Camper Van Update: Our First Trip!

Ford Transit Campervan tour on North to South

It’s official! Our camper van is officially camp-able — albeit a bit incomplete.

Phase One of our van build is nearly finished, so this past weekend we decided to take our Ford Transit campervan out for a test camping trip! With just a few days remaining before our scheduled return to Chicago, we drove the van to both the beach and the desert for a brief but relaxing first trip.

Ford Transit Campervan on North to South
Our first family van photo
Ford Transit Campervan on North to South
Tiger’s favorite spot

Completed Items on the Van Build

We’ve been pretty busy working on the van build the past couple of months! Here’s a quick overview of what we’ve finished so far:

  • flooring — My first van project. We like it so much we almost hesitate to walk on it!
  • lofted bed with ladder — The most fun part of camping and Ian’s first van project! We just need to sand the plywood surface so we don’t get tiny splinters when we make the bed.
  • cabinets and countertops — Cabinets with a natural ash finish, from Ikea and custom quartz countertops from a local shop in Van Nuys.
  • sink and plumbing — With hot water!
  • basic electricity — Complete with 12v and 120v outlets, our Goal Zero Yeti 1400, and enough power to run our espresso machine and hot water heater (though not at the same time)
  • organizing our kitchen with space for our portable gas burnercompost container, water containers, cooking utensils, cutlery, etc.
  • our first storage bench — Can’t wait ’til the other one’s done!
  • tinted windows — One of the best things we did for daytime privacy and to keep the heat under control.
  • functional curtains — They work, but they’re not pretty.
  • recycled denim insulation — Insulating the roof is next!
Ford Transit Campervan interior on North to South
Our van is really coming together! We made the storage bench and lofted bed ourselves, and the cabinets are from Ikea.
Ford Transit Campervan on North to South
Our oceanside camping spot at Rincon Parkway Campground

Coming Up Next on the Van Build

Phase One of our plan includes all of our top priority amenities, and we still have a couple high-priority items to complete from this list, including:

  • ventilation/ceiling fan — We’re planning to install the MaxxAir Deluxe vent.
  • our second storage bench — Our first one took a couple of weeks; hopefully the second will go faster!
  • pretty curtains — The plain Reflectix works wonders, but we want to style up the inside portion.
  • bench cushions — Sitting directly on plywood isn’t super comfortable.
  • bed storage cubbies — A place to tuck away our phones and Kindles for the night.
Camping with our dog Tiger in our Ford Transit Campervan on North to South
Enjoying the cool spring breeze in our van at Red Rock Canyon State Park
Ford Transit Campervan on North to South
The best campsite we’ve had in a long time
Tiger
Tiger loves camping, but he’s unsure about the high tide.

On our trip we also made notes on a few things we’d like to improve before we head out for the summer. Most of these will be quick and easy work — or just a matter of online shopping and research.

  • raise the toilet and add storage underneath — Our Thetford 260B Port-a-Potti sits a bit low now, and we’ve got room to raise it.
  • flow regulator for plumbing — Our water comes out faster than we need it!
  • add hooks for hanging things — Dish towels, sunglasses, and hats could all use a dedicated hanging space.
  • leveling blocks — These sure look handy for any less than flat parking situations.
  • additional fresh water tank — We’ve got a 7.5 gallon tank now, and we’re thinking it would be a good idea to have some extra on hand.
  • an entry/exit ramp or steps for Tiger — It’s a big jump for an older dog; he can make it up, but I want to make it easy.
Ford Transit Campervan camping with dogs on North to South

The trip helped us focus on what we really need, so we also made some edits to our original build plan. Here are the highlights:

  • We’re adding a low-power refrigerator!
  • The swiveling passenger seat is moving up on the list. This should make managing Tiger’s ins and outs easier and will give us an extra place to sit.
  • A sliding door stop will give us the option of keeping the door only partially open (making closing the door less of a chore).
  • Tiger’s getting older, but he’s still one fast pup. When the sliding door is open for ventilation and general outdoor enjoyment, we need a gate/net to keep Tiger from dashing outside when something exciting passes by. (I’ve had to chase him out the door more than once already when we were building the van, and there are even more exciting things for him to dart out after when we’re camping.)

Though we’re a bit behind schedule from where we hoped to be on the van build at this point, we’re really happy with the progress so far, and that more than makes up for the delays.

Ford Transit Campervan under the stars on North to South
A few stars before the cloudy night
Ford Transit Campervan on North to South
<3

Now we’re back in Chicago getting ready for our upcoming adventures in Iceland and Spain. In mid June we’ll return to California for just a little bit more work on Phase One before we head out for some summer campervan camping!

Stay tuned for future updates on the build, and follow us on Instagram for some behind-the-scenes building action.

Ford Transit Campervan on North to South
Thanks for reading! In case you missed it, view our van build plan here.

About the Author

Diana Southern
In March 2014, Diana called it quits on her traditional American working life and set out to explore the world with her partner in crime (and love of her life) Ian Norman. They now live a sustainable life of full time travel, working for themselves and seeking adventure at the same time. Here on North to South, Diana documents their journey in achieving and maintaining this "road less traveled" way of life.

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