cars, views, travel

How to build your own mobile home and workspace for less than $12,000 US dollars

Words: Josh Rakic
Photos: Zach Both

Never pay rent or go to an office again with this all-encompassing super vehicle

Being chained to a desk job you hate and earning barely enough cash to cover your rent is hardly what we’d call living the dream. It might be worth taking some inspiration from Boston-based art director Zach Both, who wanted to pursue his filmmaking dream and decided to break free from the shackles of conformity and join the thousands of adventure-seeking free spirits flocking to the #vanlife. 

The hashtag has garnered some 600,000 posts on Instagram from people across the globe, showcasing their nomadic lifestyle, free of everything but van maintenaince bills. That was inspiration enough for the 23-year-old Both, who made his killer mobile home/workspace into a reality in the space of just a few months with about $12,000 USD and a few YouTube instructional videos. 

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We’re talking full kitchen, solar power, wife, a bed for two, a couch, an office and all the trimmings. With a background in art direction, the interior of the van is pretty stylish. Better yet, the self-described perfectionist did what no one had the patience, skill or time to do and documented the whole experience to create The Vanual, a complete guide to buying, building and living in a van.

The website launched recently and we caught up with the budding filmmaker to get the lowdown on his project. 

work, home, bed, travel, adventure

THE RED BULLETIN: What’s your current location?

ZACH BOTH: I’m outside of San Diego and heading back to Los Angeles today. I’m based in LA at the moment, but we may be down in New Orleans next month or somewhere like that. But I’m out in LA at the moment and the van comes with me wherever I go – outside of impractical distances, of course.

What’s your inspiration?

Living and traveling in a van was a not a long-term dream of mine that I’ve been planning for years. It was quite the opposite. I saw a video of rock climber Alex Honnold, who travels to various places with his van, and he was showing off the van. It was just so practical and I thought to myself, I could do that. Alex’s was so functional and that’s what inspired me to get a cargo van and not some hipster Westfalia or something like that. Two weeks later I bought a van – the first vehicle I’ve ever owned – and started the project. My 16-year-old self would kick me if he knew I bought a cargo van as my first car. 

van, life, travel

Why did you make it?

Work’s primarily the reason I did it in the first place. I left my office job to be a filmmaker, and filmmaking by nature is nomadic. You’re constantly moving around and telling different stories from different places, so this seemed like a perfect fit. But I don’t spend all my time in the van. I’m usually outside, in a coffee shop or at meetings, but the van provides that flexibility. I’m never further than 500 feet from the van. The flexibility can’t be understated.

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What’s it like now?

A year on, it remains surprisingly practical. I can go anywhere and do pretty much anything – travel and work on any number of projects at the same time, and not have to worry about finding and paying for a hotel or constantly going out to eat or find somewhere to work. I can do all that with the van and there’s not really much I’d change now I’ve had a year in it. I’m quite happy with the final result and being the perfectionist I am – I’m never usually happy. You’ve got to use the space efficiently and pull several functions out of one thing. The bed’s also a sofa. I’ve got a chair that can be used as a footstool, which is also the trash can.

cooking, van, life

How much did it cost to make?

The van (2003 Chevy Express) cost me $3,900 [USD] and all up, including that cost, the entire project was about $12,000. Everything that I know how to do, whether it’s design or carpentry, has been completely self-taught using online resources like YouTube. I had a little help from my parents, but not a whole lot. My dad would walk me through what to do the next day over dinner or something like that.

How long did it take?

From the day I bought the van to the time it was finished was about eight months in total of on-and-off work. I was going back and forth between work in LA and the van, working on different projects. But if I were to compact that, I’d say it was about three months of total work.

work, home, life, travel

The Vanual

I’m by no means the first person to build a van and I won’t be the last. Once I started doing the research I realized it was already kind of a trendy thing. I discovered the whole #vanlife movement on Instagram. There was already a wealth of knowledge online and other various places. But all that information was scattered and disjointed or unfinished. So my idea was just to bring it all to one place and have one succinct story/manual for anyone who wants to do the same. It’s free for people to access it. You’re not paying $10 for an e-book or something like that. It’s sponsored by Ryobi, a power tool company, who came onboard after the fact.

Why did you decide to share your method?

I do the same with all my projects – film or otherwise. I like showing the process behind the scenes to share the wealth, so to speak. I finished the van about a year ago, but it’s taken the past 12 months to create The Vanual and take all the photos and collate the information, among other projects I’m working on. I just thought I’d pass along the knowledge and experience I’ve learned along the way, and it’s been great. This is the first time I’ve launched a website and there’s been lots of traffic and enormous amounts of comments and emails from people who seem to really appreciate what I did with the site, and that’s all I could ask for.

Want to build your own van? Head to The Vanual.

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