If you are in the process of planning and designing a mobile home (including campervans) you will be all too familiar with the often overwhelming amount of advice, options, gadgets, gizmos and other so-called ‘must-haves’.
Here at Comfortably Lost HQ we are all too familiar with information overload and ‘paralysis by analysis’. We’ve designed and built a number of camper vehicles over the years, each time with a different purpose, context and budget. Each time we’ve spent a considerable amount of time doing the research than then fed into design and construction. Yet, despite all this, not one of our camper setups has been 100% perfect. Like it or not, we’ve needed to make adjustments and modifications on the road as required. It’s important to understand that this is normal and part of the whole process.
My advice to people who are currently researching, planning and designing is simple:
- Choose a good condition, well-maintained vehicle that suits your needs; 2WD vs 4WD, small, medium or large, standing height interior or not etc. All these factors will determine what sort of design options you have, your up-front and ongoing expenses, comfort/livability, access to parking areas etc
- Brainstorm all the different features you want in your mobile home
- Write a list of priorities. Think long and hard about what is really essential, and go from there
- Adopt a generally minimalist attitude to material belongings. Remember: Space is at a premium!
- Draw some basic floor plans and think about where things will go and how it will fit best
- Accept that you will never get the design 100% and allow for future changes and alterations in the future
- Be realistic about how much space you have, plus time, ability and budget restrictions. Don’t fall into the trap of cramming storage spaces with gear, because you will never use things if they are hidden away under other junk. Keep it simple.
Right now we are planning and designing for our future, more permanent phase of ‘home-free’ living. Our plan is to convert or remodel a large cargo van or medium size bus into a ‘studio apartment on wheels’ mobile home. Our previous experience with travelling and living out of various vehicles taught us a lot of valuable lessons. Essentially we realised how happy we were being free to move around, not having to worry about rent or utility bills, surf, bushwalk and enjoy the outdoors, see new places and meet new people with all the basics we needed with us in a vehicle.
But there were downsides too; we often struggled with power supply for our computers and other devices, we often had limited reception for our phones, mobile data was expensive and limited, we only had a small solar shower for external use which didn’t afford much privacy, we relied on public toilets, and we had very limited internal space to relax, read a book, work on the computer or prepare meals.
During our original trip around Australia with the Delica and subsequent trip in South America with our Montero Sport, we had idealistic dreams of creating travel and lifestyle videos, writing content for our websites and social media on a frequent and consistent basis, and establishing various sources of passive income.
Unfortunately, due to constraints of space, power and data availability, our efforts were severely hampered. Sure, we always made an effort to post up a photo onto our social media using a smartphone where possible, and we took advantage of a steady supply of power and WiFi to write and post articles for the website when available, but we really wanted to create and provide more, more often.
So with this in mind, we sat down, brainstormed and then created a list to try to cut through the information overload. The idea was to establish bare essential requirements, and then add the extras from there in the context of our own budget, space and abilities. The list has generally been prioritised, with highest priority at the top of the list.
Needs (the bare essentials)
- A mechanically and structurally sound, safe, secure, reliable and relatively fuel efficient vehicle that suits your needs and budget
- Comfortable sleeping space; be that a bed or a hammock
- Ample storage of potable water (70L for a week’s supply is ideal for two people)
- Effective and accessible storage space for food, cooking equipment, recreational and personal items
- Ability to cook food: propane/induction stove etc
- Privacy curtains on windows; block out fabric ideal
- Insect proof airflow options such as electric fans, roof vents, window mesh/screen etc
- Accessible safety features such as smoke + C02 alarm, 2kg or larger powdered fire extinguisher (ABE standard), good quality fuses and circuit breakers on all wiring and devices, plus a portable vehicle first aid and/or trauma kit
Wants (wish lists)
- Auxiliary/house deep cycle AGM battery storage with input charging from mains AC power, solar, vehicle’s alternator, portable power generator and/or other sources. Ideally 200Ah or greater, depending on usage calculations
- Low-profile, roof mounted solar panels. Ideally 320-400W total output or greater (to suit battery bank capacity and usage)
- Good quality solar charge controller, battery health and charge status monitor, 12v ciga jack and USB output board and pure sine inverter
- 3-way or 2-way refrigerator. Ideally a ‘bar’ style with front opening door that can be installed into a cabinet for easy access. 12v ideal. 45L minimum size
- Water pump (12v or manual), water filter for drinking water, stainless steel basin, and a 60L+ greywater storage tank (with easy access drain valve/outlet)
- Internal shower and toilet cubicle pod, shower to be connected to grey water tank. Toilet to be portable with removable cartridge or compost style
- Lounge/day-bed/working space with fold out bench or swing-arm table for reading, relaxing and working on a computer
- Ergonomic kitchenette with ample food preparation space, and easy access to cooking equipment, fridge, basin and water
- Plenty of internal LED lighting on independent switches, with particular focus on food prep, bathroom pod, and work areas
- Multiple 12v fan-assisted roof vents/skylights to maximise airflow. E.g. the ‘Fan-Tastic‘ vent
- Insulated walls, floor and ceiling
- Large external shade awning
- Reversing camera, LED reversing lights and front LED light bar/floodlight
- Front moulded polycarbonate/polyethylene bullbar
- External range booster antenna to improve mobile phone signal and coverage
- Ample storage space and ‘garage’ for recreational gear, tools, spare parts, and other select equipment
- Tow-bar mounted bike rack
- Roof mounted storage box (400L or greater)
- Compact gas powered RV oven & grill
These lists, in particular the ‘wants’ list are tailored to our desire of having a ‘studio apartment on wheels’. Something that we can comfortably live, cook, relax and work in no matter where we are.
Because everyone has different requirements, the column will fluctuate depending on your budget and context. For example, a wants list for someone who is not planning to work, is travelling for a short amount period of time and will mostly experience pleasant, mild weather will be radically different to someone who is planning to live and work on the road on a long-term basis.
Keep this in mind and remember the points made at the beginning this article.
What are your top wish-list items? Did we miss anything crucial?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below.