lighting
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of permanently mounting lights to the exterior of your vehicle, or you need a little extra light, you can choose from an extensive range of 12 volts (or 240 volts if you have a converter) camping lights available. You can find bright, functional, low draw lights that are cheap and easy to set up, put down and re-arrange. LED festoon lights will also add to the atmosphere and win a few style points.
A camping hammock can pack down small, taking up no space at all, but delivering a comfortable outdoor day bed to relax, read, and while the day away. Upgrade your vansion with this simple, cheap and space-saving idea!
Fold-Up Fire Pit
Add a touch of class to your nightly fire, look after the grass in delicate or protected environments, or provide a stable place to rest your grill. Fold-up, flat-pack fire pits are a cool outdoor living luxury that takes up almost no space at all.
For many if not most recreational van lifers, an indoor shower is a pipe dream. The expense of an indoor shower, plumbing, and a vehicle big enough to house it is simply prohibitive. This doesn’t mean you need to go without a shower, there are plenty of simple and effective outdoor solutions to stay clean when you are on the go. These are some of our favorites.
The most economical option both in terms of cost and space, a classic camping shower bag can be filled as needed and left in the sun to heat up. These shower bags roll up small taking up a tiny amount of space. They are also extremely cheap with basic bags starting from under $20, more expensive models may include extra features like pressure pumps for a more satisfying shower experience.
DIY Solar Shower
Ever noticed vans driving around with a black PVC pipe attached to the length of their roofs? This is an ingenious DIY solar shower. With a water intake and somewhere to attach a hose with a spray head, and maybe even a temperature gauge, this simple and effective shower gets water nice and hot in the sun and uses gravity for shower pressure, you could even add an intake and pressure release valve so you can pump up the pressure with a bike pump.
Always be careful when adding weight to the top of your car because it changes the stability and top-heaviness of your car. Ideally, you wouldn’t be driving with the shower full. But filling it as needed and using it after being parked in the sun for a few hours.
12-volt Shower Pump.
Plug the power cord into the cigarette lighter socket, drop the pump into a bucket of water (preferably a metal bucket you have been warming near the fire, grab the shower head and away you go. Higher pressure than a shower that relies on gravity alone, a 12-v shower has the additional advantage of being able to be used with any water source.
Shower Rod and Curtain
You have the shower head sorted, complete the experience with a privacy curtain. A spring tension shower curtain rod will hold itself up against open ‘barn doors’ at the back of your van. Alternatively, a hula hoop with some fishing line can act as a shower rod that can be hung from any tree.
Outdoor Shower Platform
A simple idea that will elevate your shower from a muddy mess to a vansion bathroom experience. You can buy or build your own shower platform easily and it’s something that can improve shower time out of site.
Vansion Gadgets and Products
These nifty gadgets and products can add comfort and create the feeling of home from anywhere without using a lot of space or a ton of power.
When you’re shopping around for batteries to run your onboard electronics you will probably come across lithium batteries. Lithium batteries represent the highest upfront cost sometimes 4x the price of lead-acid batteries. But! Lithium batteries can power your devices for longer without being damaged (deeper discharge) and last much longer than lead-acid or AGM batteries. In the long run, lithium batteries are actually cheaper than other batteries. On top of that, they are smaller too!
Nothing says vansion more than an indoor heater for those who travel in colder climates. In fact, in many regions, it is probably a non-negotiable. Heaters come in a wide variety from propane to diesel and even electric. These heaters will keep your space warm and cozy ensuring a pleasant night’s sleep in wintery locations.
This simple and practical solution is extremely helpful when parking on unlevel ground. Get your van stable and on the level by positioning your leveling blocks, and you won’t have to worry about rolling off the bed in the middle of the night.
Scrubba Wash Bag
Even the biggest of motorhomes will struggle to fit a full-size washing machine onboard. The Scrubba Wash Bag might not sound like a vansion idea but after spending a few weeks on the road, you will come to love this little bit of luxury especially if you are venturing out to unchartered territories. Clean socks and jocks can make any day on the road, a little bit better.
Every mansion worth its salt has a cavernous vault beneath it to secure priceless paintings, jewels, and of course piles and piles of cash. While a vansion may not need the walk-in vault, having a safe to secure valuables and documents is a pretty good idea.
A portable projector opens up the possibility for epic movie nights. Either outside when the weather is nice, or indoors when it’s cold or wet. Projectors these days are tiny and inexpensive, and when combined with a white sheet make for epic movie nights!
Space Saving Hangers
If you have a closet on board, these space-saving hangers will help increase the number of clothes you can store in a tiny space, maximizing your storage. If you work (face to face) or just like to keep a couple of nicely ironed pieces of clothes, these hangers are a fantastic solution.
A shoe rack is great for storing shoes as well as other things lying around the van that don’t really go anywhere, or which you need easy access to. There are lots and lots of different premade shoe racks available online. However, we felt the best solution was the use of shock cord and screw in eyelets to make a custom shoe (and knick-knack) rack, right on the wall.
These super simple space savers get slung over the back of the car seats to provide immediate space and organization. Perfect to home bits and pieces that seem permanently out of place.
Vansion Interior Decorating
There are heaps of cheap and effective ways you can transform your living space from something dull and ordinary into a cozy, attractive, inviting space.
Finding a flush wall that isn’t being used for storage can be difficult in a van. Additionally, even if you find the space, hanging framed photos on the wall might not be the best idea in a moving home. A photo string offers a more versatile option where you can hang photos of family, friends, or your travel adventures!
Tiled Splash Back
One way to really kick your van kitchen aesthetic up a notch is the inclusion of a tiled splashback. With an ultra-tiny kitchen, this needn’t be an expensive or time-consuming job and you will likely come to appreciate the effort.
Installing some mirrors around your home on wheels will add to the feeling of space in your vansion. Of course, it will also help you get ready to head out for the day as well.
Add some color and coziness to your van dwelling by scattering a few throw pillows around the place.
Bring some natural charm into your van’s interior by adding a couple of plants. Try to avoid plants that need lots of direct sunlight or lots of messy water and make sure pots are securely fastened!
Hopefully, you have found this information on DIY van build ideas to create your very own vansion helpful. If you have a question or a comment, please let us know below!
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