Her Phenomenal DIY Sprinter Van Conversion Was Made for Epic Journeys!

Though it may be hard to believe now, this cozy cabin on wheels was once just another sterile, cookie-cutter vehicle. But its very first owners had another vision for the van entirely. With a perfect combination of imagination and determination, they transformed the antiseptic interior into an inviting living space.

Katie and her partner Evan, both 20-something residents of Portland, Oregon, purchased the van in late 2016. Six labor-of-love months later, they were headed down the highway in their perfect new home. The young couple’s love of travel was second only to their love of each other. As they set off in search of adventure that day, they were also beginning their new life together.

As a couple, the journey really began when they embarked on this inspirational but challenging project together. For Katie, the journey would ultimately continue in ways she never predicted. . .

One awesome aspect of this story is that Katie and Evan are fantastic photographers. Click NEXT below to see this vehicle’s amazing transformation from ordinary van to extraordinary abode!

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Let's talk about goals. I set some pretty major goals for myself this year – things I wanted to accomplish in my business, international trips I wanted to take, new skills I wanted to learn. I started the year making 3-6 month goals in hopes of achieving them early in the year and allowing myself time to re-adjust them if need be. – As the months rolled by, I barely made progress. Before I knew it, it was July. My halfway point. I started to feel extremely discouraged that I had been coasting, allowing myself to be lazy and lacking motivation to challenge myself. I let myself feel defeat for a while and chose to just step away from my to-do list. I allowed myself relief from the guilt I had been feeling at the end of each day that passed without crossing a task off that list. And then, to my surprise, I felt a fire inside myself that I hadn't felt all year. Motivation made its way back into my life and I slowly, very slowly began crossing things off my list. Instead of feeling stress and pressure throughout each chunk of work, I actually enjoyed the projects I was diving into. – Currently, my list still has over 30 items on it. That may seem like a lot but it's way better than the 60-some I had at the beginning of the year. Who knows – my list may even be completed by the end of the year. So, just a daily reminder to be gentle with yourself. Give yourself time to listen to what life is saying to you, and if you don't accomplish your goals, you can still try again tomorrow. – 📸: @karolinakk

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Before she ended up living the ultimate tiny house vanlife, Katie’s existence was a lot more run-of-the-mill. After graduating from college, she had returned home to Portland, Oregon. Being fresh from a full-time student existence, she had no savings and decided to move in with her parents.

Katie felt like what she was supposed to do at this stage in her life was to find a full-time “desk job”. She soon landed a position at an Association Management company, which may sound a little dull but which Katie insists she enjoyed. What she didn’t relish was the long, inflexible hours, the two-hour commute and the “professional” dress code (wearing heels every day was a particular drag).

I felt like my life revolved around work and I didn’t have the free time for many other hobbies/activities or to even spend the money I was making.

Meanwhile, across town, Evan was having a similar post-college experience: commuting long hours to a job that took a lot out of him but was only somewhat fulfilling. Unlike Katie, he had his own place — but that was problematic in a different way: it felt too big for one person.

When Katie and Evan met, they bonded quickly and became a couple. They talked frequently in the early days about their shared desire for long-term travel; soon, they were longing to do it together. As Evan recalled, “We talked about different ways to make this happen and ultimately decided that we wanted to travel in a way that would provide freedom, convenience, and simplicity. “

The answer was obvious: a home on wheels. Katie and Evan were ready to leave behind the daily grind and join the vanlife movement. They knew this meant giving up some creature comforts too, but they had some things in their favor: a decent budget, strong design skills and, of course, their love.

Step one: choosing the vehicle. Both highly organized (bordering on perfectionist, by Katie’s own admission), the couple approached this first step with absolute thoroughness. In other words, they generated volumes of wish lists, budget edits and layout iterations before they felt confident in their decision: a used Mercedes Sprinter van.

Of course, there was another hurdle to overcome: selecting an actual van. For these disciplined decision-makers, that meant months of searching for the exact, perfect, unquestionably-the-one vehicle. Finally, they realized that what they really wanted was a new Sprinter. That way, they would able to pick out the precise model/size and exact features they desired. 

