During our time at home this winter, we’ve been busy getting the van, our Red Tail Lodge, ready for Season Two. We’ve already canceled our spring trip, but we hope to still hit the road on June 1st. Regardless, here are the several dozen changes we’ve made so far with a few more in the works. Some are big changes, some are really simple. Hopefully they will give you ideas about your own RV.
1) Installed an Espar heater. This was the biggest project we tackled. It was the most expensive, the most time-consuming and the most challenging. Since our plans are to extend our travel into the shoulder seasons, we wanted to have a way to heat the van. The Espar heater heats the air by using gas from our Ford Transit fuel tank. Check out the video on our installation process “Espar Heater Install: Campervan Project #6”.
2) Installed a weBoost cell signal amplifier (paid link). This was the second biggest project we completed. During Season One, we struggled a little bit with getting a strong enough internet connection to get our work done while we were traveling since we like to camp in places that do not have good cell phone coverage. We’re hoping the weBoost will give us an advantage. There is another video on our weBoost installation: “weBoost Installation”.
3) Raised the solar panels by 1.5 inches. While we had the solar panels detached from the roof during the weBoost install, we raised the solar panels by adding another layer of t-track. The original height did not leave much room for the MaxxAir fan lid to open. Giving the lid more room should increase the fan’s efficiency.
4) Built shelves above the Espar heater. We found that having half of our cooking supplies and food in the rear of the van was not convenient while cooking. The new shelves gives us enough space to keep most of our food and supplies near where we cook. Within about 20 minutes of work, the shelves can be removed when we are home and not traveling.
5) Replaced the Ford Transit bench seat with a plywood bench. During Season One, we needed to have the ability to transport two more adults in the van for a short period of time, but we don’t foresee that need for Season Two. So we built a simple plywood bench that runs from the new shelf to the electrical cabinet. Just like the shelves, the bench can be removed and the Ford passenger bench seat re-installed when we are home and not traveling. When the passenger bench seat is installed, it is a tight squeeze to get past it to the cargo area. The plywood bench makes it easier to get into the cargo area from the front.
6) Changed where the Lagun table is mounted. We originally built the mount for the Lagun table before we had taken possession of our van. It attached to the van floor where the bench seat legs connect. However, the van floor had more flex than we expected, which made the Lagun table less stable than we liked. Therefore, we moved the mount to the side of the electrical cabinet. This should work out much better. The new mount is more stable, smaller, and can remain in place. The original mount had to be setup and taken down every time we wanted to use it and then we had to store it somewhere in the van. Not only can the mount be left in place, but it is out of the way enough that the table leg can also remain in place.
7) Added a bike cover. Our bikes sit on a hitch mount behind our van and are exposed to all of the weather. At one point during Season One, we noticed some rust forming on our bike chains. Hopefully a bike cover will protect our bikes from the weather and reduce the maintenance, wear and tear on the bikes. The one we bought is from Formosa Covers (paid link).
8) Built a wooden holder for the water jugs. When we travel, we normally carry a spare fresh water jug and a spare gray water jug that sit on the cargo slide. Even though we bungeed them down to the gear slide, they still moved a little and caught on the side shelves when trying to move the gear slide in or out. Left Buddy (LB) built a wooden tray out of plywood that attaches to the gear slide that the two jugs fit into. The tray keeps the jugs in place without the need for bungee cords. This makes it easier to take the jugs in and out as there no cords to deal with. LB coated the wood with epoxy so that water would not damage it.
9) Built a wooden holder for the clothes hamper. Similar to the water jug tray, LB built a tray for the clothes hamper. The hamper is rather light and flexible. It would easily collapse on us and would always fall off the gear slide whenever we pulled the slide out. The tray should help it stay in place.
10) Replaced the t-track arm that secures the fresh water jug with a strap. Our VanDOit van came with a t-track arm to hold the fresh water jug that is connected to the water pump. After seeing some newer VanDOit van builds that used a strap instead, we decided that would be better. The strap solves some issues that we had with the t-track arm. The first issue was that the t-track arm squeezes the fresh water jug when it is locked into place, so if we completely filled the jug with water, we had trouble getting the arm to lock and water squeezed out of the top of the jug and into the van. The second issue was the t-track arm needed room to swing out over the gear slide. This meant that every time we needed to change the fresh water jug, we needed to pull out both spare jugs that were in the way to give the t-track arm enough room. Now, with the new strap, we only have to move one of the jugs to provide enough room to pull out the fresh water jug. Since the strap is adjustable, we can avoid squeezing water out of the top when securing the full fresh water jug.
