12K Van Conversion

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The rise in global housing prices coupled with a new kind of adventuring spirit have given birth to a growing movement of people opting for a simpler life – a life unshackled from the weight of crippling personal and debt and instead tied firmly to the direction of the wind.

A life on the road.

Look no further than Zach Both, who in 2009 decided to trade in the burden of his mortgage for a 2003 Chevy Express, effectively dedicating himself to what Instagram has so swiftly coined #vanlife.

And while Zach isn’t the first forward thinker to downsize his life for a gnarly set of livable wheels, his conversion-on-the-cheap story is an inspiration to like-minded individuals looking for the push they need to make it happen for themselves. He was able to fix a bottom line of $12K for his conversion, including the initial cost of the van itself and the materials and equipment he needed for the build-out. It’s a testament to his inventive spirit, and shows that a little bit of planning and a lot of elbow grease can make even the wildest of dreams come true.

Even more impressive is the quality of craftsmanship and design Zach managed to squeeze out of every square inch of his van life conversion. He could have screwed some particle board on a few hacked together two by fours, crammed it into the back of the van, pinned up some naked lady curtains and called it a day. He opted for a more refined sense of functionality and aesthetic, resulting in what this writer would consider an achievement in both architecture and personal expression.

And even MORE impressive is the fact that Zach had absolutely zero formal training as a builder, designer, mechanic, carpenter, or any other kind of vocational background that might dovetail nicely with such a project. He went to work with his $12K, a few second hand tools and a whole lot of YouTube videos to teach himself the skills he needed to assemble his mobile companion.

Zach documented much of his process, and launched The Vanual to help starry-eyed believers follow in his footsteps. It’s a website that walks through his step-by-step process for going from tied-down to wheels up. If you’re thinking about dabbling in the arts of mobile home conversion, I wholly suggest you to give it a look.

His van features a small bed, food prep area, lounge space, and storage where you’d never expect storage to be possible. It’s all he needs to live big, see the world, and not be worried about sinking half of his next paycheck into four walls and a ceiling. Zach lives the life he always wanted to live – with nowhere to go but everywhere.


Peter is an architect, designer, writer and adventurer from Seattle who wanders the globe in search of natural and man-made beauty. His website is the chronicle of his journey and his platform for celebrating the simple, meaningful things in his life.

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