The final product: a 2016 4-cylinder, diesel, 19.5′-long Sprinter in tenorite grey metallic with heated, leather seats, a high roof, and the driver efficiency package (cruise control, fog lamps, navigation system). The cost? $42,000.

What a thrill it must have been for Katie and Evan to finally drive off the car lot in their absolutely perfect, custom-designed Sprinter. But of course, they were still a very long way from completing their project. How far away? Six months. How much more money away? $20,000.

Converting a vehicle into a tiny home requires some creative planning when it comes to the interior layout. But some compromises are inevitable.  Some vanlifers opt for convertible/pull-out beds to preserve more space for daytime. Katie and Evan, however, knew that they wanted the convenience of crawling into a stationary bed for a nap whenever they pleased — which meant something else would have to go. Their solution was that instead of a dedicated dining area, they would use a portable tabletop and install swivels on the front seats. 

One of the hardest decisions was whether to go with the 144 or the 170 Sprinter model. Many vanlifers advocate for the longer model (which you can fit a bathroom in), but Katie and Evan determined that their priority was easier maneuverability and park-ability. So they just accepted that sacrifices would have to be made.

Another thing they had to accept was that Sprinter vans come with a special challenge: curved walls. It’s a heck of a lot easier to build something inside a square than in a circle! 

Because of the rounded shape, multiple pieces of the build had to be customized with a hand-held jigsaw. Thankfully, Evan had a little bit of building experience. But for Katie, the project began with a steep learning curve.

The couple were committed DIYers, determined to complete the conversion process no matter what challenges they faced. At the same time, they both eagerly express their gratitude for the “village” of friends and family who pitched in along the way. 

Since they had been dreaming of this project for a year by the time they started, a good amount of preparation work was done by the time they actually started the conversion. Not only did they have the layout sketched out and the materials chosen, but they had also already prepared a detailed shopping list of items they would need for the build.

Even with Katie and Evan’s excellent planning skills, the project took six long months. Partly, this was because they only had nights and weekends to work on the conversion — on top of spending 10 hours a day working and commuting to their day jobs.

It was exhausting, exhilarating, and the hardest thing we’ve ever done as a couple. The blood, sweat, and tears that went into this build created the thing we now call home.


As you can see in the “before” picture above, Sprinter vans aren’t exactly built with a light-flooded interior in mind. So Katie and Evan’s first conversion step was purchasing and installing windows to let the sunshine in — and provide some ventilation to make sure that sunshine doesn’t overheat their home!

Didn’t the windows turn out well? The couple says they get more compliments about the windows than any other part of the build.


Here are the window details: We installed a CR Laurence t-vent sliding door window, three CR Laurence sliding windows, and a Fan-Tastic Vent 1250 roof fan. Looking forward to fresh air flowing through the van!

This photo shows the van’s slider door after installation of the t-vent window, which has two lower sections with bottoms that pop out. Katie says that their window modifications were one of the best decisions of the build. The myriad possible combinations of open windows provide excellent ventilation without even using the fan.

While windows can be great for cooling things off inside, they’re more of a problem when the temperature really soars or drops on the outside. Because glass has a low R-value, hot air flows pretty freely through it — making it hard to keep warmth in when it’s cold out and keep the blazing sun out when it’s a hot day.

Vanlifers know that adding insulation is the key to combating this heat transfer issue. Katie constructed custom-fit window coverings of canvas filled with Reflectix insulation material. Each cover will include two pieces of Reflectix, making the “curtains” sturdy enough to stand on their own. We’re happy they won’t require any hanging rods or snap buttons!


Of course, it’s not just windows that need insulation. Like any house, a home on wheels needs insulation in the walls as well. Once Katie and Evan got to this stage of the build, things became more complex. Since wiring goes underneath insulation materials, they had to have both the electrical and the insulation plans finalized, as well as have all materials on hand.

As you’d expect, Katie and Evan’s preparation steps for this stage were exhaustive. We spent a month or so conducting research and buying all the materials for the electrical system and insulation process. Our schedules really picked up over the holidays, causing the conversion process to slow down a bit. Even so, we have continued to chip away at our to-do list whenever we have free time outside of work. 


The first step of the insulation process was putting down a layer of Dynamat, a thick, self-adhesive insulation material that is great for sound deadening. As Katie explains, This helps the van sound less like an empty tin can when we drive around. To get the maximum soundproofing, they had to cover most blank surfaces throughout the entire van with Dynamat (ceiling, walls, floor, doors, everything). 

