Van Life Tour – Solar Powered Off-Grid Camper Van on a Budget

Van Life Tour – Solar Powered Off-Grid Camper Van on a Budget

in this video we’re giving you a tour of our budget campervan conversion for the past three years and the summers we’ve been using this campervan to live in to work and to travel it’s a 2002 Ford e-150 and we bought it originally for $5,000 Canadian when we first got it it was just a passenger van with a bunch of seats in the back so we removed those and we created on a really low budget just a nice functional livable space before getting to the tour we want to say a quick thank you to Squarespace for sponsoring this video we’ll give you more information at the end now let’s go take a look at our camper van so when you first come in we have the kitchen lounge and entrance over here we built a little drop-leaf table so it just opens up like this on this door we have some soft storage we actually made this out of a shoe rack and we cut it up into several different pieces and used it pretty much everywhere in the van this is kind of the kitchen stuff so we got spices some cutlery can opener those hand sanitizer here and down here we have our water purifier our curtains rubbing alcohol some garbage bags over here is our trusty cooler very low-tech food storage we don’t actually put ice in it because it’s too complicated and annoying so we mostly buy food that doesn’t need refrigeration but for fresh fruits and vegetables and things like that we try to buy them every couple days and eat them right away for water we have a total of five gallons of water so we just carry two of these big jugs here these will usually last us a few days and that’s the one thing that we got to keep up with really is every time that we can fill up water we because running out really sucks for cooking we just have a small butane stove over here’s our clothes basket this is where Matt and I keep both of our clothes so it gets pretty messy pretty quickly and this is definitely not an ideal way to store clothing it’s it drives us a little crazy trying to keep everything organized so that’s why we put this blanket on top and then it makes it look like it’s tighter than it really is this is probably the weirdest thing in our campervan I’ll reveal it now we have a toilet right in the middle of the whole van so we just line the bucket with a biodegradable plastic bag and we put wood chips on top of anything that we do in there we never pee in here because mixing the two can make it smelly so we use a pee bottle instead because we made the toilets so enormous we’re able to store toilet paper and the box of bags in there and some wood chips as well our first summer in the van was really really hot and we were very uncomfortable we had this thermometer and sometimes the needle was all the way off the chart because it was so hot in here so we came up with a few different things so that we could be a little bit more comfortable in here first we are always looking for shade and that helps a lot so that the van doesn’t heat up too hot the second thing is this really cheap sunshade that goes on the windshield and it’s the best 10 or $15 we’ve ever spent we put it up everywhere we go and it just helps keep the Sun out of the van we bought this little fan that’s a lifesaver and it runs off of our solar power battery and it can run all day and all night and it hardly uses any power and then probably the most important thing is last year we installed this roof vent it’s just a little round one you just pop it open that runs off of our 12-volt battery and you can just turn it on here and so that way when we have the side windows open it’s sucking hot air out and drawing fresh air in and creating a lot of air circulation and so this way the van is probably 10 or 20 degrees cooler than it was that first summer another thing we did is we added a piece of foam and a carpet to the floor to make it more comfortable so when you’re in a van where you can’t stand up you end up being on your knees all the time looking through the cooler folding clothes and basically doing all of your day-to-day living and so you can see here we’ve got a area rug a little piece of foam and then there’s the original carpet there and just having those three layers makes it a lot more comfortable to live in here for the bed we built a super simple platform with a piece of plywood four by six and then some two by four four legs this was a super simple construction we’re actually surprised that it’s still holding but this we’ve had no problems with this whatsoever the only thing that we did change is we added two strips at each end just to solidify where we sit all the time and then we also bolted it to the frame of the van and this is definitely our favorite feature of the whole van is our retractable bed so it has three positions bed for sleeping super lounge for lounging and then work mode which is how we set it up when we spend a ridiculous amount of hours sitting and working at the computer so basically this is a really simple system that we’ve developed there’s two sets of sticks two different heights this is workaholic mode with the tall sticks so we just remove these two stick we can then put the shorter ones in and as you can see it’s really strong we glued and screwed a piece of wood here and