11) Bought a larger yoga mat. OK, this isn’t really a change to the van, but a change to what we travel with. Right Buddy (RB) likes to use the yoga mat to keep herself off the dirt at the campground while she goes through her stretching routine every night before going to bed. She found that a regular yoga mat is too narrow for what she does so she bought a larger one: RevTime Large Exercise Mat (paid link).
12) Split back curtain for easy emergency exit. Initially we had a shower curtain hanging across the back door opening to protect the contents of the van if we needed to open the back doors while it was raining or while using the water nozzle in the back for an outdoor shower or for spraying off gear. In order to be able to see out the back windows and to make it easier to get to gear in the back, we normally had the shower curtain tucked under the mattress. Having it tucked under the mattress still protected our bedding when it was raining and we only pulled the curtain out when we were using the water nozzle to prevent splashing into the cargo area. However, we started thinking about what would happen if we needed to quickly get out of the van in the middle of the night and our way to the front of the van was blocked. It would be tough since the shower curtain blocked our way out the back. It would be hard to pull the curtain out from under the mattress while we were laying on it. It was also attached to a rope at the top that was tied off on each side. Trying to untie it to take it down would be time consuming, especially in a groggy, panicked state. Therefore, we bought a hookless shower curtain (paid link) that can be easily pulled off a cord or rod. Then we cut it so that it comes just below the bed platform. We attached it at the top with a bungee cord. Now we feel confident that we can quickly get the curtain out of the way in an emergency. We kept the original curtain so that we can attach it underneath the bed platform when we want to use the water nozzle behind the van.
13) Added a pull rope for an emergency exit. Continuing the scenario of escaping the van in the middle of the night, we only solved the issue of getting past the curtain. The next issue was being able to open the back doors of the van from the inside. There is a handle on the inside to pull up on to open the door. However, we normally keep our bed platform raised up high and we cannot reach that handle from the bed. To solve that problem, we tied a piece of paracord to the handle and secured it to the door using command hooks (paid link) and a cord holder (paid link) so that we can easily reach the other end of the cord from the bed. Now all we have to do is pull up on the cord and the door opens.
14) Buy a portable shovel. This sort of continues the emergency theme. What if we get our van stuck in the snow, mud, or sand? Our particular van is rear-wheel drive with the factory tires, so getting stuck is a real possibility. A shovel might be pretty handy. So we bought a three piece collapsible snow shovel (paid link) that easily stores inside our van.
15) Bought velcro mesh pouch bags (paid link) to use as night stands. For the first season, we struggled a little bit with something to use as a night stand. We sleep with our heads towards the back doors. Adding shelves above the bed would take away space, especially since the sides of the van angle in near the roof. We also didn’t want to make any holes in the headliner to attach anything. RB used a small stuff sack hanging from the t-track to hold things like tissues and her cell phone. However, it was cumbersome to get into during the night. While watching a video on the “From She to Me” YouTube channel, we discovered that there are velcro pouch bags that will stick to the fuzzy headliner. We ordered a few and tested them out. Sure enough, they stick and hold, even with somewhat heavy objects inside them. So our plan is to use one or two of them on each side of the van near our heads. We may also use a couple above the sliding door for some extra, handy storage of small items.
16) Invented a better clothesline. Well, this actually is not a new invention, just re-using a really old invention. Last year we used a bungee cord stretched along the side under the bed platform to hang our towels to dry. This worked great for the towel closest to the front, but it was a pain to reach anything hanging further towards the back of the van. Our newer version of a clothesline is a cord that goes through eye bolts that are attached to the t-track of the bed platform at each end. The two ends of the cord are tied together to form a loop. Now it works like the clotheslines you’ve seen so many times strung above the street between two buildings. Just attach an item to the line and pull the loop along to move the item towards the back of the van and attach the next item. To remove the items, just reverse the actions. We just have to be mindful of where the knot is because it won’t fit through the eye bolts.
