Ami and Gwyn are in their early thirties and have dipped their toes into van life by building out a 2019 Ram Promaster with a 159-inch wheelbase. Based in California, they use their van for weekend getaways. As they become more and more accustomed to the van lifestyle, longer stints on the road may play a bigger role in their lives in the near future.
Ami and Gwyn typically take the van out every other weekend (Amiana gets a 3-day weekend every other weekend). But they both aspire to work on the road! Currently, their jobs keep them tied to their apartment in Davis.
Amiana is able to work mostly remotely, which is a huge perk! Gwyn, unfortunately, has to be on campus to teach in person. But they hope to work remotely this summer during Gwyn’s summer break.
Ami and Gwyn entertained the idea of #vanlife for a couple of years before they pulled the trigger. The pandemic really kicked their vanlife desire into action! Part of their decision to build out a van came from a desire to travel (they are in their early 30s without kids, and the pandemic really crushed some of their desires to travel overseas).
They also planned to use the van traveling for Gwyn’s Ph.D. research, which will occur for several months all around Oregon.
#VanLife for us is all about weekend adventures!
Ami and Gwyn believe that #vanlife is different for everyone! For them, it’s all about weekend adventures! Currently, their home base is in Davis, CA where they spend their weekdays at home working.
But on weekends, they pack up the van and hit the road, with destinations usually within 3-4 hours of Davis. Most nights in the van are spent boondocking. They rarely pay for an established campsite.
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The Van Setup
Ami and Gywn have built a tiny home on the road that is more than adequate for their weekend getaways. The van has all the major functions of a home, in 75 square feet! It has a bed, kitchen, full bathroom/shower, storage and “garage.” This makes it perfectly set up for when they do have more time to be able to get out and explore.
Ami is really proud of the layout and feels as though Gwyn did a great job envisioning the aesthetics of the final product!
The Van At A Glance
|Van||2019 Ram Promaster 159″ wheelbase|
|Van Build Cost||N/A|
|Unique Features||A full bathroom/shower!|
|Bed Setup||Fixed bed on a platform in the back of the van|
|Bathroom Setup||Nature’s Head composting toilet. It lives permanently in the shower|
|Shower Setup||Full fixed shower with a Dura Faucet showerhead|
|Kitchen Setup||Full kitchen complete with a camp stove, propane tank, sink, and plenty of kitchen storage|
|Refrigeration||12 V Truckfridge TF86 with a built-in freezer|
|Cooling||MaxxAir fan, a window on a sliding door, two windows at the head and foot of the bed|
|Heating||Webasto Airtop 2000 STC that runs on gas from the fuel tank|
|Power & Solar Setup||Two 100 Ah Battleborn lithium batteries. DC-DC converter charger, shore power hookup, and 600 W of solar (three 300 W panels from Newpowa)|
|Water & Plumbing Setup||25-gallon wheel-well freshwater tank, 13-gallon grey tank using a 10″ diameter PVC pipe connected to the sink and shower.|
Like most vanlifers, Ami and Gwyn were debating between the Ram Promaster, Ford Transit, and Mercedes Sprinter. They chose the Promaster for a few reasons.
First, they liked the price point. They found a new Promaster at the price they wanted! Second, they thought the layout of the van was optimal for their lifestyle. Since the Promaster is wider than both the Ford Transit and Mercedes Sprinter, they were able to orient their bed from side to side.
When it came to deciding on the best van bed idea, Ami and Gwyn opted for a fixed bed on a platform in the back of the van – there are no moving parts. This is because they wanted to maximize storage in the “garage’ (aka – under the bed). The garage is big enough to store a few large tote bins and/or a couple of bikes.
The van has a split kitchen setup. The sink is located on the passenger side of the van and the fridge and more counter space is located behind the driver’s seat. Ami and Gwyn have permanently installed a Truckfridge TF86 12 V fridge with a built-in freezer (which is perfect for their ice cream habit!)
The kitchen also features a portable two-burner camp stove, sink, fridge and plenty of kitchen storage! The stove is stored in the top kitchen drawer when not in use, which opens up counter space. Then Ami or Gwyn puts it on the countertop whenever they cook. The stove quickly hooks up to an 11-pound portable propane tank located under the sink in the kitchen cabinet.
They only use propane for their camp stove. And they open up a window and turn on the fan for ventilation whenever they cook (carbon monoxide buildup is dangerous).
For eating meals and working, the van is equipped with swivel seats for both the driver and passenger seats. Ami and Gwyn swivel the seats around at least a couple of times each day! They are currently constructing their own desk/table to save money.
