Katy (38) is a psychologist from San Diego, CA who travels solo in her 2021 RAM ProMaster. She lives in her van full-time and has been doing so since February 2022.
Previously, she was living in San Diego and spent the past few years building her own consulting business. As a psychologist, she specializes in helping companies with their mental health and well-being initiatives, strategies and resources.
Katy defines #VanLife as a lifestyle that gives you so much freedom. If you like to wander, travel, and explore, or otherwise have nomadic tendencies, it’s a great fit.
Katy got started in van life as a way to research her second book, which is on the psychology of America. She wanted to do field research in a very immersive way throughout the U.S. as she does not think you can truly understand something until you see it and experience it first-hand. She believes that it would have been hard to write a book like this without the knowledge that she is acquiring by traveling in this way.
As a bonus, by the end of that year, Katy thinks that she will know which places she likes the best and can pick a state to settle down in, build a small house, and use the van for long trips.
FIND KATY ONLINE!
This post contains affiliate links to products and services we think will help you best equip yourself to complete your van build. We only include links to products and services that are included in this van build so you can trust our van life community members to guide you in the actual products they have used in their own vans. To read our full affiliate disclaimer, click here.
The Van Setup
Katy has a 2021 RAM ProMaster. She loves the bed lift and the little shelves in the entryway.
The Van At A Glance
|Van||2021 RAM ProMaster|
|Van Build Cost||Around $20,000|
|Unique Features||Bed lift|
|Bed Setup||The bed is on linear actuators, so it stores up on the ceiling during the day, and then drops down at night|
|Bathroom Setup||Airhead composting toilet|
|Shower Setup||No shower|
|Kitchen Setup||Split kitchen – One side has lots of counter space and a two-burner stove, and the other side has a matching live-edge countertop and a bar area.|
|Refrigeration||Dometic fridge 12v/110v with freezer|
|Cooling||Two Maxxair fans|
|Heating||Mr. Buddy Heater|
|Power & Solar Setup||2 x Renogy 100Ah lithium-ion batteries, 400W of solar and a 2000W Renogy inverter|
|Water & Plumbing Setup||12-gallon freshwater tank inside the van and a slightly bigger 15-gallon grey water tank under the van|
Katy purchased her 2021 RAM Promaster new for $50,000. She then put about $20,000 into building it out to have it feel more like her. She believes that it’s super girly and clean-looking and has odd-shaped areas, like an L-shaped sofa and little “caves.”
You have to duck to get into the seating area and the bed only comes down about halfway, so she and Figg (her cat) crawl up there to go to sleep and it’s just super cozy.
Of all the van bed options, Katy installed a bed that is on linear actuators, so it stores up on the ceiling during the day and then drops down at night. She has a really comfy 7” spring double/full mattress.
The van doesn’t have hot water or an indoor shower. Instead, Katy goes to Planet Fitness or an occasional campsite every few days to wash her hair and shower. But her sink swivels around so in theory, she can rinse her feet off outside the van.
The campervan kitchen is located behind the wall that divides the cab of the van from the living area. It has upper cabinets for dry food and lower drawers for kitchen things and personal stuff. Considering that she does not cook much, it’s a good-sized kitchen.
One side has bunches of counter space and a two-burner propane stove, and the other side has a matching live-edge countertop and a bar area. The kitchen also features a pretty big 12v/110v Dometic fridge that’s permanently installed. It even has a little freezer for ice and ice cream!
For ventilation throughout the van, Katy installed two Maxxair fans – one above the kitchen and one above the bed (in case it’s hot at night). As for heating, Katy uses a Mr. Buddy heater for cold nights but wants to upgrade to something else before winter hits again.
The van does not have a permanent propane system. Instead, Katy uses the portable green 1 lb propane canisters whenever she needs them.
And for the water and plumbing system, the van has a 12-gallon freshwater tank inside the van. She can fill up the tank with a 25ft hose and a water filter. And there’s a 15-gallon grey water tank under the van.