17) Added a hanging shoe bag for storage. Having a place for our slippers and shower flip flops that is clean and separate from the shoe bin where we put our dirty and sandy shoes is nice to have. We found this hanging shoe bag (paid link) that fits perfectly under the bed platform along the side in front of shelves that we don’t access very often (which holds our water heater and tool bag). It is attached to the t-track using carabiners. As we start traveling again, we’re sure we’ll have no problem finding things to put in all of the convenient little pouches.
18) Added a new box for shoes under the new bench. There is now more space under the bench seat, so we added a tote that we found lying around our house. Having plastic totes for shoes and boots helps keep dirt, sand, mud, and water off the floor of the van.
19) Added non-slip tape (paid link) to the top of the electrical cabinet. The electrical cabinet is used to step up into the bed, as an extra seat, and as extra counter space. Keeping things from sliding off is a good thing.
20) Have stadium seats for inside the van. RB researched a comfortable stadium seat with good back support to use on top of the new bench. The one she ended up buying was the Brawntide Wide Stadium Seat (paid link). It has an adjustable bleacher strap that can be used to secure the chair to the bench. It can also be placed on the electrical cabinet, but cannot be attached to it. For RB, sitting on the stadium seat on top of the electrical cabinet is the perfect height for using the bed as a head rest. The bench sits lower to the ground, with her head coming underneath the bed platform, which allows her to stretch her legs out and recline back. We also plan on taking our two Crazy Creek stadium chairs (paid link) to use as well. Both styles of stadium seats can also be used while sitting at picnic tables for back support while working for long periods of time.
21) Made a cover for the Lagun table top. Last summer we just wrapped the Lagun table top in a fleece blanket to protect it while storing it in the van. However, the blanket was awkward and did not stay on very well. So RB sewed a cover out of a cheap moving blanket, some binding tape, and some velcro. The moving blanket was inexpensive, but the material turned out to be very cheap. It didn’t even list the material content. RB believes the one side is some sort of plastic. It instantly melted to her iron, even at a low temperature setting. It works for now. Time will tell if the material will hold up over time.
22) Made a cozy for the Instant Pot (paid link). Last year we stored the Instant Pot on the hanging shelf in the van. The Instant Pot is just slightly wider than the hanging shelf. We discovered that the handle of the Instant Pot was rubbing against the van headliner and the bungee cord that was holding the pot on the shelf was rubbing against the Instant Pot control panel. To solve those issues, RB used the material leftover from the Lagun table top cover to make a cozy for the Instant Pot. However, this was before we decided to add the shelves above the Espar heater and move the Instant Pot down to those shelves where it fits better. We still plan on using the cozy as it will help protect the Instant Pot from rubbing or banging against anything else we put on that shelf.
23) Added a rubber mat over the floor of the main living area. There are quite a few holes in the van floor where the legs of the two rows of factory bench seats attach. Dirt and small things fall down into these holes. The holes are also not very comfortable to step on in your bare feet. So we bought a rubber mat that LB cut to fit around all the cabinets and floor air vents. In addition, he filled in the holes with layers of rubber scraps super-glued together since the rubber mat would flex down into the holes when stepped on. As a bonus, the rubber mat is an extra layer of insulation between our feet and the cold outside.
24) Attached grommets to our wash cloths. We keep our toiletry kits hanging from the t-track above our sink using carabiners. Our wash cloths usually hang with our toiletry kits, pulling them either through the carabiner or the strap of our toiletry kits. However, they easily fall out and can be in the way of getting into our toiletry kits. A simple fix was to add a grommet (paid link) to the corner of each wash cloth and use that to attach it to the carabiner.
25) Removed the TV. This one surprised us. The TV was originally on our list of must-haves so that RB could easily edit her photos while on the road. What we found out over the summer was that the TV was mounted too high to be comfortable to use while seated in the van and we got used to editing photos and watching YouTube videos from our laptops. The TV was located above our heads when we stood at the sink and took valuable head space. As we are both six feet tall, we value our head room more than using the TV, so the TV came out.
