2 couples who have turned vans into tiny homes share their best tips on how to get started in vanlife — and how to make a tiny space feel big enough to live in

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Sara and Alex James have converted more than a dozen vans into homes. Courtesy of Sara and Alex James
  • Making the best use of space in a camper van is all about recognising your priorities from the start.
  • Sara and Alex James, a couple who converts vans into tiny homes, say that you should go in with three priorities in mind for how to transform the area, like a bed, a bathroom, and a workspace.
  • Kara and Nate recently bought a converted sprinter van and renovated it for life on the road say that selecting the right van for their lifestyle was crucial for making the best use of it.
  • Sara, Alex, Kara, and Nate shared tips with Business Insider on how to best maximise space for life on the road.
  • Both couples recommend prioritising space for a shower and a convertible bed.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.


Sara and Alex James have transformed more than a dozen vans into tiny homes since 2017 when they started living in their own self-converted sprinter van.

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While they no longer live on the road, they still customise vans, and they have some tips for getting started.

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First, Alex said, it’s important to pick the right van for you. To do this, he recommends consulting with a van builder and test driving a lot of vans.

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When selecting and customising a van, you should have three priorities in mind for how to use the space.

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For Alex and his wife, Sara, being able to shower and use the restroom in the van without having to set anything up was important.

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Others might want to find space for their bikes or other large equipment in the van. Some people may need their vehicle to fit dog crates or make room for a family of four.

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Sara added that your bed and bathroom situations should be the most important factors when it comes to designing the layout.

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The couple recommends prioritising having a bed that converts into working and eating space because beds take up a good amount of a van’s interior.

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New to the van life scene, Kara and Nate Buchanan told Business Insider they bought a van when the coronavirus pandemic slashed their international travel plans and renovated it to suit their needs.

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When selecting and renovating their van, Nate and Kara prioritised having a work station, a bathroom, and securing their electronics.

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To accommodate their work station, Kara and Nate bought a van with a convertible bed.

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The couple turned the van’s closet into a charging safe for their electronics.

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They keep their clothes in the cabinets.

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For the bathroom, Kara and Nate put their toilet in the shower, because privacy was important to them. This way, they can use it behind a curtain rather than having a toilet slide out of a drawer in the middle of the van, Nate said.

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Once you have your essentials squared away, Sara and Alex said that you can work around the leftover space to add additional things.

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Nate and Kara converted their van’s TV nook into a coffee station because they don’t watch a lot of television.

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Sara and Alex warn van builders not to get too creative with their layouts and to know when to let things go. “There’s only so many ways you can do things in a van,” Alex told Business Insider.

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For example, Sara said her clients often want to include a stovetop in their van, but ultimately they typically decide against it because it takes up necessary counter space. “You’re probably not going to cook as much as you think you are,” she added.

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The most important thing about laying out a camper van is ensuring that it’s functional for your lifestyle, she told Business Insider.

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