Hey there! I’m Courtney and I’ve been living in my 1999 Ford E150 high top van named Sheila Van Disco since September 2020. My journey to van life started back in 2013 when I was working in Sydney, Australia and saw a post on Couchsurfing asking for travel companions to relocate a campervan. Within 3 days, I was driving along the east coast with two French girls who I literally met at the bus stop as they picked me up to hit the road.
That trip set off a love for living on the road and the freedom that comes with slower travel — that trip also inspired me to do “van life” in New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland, and Iceland… all before ever getting my rig in the US (albeit those trips were much more short term than what I’m doing now).
Truthfully, living full-time in a van wasn’t even on my radar at the beginning of the year, but I think everyone can relate to all 2020 plans going out the window. In October 2019, I quit a job that I loved (fashion buyer) and moved from a city I loved (Las Vegas) in order to pursue a different life dream — backpacking solo throughout Southeast Asia.
I spent 5 months there until COVID brought me back to the US at the end of March — suddenly I was back living at my parent’s house, a plot twist I never saw coming haha! With a dismal job market and still enough savings in my bank account from my previous job, I pivoted my backpacking dreams to another dream — full-time van life.
This summer I set up Craigslist email alerts on “camper van” and “conversion van” for all major cities around me. While my van life fantasies revolved around beautiful Transit or Promaster build-outs, I had to be realistic with my fixed savings — a more expensive van meant less time I would be able to be on the road without figuring out a way to make money. So, my search geared toward older rigs — Ford Econoline and Chevy G20 were my top two choices for reliability and price.
In late July, I saw my van pop up — it had high mileage (224K), but was in my price range and checked off many of the boxes I was looking for in a van — ability to stand up (…almost. I’m 5’7 and can’t fully stand), mechanically sound, stealth, no rust, & a blank slate.
A family friend did a super minimal build out for me — ripped out the carpet in the back, installed a plywood subfloor and vinyl flooring, and built a fixed bed. Materials cost $150 and I was able to outfit the van 90% secondhand by utilizing Facebook marketplace, thrift stores, curb trash, etc., which kept my costs down a ton. I didn’t start with a solar setup, fixed kitchen, bathroom, etc. Instead my van had a secondhand RTIC cooler, camp stove, foldable table, and some battery packs for power (I actually recently upgraded to a Jackery and flexible solar panel). Point being — Sheila is cute, but she’s definitely not fancy!
During van research and build planning, it’s so easy to get wrapped up comparing your van to other vans — or thinking you NEED something in order to do van life. Everyone’s van needs are different – and my advice to those interested in van life or starting their build is don’t feel like you need to have the perfect build before you take off.
I thought I wanted a countertop with a hand pump sink in my van, but we ran out of time with the build before I took off. Now, it’s been 3 months and I’m so glad I didn’t include either of those! As you live in your rig, you’ll discover ways to upgrade your van – in the beginning just focus on the basics, and GO.
I feel incredibly grateful for my van and the life I have carved out on the road – more time outdoors, more time spent on the trail, exploring areas of the country I’ve never been to before — I even recently started working on a project I’ve had in the back of the head for several years, selling thrifted clothing and home decor I find on my travels (@roadscoresvintage).
However, I think it’s important for anyone living or wanting to live in a van to recognize the immense privilege in choosing this lifestyle – while what we’re doing is usually considered “cool” or “free spirited”, many people live in their vehicles out of necessity, and the same adjectives are usually not granted to those people.
This life is hard, but rewarding — I’ve learned more about myself by traveling solo, in Asia and in van, than anywhere else in my life. The road is the truly world’s greatest teacher – and I’m excited to see where this road takes me. You can follow along on my van journey (and beyond) on Instagram.