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Creating a Moving Studio (Van Build)

I'm not sure where my desire to convert a van started. Was it the commercial I saw in University with a VW bus in California or a documentary on Netflix about a couple who converted a bus to travel the length of North to South America, I'm not sure. Wherever it started, I have been rolling this idea around in my head for a while.

My idea was always to have a place where I could create on the road. Maybe a mobile studio that I could also use as my shop base so I could travel, fulfill online orders, and create new art. As usual, the first concepts that I had were, uh, a bit overwhelming, lol. I can have the tendency to want to do the biggest, best, most perfect thing and that became a bit of a road block. SO I decided to start a bit smaller.

My biggest goal was a comfortable place for me and my dog Kiwi to sleep and travel. But I had never really travelled with my dog before. Beyond driving from my old condo in Toronto back to my family's place in Peterborough, she hadn't done much else. I didn't want to make plans, spend money, and then realize that it just wasn't a compatible lifestyle for us. So I started from the very basics:

 

Renting an Airbnb in Kingston Ontario

   

Before anything else I needed to see if this would work for my lifestyle. Me and my dog Kiwi hadn't really done any travelling together so I wanted to make sure she was a happy little traveller. I booked a place in Kingston in spring 2019 to see if she would be comfortable staying in an unfamiliar place and exploring an unfamiliar city. It was a hit! She loved it :) You can watch a bit of that experience here on my YouTube channel. After that I needed to take it to the next step:

 

Staying in a Cabin at a Campground

      

In the summer of 2019 I decided to travel a bit further from home and drive up to the town Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula. I found a private campground that had a little cabin so we could experience the campground environment but in a way that would make Kiwi feel secure. You can see my trip here: Bruce Peninsula Vlog. Another success! Kiwi loved sitting out at the campfire and was pretty much unbothered by people in neighbouring campsites. She also loved exploring, hiking, and finding new places. I felt like we could try the next step:

 

Converting My Jeep

          

Later in the summer, after seeing a few small temporary Subaru and Jeep set ups on Youtube, I asked my dad to help me make a little removable platform for camping. After a bit of experimenting we figured out a way to do it and then I went on a camping trip with my parents who stayed in their rv. That way we had a bit of a safety net in case it wasn't a good fit for us. But now the summer was basically over, work was busy and I was preparing for some art shows in the fall and holiday season, so I needed to table the process. But there was something on the horizon:

 

Art Residency in New Mexico USA

       

I applied for an art residency in New Mexico for January 2020. When I was accepted I decided to take Kiwi and my Jeep camper set up so that I could camp on the way down and give my jeep set up more of a test. I was also really curious about how Kiwi would do on an extended trip and if I would enjoy a solo long distance road trip (having a camper van would mean lots of future road trips). In the end I actually only camped on night in my Jeep (a very cold and rainy Missouri night) but we survived and it's become a good story about sleeping in -2 degree weather haha! The driving and exploring was a big success though! Stopping, sketching, hiking, finding new places, amazing! You can watch some of my experience here. I felt like both Kiwi and I had handled the experience so well, it was onto the next step:

 

Ontario Parks Camping

       

When the pandemic hit, it seemed like even a better reason to keep trying to figure out how to be self contained while travelling. In the summer of 2020, Kiwi and I spent a very uncomfortable couple nights, sweating it out in the July heat at Sandbanks Provincial Park watch here and then a much more comfortable August trip to Silent Lake Provincial Park watch here. With these trips, we found out just how much we enjoyed staying in campgrounds, hiking new trails, and sitting and watching chipmunks (mostly Kiwi with that one). Buuut we also found out just how uncomfortable the Jeep was. I couldn't sit up or move around easily, it was very hot, and if the weather wasn't nice then it was arguably worse then hanging out in a tent. So if we wanted to keep doing this, I was determined to upgrade to a van.

 

Finding the Right Van

    

I had been trolling Kijiji, Autosales, and my local Ford dealership for the last couple years to try and figure out which van would be the right one for me. The practical side of me really wanted something reliable, safe, and had modern perks like bluetooth. But the aesthetic side of me wanted a cute vintage van that would look great in pictures! Until I saw a video of a VW Vanagon hitting a wall and just how much damage was done. Soooo a modern cargo van became the focus. I liked the idea of having a lot of space and being able to stay in my van like a little home, but I also wanted to be able to park wherever I wanted, drive easily around big cities, and have something I could use as my daily driver. So a city cargo van was what I narrowed down to. Looking at all things being equal, having the most cargo space was important and the Ford Transit Connect looked like it fit that requirement the best. After deciding which one I wanted it took about a month to find one that I wanted to test out and I ended up liking how it drove and bought it! Just in time too because I had a couple camping trips lined up for August and September 2021.

 

Testing Out My Van

       

Blossom came home and right away I started making some temporary changes because a week later I went to Algonquin Park, watch the trip here. Wow! What an improvement over the Jeep. So much more space, able to stop on the side of the road and comfortably eat out of the side of my van. So good! But even with my temporary set up I decided I could improve it a bit in time for my next trip to Killbear Provincial Park and Killarney Provincial Park; see how my van was set up and some of my trip here. I'm really happy that I had these trips before I built out my van because it gave me really good insight into how Kiwi and I interacted with the space and with each other inside. One trip was beautiful weather and the other was pretty rainy and cold, so it also gave me an idea of how the van felt in these scenarios. After my second trip I hadn't done much work in the van besides removing the bulkhead partition and adding a bit of sound proofing, so I essentially I had a blank slate! The next step was planning and executing the build, but that's a story for the next blog post.

 

Thanks for reading! Bye :)

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