Next up was the layer of Reflectix, a reflective insulation material that looks a little like tinfoil-covered bubble wrap. They attached the material with spray adhesive and then used reflective foil tape to make the edges extra secure. This belt and suspenders approach is pretty typical of Evan and Katie, which they readily admit. Although this is a little overboard, both Evan and I are a little particular with how we like to do projects and figured we would rather do too much than too little.

After some rainy day delays (which are a given in the Pacific Northwest), Katie and Evan were able to finish up the insulation process. The next layer was a rigid foam board. Finally, they stuffed every possible nook and cranny with UltraTouch Denim Batt Insulation, a recycled denim product.

Katie also put up vapor barrier boards on the side and back doors (see photo above) to help keep moisture out. After further research, however, they learned that vapor barriers would actually trap moisture! So off they came. Trial and error is the name of the game in DIY builds!

The wiring and electrical part of the build was one of the most challenging. Neither Katie nor Evan had any wiring experience and this was no simple hook-up job. They wanted a serious solar power system that was big enough to allow them to be off the grid for up to five days (i.e. still have power even when there’s no sun). 

I don’t need to tell you at this point that Katie and Evan did their homework thoroughly in preparation for this challenging undertaking. Katie says they spent “countless hours” watching YouTube videos, searching through vanlife blogs and Instagram feeds and asking other vandwellers many, many questions. By the time they’d laid down the first wire, they’d already purchased every last part they’d need to complete the electrical system. 

With all of their advance planning, Katie and Evan went into the electrical project confident that they had it down pat. But it turned out there was still much left for them to learn along the way: the plan had to be adjusted many times as they went.


They began by laying down wires, tucking most of them between the Reflectix and the denim batting insulation layers. This placement helped secure the wires down and avoid rattling while driving. To place the wires behind the correct insulation, it was necessary to drill several holes in the van’s interior frame.

A basic but major part of their electrical learning curve was determining which gauges of wire to use with each electrical items. For those of you keeping track: they used 2/0 gauge between the batteries and the inverter, 4 gauge for the fuse box and fridge, and 12 gauge for the ceiling fan. Add all those together and what do you get? A big pile of wire spaghetti!

Naturally, our ultra-organized team had a system for this, too. They bunched clumps of wire together with Split-Loom cable organizers, securely fastened the runs of wire to the walls with zip ties and used blue tape to seal off and accurately label each wire.


Careful labeling was an especially important step because they weren’t actually able to connect anything yet. First, they needed to put their carpentry caps back on and focus on installing the wall, floor and ceiling boards. Only then could they complete the electrical.

This shot shows the complete insulation/wiring just before the start of woodworking. They built the handsome wooden box to hold the batteries, which will go in the back of the van. You can also see how they boxed in the wheel wells, which are filled with insulation and sound-deadening materials.

For our purposes, we’ll skip ahead quickly to check out their impressive solar setup. The system consists of three 100-watt Renogy solar panels, which they mounted using roof bars from RB Components. These particular roof bars minimized the number of holes they had to drill in the roof.

It was necessary to drill one small hole in the ceiling to run the solar wires through (right foreground). They then installed a clamshell to secure the wires and finished it off with a coat of marine-grade sealant. 

We’re stoked on the turnout!

Katie and Evan’s first woodworking step was installing the door panels. They used 1/4″ birch plywood, which they had first sanded, stained and treated with polyurethane to protect against mold.

Can you guess what Katie was thinking as she gazed at that beautiful slab of wood? Organizational opportunity! We’re having fun brainstorming ideas about the racks and drop-down shelves we want to add to the panels to make them more functional and utilize as much space as possible.

For the floors, they knew they wanted a darker look but weren’t sure about real wood vs. manmade. Ultimately, they went with laminate because the thinner profile of that product would give them a touch more headroom.

The settled on this attractive Hickory laminate flooring. Katie reports that the easy installation was a big relief — the whole install took just a few hours of their work over a weekend.

Here, Katie’s getting ready for the ceiling installation by prepping the centerboard. Using a hole saw bit, she drilled these precisely measured holes that the circular LED ceiling lights will go in.

