Maybe you want to try van life but don’t want to pigeon-hole yourself into the lifestyle by spending all of your savings. Or maybe you want a stealth vehicle that can get through rougher terrain and go unnoticed. Maybe, “small van life” is for you.
Small van life is living out of a van that has less space than more popular vans (such as Ford Transits, Ram Promasters, or Mercedes Sprinters). The price of these smaller vans typically range from $3,000 to $20,000 depending on age and overall condition.
I think of small van life as having two categories:
1.) Older, used vans that are some of the most affordable on the market. It’s fairly easy to find these types of vans with raised roofs already installed, but for a quarter of the price of a new raised-roof van.
2.) Newer, compact cargo vans that are more road nimble and fuel efficient, but extremely small without the option of a raised roof:
My mindset when starting van life was to still have enough savings to return to “normal” life if I didn’t like it. So I knew a smaller van was for me–but I needed a raised roof. So, I ultimately went with the older, used van model of a Ford E250 with a raised roof. But I still test drove some compact cargo vans (such as the Nissan NV200) to make sure I still felt the same.
Floor Plan Designs for Smaller, Used Vans
In this article, we’re focusing on floor plan ideas for Category 1 (the older, used vans). I’ve asked some of my fellow small van dwellers to share van interiors as well as the inspiration behind their small van floor plans.
Chevy G20 Design Idea
Meet Anouk, a solo female traveler who embodies the adventurous spirit.
“My idea with the van layout was to create a simple, functional and cozy space. I wanted it to feel homie, comfortable and a reflection of my personality.”
Anouk drives this 1990 Chevy G20 around the country, filling her days with hiking, biking, rock climbing, kayaking and meeting up with friends. Her van doesn’t have a raised roof but still has a “kitchenette” with table space and a sink, a slightly raised and fixed bed with storage underneath, a ceiling fan and pantry space underneath her kitchen table.
Dodge Ram Design Idea
Meet Jaylena, another solo female van lifer who travels the country with her two cats and pup in her 1997 Dodge Ram 2500! She has a full “house” but still manages to make her van space functional and homey.
“My goal for the layout was to be as minimal as possible while still trying to have as much storage space as possible. Now that the build is done and I’ve lived in the van for about six months, I’ve definitely come to realize that there are so many things I would’ve done differently. I do feel like I have plenty of room to move around, but I regret not taking down the upper half of my van and building it out for more storage. That’s something that I still may even do. Van life is definitely not what you see on Instagram. There is so much change all the time when it comes to the layout. I’m always going through my things, getting rid of stuff and reorganizing to fit my life as it changes. So if you’re thinking about building, just keep that in mind.”
Ford E350 Design Idea
Brenda travels the country in her 2012 Ford E350 with her little pup, Ranger! She completed her van build in November of 2020 and has been on the road since. Her van interior has the look and feel of a cozy Cape Cod cottage and her setup includes some multi-functional designs. For example, her bed is on a fixed frame but she can prop up the mattress so it acts as a lounge futon or day bed if she wants to work or give visitors a place to sit.
“I really wanted my van to be unique – corner kitchen, plant shelf, hammock chair, copper accents, arched doorway, skylight above the bed. My favorite part is how flexible everything is; I can move the hammock around to several different places, prop the bed up as a couch, add a step up to the bed for my dog, or even extend the bed for stretched-out sleeping room. I’m so happy with how it turned out and am proud of the hard work and learning that went into it!”
Brenda nailed it!
Ford E150 Design Idea
Arturo and Alicia have been living out the surfer’s dream life in their retro 1990 E150 down in Mexico! Interestingly, they just sold their van a few weeks ago but their simple and effective van floor plan is still worth sharing. One of the unique things about their minimalist build is the storage space above their fixed bed. Typically, we only see storage like that above the cab, but they built a structure that let’s them store clothes and other lightweight items in the back of the van, above the bed.
“Our van build revolved heavily around surfboard storage! With that in mind, we did our best to balance making efficient use of space, keeping the weight of the build down and using as many repurposed materials as possible. Though we had already put in our bed and sink when we got our bubble top, we did our best to adjust and make the best of our newfound headspace.”
Love their mindset and build execution!
*BONUS*: If you are interested in doing your own DIY van build but don’t know where to start and have concerns about staying on budget, I recommend checking out the Van Life Academy online courses. These courses take you through every aspect of the van build process for six different makes and models, taught by different van build experts.
These are all different small van interior ideas, but (almost) all of these vans have the same basic features:
– Storage space
You don’t need anything fancy to get on the road, and those basic items are the only necessities I’d recommend! If you don’t feel confident about custom building your van, opt for pre-made furniture (like this impressive $1000 van build that only uses Ikea items). Just be sure to secure the items properly so if your van was in an accident, things wouldn’t go flying around. But ultimately, your van is your home so take some serious time to consider what items you need to look forward to living in your tiny home!