all the weight is onto that piece of wood so it’s really strong and then we just remove all the sticks to go into full sleeping mode and just to show you how it works we glued and screwed another strip of plywood here put some pretty heavy-duty door hinges and then it’s just another piece of plywood like this that’s on the hinges and because we have a pretty thick futon we don’t feel this bump at all another thing we love about this van is all the windows so sometimes when we’re apart by a lake or by some mountains we just get a beautiful panoramic view and then we also sometimes get an amazing view of a Walmart parking lot there’s more soft storage like I showed you earlier with that shoe rack we put some here which have our little piece of soft storage on the side of our bed and then we also have more soft storage back here we store most of our stuff under the bed so we have these long plastic bins that we can pull out like this this one has warm clothing for the shoulders seasons and flannel sheets and over here we have our tool box and in this other plastic bin we have extra parts and other tools that we might need to fix the bin so we tried to find a storage spot for every item but the reality is that this is a tiny space and that wasn’t quite possible so we just end up shuffling things around so at night we might put some of our bags in the front seats some stuff might go back here and yeah that’s just the reality for power we installed 300 watts of solar panels on the roof and we have a 155 amp hour battery stored right here underneath this table this is our charge controller our inverter is down here and then we plugged in a power bar so we can plug in our laptops and it’s a little bit easier like this and we love it we’ve been using it a ton it’s provided a lot more power than we thought it would we can both use laptops all day and one thing that we would like to add is a small 12-volt fridge and I’m pretty sure the system could totally handle that side note we got the flexible solar panels but if we were to do it again I don’t think we would get the flexible solar panels they don’t seem to last as long and as you can see on the roof here they seem to be a little bit damaged after three years and I just don’t think it’s as good of an investment as the rigid solar panels another modification we did last year is this fabric that we added to the ceiling so we just took an old bedsheet and then we took some old pieces of wood to finish it and mount it onto the top for privacy all the windows are tinted there’s also some blinds that came with the van we added some curtains and then we also added just a metal string across here and some homemade curtains to cut off the cockpit from the to the van down here we have a carbon monoxide detector and then up there we have a smoke detector as you can see we kept this can’t prevent conversion really simple and low-tech we didn’t want to install any really complicated systems probably the most complicated and expensive thing we put in was the solar power system which we love and we’ve used every single day that we’ve been in the van but a cheaper way to get the same amount of power would have been to just install one house battery and have it hooked up to our alternator since we do so much driving we love this camper van it feels just like home in here we spent three amazing summers living and working and traveling in this van we did buy a van that has turned out to need a lot of repairs every summer so that can definitely get expensive and annoying when we’re on the road and we need to stop constantly to get things fixed and often we’re in a rush because we’re working and we can’t necessarily stop to learn how to fix things ourselves so we have considered buying a newer van that would maybe need fewer repairs and we’ve also noticed that when we’re spending long days editing in the van it can start to feel a little long just being in this seated position all day long and so we do want to look into getting a high-top van that we could stand up in but that luxury does have a pretty hefty price tag so we’re kind of at the point where we’re looking at alternatives and we haven’t quite decided what we’re gonna do yet one thing that has saved us a lot of money with this van is the fact that it’s pretty stealthy it’s not the stealthiest van out there but we’ve never been kicked out of any place where we’ve stealth camped and so we have been able to save a lot of money by not staying in so many campgrounds again we want to say big thank you to Squarespace for sponsoring this video and in case you’re wondering sponsorships like these helped us fund the channel and keep it going if you’re looking into creating a new website Squarespace is basically a one-stop shop that makes it easy to build a website even if you have no experience you can get domain names website templates and set up an online store all in one place and they even have 24/7 customer service it’s just a really nice platform that’s easy user friendly and it’s great for people like us who don’t really know anything about building websites you can start your free trial today at and you can also get 10% off your first purchase if you go to Squarespace comm slash exploring alternatives be sure to subscribe to our channel we post a new video every Sunday

