Anthony and Sharon are a couple in their mid-thirties from Amish Country Ohio who have recently taken to the road in their custom-built DIY van conversion. Along with Gunner, their 1-year old pup, they have chosen this lifestyle at this point in their lives because they had a desire to live an adventurous life, to see our beautiful country, and to not be unencumbered by too much stuff.
Anthony and Sharon define van life as the ability to see the world in an affordable way while comfortably traveling in your tiny home.
To date, they have been out on the road for over 2 years living in their van full time. They do have family in Ohio and have been allowed to park in Anthony’s parents’ garage if they happen to stop by home in the winter months.
FIND THEM ONLINE!
The Van Setup
Anthony and Sharon have a 2004 T1N Sprinter with a 144-inch wheelbase. Not only is this van their home, but also they pull a 17ft Triumph boat behind it.
One of the most unique and remarkable things about their Sprinter is that it is actually a combination of two separate panel vans that were each purchased for $1,000 and each offered just what the other didn’t.
The taller, rust-free van became the body that they live in while the second, which never started its engine, offered everything that could be used inside – from lighting to the wiring harness.
The Van At A Glance
|Van||2004 T1N Mercedes Sprinter|
|Van Build Cost||Under $40,000|
|Unique Features||Built from 2 separate Sprinter vans where Anthony has custom built everything by hand and they tow a boat with their van!|
|Bed Setup||Platform bed with garage beneath it.|
|Bathroom Setup||Nature’s Head composting toilet|
|Power & Solar Setup||480 amp hours lithium batteries, 400 watts of solar and a 2,500-watt inverter charger|
Anthony and Sharon chose their van because as soon as they decided to officially do van life, she magically appeared for sale a block from their house at the local towing company. The van was used to haul furniture, was a bit rusty, and didn’t start.
Anthony paid under a grand and had it towed to the garage. He got it running that day! A few weeks later they purchased the van’s twin, only taller and rust-free. This would become the body and they would use the interior (everything, including the wiring harness) from the first van.
Both vans were under a grand each. But when it came to the build, they didn’t really keep track of the costs. They just know it seemed for a while that every time they turned around they were spending a thousand dollars here or there! It was expensive! But they do know that they kept it under $40,000.
The build was extensive since Anthony started literally from the frame up. He made everything for it. The ladder and roof rack, the cabinets and bed, the pop-out on the side, and, of course, he painted it. By the time it was done they had everything you could need for comfortable living van life.
In the kitchen, they have a Dometic fridge and a little cooktop built into a butcherblock counter. The van also has a residential faucet and sink giving them the look and feel of a home kitchen. Anthony also built plenty of custom cabinets both above the sink and counter as well as beneath the kitchen bench.
And in the bathroom, the van has a pop-up shower that Anthony and Sharon rarely use as the outdoor shower is much more convenient. They also have a Natures Head composting toilet and a pee funnel for the restroom. They use coconut coir with the composting toilet and it works great.
When it comes to power and the van’s electrical system, the van is equipped with 480 amp-hours lithium batteries, a 2,500-watt inverter charger and 400 watts of solar.
As for the favorite thing about their van, Sharon says the bed is by far the most comfortable bed she’s ever slept in. And Anthony loves the roof rack and light bar he built and installed as they often have to load up the boat in the dark after a day on the water.
In terms of improvements to the van, the only thing they wish for is additional width. An 80-pound puppy can make a small van feel even tinier! And they are considering the idea of having another separate area dedicated to Gunner’s bed.
READ MORE: Check out this post on other great vans for camper conversion.
Van Life Lifestyle
Before adopting the van life lifestyle, Sharon was an assistant manager at a local touristy restaurant. Anthony worked with his dad restoring classic cars.
While on the road they both work a bit. Sharon does some social media work as well as is an independent consultant with Arbonne. Anthony is currently working for his brother helping to restore and paint his 76 Chevelle.
When it comes to van life they were surprised by how many like-minded people they’ve connected with. Although she claims it’s cliche, Sharon says “your vibe really does attract your tribe.” They have made such awesome friends in this community.
And van life has rewarded them with being able to see the incredible beauty of the US! America has such a diverse landscape and is filled with lovely people and because of this lifestyle they get to experience and see so much of it!
On the downside, they have made it their mission to make vanlife as sustainable for them for as long as they can. But it’s still not always easy.
Anthony loves pretty much every aspect of vanlife but Sharon has a harder time with not knowing where they are sleeping at night and not being able to shower whenever she wants to. There’s definitely been some (a lot of) anxiety for her as far as getting the dreaded 3 am knock on the door. But it’s all worth it to continue living in freedom.
Anthony and Sharon have been fortunate that nothing major has broken on the road. But having to find a place to sleep every night is the worst part of van life for them. They spend a lot of time on the coast in Florida and each year see a decrease in available boondocking sites – especially close to the water.
Places that used to let you park overnight now have no parking signs on them. Their budget doesn’t allow them to pay for camping very often. So this has become a problem. They share that it can put a damper on an otherwise perfect day to know that it’s 6:00 pm and they still don’t know where they are sleeping.
Downsizing for van life was not terribly difficult. They were already living in a pretty small house and didn’t own a lot of personal possessions. So downsizing their items was easy. Tragically, in the middle of their build, Sharon’s mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and passed away 4 months later.
They are grateful that they were in a position in life where they could move in with her and take care of her. Sharon’s mom left her a small house filled to the brim with a lifetime of possessions.