Katie says that smelling the fresh cedar shavings during this task provided a great incentive to keep working! We can’t wait for the smell of cedar to fill the entire van.

After the floors were in, it was time to tackle the sides. Remember those curved Sprinter walls? Yikes! Not only that, but there were all those beautiful new windows that had to be framed too.

This shot illustrates perfectly why the wiring/electrical install had to happen in stages. The screen gadget on the right is the solar charge controller monitor and below that are some handy USB ports; none of these items could be installed and connected until the wall was in place.

Once the ceiling was in, they were able to hook up their first set of lights! Gradually, they finished the rest of the electrical steps, like wiring the batteries (see further down for more details on that beast of a project). Looking back, Katie says the electrical work was hard but not as daunting as she initially anticipated. Now that I’ve done it once, it’s definitely not as scary or as hard as I thought it would be, but it does take a lot of brainpower and thought.

It was a huge relief to have the walls/ceiling/floor finished after what Katie describes as “endless hours” of work. They were understandably pleased with the result, too — isn’t it an attractive interior foundation? One particularly appealing aspect is the seamless transition from wall to ceiling, which really enhances the sense of spaciousness inside the van. They achieved this clever effect by using the same cedar tongue and groove wood for the walls and the ceiling.

Next up on the agenda was the one thing in the entire build that they actually outsourced: the cabinets. Ironically, it’s also the thing they get asked about the most. Katie says they never regretted their choice to bring in the pros for this part, but admits she does feel a little sheepish when referring to the van as a “DIY conversion”. While it would have been awesome to say this van is completely self-converted, I’m continuously grateful for these trustworthy and spacious cabinets.

Their decision to outsource was vindicated as soon as they saw the final product: the cabinets turned out to be one of their favorite features of the conversion. Katie particularly loves the open shelving section on the upper right, where she keeps books and other items. Each cabinet is super deep, adding more than enough storage for everyday living.

Like all of the cabinetry, the upper sections were constructed of fir. Katie and Evan were completely thrilled when they installed the marine hardware (Seaworld Lock brand), which clicks into place and locks to lie flush with the cabinets. 

Once you click the center of the hardware, it pops out to be used as a handle. They even have a soft close feature. To put it plainly, we’re in love.

Completing the bed was another satisfying milestone of the conversion. Back when they were in the (detailed) planning stages, one of the major decisions was which kind of sleeping setup they wanted in the van. Many vanlifers opt for a convertible bed/seating area to save space in the daytime. Ultimately, Katie concluded that having a stationary bed was an essential part of converting the van into something that felt like a real home.

The couple was also thrilled to see how much extra storage space was left under the bed platform. And they needed all the space they could get! This area is where the propane and water tanks, batteries, electrical controls and much more would have to live.

Seeing the bed in place and cabinetry finished was an exciting turning point in the project. Katie and Evan were able to take a step back and appreciate what they were creating. The months of hard work they’d put in (so far) were starting to amount to something. The van no longer looked like a construction site; it was really and truly starting to look like a home!

Here’s another view of the inside of the build. We’re loving the look, feel, and smell of all the wood. The electrical is officially done as well, so lights are working, fridge is running, and fan is spinning!

With the cabinetry done, it was time to make themselves a kitchen! They were thrilled to finally bring into the van all of the shiny new appliances that had been just gathering dust in the garage. First up was the Nova Kool fridge, which they slid right into its newly built frame next to the sliding door (see previous photo).

Next to go in after the fridge was this handsome stainless steel Atwood two-burner stove. They’d debated whether to install a stationary stove or to preserve counter space by using a portable one but ultimately went for the more solid, built-in appliance. Katie admits having some misgivings about this decision as lack of chopping/prep space can be a pain.

And here is the counter in question. Not much space but it sure is a beauty! Katie and Evan chose classic American Cherry and cut, stained and installed the butcher block themselves. They were understandably pleased with the results!

Katie has mixed feelings about the sink, however. She’s glad she chose this model (Dawn Single Bowl Undermount in Stainless Steel); despite being quite compact, its deeper basin allows her to stack a good amount of dishes. The faucet (an Oletto Pull-Down) is a different story. Katie likes the look of it, but the retractable spray hose is a major pain: due to a too-heavy weight at the bottom, the faucet is continually sinking down into the basin. 