When it comes to electrical and power setup, the van is equipped with 2 Renogy 100Ah lithium-ion batteries, 400W of solar and a Renogy 2000W inverter.
And for eating meals and/or working, Katy has installed a butcher block table where the L-shaped sofa/living space is and she typically works, eats, watches stuff, plays with Figg and does other things there.
As for any improvements or things Katy would change, she would probably get a better water pump and build a built-in litter box (the one she made initially, Figg decided to sleep in, so that’s now her bed!).
READ MORE: Check out our post on other great vans for camper conversion.
Living the Van Life Lifestyle
Previously, Katy lived in San Diego and spent the past few years starting her own consulting business. She’s a psychologist and helps companies with their mental health and well-being initiatives, strategies & resources.
Now Katy runs her consulting company from the road and helps companies (including the government and military) design and implement well-being programs.
So far Katy says that the best and most rewarding part of van life is freedom. If you love to travel and are spontaneous, it’s a really good fit for those personality traits.
The freedom is amazing! If you love to travel and are spontaneous, it’s a really good fit for those personality traits.
Katy has also been surprised by how kind and supportive the community is. It’s a different type of community, because you’re not always around the same people, and you may not know when you’ll see someone next.
But the way people treat each other has been incredibly generous and thoughtful. (As she is typing out her interview she is staying at another van lifers sister’s house in Oklahoma because he knew that she needed a place to park while she was there!)
When it comes to hardships on the road, the first couple of weeks were a really difficult adjustment period. Worrying about where to sleep and finding water and some of the logistical stuff felt overwhelming at first. This was especially true as she travels alone and you can’t divide and conquer tasks that you can as a couple.
It does get so much better as you get used to it. But it was rough at first and she would spontaneously burst into tears once or twice a day at first. (Currently down to once or twice a month!)
And Katy thinks that the worst part about living in a van is when it’s really hot or really cold, it can be a bit less magical. That said, if the weather’s not great, it’s easy to change your route and go somewhere more temperate.
She doesn’t mind being uncomfortable so much. But she worries about Figg if it gets too hot. (The contingency plan is always to rent a pet-friendly place with A/C.)
Downsizing her life was not very hard at all actually! Katy had moved to the UK 12 years ago and then back 8 years later. International moves force you to leave stuff behind and, maybe in the process, become less attached to things.
On this trip, Katy brought her favorite stuff, logistical things she needed and her favorite (comfy) clothes. That said, like many van dwellers, she still has a bunch of her stuff in storage and at her mom’s for whenever she’s done with the trip.
And now that she’s on the road, she can’t live without her cat Figg. She can’t imagine life on the road without her. Figg is such a good-natured, sweet, funny little creature, and Katy is super grateful for the company.
But Katy really misses Sunday night dinners with her family. She shared that all of her family members would head to her cousin’s for food. They’d be BBQing in the spring and summer and then have some drinks and camp out in the living room and watch a movie or show together.
In her spare time on the road, Katy loves to find beautiful places – especially streams, rivers, waterfalls or anything else she can swim in. And inside the van, she’ll read or catch up with friends or family or watch a show. If she had a little more time, she would seek out spin and barre classes wherever she was at the time.
And Katy has learned to really enjoy cooking. She doesn’t cook much. But she says that she does make a mean salad out of her leftovers! And she can manage to make some delicious scrambled eggs!
Katy wants people to know that Van Life is not for everyone. But it’s a really great lifestyle depending on your personality and priorities. If you’re at all curious about it, she’d definitely recommend that you consider renting a van and giving it a go on a short trip and see how you feel afterward!
Van Life With A Cat
Figg is the best van cat (total scaredy cat – terrified of everything except thunder and lightning, which she loves for some reason). She sleeps in a little ball by Katy’s head, or under her seat when they’re driving, and is generally just adorable.
Katy is so glad that she decided to take her and that it doesn’t seem like she is scarring her for life.
Top Mobile Apps
Like most van lifers, Katy has a few go-to apps to help with travel logistics and planning.
