Planning how to live in a van can seem like a daunting task.

Down the rabbit hole we go….I’d say I’m one of those people who needs to know ~85-90% about something before I go through with it. I like to do as much research as I can before calling in the help of an expert. Building out a cargo van to live in was definitely quite the undertaking and I doubt I even got close to that percentage!

There were different aspects of van life that were easier to research than others, but I think no matter how deep you go, just seeing what’s out there is a good thing to do. Find your comfort level and go from there, as everyone is different. This article goes over my thought process and some small portions of the mindset I had in my experience with planning the initial layout.

Think of what you need or want. This is your (van) life!

One helpful exercise for me, was to list out what I wanted out of my van. What was I going to be doing? What supplies or amenities did I need to make my life comfortable? What was I willing to sacrifice? (daily lattes?)

Here is a quick list of things I thought through as I decided what to draw in my van plan:


  • Kitchen Counter / Sink area
  • Closet for some hanging clothes
  • Upper storage shelves
  • Emergency toilet
  • Bench/Bed setup (Thanks for the inspiration AlwaysTheRoad!)
  • Fridge


  • Ability to work from anywhere and not rush back after trips
  • Have my camping/climbing gear on hand
  • Make traveling easier overall
  • Create an investment for myself. (buying a house in California is pretty expensive, so that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon)

Take a test drive.

First things first, I wanted to see if I even liked driving a van. I’d never been behind the wheel of a cargo van this size before and it was extremely different from my 2 door Hyundai Tiburon, with incredibly low clearance, that I bought when I was 21. I went to a dealer to take a test drive and get some measurements of the van. It felt nice to stand up in the van and see if that was going to work for me. Driving the van was pretty easy overall, with exception to the new blind spots I had to figure out. You’re basically driving a box down the road with no windows. Pretty intimidating to start, but it has incredible turning radius and the back-up camera is a life saver.

Dodge Promaster Cargo Area

Researching forums and other van lifer’s builds became a slight obsession.

I started scouring instagram and googling for any resources I could find on what different people had in their van builds. A variety of websites and profiles were present online, but I really enjoyed a few of the threads found on the the most. I found full builds and so many variations of people who had been doing it for quite some time. See our knowledgebase articles that outline the different dimensions.

Dodge Promaster layout

Many users were helpful and provided different layouts and concepts that were drawn on the computer or by hand. Sweet!

Dodge Promaster Diagram

This inspired me to give it a go myself. I’ve never been very artistic, but figured I could draw some lines and shapes on a piece of paper…how hard could it be?!  I used the measurements from my test drive, as well as what I found online (you can read about my specific model here), and started an idea that was partially to scale.

Dodge Promaster Drawing

This was turning out great, but I started drawing, then I would find another layout online that I liked more and had to scrap it.

Finding an online tool.

I didn’t want to continue wasting paper and I knew I’d be here for a whil. I started talking to my dad about it. He is an architect by trade, so he mentioned the program SketchUp. I had never created any 3D models before, but being interested in computers all my life, I figured I’d give it a try.  The initial screen is rather intimidating – I didn’t know where to begin! When in doubt, start clicking around.

Dodge Promaster Sketchup

I was able to start a new project in their free online version and tested out different ways that I could make shapes and objects, and ultimately give them some depth. Fast forward several days and many cups of coffee, and I was able to create something similar to what I had on paper and used a proper scale within the app.

Dodge Promaster Sketchup Final

Bringing it to life.

Fast forward several variations of my online models and I wanted to see just how big my living space would really be. I decided to section off the main area of my 400 sq ft. apartment with some masking tape.

Living Room Dodge Promaster dimensions

I tried to figure out how much space I really used in my apartment and where I could cut some corners. I had been down sizing for a few of my past moves, but wouldn’t call myself a minimalist. There was still a decent amount of “stuff” that I could live without (there still is!).

Closet dimensions

Coming to a decision.

There hasn’t been any particular point in the time of my van planning or building where I’ve had every single item mapped out. Again, I think there are some things that are very important to plan out as a whole before you get started, but to each their own. I’ve deviated a bit from this model, but overall, it served as a guide to visualize what my future plans could potentially look like. There isn’t really a right or wrong, probably a better or worse, but do what makes you feel comfortable and being over prepared is never a bad idea in my book!