March 23, 2022

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Designing Your Van

Before jumping in to your van build, it's crucial to ask yourself these questions.

Designing your new van? Hold up! 

When it comes time to start designing your van, here are a few questions you should ask yourself.

1. How many people will travel with me? 

It's important to understand how many people will be travelling with you the majority of the time. Will you be flying solo, as a couple, or bringing the whole family? This will determine how much seating you need during driving time and also how many spaces you need for sleeping.

2. Will I be working from the van?

If you plan on working from the van, it's important to design a dedicated area for work. In order to be productive on the road, your work space has to be fairly comfortable and allow you to focus. So keep that in mind when designing your space.

In my first van build I was working 5-8 hours per day remote in the van so having a spacious and dedicated working space was important for me. 

3. How long will my trips be?

When people get into vanlife, the style of life they plan on having can vary greatly. 

  • Full Time
  • Weekend Warrior
  • Extended Road Trips

Understanding how you plan to use your van will make it so you can plan accordingly. A weekend warrior might not require as much storage space as others who are traveling full time. Small things like that can help optimize the space for your needs.

4. Where will I primarily be parking my van?

This questions ties in to the question above. Once you understand how you will be using the van you can start to plan as to where you will be parking and design your van around that.

Are you sticking to camp grounds or BLM land? Then maybe stealthiness isn't at the top of your priority list. But if you're a full timer who might hang inside urban areas from time to time, you're going to want to design your van in such a way that it's less obvious someone is inside.

Another thing to consider here is whether you plan on off-roading or not. Maybe you are looking for more of a rugged adventure van and less of an apartment-style van.

Vanlife views just can't be beat

5. In what climate will I spend most of my time?

When people launch into the van-lifestyle, they often know what kind of climate they are chasing. For example some people plan on chasing snow all winter and skiing and snowboarding while others are going to do everything they can to avoid the snow and spend their time in warm southern climates. 

Understanding this for yourself is important. But even with this information it's important to properly insulate your van and consider adding a heat source such as the Espar D2. Even in southern California, winter can present you with some chilly evenings and a heater is a welcomed accessory. 

Knowing which climate you're chasing will also shape how you handle your plumbing. For example, storing your fresh water under the van will not work very well if you plan on spending the majority of your time in below freezing temperatures. 

6. What are my must-haves?

What are the items you absolutely must have in your van?

  • Toilet?
  • Shower? (Indoor or Outdoor or Neither)
  • Fixed Bed or Convertible Bed
  • Roof Rack or Not Required
  • Indoor or Outdoor Water Storage
  • Toys (bike, surfboard, snowboard)

As you start to answer these questions you star to narrow down the possible layouts and van sizes that are available to you.

7. What is my budget?

Everyone has their van build wish list and must-haves. But what can you actually afford? Having a clear understanding of what your budget is helps to rule out some of the items that aren’t 100% necessary in your build.

A few things I would not go without:

  • Proper Insulation 
  • Proper Ventilation (1 Window that opens paired with a rooftop vent)
  • Heat Source - Ideally an Espar D2 or equivalent
  • Blackout Window Covers (For Safety, Privacy & Climate Control)
  • Suspension Upgrade - In my experience 90% of all DIY Vans and many professionally built vans are over the GVWR of the Manufacturer, making them borderline dangerous to drive so having the budget for a suspension upgrade is the ultimate safety expense. 

Once you've answered all of these questions, you are ready to get started on the design of your van. Looking for some professional help with your van build? Be sure to check out this Builders directory!

Happy building!

Scott Adamson


Coffee drinker, adventure seeker, below average photographer.