100 thoughts on “Van Life Tour – Solar Powered Off-Grid Camper Van on a Budget

  1. Join me by honoring the 59 Americans and Love Ones that were killed in the Massacre in Las Vegas.   Help us fight evil for 59 Days by Love and Service to Others. Make a difference to someone's life, today. There are thousands of ways you can help in your local area, or overseas. Please share and let us plant the seed of Kindness and Love to the World!

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    (Under Construction for a blog)

    Day 5 (Plant a seed & share) 
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  2. I would try it for the experience. I would like a van that i could stand up in. You could add a high top to your van just like hobo ahle did to her van. Newer doesn't mean less maintenance, just look at tiny home tours and their class a. Just find a van that's been well maintained with receipts.

  3. Good to know that bark chips work so well you can have it right next to you in a tight space. That is the most useful information I got out of this video. The bed and sticks was the second. Thank you for the tour!

  4. This is the first van tour I have seen that includes a carbon monoxide detector, a smoke detector, and a thermometer! Have you noticed any power loss from the solar panels or is it just cosmetic degradation? I always thought that solar energy was derived from photon energy that buries deep into the silicon substrate. Now I'm seeing tech that picks off the first 3 microns of bulk silicon making it very flexible!

  5. Thank you for this video….I've been trying to decide on solar or house battery. Still not sure….I have a 2005 Chevy Explorer High Top Van. Still in the build out stage….Safe travels…

  6. Wow! J'aime à quel point vous êtes honnêtes dans cette vidéo! Ça fait du bien! Merci! Aussi, votre montage est parfait!

  7. I love that you have a little plant in your van! 🙂

    Also, about the solar panels: I'm currently living in a Van with 2x100W flexible panels and I'm quite happy so far. Buuut they're just 3/4 years old. In the video, your panels look like the upper layer somehow came away, like air bubbles under the thin foil my panels were delivered with. :/
    Do you actually see a drop in the power they generate and how severe is it? From what I've measured, "road dirt" from two months without cleaning reduced my max wattage with full sun from 200W to ~170W.

    Oh, and I can run one laptop and a pretty bad/cheap 12V fridge from my system most of the times, though when there's no sun for more than two days, I have to make sure not to run the fridge all the time. It's just a cheap box without any temperature control, so it just runs on 100% as long as it's plugged in, drawing 4.5A.
    Good thing that no sun normally means less cooling required… But I wouldn't use it to keep meat for longer than a day. It's fine for products from milk or other vegetarian stuff.
    I'd really love to have a fridge which automatically turns of when the target temperature is reached. I think that'd save a lot of power.

  8. I can't remember if you two explained how you two met. you guys are amazing! Also what I find that might be challenging is hooking up the solar power and battery system more than the build itself. Is it difficult? Thanks for sharing

  9. You should consider buying a used Uhaul box truck, the amount of extra room would more than double. Another thought is to get your extended roof added later, buy one thing at a time.

  10. I have the exact same van and moved into mine in May. I am curious if you would consider re-doing the bed as a split bed that could double as benches? I am thinking about doing that.

    My main question is I saw lots of bolts used to mount the soft storage and the bed. I haven't tried drilling into my liner yet – how difficult was it to get those things mounted? Do you have an electric drill you keep on hand or did you do it with a hand drill?

  11. Loved the tour and that you guys just kept it simple. We've got a similar set up but we're just contemplating solar or no solar to get some power in the van – we need power! So thanks for the solar tips – loved watching 🙂

  12. Great looking van! My grandfather had three of these E-Series vans (a 1994 Club Wagon, a 2000 E-150 Chateau and a 2006 E-150 Chateau) and drove about 100 miles a day with both of them. They are rock solid vans that will last you 200,000 miles or more.

    However, it's a shame that Ford no longer sells the passenger version of these vans. The new Ford Transits don't hold a candle to the E-Series vans that they replaced. The new Transits are built overseas on a much weaker frame while using smaller engines, cheaper parts and flimsy plastic panels. The roofline might be higher, but that's the only good thing about the Transit in my opinion. Unfortunately, there aren't much better options with Chrysler either. The only U.S. built van in existence now (aside from the E-Series cutaway model) is GM's Chevy Express and GMC Savana.

  13. I have a couple suggestions that might interest you. At the side doors you can put a small trap clamped to the rain gutter and out at the front edge it makes a nice sun shade and keeps things from drifting down from trees while cooking I think mine is 6 x8 I can drop the unused half down over the front of the doors and now I have a privacy cover when I use my bucket toilet. You can do the same thing at the back doors. I put a desk floor protector on the floor it keeps the carpet clean and you can still see the pattern. Great for muddy days.

