Sometimes you gotta make a change. Take up a new hobby, break an old habit, clear out those shirts you never wear, try a diet, start exercising, shave that mullet, and so on. For surfer, climber, all-around weekend warrior and Beyond Explorer Harry Lyles, that meant ditching his rental house and moving into his van full-time. It took a fair amount of elbow grease, refitting his van in a lot of big ways, and a few adjustments to everyday life, but he enjoys a level of flexibility these days that’s hard to match. “I always wished I could just spend more time surfing and have the beach a little more accessible,” Harry shared with us (having recently tagged along with Harry and his van on a surfing trip to Baja, we can confirm that he’s pulled this off).
Harry’s not alone in his pursuit of a lean, mobile lifestyle either. “I have four really close friends that live out of their vans down here [in Southern California], and they all pretty much do the same thing that I’m doing. They all work; three out of four of them have traditional 9-5 jobs. One, she’s a freelance photographer. We’re all just hyperactive by necessity, because we live on four wheels.” Having a few friends who share the van life is pretty handy as well, it turns out: “Everyone does their van differently, which is really neat. You get tips and tricks on how to organize, or how to build cabinets, or what people are using for their electrical, or their sleeping setups. On Reddit, on YouTube, on the internet in general, it’s like a full-blown black hole of information on van life. It’s pretty overwhelming.”
If you’re looking to trim down to a van yourself or just want a little more insight into what it’s like, we’ve compiled a few observations with Harry to consider.
Know What You’ll be Doing with Your Van
If you’re putting together a van that you can live full time in, the first thing you’ll want to do is figure out what you want it to be good at. “When people want to start a van, they gotta think of its true function,” Harry advised. “Like, are they gonna be full-blown traveling in it and living in it full time? Then they’re gonna want to make it nice and comfortable. I based my build to be at the beach. There’s a surfing beach here in San Clemente called San Onofre—it’s a pretty famous spot—and you can literally just park right on the beach. Like back your van or truck up, and the water is 20 yards from where you park. And it’s an epic surfing spot. I built my van around that, where I can open up the back doors and I can walk straight from the driver’s seat all the way through the back of the van and onto the sand.”
Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More
As much as Harry enjoys diving into new projects, he recommends careful forethought before starting your own van build: “Draw a layout and make sure it’s the layout you want before you even purchase a van. Research your layouts. Assign yourself a budget that you want to stick to; people can build out a $#&%ty old Ford Econoline for $1500 and have a pretty cool van, or go the complete opposite and spend $200,000 on some crazy Sprinter that’s probably never gonna touch the dirt and has a friggin’ dishwasher and shower in the back. There’s some ridiculous setups.” And just a reminder: refitting a van takes a good chunk of time. “One thing people underestimate is the time investment involved in building a thing. People think, ‘I’m gonna work on it for two months, but in reality they should multiply that by two or three.”
It’s a Convenience Tradeoff
Take a minute to consider what kinds of convenience are most important to you. For Harry and a lot of his fellow van dwellers, knowing their home can be right next to whatever they want to do next is amazing. But there are some day-to-day things they’ve given up to get that: “What I tell everybody is that it’s very, very easy to do, you just have to be comfortable with sacrificing convenience. Having a bathroom, that’s definitely a convenience and luxury.”
All About the Active Lifestyle
It turns out van life is an excellent remedy for homebody syndrome: “Now that I live in a van I’m so much more active; probably 5-6 days a week I’m exercising in some capacity. I have to get pretty creative with my time outside of work. If the waves are good I’m gonna go surf, if the waves suck and the weather’s nice I’m going mountain biking, if neither of those two are working out I’m going rock climbing at the rock climbing gym nearby. The mindset change is literally by necessity. You just gotta get creative with your time and your outlets when you’re not at work.”
Have a Good List of Tunes Ready
“Logging thousands of miles in my van has molded me into a road warrior, and forced me to curate playlists to make the hum of the tires seem non-existent,” Harry shared with us. His selection of tunes, intended to keep fingers drumming on the wheel as the miles fly by, definitely carry a time-tested theme: “I was heavily influenced by rock n’ roll, ever since I was a little kid. I grew up on Beach Boys and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones; the Rolling Stones still to this day are my favorite band. There was a lot of psychedelic country rock that was being put out in the 70s as well that really attracted me, like trucker tunes. There’s this trucker song called ‘White Line Fever’ that’s just about counting the white lines and telephone poles on the highway as time goes on. And that’s kind of my theme when I’m out roadtripping, a honky-tonk rock n’ roll vibe.”