We've covered many a van conversion on Inhabitat, and now we're pleased to present our own! Two weeks ago I purchased a brand new 2014 Ford Transit Connect XLT, and with help from dear friends and family I turned it into my very own tiny home on wheels. Granted, my little 'house' doesn't have a toilet or a refrigerator, but I do have a camp stove, solar-powered LED lights, and even a solar shower, which means I am able to meet almost all of my daily needs out of a relatively small cargo van that has much better fuel efficiency than a small RV or van conversion. Hit the jump to find out what simple modifications will allow me to live and work out of my own private Bedouin tent, and about a weekly column I'll be writing to chronicle my adventures across North America.
I deliberately bought the longer wheel base Ford Transit Connect XLT, which has no infrastructure in the back and enough height and length that I and others can sit comfortably on a raised platform. Since I’ll be living out of the van for several months at a time and entertaining guests along the way, it was important to me to keep everything super tidy. When you open the lift gate, which provides additional living space and shelter in rain and sun, as well as plenty of natural light thanks to a giant window, all you can see are my six-foot cushions from Syria that suit both my nomadic ways and love for the Middle East. All of my gear, clothing and food are completely hidden.
My brother built a very basic wooden frame for my bed with a thin hinged plywood platform for the cushions, which I had previously traded with my friend Tara Griffin in exchange for building my personal website. This allows me to store all of my gear beneath the bed, where it’s completely out of sight, and yet access it fairly easily by lifting up the fairly lightweight platform. The cushions are a bit dense, so I would recommend a six-inch futon cushion for most. For the bed, I wanted something very light, to maintain my fuel efficiency, and I didn’t want to make any permanent alterations to the van just yet since I have a much more sophisticated ‘eco’ conversion planned for the future! For now the platform is tethered down with zip ties, which I can easily cut to remove the entire rig and it’s very secure. Last night I drove 10 hours from New Jersey to Indiana, and the bed didn’t budge an inch. And I managed to get 24 miles per gallon despite a lot of hilly driving, a full 10 gallon solar shower, and enough BPA-free cans of beans to build a small house.
Throughout my journey, I will be meeting Americans from all walks of life in order to better understand how they are adapting to the shifts we are already seeing as a result of climate change. I want to better understand what beekeepers, plumbers, scientists, artists, architects, students, biologists, and eco-tourism operators are doing to strengthen their resilience against drought, floods and superstorms? What awesome technology is being developed, classes taught, or skills re-learned? My first stop is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan and then I’ve got some Ohio surprises up my sleeve after that. And I’d love to hear from our readers for insight. Do you have a project that you think I should cover? Would you like to meet me to discuss climate change and the good people who are doing wonderful things in order to make our country a better place? If so, drop me a line, and I’ll make you a lovely cup of tea or even a delicious camp dinner if you time it right.
My goal for this multifaceted journey across North America is to maintain the smallest possible environmental footprint. So, apart from gear that I received from friends and family, such as the good folks behind the Land Art Generator Initiative who gave me a wonderful writing table from REI, and my sister-in-law, as well as a bit of help from Amazon, I purchased most of what I needed at the Value Village thrift store in Hawthorne, New Jersey, and will continue to shop in this way as much as possible as need arises throughout the journey. Mostly I believe less is more so I will only add what is absolutely necessary. Then I bought enough food from Trader Joes to get me and my helper friend all the way to California by October 6, 2014, so we won’t have to poison our bodies with nasty road food.
There is so much to discover across our vast country, and I can scarcely wait to share it all with you. So please follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and of course here on Inhabitat, where I’ll be posting a weekly column. Stay tuned every week for up close and personal stories about Americans from all walks of life, as well as beautiful photography, and don’t forget to write if you think I need to stop by your town, farm, or city. This adventure is going to be a lot of fun, and I hope inspiring as well.
All photographs by Tafline Laylin