Katie laughingly refers to this sink problem as a “hey that’s DIY” moment. Gotta keep your sense of humor!

For all you plumbing geeks, here’s a peek under the hood.

Some vanlifers opt for a manual pump system, but Katie and Evan went for the convenience of an automatic pump (the SHURflo Revolution). The pump pulls from a 10-gallon water tank stored in the back of the van (they also carry seven gallons of fresh water for drinking). Water in the sink drains into a five-gallon greywater tank. 

The back of the van is also where they keep the steel propane cylinder (a one-gallon Worthington) that fuels the stovetop. Katie says it holds enough propane for at least a month and up to four months, depending on how much hot cooking and coffee drinking is going on.

At long last, the build was complete! Insulation, Wiring, Solar/Electric System, Walls, Floors, Ceiling, Windows, Cabinetry, Appliances? Check and check and. . . Katie and Evan didn’t waste a minute outfitting their new van with decorative elements, practical items and everything else they would need to hit the road (ASAP!) 

We’re at the point where we are adding final touches! The spice racks, hooks, fruit hammock, bottle opener, and cup holder are all tiny additions that make the van feel like our own. We can’t wait to start living in it!

Ready for the inspirational tour??

Here she is in all her vantastic glory! This is the moment just before Katie and Evan took off on their very first vanlife adventure. Everything was in its proper place and every system tested and operational — even so, it must have been a little challenging for this pair of planning perfectionists to finally say, ok, It Is Done. Katie says they reassured each other with the fact that they could always make minor changes on the road.

This attractive Pendleton curtain is one of Katie’s favorite things in the van; she loves how the bold pattern contrasts with the simplicity of the woodwork. It’s also one of the items people ask about most often; unfortunately, she has to break the news that Pendleton doesn’t make the Pecos design anymore (though the company makes endless other fantastic patterns).

Katie and Evan knew that their new kitchen looked terrific — what they didn’t know was how well it would work in real life. They also didn’t how well they would work in the kitchen themselves! If we’re being honest, we were not the best cooks prior to hitting the road. . .

Ever the high achievers, the couple added “learn to cook” and “eat healthier” to their long list of goals for the upcoming year. One place Katie looks for tips and inspiration is a popular culinary resource for campers called freshoffthegrid.com. 

They also have an outdoor stove and love cooking outside as much as possible. But when the biting flies descend (or the snow, or the wind), they’re tremendously grateful for their indoor stove that’s easy to use.

It is so easy to be unaware of how much water you use. When we first moved into the van, we would run out of water nearly every day. 

Managing water use was another major learning curve the couple confronted early on: they learned quickly that ten gallons doesn’t go very far. Another bummer discovery was that filling the tank was a time-consuming, messy pain!

To tackle this new challenge, our determined DIYers turned to the best resource they knew: other vanlifers. Katie climbed into multiple vehicles to observe their low-water dishwashing techniques and other conservation measures. Soon, Evan and Katie were making ten gallons last a whole week and zipping in and out of water stations in five minutes flat.

Another aspect of vanlife that Katie and Evan had to learn through experience was the art of grocery shopping on the road — with a tiny fridge/freezer and limited storage space. At first, they would sometimes come back from the store with more than they could fit in the fridge (and ending up with rotten food they had to toss). Other times, they’d swing too far the other way and not buy enough (leaving them hungry and sometimes far from any open food stores).

Over time, they learned the happy medium between these extremes. Experience taught them that they would need — and could keep — groceries four or five days at a time if they planned ahead carefully. This was more store trips than they initially anticipated, but Katie notes one upside: going to the grocery store often is a good reason to buy more fresh produce!

Screenshot/YouTube/Tiny Home Tours

It’s my favorite bed I’ve ever owned and I always prefer to sleep in it versus, you know, Hotel Airbnb. If somebody offers me a guest room I always choose to sleep in this.

To maximize the amount of sleeping area for two people, Katie and Evan built a bed platform that doesn’t match standard mattress sizing. It’s a little bit wider than a queen, but also a bit shorter. Because of this, figuring out sheets and bedding was a bit of a headache at the start.