In the bathroom, Ami and Gwyn installed a Nature’s Head composting toilet. It lives permanently in the shower and they only have to move it when they empty the “solids” portion.
When it comes to showering, the van is equipped with a full-fixed inside shower. It has a 4-gallon Bosch hot water tank which Ami and Gwyn heat up for about 15 minutes before they shower. This usually takes about 50 amps of battery power to heat up the water.
For the van’s water system, the sink and shower are both connected to a 25-gallon Class A Customs freshwater tank located above the wheel-well in the back of the van. The water is pumped through a hot water heater that allowed Ami and Gwyn to plumb the shower and sink for both cold and hot water!
With wastewater, the dirty water from either the sink or shower drains to a 13-gallon grey water tank under the van.
As for heating and cooling, the van is equipped with one MaxxAir fan. And Ami and Gwyn installed CR Lawrence windows so that they have a window that opens on the sliding door and two windows that open at the head and foot of the bed. They do not have an AC. But so far, they have not needed AC.
For heating, Ami and Gwyn installed a Webasto Airtop 2000 STC. It taps into their fuel tank and it is very efficient. They really like the Webasto so far. Although, it was a pain to install (the installation instructions are lackluster) and it does not work well above 5,000 feet in elevation.
Ami and Gywn go back and forth on whether they would get a Webasto again. While it is a good product, there are others on the market that seem more flexible with elevation and less costly.
When it comes to power, the van has a great electrical system setup. It is equipped with two 100 Ah Battleborn lithium batteries that can be charged three ways: solar, DC-DC converting using the van’s alternator and a shore power hookup.
But Ami and Gwyn mainly charge the batteries with solar and the DC-DC converter, while they rarely find the need to use the shore power.
For solar, the van has 600 watts provided from three 300 watt Newpowa panels. On a sunny day, these charge the batteries in a few hours (thanks, sunny California!). Ami and Gwyn feel as though they overbuilt the solar panel array. But they don’t regret it at all as they have never had an issue fully charging the batteries most days.
Pretty much everything in the van is 12 volt – from the lights to the fridge, USB chargers and water pump. The only thing that is not 12 V is the Bosch hot water heater. For any 110-volt appliances, Ami and Gwyn installed a 2000 watt inverter.
When it comes to improvements or things they would change, Ami and Gwyn are emphatic about how they love the van as it is! But sometimes they do find themselves talking about doing a different layout if they were to ever build a second van. But this van is pretty spot-on for their first build.
READ MORE: Check out this post on other great vans for camper conversion.
Living the Van Life Lifestyle
Ami and Gywn finished building out their van in June 2021 and have been using it for adventures ever since. As they only travel on weekends, they only really budget about $300/ month extra for gas.
Otherwise, when camping, their living expenses are about the same. They make all of our own food in the van (they rarely eat out). And when they’re on the road, they generally find free activities/hikes.
So far Ami and Gwyn say that the best part of van life is just how awesome it is to hit the road and see where it takes them! They usually have itineraries for their trips. But they always find little gems on the road that they would have never otherwise discovered.
And the most rewarding thing about this lifestyle is that it gives Ami and Gwyn a chance to connect as a couple! Their adventures are just about them having a fun time!! They love going on hikes (their favorite activity), and they usually read books in the van in the evening or watch a movie downloaded on one of their phones.
When it comes to hardships on the road, on a day-to-day basis, finding a spot to sleep/boondock every night can be a challenge They really don’t like paying for established campgrounds. So like a lot of van dwellers, Ami and Gwyn use apps to help them find the best free places to camp.
The worst thing about the van lifestyle for Ami and Gwyn is that the cost of gas (especially in California) is painful! The van usually gets 17 miles per gallon, which is pretty good for a cargo van. But it can get really painful on a budget when gas is $5/gallon.
They also do not appreciate the times that people have honked at them in the middle of the night when they’re sleeping.
Downsizing their lives into a van was not really an issue, since they still have an apartment and have not had to fully downsize yet. But if they lived full-time in the van, Ami and Gwyn would put their apartment belongings in storage. They wouldn’t have a hard time downsizing, though, because they have all the van life essentials in the van already!
Ami and Gwyn both love their morning coffee routine and say it’s so nice and cozy to wake up to some beautiful views while drinking a hot cup of fresh coffee! And neither could see van life working out without their composting toilet.