- iOverlander – Provides all sorts of logistics from free camping to water refills and dump stations
- Sekr – Gives a layout of great nearby campsites
- Gas Buddy – Helps to find the most inexpensive fuel wherever you travel
READ MORE: Learn more about other great van life apps to make life on the road better.
Most useful items
When it comes to making the most of van life, these are Katy’s most useful items in the van:
- Fairy lights – they have photo clips on them to display her Instax pictures
- Window covers – She tailor-made them out of Thinsulate blankets, waterproof camping blankets, and magnets
- Packing cubes – She stores her clothes in them
READ MORE: Read our post to learn more about other essential van life items.
The Van Build
After purchasing the Promaster new for $50,000, Katy spent around $20,000 building out the van mostly by herself. But she did hire out help for the electrical and plumbing. And when it came to the bed lift system, the one she made at first from a pulley system and winch didn’t work the way she had hoped. So she did hire a professional to install one instead.
Katy found that her layout (L-shaped sofa, elevator bed) is one that she’s never seen in another van. But she really wanted something that felt roomy (which is also why it’s all white). So she tried to leave as much floor space as possible and get the bed up out of the way so there was a designated kitchen, living space, and sleeping space.
For insulation, Katy used havelock wool throughout, mostly because she wanted to use natural products as much as possible. And for the flooring, she used luxury vinyl plank, because it’s waterproof, lighter, more affordable and easier to clean than a lot of other options.
And Katy used the same shiplap on her walls and ceiling, so everything just kind of blends into itself. And she made all of the cabinets herself out of ½” melamine with the drawer and cabinet faces from ¾” plywood.
Be kind to yourself – it’s hard! – ask for help if you need it, and, if you can, outsource the parts you don’t want to do.
As far as lighting, Katy installed 8 LED puck lights on two switches – 6 in the front and 2 above the bed for reading/night. She also has her little fairy lights and a chandelier that she made for when she wants it to be a little less bright (Though she admits that she forgot to ask the electrician to put dimmers on the switches!)
When it comes to storage, because of the layout, Katy has a lot less storage than most vans. But she also doesn’t have any big equipment or sporting equipment. She likes to hike, and that’s about it, so she doesn’t need more than what she has.
Katy built the bulkhead storage (above the cab) out about 8” so there’s a lot of room there, which is where she keeps her clothes. Dry food is all in the upper cabinets. The kitchen drawers have cooking and personal stuff. Everything else that she needs access to less often goes below the bench seats or the bookshelves.
And for additional lighting, the two fixed windows came with the van (one on the sliding door, one behind the driver’s seat). She thought about switching them out or adding a small sliding window, but it seemed like a lot of money for a small amount of extra ventilation. The van also has 3M anti-shatter film on all the side windows for extra security.
Katy is most proud of the bar and the little shelves when you walk in the door. And she thinks that the live edge countertops are absolutely beautiful.
And if she could change anything, Katy definitely wants to add a roof deck at some point! And put in those fancy things that make your upper cabinets stay open. She currently rests hers on her head when she’s rummaging through the food.
Katy’s least favorite part of building out the van was sanding down the 71 pieces of 12-foot shiplap for the walls and ceiling. She doesn’t generally mind sanding, but that got really tedious real fast.
And Katy thinks that the hardest part of the build was the bed lift that she tried to build herself but never came to fruition. And building the shelf to extend the bulkhead storage wasn’t her finest hour either.
There are some small finishing bits that Katy never got around to and would like to do someday – like painting the edges of the shiplap around the sliding door and putting one final piece above the back doors.
She had thought that she would leave for her trip in 2021, so by the time February 2022 rolled around she was itching to hit the road and figured she could deal with those things later!
When it comes to giving advice to anyone considering building out their own van, Katy has a great perspective. She would advise you to be kind to yourself – it’s hard! – ask for help if you need it, and, if you can, outsource the parts you don’t want to do!
The best resources Katy used are a variety of Youtube videos for different projects. But the thing she found super useful for her power setup – which you have to figure out at the very beginning when you have no idea what you’re doing – was the power audit calculator by Explorist.life.
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.