Katie says she debated between an IKEA foam mattress and a traditional spring mattress but ultimately settled on another setup entirely: stacked mattress toppers. They purchased two 3″ toppers — one gel and one foam — from Costco and just cut them down to the exact size they needed. And voilà! One super comfortable bed.

Here you see another awesome feature of the sleeping area: barn doors that can swing open on a sunny day to let the fresh air in and reveal the stellar scenery of their current location. Such a nice lounging spot!

Katie likes to have the doors open as much as possible. This is one reason why she prefers camping on wide-open public land, where there’s enough space to let the breeze flow in without privacy concerns. 

On colder days (and especially nights), heavy blankets usually do the trick. And on those occasions when it’s dropped down near the single digits and they can’t feel their fingers? They pull out their cherished Mr. Heater Buddy, a portable, propane-powered heater that thaws their digits in a jiffy!

Screenshot/YouTube/Tiny Home Tours

When opening up the van isn’t an option, they can still achieve decent ventilation by cracking a window to let in fresh air and switching on the solar-powered ceiling fan to pull hot air out. 

On the occasional brutally hot day when the fan just won’t cut it, they can also crank up the trusty A/C. A cool feature of their system is that they can continue running the air conditioner (or the heater) for 30 minutes after turning the van off. 

The sleeping area also makes for one cozy theater! Katie and Evan are huge movie fans; in fact, they end “every.single.night.” with a movie or TV series (Sons of Anarchy was a past favorite). Katie likes the consistency of their screen routine, especially since their days became anything but consistent once they hit the road!

We try to go all out: lighting, Bluetooth speaker behind us to replicate surround sound, and more often than not, some sort of snack. 

You won’t be shocked to hear that Katie and Evan had carefully planned out updates to the van’s exterior as well! After much consideration, they decided to go with a super sleek all-black look.

This wasn’t just a regular auto body paint job: everything had to be black. Katie and Evan had the Mercedes emblems Plasti Dipped black; swapped out the license plate frames for new black ones; and tricked out the tires with these slick black powder-coated rims and hubcaps. Now that is one streamlined van!

I avoid sand and snow but other than that pretty much if I see a road I know I can go down it.

They also upgraded the tires themselves (not for color. . . they were already black!) with top-of-the-line BFGoodrich all-terrain KO2s. These tires are pricey but turned out to be one of the best purchases that they made. The KO2s provide such good traction that the couple never regrets their decision to go with the (cheaper) non-4×4 Sprinter model. They also added a new suspension system that helps a ton with rocking on uneven back roads.  

This Aluminess driver side ladder (in black, of course) allows for easy access to the roof. They love how neatly it fits between the windows. A rear door ladder was also an option but required drilling more holes into the van.

We’ve finally Tetris-ed our way into a fairly organized van.

Storage strategy was another skill they had to fine-tune as they went along.  First lesson: they just brought too darned much stuff. With a little experience, it was soon pretty clear which items they did and did not truly use or need. 

FYI, Katie and Evan don’t actually sleep cross-ways. This is just where the pillows go in the daytime so that they don’t tumble out when the back doors open. We’d recommend sleeping the other way for more space!

Screenshot/YouTube/Tiny Home Tours

I have a massive battery bank and electrical system. . . I kind of get made fun of sometimes for it.

There’s no doubt about it: Katie and Evan built a formidable power system. This is the van command center (from bottom right of previous photo), where they can access the batteries, fuse box, etc. and control all electrical/battery/wiring matters. The battery bank (in the wooden box to the left) consists of a whopping four 165-amp hour Vmaxtanks deep cycle marine grade batteries.

Katie acknowledges that’s a lot of battery, but stands by their decision. The entire point of the van was to take them on journeys far and wide; they did not want to be limited to fair weather locales where they could squeeze out enough power to get by.

Two other essential parts of their power system are the solar charge converter (a Renogy 40-Amp Commander), which regulates the flow of power from the solar panels to the batteries, and the Krieger 2000 Watt Dual Power Inverter, which allows them to charge their 120-volt electronics (i.e. the three-pronged ones like laptops). Since Katie works on the road, a good inverter was crucial. 

They also built in shore power charging capability, which allows them to plug the van into an AC electrical grid in case they want to park next to someone’s house for a while. Katie reports that this hasn’t happened so far,  but still, it’s a nice option to have.