Sorting through everything took months and was emotionally overwhelming. That part of the downsizing process is obviously not typical but it was their experience. They kept the house and have a small area in the basement filled with the majority of their worldly belongs.,
Although Anthony doesn’t miss anything prior to van life, Sharon says she misses her clawfoot bathtub, which is clearly not something most people would consider adding to a camper van build!
While living the van life they spend most of the day out on their boat. Their 17ft Triumph pairs with Anthony’s passion for saltwater fly fishing and Sharon’s love of exploring a place from the perspective of the water.
Plus Gunner‘s favorite thing to do in the whole world, besides hunting rocks, is swimming. The perfect day for Anthony, Sharon and Gunner as a family is being out on their boat in the ocean. Their love of water is why they chose the van life lifestyle in the first place!
One thing they want everyone to know about van life is that the van life lifestyle isn’t always easy but so far it has been very much worth it!
Traveling With Dogs
In May 2021, they welcomed a Golden Retriever puppy named Gunner into their family. At 10 months old he weighed 80 pounds! The biggest reward of traveling with Gunner is when he wakes up in the morning he is super snuggly and wiggles his way in between Anthony and Sharon and just cuddles for a while.
After that, he is on the move until it’s bedtime and you better keep up! He immediately understood that the van is his home and to go potty outside. He’s had no accidents.
But it has been a challenge living van life with a dog. Their space seemed to shrink overnight and Gunner is very energetic. He needs constant exercise and that’s a little bit hard to do on traveling days. But they’re figuring it out as they go!
Top Mobile Apps
Anthony and Sharon have a little bit of a unique situation because generally, they look for fishable water in beautiful locations. So they don’t really care if they’re spending the night in a parking lot as long as during the day they’re on the water.
They go to iOverlander first, though they say it’s remarkable how many spots on iOverlander used to be open that are now closed. Is this because of an influx of vanlifers? Are people disrespecting the spots and trashing them? Or were they never really open to begin with and people overstepped boundaries?
They don’t know. But they would say it would be wise of all of us to make sure we leave spots better than we found them. And they know that’s the goal for us and all of our nomadic friends.
They also use FreeRoam, Campendium and FreeCampsites.net in addition to their $50/year Boondocker’s Welcome membership. This membership provides a ton of places you can stay, some in gorgeous locations.
- Roadtrippers is good for finding fun things to see on their route.
- GasBuddy is great for checking fuel prices
- INPS to study up on the national parks before we visit.
And there are a handful of apps they’ve had recommended from other van lifers, but they’ve rarely used them to date:
- Drive Weather (weather app)
- Forest Service Roads (camping and outdoor activities website)
- US public lands (camping and outdoor activities app).
- Hip Camp (camping app)
- Onx public hunting land (on BLM land @ $30/Year)
READ MORE: Learn more about 20+ mobile apps to make life on the road better HERE.
Most Useful Van Life Essentials
- A cast-iron skillet can be used for stovetop meals and campfire meals.
- The coconut coir used for our composting toilet makes that job much easier.
- A collapsible tub in the sink to collect dishwater instead of letting it drain into the gray water tank.
READ MORE: Read this post to learn more about other great van life essentials.
Anthony and Sharon built their perfect van for van life in a very unique way. They purchased two used vans and took the body of one Mercedes Sprinter and stripped it down to the frame. Then they took the inside components of another Sprinter and built out their perfect home on the road.
The vans together cost them around $2,000. And the build, which Anthony did entirely by himself, ended up costing somewhere under $40,000.
Anthony started watching YouTube videos 4 years before they ever started the build! And Sharon stalked Pinterest and Instagram for layouts.
Anthony’s experience as a mechanic and body man was beyond valuable. Without his skill, they couldn’t have taken two vans and turned them into their beautiful home on wheels.
His proudest achievement in this build is the fact that he was able to creatively and seamlessly build their home from two separate vans over the course of 2 years while working a full-time job.
The hardest part of the build for Anthony was rebuilding the engine. But he didn’t have a least favorite part as he truly enjoyed the whole process. They hit the road with almost everything in its place. But they did add the storage boxes and another battery about 6 months later. Their next big project is figuring out a bed for Gunner.
Anthony custom built the cabinets. They are very thankful for his Uncle Ervin allowing him to use their woodworking shop. It definitely made the process much easier. They wanted the lower cabinets to look like something vintage that you might see in your grandparents house. They used “Collard Greens” tinted chalk paint from a awesome little shop called Genevieves on Second.
And one of the most nerve-racking days was when Anthony started cutting holes in the van to install the windows. He dropped off the windows at a local shop to have a guy tint them. When he came back for the windows they looked less than professional. The guy said that he would redo them and told Anthony to come back later.
When Anthony came back to pick up the windows a second time it still looked terrible! But Anthony is a professional and a perfectionist and he finally convinced the guy to let them just buy the tint and he came home and did it himself.
As far as modifications, Sharon claims it is a bit of an oxymoron. Yes, she would add a standing shower instead of their pop-up one. But they don’t have the room. They have a shorter van and if you add the walls for the shower it would be way too claustrophobic. And with Gunner needing that area of sleep, it would actually be impossible.
The only advice that Anthony and Sharon would offer about a van build is that this project has the potential to stretch you further than you thought you’d be able to! It can be mentally exhausting and physically draining.
For part of their build, they lived in the van (which they would not recommend!). But sometimes you just have to do what you have to do! Take a break if you have to but don’t quit. It’s absolutely worth it!
If you’d like to find more information about the van’s look and feel be sure to connect with Anthony and Sharon on social media. Watch their build on YouTube and on their website and follow their past and current wanders on Instagram and TikTok.