When it comes to encouraging others to explore #VanLife, Ami and Gwyn want people to know that Van Life really is a lot of fun, but don’t walk into it lightly. It is tempting to just quit your job, build a van and hit the road (Instagram makes that look so easy!).
In reality, it’s important to understand how vanlife will impact your life. Like how will you afford your van? How will you make money on the road? Do you have emergency savings? Do you have health insurance? etc.
If you have a partner, are you two on the same page regarding the build/vanlife? And lots of other questions they feel you should ask yourself before diving in!
Top Mobile Apps:
READ MORE: Learn more about 20+ mobile apps to make life on the road better HERE.
Most useful items:
- Nature’s Head composting toilet – They never have to search for a bathroom, which is awesome!
- Dura Faucet shower head – It is low-flow, and you can turn off the flow with a little button to conserve water while you’re soaping up
- Cordless handheld vacuum – It’s rechargeable with a USB, and having a clean van is ESSENTIAL!
- Webasto Airtop 2000 STC heater – Great for warming up the van in chilly places.
READ MORE: Read this post to learn more about other great van life essentials.
The Van Build
Ami and Gwyn built out a 2019 Ram Promaster with the 159-inch wheelbase by themselves with occasional help from Amiana’s parents. But looking back, they could have done the build themselves 100% without a problem.
For insulation, they used three bags of Havelock wool for insulating the ceilings and walls and a 1″ thick rigid polyiso for insulating the floor.
The floor itself has three layers. It has a 1″ polyiso (insulation), 3/4″ plywood subfloor and Mannington luxury vinyl plank for the final floor. The vinyl plank flooring is waterproof, resistant to abrasion, and has minimal expansions/contraction in cold/hot weather. So far Ami and Gwyn love it!
For the walls and ceiling, they used 1/4″ thick tongue and groove pine slats. Home Depot carries these pine slats (they come in a pack of 6). It’s worked very well for them, and the thinner pine slats save on a TON of weight from other options!
Set a budget! Spend time before purchasing anything (even the van) to make a fairly detailed list of things you’ll need to purchase for the van… a cost estimate, so to speak.
Ami and Gwyn built the cabinets from scratch and are glad that they did. They also installed CR Lawrence windows themselves, which opened up the van for ventilation and lighting.
And with lighting, the van is equipped with Acegoo 12 V LED lights.
For storage, Ami and Gwyn built overhead cabinet storage, kitchen storage, and LOTS of garage storage! In fact, their garage is big enough to hold a few large tote bins and/or a couple of bikes. Storage space was definitely prioritized in the design and build.
And the van has a 120-volt shore power plug-in. But if they were to redo the van, Amy and Gwyn likely would not build it with the 120 V shore power. They feel that shore power is super redundant with the solar panels and DC-DC converter and it is kind of expensive for rarely ever using it.
They WOULD, however, still have a 120-volt inverter which they use constantly for their water heater, charging their camera batteries, computers, and other 120-volt AC appliances and devices.
Ami and Gwyn are most proud of the layout! Gwyn did a good job envisioning the aesthetics of the final product.
The hardest part of the van build for Ami and Gwyn was just figuring out how to piece everything together. When you’ve got 75 square feet to work with, with walls that aren’t straight, in a machine that moves 80 mph down the road, piecing the puzzle together is daunting!
And Ami says the worst part of the installation was installing the Webasto heater.
Most of the van was built in its entirety before Ami and Gwyn hit the road for their first adventure. They’ve only made some very minor adjustments since then.
And when it comes to giving advice to anyone considering building out their own van, the most important thing is to set a budget! Spend time before purchasing anything (even the van) to make a fairly detailed list of things you’ll need to purchase for the van… a cost estimate, so to speak.
Building out a van can be a big upfront cost! Setting a concrete van-build budget was very important to them before they purchased the van as they would never want to go into debt for a purchase like this!
And for resources to help you plan your van build, Ami and Gwyn relied a TON on Youtube and Instagram. They didn’t use specific channels, per se. But they found a lot of their information through various YouTube channels.
And for the electrical setup, they purchased a wiring diagram from explorist.life, which they 100% recommend when it comes to designing and installing the van’s electrical system.
If you’d like to find more information about the van’s look and feel be sure to connect with Ami and Gwyn on Instagram!
Christopher Harvey is the founder and primary content creator for Called To Wander and Van Life Movement. He lives and travels full-time in his RV with his wife Lindsay and their two Australian Cattle Dogs. Passions include helping other people understand how to life a nomadic RV lifestyle and studying and planning an epic van build to drive the Pan American Highway in 2023.