Some may say their power system is overkill, but Katie and Evan have never been without power in all their travels. How many vanlifers can make the same claim?

Nadine Doerle

I also invested in a good “bathroom” shovel for outdoor uses, which is so much better than trying to dig a hole with rocks or your hands (haha!)

A key consideration in choosing between the 144 and the 170 Sprinters is whether or not you can live without a “real” bathroom. Katie and Evan decided they could do without this modern convenience and purchased a portable potty (the Thetford Porta Potti 260B) instead; they report that it’s a little small but has worked out fine.

Another option (in the right situation, of course) is to pull out their trusty SOG Folding Shovel and use the outdoor facilities (pictured here).


As for bathing, they considered not having a shower at all because of how much room it would take up. But they ultimately purchased this Road Shower 2 and were able to neatly mount it to the solar panel crossbars by fastening these custom brackets. 

The shower holds five gallons, which is adequate for one or two showers. It requires a bike pump to pressurize it, which is kind of a pain; Katie admits she’s only used it a couple of times (when she hasn’t had a shower in “a really long time”). So, it comes in handy.

The blood, sweat, and tears that went into this build created the thing we now call home. To everybody else, it may just look like another converted van but for us, this is our travel machine that allows us to explore and adventure through life together.

And they’re off! What adventures lay ahead, they couldn’t say for sure — and that’s exactly how they wanted it. After six months of the double grind of regular work + van conversion work, it felt amazing (if a little strange at first) to suddenly have no commitments whatsoever. Their only goal was a loose one: to explore as many states as they could and parts of Canada.

Fortunately for them, Katie and Evan finished the van just as summer was beginning — which meant they could go in any direction they pleased. They started out by simply heading north. By the time they crossed the Canadian border 300 miles later, they knew where they were headed: Alaska. Getting there was an adventure in and of itself. . .

We made it! 5 days, 15 bear sightings (so far), 150 mosquito bites, 1 dead bird (hit the windshield), 2 border crossings, and over 2,000 miles to break the van in.

They ended up staying a month.

And Alaska was just the beginning. Their first month on the road had been a resounding success: the van was comfortable, safe and fully functional — in short, everything they’d hoped. 

Their odyssey continued across the states and in and out of Canada, with them choosing when and where they would go next on the fly along the way. Because the van was so well-equipped, they didn’t have to rely on campgrounds or other costly accommodations. Most of the time they stayed in primitive campsites on public lands, which are totally legal, completely free and often breathtakingly beautiful, like this spot they scored in California’s Mojave National Preserve.

One of our favorite parts of camping in the desert is the stars. The views at night are something you can so easily take advantage of. It blows our minds that some people have never been far enough away from light pollution to view stars this clearly. Go camp! Go see the stars! It’s quite an experience. . .

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A few years back, I found myself post-breakup feeling bummed about the things I wasn't doing anymore now that date night was gone. I was bummed that eating at my favorite restaurant was no longer common. I was bummed that I was no longer going to spontaneous happy hours after one of us had a weird day. I was bummed that I had nobody to ask to go see the latest movie with. And so one day I just decided that I wasn't going to let myself not enjoy dates just because I was single. I decided I was just going to start doing the date night things I was missing, and I dubbed it "Treat Yourself Tuesday." • I started with a restaurant that had a killer deal for taco Tuesday. I ordered a beer and ate a bunch of $1 tacos and it was absolutely glorious. The next week, I decided to grab a solo drink after class because I wanted one and it sounded fun. The week after that, I went to the movies alone and snuck in candy and a soda, just as I would if I had a partner or friend there. I made it a habit to do something fun by myself on this day of the week, sometimes bringing a book to enjoy during, and sometimes just enjoying whatever it was that I was doing. • Surely, I am not the first and only person to do this. I know that. But there was something so liberating and transformative about deciding that my company was enough. I didn't know it at the time, but it was the beginning of building a relationship with my closest friend: myself. So if you've never done this or the thought of it makes you nervous, I challenge you to go do something by yourself this week! Set time aside for you and let your relationship with yourself begin. It just may be the most important relationship you didn't know you needed. 📷: @thecourtneytyner • • •

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As they traveled, Katie and Evan developed a fun way to add personality to the van: collecting patches from each place they visited, from national parks to famous beaches and everywhere in between. Even in small towns, hunting for this special souvenir became a great excuse to get out and explore the shops and the place itself.

