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Vanlife: My Dream Van that Doesn't Exist (yet)

All the current tech in one van to make my perfect Vanlife van.

By Steve B HowardPublished 2 years ago 6 min read
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Vanlife: My Dream Van that Doesn't Exist (yet)
Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash

If it were possible, my dream Vanlife Van would be livable of course with a bed, mini-kitchen, toilet, solar shower, mini-fridge, WiFi and at least some storage space. It would also be electric with a solar panel array that helped charge the battery and gave it some extra range. If possible, a level four self-driving system would be great, though a level three system would be pretty cool as well. And finally. airless punctureless tires would top it off. I know, a big dream, but much of the tech I mentioned is here now. It just hasn’t been implemented all in one vehicle yet.

Last year after reading the books Nomadland and How to Live in a Car, Van, or RV as well as watching the movie Nomadland, I wrote an article about my own Vanlife dreams. Even though in that article I wax poetic about what my Van Life might be like even going as far as making up a sort of mock budget of how much it would cost me to start and live that life, I have to admit there is a part of it that I'm a complete liar about. The actual driving part. I know, I know, I just finished writing four articles about my love of cool and fast cars, but to tell the truth, I don’t like driving all that much.

Technically, I’m a good driver, meaning I haven’t gotten too many tickets in my 30 some years of driving and I’ve never been in an accident that was my fault. The problem though is that I’m often an angry and nervous driver. Especially in heavy city traffic. I love fast cool cars and I have had a lot of fun driving some of them, but I’ve also spent a lot of time behind the wheel acting like an angry road raging shithead. Also, I’m 52 years old and my eyesight isn’t perfect anymore and my reflexes have slowed as well, something that prevented me from getting into accidents many times.

I still have my Japanese driver’s license, but I haven’t driven here in years. And the last time I drove in the US was 2016. I don’t really miss it much either. Walking, my bike or the subway are good enough for me about 95% of the time.

So at this point, you are probably thinking, “Uh, Steve, you dummy, if you don’t want to drive then how the hell are you ever going to live the Vanlife?”

Easy, I’ll live in my van in my mom’s driveway! Just kidding. The problem is the tech for the Vanlife I’m dreaming of just isn’t quite here yet. And if it ever does arrive I doubt I could save the cash needed to buy my dream van even if I had three lifetimes to do it.

What I’m dreaming of is a fully decked out Vanlife style van with solar panels that run the length of it to keep it charged and rolling as well as a full self-driving system so I can just sit on my butt and ride along doing whatever I want to do. Airless forever tires, something I read might become a thing soon, would be cool as well.

Sounds crazy, but most of the tech I’m talking about is already here or almost here.

The Basic Van

The van would probably be the easiest part, assuming I had the money of course. Something like this would be just fine for me.

Electric Van with a Solar Panel Array

Going all electric with an array of solar panels all over the van to recharge the battery and get more mileage is here, sort of. Below are a few Youtube videos of various electric vehicles at various prices (about $6k to over $200k) that use solar panels to power and recharge their batteries. The amount of daily miles you can drive in a day varies as well, but the Sono Sion, which is also a mini-van can go about 190 miles on one charge, which if you are driving about 30 miles per day would give you about 5.5 days of driving before you needed to charge it again.

5 Other solar panel electric cars

In the first Youtube video the guy was done an astounding job of customizing a Mercedes Sprinter. I don’t think there is a DIY solar panel kit like the ones on the Sono Sion yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone makes one in the near future if the Sono Sion or some of the other solar panel vehicles work as well as their manufacturers claim they do. Having a van that never needs gas and that can be driven for up to five days on short trips or up to 150 miles if you need to go further before it needs to be recharged would be pretty popular with Vanlife people I think. Also, solar panel and electric battery tech is continuously improving, so I think how much the solar panel recharges the battery, how quickly the battery recharges, and how many miles you can drive on a single battery charge will only get better. And there are already DIY Vanlifers that have made their own fully electric vans.

Self Driving Van

Self driving cars are classified into five categories (6 if you include 0, or no frills). Below are my simple descriptions of level 1 through 4. I left out a lot of the tech jargon as well as the legal gobbledygook that seems to me makes things complicated to the point of being stupid, as legalities often do.

Level one includes help with acceleration and cruise control.

Level two helps with both acceleration and braking as well as an auto-pilot function, but requires the driver to be at the wheel.

Level Three the car basically has control, but the driver is still behind the wheel to take over if needed. This is essentially where we are at right now for privately owned and operated vehicles depending on which country you are in. The Audi 8 which came out in 2017 was the first.

Level Four does everything level three does, but the driver doesn’t have to be behind the wheel. Technically, in the US level four self-driving vehicles can only be used on closed test tracks. But, last year a company called Otto, which has since been bought by Uber, took a regular semi-truck, added a bunch of self-driving tech and successfully allowed it to make a delivery at level 4 on the freeway and level 2 (I think) on the regular rodes, meaning the driver took over again. And in Germany, Japan, and China there are level four buses, but so far only on roads that don’t have any other traffic.

Level Five would mean the car is completely autonomous. To the point that you wouldn’t even have a steering wheel anymore. Or brakes or an accelerator, for that matter. Good news for Vanlifers, since that would free up a lot of space in your van. So far though, level five vehicles are still just in the experimental phase.

As I mentioned, I’m not a big fan of driving, so a level four or level five van would be amazing for me. Even a level three van would be pretty cool. As of 2022 there is a very pricey level 3 Mercedes available. And probably the Audi I mentioned as well.

Level 4 self driving bus in Germany

And I think this one is still in the experimental stage, but Erwin Hymer apparently has built a self driving (level 3 or 4, I think) RV and it sounds like their goal is level 5 in the future.

And we also have the Otto/Uber level 2/4 semi truck, which might be on the roads in a commercial capacity very soon.

Self driving semi truck

Airless/Puncturless Tires

The last piece of the puzzle for my dream Vanlife van is still experimental aside from some military vehicles, I think. They do have working proto-types though and some big-name tire companies think they will have commercial versions of the tires for sale by 2030. Which is potentially good news for me. I’ll be 60 years old in 2030. Assuming in the unlikely event I have enough money to retire, buy my dream van and move back to the US from Japan to live my Vanlife dream, having these tires available in 2030 would be perfect.

Airless Tires (proto-type)

My Vanlife van and Vanlife life are both most likely a very long way off, if not forever out of reach, but it is still a dream I very much enjoy considering, researching, and writing about. If I continue to learn more and see that via DIY maybe that this dream is potentially achievable for the average person I will certainly write more articles about it in the future.

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About the Creator

Steve B Howard

Steve Howard's self-published collection of short stories Satori in the Slip Stream, Something Gaijin This Way Comes, and others were released in 2018. His poetry collection Diet of a Piss Poor Poet was released in 2019.

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