  14. if you read this, could you please tell me how much the solar panels, the battery and the other thing hanging on your wall cost (that box)…how hard was it to install

  15. the van is absolutley perfect for me want to live in one so bad since i travel so much for seasonal positions in national parks and other opportunities

  16. ……question…… you guys get credit for my view, do i watch full smallspace ad @ end of vid?……..wanna help dot com……. 🙂

  17. You can get 12v power adapters for your laptops and you'll lose less electricity to conversion. You're converting 12v DC to 120v AC back to DC charging the laptops on the AC/DC inverter.

  18. Have you thought about converting an old school bus? You should google some of these conversions. they are pretty impressive and seem to have all the comforts of home.

  19. Loving yoir channel guys! Well done! I would love to know where did you get the roof fan from. It looks great and exactly what I need for my van. Keep up the good work guys!

  20. I really love your van and your website and even more your attitude when it comes to designing, budgeting and taking the very "balanced" final decision when it comes to a big investments. I think you will eventually need a van where you can stand and the decision is between a pop-up roof or a top up roof. I think a top up roof is a better choice because you live in Canada. Such a roof can be professionally added to your van in southern California (please check in the website of which has a video a bout it). The decision whether to renovate or to replace needs to consider the mechanical state of your van.

    Living in Denmark, Europe, I assume you are looking for a similar design similar to your rental van in Iceland, where you can not only stand indoors, but also cook inside during raining days. Investing in a newer van also gives the opportunity to obtain a better insulation and a fantastic fan so that you could prolong your van residency well into the late fall and early spring. Lastly, I think you should try to find a European van, preferably Ford Transit, which is much more reliable than the Americans, french and the Italian, (not insulting anybody – just my personal experience) but still much lower on maintenance than the Mercedes sprinter. I own such a van and for the last 5 years the repairs have been very minimal and the gas mileage is still wonderful (13-8 km per liter in country/city respectively).

    Good luck with your decision and all the best happiness and health. Please do keep on with your wonderful videos and with your wonderful website. Jonathan

  21. Re-watched this, and am wondering if you still have plans to buy a newer van – or have explored/found an alternative?

  22. Good for you guys everybody else keeps upgrading their system and we never find out how their old system did because they keep upgrading. But telling us about the flexible solar panels was very helpful now I went and bought rigid solar panels instead, thanks.

  23. That's awesome you guys show and prove that you don't have to live in the nicest thing ever people are so picky any more it's pathetic you guys have given me some awesome ideas

  24. Which type of WiFi service do you use when you are in the middle of nowhere? What if I'm not handy at all and I just want to purchase a small RV from the '80s already equipped with bed, table, etc. that I would just need to get someone to add solar panels to, that would not spend so much gas and would be compact? How about by-laws? Can you park anywhere, light up and do your thing even in cities or do you move the vehicle every day? I am tired of moving, would like my own place living simply, off the grid and being able to travel more easily.

  25. Hello, if u decide to sell that Van and buy another one pls send me a message. I am David Williams. I follow u guys on youtube. I am 65yrs old and single, my dream is to live the Vanlife, It is not to small for me. I don't have much but I am saving for springtime to start living that life, I know it is for me. ([email protected]) pls let me know…

  26. I watch the van conversion videos a whole lot lately. Yours is a REAL down-to-earth approach. Good for you! I'd love to know how it's going.

  27. Slats rather than solid plywood would improve air circulation (drying) of your mattress. Watch out for mold between bed and plywood (esp. if you spill something).

  28. I enjoy your videos and they bring back memories from when my wife and I first married. we lived in a van for 3 years painting signs and doing artwork around the gulf coast. We are retired now and I'm working on another van just for road trips to get away from the house. I have subscribed to your channel and hope to watch more of your videos. If you ever get time to read a book, I just finished "The Seed of the Universe" that took me 30 years to write. It's a story on the Biblical creation from the Biblical Hebrew and Greek text of the Bible. It is also taken from the current events in science. I opened the book up for free and put it on Google Plus. You can download it now but after April 2nd, Google will close out everything on Google plus and it will be gone. The book also contains 150 illustrations that will walk you step by step through the creation. … My gift to you. … Enjoy.

  29. You have the skills to put a ratchet holding system for the back of your bed. It would give you two more positions for the pillow end.

  30. credit where credits due for living at that van full time, some stuff i liked some i didnt but nice simple design.

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