Before they knew it, a year had passed and their collection boasted patches from every single state: they’d fulfilled their dream. The couple returned to Portland as they’d planned.

The year had been everything they’d hoped and more. They returned to Portland exhilarated from their adventures. . . and ready, with all respect and affection, to go their separate ways.

Sadly, they began making the preparations to sell their beloved van. Katie was crestfallen at the prospect of letting it go. But then it occurred to her that purchasing Evan’s share of the van was an option. After all, she’d managed to build a solid, fully remote career over the past year so could afford to continue life on the road.

I didn’t think I was outdoorsy enough, or independent enough, or even self-sufficient. But when I considered ending “vanlife” for good, I was devastated. I could not imagine my life taking any other course.

Determining that it was a possibility financially was one thing; whether or not she was ready to be a solo vanlifer was something else entirely. There were so many daunting aspects to the prospect of being a single female on the road. She didn’t believe that she could do it.

As stricken as she was by self-doubt, Katie also couldn’t bring herself to let go of the idea (or the van). So she made a deal with herself: buy the van, travel and live in it for at least six months, and then reassess. If she chose to sell it at that point, she would do so with no self-judgment or shame.

Guess what? That six month period came and went and she’s never looked back.

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In the last few weeks, I found myself saying "ugh I'm grouchy" like April Ludgate from Parks and Recs WAY too often. I was honestly just being lazy and letting myself get annoyed by things that don't matter. I chose to look at a lot of the bad instead of the good. I was sick and didn't sleep enough to allow myself timely healing. I got off my schedule which allowed for too much time between meals (being hangry is so real). Basically, I was just being a grouch for no real good reason and when I realized it I thought, "wow I must suck to be around right now.” So I decided to put in a little bit of effort and with even just the slightest amount of intention, my days this week have been different. • Here are some of my efforts/intentions: – Let myself sleep in 30 minutes longer than anticipated – Hugged and kissed my partner just a little longer when saying bye – Ate some fruits and veggies for nutrients – Went on a long morning walk instead of straight to the laptop – Watched 3 Game of Thrones episodes back to back at 11 AM – Listened to @rustonkelly's album from start to finish – Made time to call a friend that lives abroad who I miss v v much – Meditated for 15 minutes every single day – Wrote a blog post I've been putting off for 4 months • What is one small effort you make or know you can make to create brighter and more intentional days? 📸: @thecourtneytyner • • •

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While this chapter of my life could have easily gone a different way, I found that when I was forced to sit and spend some time with myself, I actually really like who I am.

Solo Female Traveler. As Katie ventured out on her own for the first time, these words hung like a cloud of anxiety over her head. It felt as if she were on the same journey as before, except without a partner. But as she continued on, her confidence began to grow. With every new destination and experience, she was creating a new journey: one that was all her own. 

Don’t you get lonely? Why don’t you have a male partner traveling with you? Katie gets questions like these all the time — and she understands why; after all, she once asked herself the same things. But what she can see now is that these questions about solo female travel only focus on one thing: absence. They miss all of the rewards that independence and self-reliance can bestow. She does her best to set them straight.

That said, Katie makes sure to get some socializing in! The summertime offers great opportunities for van gatherings, which she loves attending. Just like summer camp, strong bonds are forged among people when they spend morning, noon and night together, sharing food, facilities (and many, many stories).

I just spent 9 consecutive days with the same group, simply because we didn’t want to say goodbye to each other. While there are a million reasons I choose to live out of a van, weekends like this just might be #1.

Screenshot/YouTube/Tiny Home Tours

Katie’s amazing chronicling of her vanlife experience on Instagram and a dedicated site led to an amazing professional opportunity: she is Editor-in-Chief for Go-Van, an online magazine and platform for all things related to vanlife culture. This job allows her to continue the open road lifestyle she loves, as well as share the wealth of knowledge she has accumulated over the years.  

Katie continues to live the vanlife to this day. She has a new partner named Logan; they recently purchased a van to convert together.