40 days ago I left Charleston, South Carolina for a road trip across the country in a custom-build camper minivan. It’s my first true van life experience and I coudn’t be happier! I’ve already learned a lot, made some modifications and repairs, and I’m more determined than ever to reach the Grand Canyon in my little minivan.
It’s funny to think that my van life experience began with a tragedy. In early October 2016 a minor hurricane slammed into the east coast near Myrtle Beach where I was watching my parents’ house. The storm hit, the power went out for days, but the house and car survived without any damage. But three days later under clear skies a flash flood swept through the neighborhood and washed over my car. Within a matter of minutes it was totaled and I lost everything inside.
This could have been a very sad ending, but this was just the beginning. Almost immediately the grandmother sold me her 1999 Chrysler Town & Country minivan for $1 and suddenly I was ready to travel again. I embarked on a 29-day road trip from Syracuse, New York to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was my first experience with the van life as I slept on an air mattress in the back and cooked my meals using a Jetboil Zip backpacker’s stove.
But after the New Year I began planning for something bigger and better. I decided to keep the van I currently had so I didn’t have to deal with monthly car payments, and used some of the money I had saved up to customize the interior of the Town & Country. With my designs, my dad’s construction, and my mom’s creativity, we came up with the van I have been living in for the past forty days.
It’s a minivan. It’s not a Sprinter van or Ford Transit (that I really want) so space was very limited and I had to get creative with the design. My needs were pretty specific: as a travel writer and photographer I needed a solid desk with external computer monitor so I could quickly and easily edit my photography, put together videos, and write travel stories. The desk was the focal point of everything that followed.
After figuring out how to fit a desk into a minivan I turned my attention to where I would sleep. This was the easy part…if I could just find a bed. A twin-sized mattress wouldn’t fit beside the desk so I turned to searching for baby mattresses or truck mattresses. These didn’t work, either. I finally found these tri-fold mattresses meant for kids watching movies on the living room floor. Hey, it’s got a 5″ memory foam mattress so I was happy. At 27″x75″ it was just the right size for me to be able to sleep. I designed a bed platform with a lifting top and storage underneath for clothing and accessories and my sleeping berth was done.
With the desk and bed finished the only thing remaining was the kitchen. Try as I might I couldn’t come up with a design that kept everything on the inside. The kitchen is at the back of the van with slide out shelves and drawers for the propane stove, cooler, and food. I have installed a hand pump water fountain connected to a 6-gallon jug to make it easier to get the water I need for cooking and cleaning. Of course this means I have to stand outside with the back open to cook my meals, which kinda sorta violates the Golden Rule of Overnighting in Parking Lots, but it only only slightly violates the rule.
At some point during the planning process I began a lengthy, sarcastic chat with a friend one night. She asked if I had named the van yet. I hadn’t, and hadn’t given it much thought. We tossed around a few options before she suggested Nokomis. It had a nice ring to it so I looked it up online. Turns out the friend knew what she was doing; Nokomis has a couple of meanings but the most prevalent is that it’s the name of Hiawatha’s grandmother in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Since the grandmother gave me this van I felt it was kinda fitting, and so the name stuck.
Nokomis. A 1999 Chrysler Town & Country minivan fitted with a computer desk, bed, and full kitchen. Traveling across the country. It’s gonna be awesome.
And I’ll have so many photos to share and stories to tell.