26) Hang a net bag for storing fruits and vegetables. We talked about this is our Campervan Tips & Tricks From Season One video. We struggled for a while trying to figure out how to store fresh fruits and vegetables in the van without them being damaged while driving down the road. Our solution is to hang them using a net bag (paid link), attaching it to the t-track where the TV used to be. The bag is smaller than the TV and is off to the side so it is not in our way while we are standing at the sink.
27) Ran the rope for the front curtain through an eye bolt in the middle. The curtain we have hanging just behind the front seats is hanging from a rope that is attached on the sides to the ceiling t-track. It is hard to tie the rope tight enough so that the curtain does not sag in the middle. The simple solution was to add an eye bolt to the t-track about half way across and run the rope through it for additional support.
28) Attached command hooks (paid link) to the van sides for the front curtain tie-backs. This was our original plan when we added the curtains for Season One. However, we could not get the command hooks to stick to the textured plastic of the van walls. We have since learned that replacing the adhesive on the command hook with Scotch Extreme Mounting Tape (paid link) seems to do the trick. Not only are the curtain tie-backs hooked onto the command hooks, but we have a grommet on the outside edge of the curtain on each side that we loop over the command hook. This helps increase the privacy of the curtain since the walls of the van are sloped and, as a result, the ceiling t-track does not go all the way to the outside edge.
29) Added velcro to the window shades. For Season One, we made the window shades ourselves to save some money (for details, watch our Van Shades And Curtains video). They work for the most part, but we do have some issues from time to time with the shades falling out of the windows. So we added strips of velcro to the back of the shade and to the window to try to hold them in place. We used velcro designed for fabric on the shade itself and used general purpose velcro for the part that we stuck onto the window glass. We’ll see if the shades stay up better for Season Two.
30) Added magnets to the front door window shades. We didn’t add velcro to the front door window shades, but used magnets instead. These shades don’t fall down while the doors are closed, but do fall out whenever the doors are opened. Also, unlike the other windows, the frame around the door windows has exposed metal. We also had a few small powerful magnets on hand, so we used those. The challenge was to get the magnets attached to the fabric along the edge of the window shade. RB could not get the magnets to adhere to the fabric using super glue. She did manage to get some of the magnets glued directly to the duct tape on the edge of the shade. However, this meant that there was a layer of fabric between the magnet and the metal which reduces the magnets strength. For the rest of the magnets, she just used duct tape to attach them, which also reduced the power of the magnets. Although not perfect, at least it should be better than before. We’re hoping that these shades will last us through Season Two, at which point we’ll probably purchase professionally made shades.
31) Purchased front window vents. In order to have the option to allow more fresh air in while keeping the van secure, we purchased these window vents. RB also likes the idea of being able to hear the sounds of nature while in the van, such as the sound of crickets chirping during the night.
32) Last, but not least, color coded the buttons on the van key fob. RB had trouble distinguishing the difference between the lock and unlock buttons on the key fob when she didn’t have her reading glasses on, which she never had handy when entering or leaving the van. After being annoyed for the whole summer, she thought of a solution. Coloring the unlock button green and the lock button red with permanent markers worked beautifully. Now she has no problem picking the right button at first glance, even in low light situations. Why didn’t she do this sooner?
There are a few changes still in progress:
1) Install a fairing. We bought a fairing from the Colorado Fairing Company, but we have not installed it yet. We’re hoping this will improve our gas mileage, reduce wind noise, and reduce the number of bugs splattered on the hard-to-clean underside of our solar panels.
2) Polish the windshield. There’s a scratch on the windshield, right in front of where we like to mount a GoPro camera, that we want to polish out. We’ve purchased the kit (paid link), we just need to do it!
3) Add tinting to the front windows. Driving down the road, the sun shining directly on us can really make us uncomfortable, even with the air conditioner running. There are some DIY products available, but we need to do more research to make sure we are complying with all applicable state laws.
Phew! The list of changes was longer than we thought. When we wrote them all down, we realized that we really did accomplish a lot over the last few months. Hopefully you found at least one of them interesting.
Check out our related video: Camper Van Preparation for Season Two