The road is full of amazing stories. That’s, in fact, why we love the RV lifestyle.
Today we’re meeting a one-of-a-kind traveler…Hilary & her ex-Holiday Inn Shuttle. This adventurous solo female camper took a leap of faith when she decided to hit the road.
She scored an affordable rig, converted it to suit her lifestyle, and hit the highway.
We’re learning how she does it and getting a few tips along the way. Without further ado, here’s Hilary!
Introducing Hilary & Her Holiday Inn Shuttle
Hi, I’m Hilary! I travel around the country in my old Holiday Inn shuttle bus with my cat, Ernie. Some days I’m soaking up scenic views, cooling off in rivers, hanging with other van dwellers, or sitting in parking lots poaching free WiFi.
But one thing is always the same–I have no idea what I’ll be doing the next day.
How long have you been RVing?
I hit the road full-time in May of 2020, so almost one year. There were a couple months throughout that I spent back at a relative’s place in Utah.
It was a great way to reset, reorganize the van, and remind me of why I love getting back on the road.
What type of RV are you currently traveling with?
I drive a 1999 Ford E250. It used to be a Holiday Inn shuttle bus and has belonged to at least three other van lifers. This thing is a tank–it’s lived in Mexico, Guatemala, Canada, and the US.
Why did you choose to live the van life? What inspirations did you draw from when building-out your van?
If I’m digging deep, I chose van life because I knew I had more to learn about myself and the world around me.
I wanted the gorgeous views and freedom, but really craved the solitude and solo time to reflect on how I spend my time. I wanted to cut out all the distractions and figure out what a happy life looks like to me!
And I can assure you, holy hell I’ve learned a lot.
My ultimate goal with the van buildout was to keep it minimal but cozy enough to feel like a real home. I’m all for a good budget build, but sometimes they look a little less homey than I’d like. I really wanted a comfy place that reflected my personality (and also had a work space).
Many of the van build pieces were from leftover lumber in my parent’s barn, RV cushions off of Craigslist, and re-using the original shuttle bus fabric panels that came in the van.
Drivin’ & Vibin’ Insight: We totally relate to Hilary’s frugal lifestyle. Here are a few unexpected expenses we encountered in RV life.
The Van’s Living Area
My living area is when I convert my bed into benches, which gives me a work space and just more room to move around. When I bought the van, it had a fixed bed that took up most of its space. But, I knew I’d be working remotely from the van and didn’t want to just sit in bed, which is why I opted for the bench-to-bed conversion.
Now, I can easily access anything I need from the benches when they’re in “bench” mode during the day, and am not tempted to fall asleep by just laying in bed when working!
I’ll admit though, I don’t convert the bed every day.
But I make sure I don’t let things get too messy. I keep my cat’s litter box on the floor in front of the passenger’s seat as well, to keep it out of the “living area” as much as possible.
The benches are made of a combo of oak and birch wood. My dad and I built them, polyurethaned them, and made sure they’re secured very well to the van.
I store things underneath the benches and can access them from lifting the bench lids or opening a small back door built in at the back of the van.
Bedroom in the Camper Van
My bedroom “appears” when I turn the benches into a bed.
A matter of pulling out two oak slats from one side of the benches and resting them into a french cleat on the other side. I use RV cushions that serve as my bench cushions, but also fit the length and width of my van for my bed “mattress”.
I’m impressed with how well I’ve slept on these cushions over the last seven months. No complaints! I use a combination of blankets and a sleeping bag to cozy up at night!
My bathroom ranges from a portable toilet I put together, to just popping a squat outside, to using a public restroom.
If I’m spending the night in a place where I can’t go outside (ie a hotel parking lot), then I use a jar to pee in! Just a basic plastic jelly bean jar with a screw-top lid (make sure it’s screw-top).
My portable toilet is a lightweight, plastic toilet seat with three legs that screw into the bottom of it. You can either attach a bag or, if you’re going outside, just dig a hole below it.
D+V Pro Tip: Many RVers use a composting toilet. However, here’s the dirty truth about them.
When I first bought the van, there was a very beat-up, small table that was not properly secured. Now, my kitchen includes table space, a hand-pump sink, and a two-burner propane stove.
I have a drawer “tower” where the drawers can be pushed in and out both ways, so I can access items from outside the van. My propane stove is attached to this tower with two metal sliders. My 20lb. propane tank is hidden beneath one of my benches and has a small hole in the lid for the propane hose.
The sink is just an extra random stainless steel sink we found in our basement (lucky?)–it doesn’t have a drain, however. So I have to manually dump it after every use. I have a 5 gallon water jug that rests below it.
No changes were made to the exterior! Well, I did use POR-15 paint on the bumpers to properly cover up some rust spots. Otherwise, I let this bad boy shine in all its dated, green and yellow glory.
I paid about $6,000 for the van and put about $3,500 into complete new brake lines/system, windshield replacement, exhaust manifold replacement, and other small things.
So, any costs that may have gone towards upgrading the exterior instead went to more critical things like new brake lines!
What tips do you have for folks interested in renovating a van?
I think a lot of people have the mindset that they can sell their van for a lot more than they actually can. So during the buildout, they splurge on all the top-dollar items, thinking that ensures they’ll make that much more if/when they eventually sell it.
But I don’t have that mindset.
My advice is to be very picky about a handful of must-have items that you will splurge on.
For me, it was a MaxxAir Fan (because it’s big, insanely quiet, and energy-efficient)–and since my van has poor insulation, I knew I’d need all the air circulation I could get. Also, a splurge was quality ceiling lights, because nothing will frustrate me more than not feeling like I can SEE in my van.
So, pick a few top-dollar items then be willing to compromise on other parts.
This way, you don’t have to financially pigeon-hole yourself into van life if you end up not loving it. Accept that your plans will probably change many times throughout the build. Accept that you will inevitably make wrong turns.
But that’s okay, it’s part of the van life journey!
Hands-down my favorite tool was the impact wrench. The number of screws or bolts we had to pull out of (and put into) that van would have been unbearable without an impact wrench! But my dad may have a different answer…
Where can people follow you?
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