I’VE SEEN A LOT OF RIGS in the nine years I’ve been on the road, most of them created from something never intended for full-time living. They ranged from bare bones to handcrafted elegance, all demonstrating there’s more than one way to do this nomad thing.
Of the rigs I’ve seen, several of them had been modified since the last time I saw them. And I’ve also helped rework a couple. Then there were those that changed almost weekly because nothing had been built in and the owners were still figuring out what worked for them. Or because they’re constantly shuffling bins and bags around trying to find that thing they know is in there somewhere.
I had never lived in a van before but I had a fairly good idea how I wanted to built it out. Part of that was decided by the very useful steel tradesman’s cabinet that came with the van. That and a Twin XL sized bed pretty much set the agenda for the rest of the project.
Even though I had sold my house, I was fortunate enough to have a friend with a well equipped shop, a sizable rural lot, and a welcoming heart. So I had the resources to build out the van — resources I doubted I’d ever have access to again. That’s how it is with many nomads: do it now because I may never have the chance again.
Then there are those with no building resources or skills. They tend to create their mobile living space with existing things. Bedframes, crates, cabinets, duffles, whatever. Some fellow nomads cluck their tongues at these no-build builds, but I think they might be a smarter way to go.
It’s Less Expensive
With the cost of lumber, hardware, and such being what it is these days, repurposing furniture you already have or that you picked up cheap (maybe free), or getting some plastic bins and drawers, leaves you with a lot more cash in your pocket.
Just some simple hand tools (if any) and no special skills. Simply load the furnishings into the vehicle, anchor it down, and you’re good to go.
You can change the arrangement, you can swap things that aren’t doing the job for things that will — all without disassembling chunks of the interior and feeling like you’re throwing away all the time and money that went into it.
I saw an article about a new small travel trailer with a modular interior. The sink, stove, cabinets, bed base and such were all same sized cubes you could arrange and rearrange. They wanted a pile of money for the cubes, but you can get the same kind of flexibility with a no-build build.
Those of us who’ve built out our vehicles spent a lot of time agonizing over our plans before we even started construction. Then there’s the actual time doing the work. Even if it’s a process you enjoy, it’s time that’s keeping you from launching. Some people don’t want to waste that time. And some don’t have a choice — they need to go now.
It clarifies your priorities
Why am I doing this nomad thing? What do I want from it? What do I need in order to do that? What price — materially and psychologically — am I willing to pay for it?
I saw a rig at RTR that got me thinking. In the back of a guy’s Astro van was a folding cot and sleeping bag, a couple of milk crates — one with stuff in it, the other upside down as a table — a couple of duffles, a cooler, a battery and folding solar panel, a propane stove/heater, a 5-gallon bucket, and a guitar. It wasn’t Instagram-worthy, but it was functional. The man was comfortable and contented. Hmmmm, I thought, maybe I could do that next time, after my van dies.
So, if you’re a veteran nomad, which way did you go with your rig? Plain or fancy? Would you do it differently if you could do it over again? And if you’re a first-timer who hasn’t set up your rig yet, what are your plans?