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VAN LIFE: The Real Life Survival Video Game


My first van. I ended up calling it the Mystery Machine. This photo was taken the day I bought it. If you look really closely, you can see the guy I bought it from getting his stuff out. When you have no bed. Then you get a bed. You appreciate it a lot. This was my first bed in a van ever! It folded all sorts of different ways. They don’t make stuff like this anymore. I froze my ass off in this van while working and living in Lake Tahoe for the winter. Snowboarding every day. It was awesome but cold. Then my van broke down in the middle of a gnarly snowstorm, so I went to sleep. I woke up to a snowplow hitting my van. It put a big hole in the van. I ended up selling it.

VAN LIFE: The Real Life Survival Video Game


By: Lee Eisler


Is van life attainable for everyone? What if you don’t have enough money to buy a built out van? What if you can’t afford to pay rent and support your van build at the same time?


That was me. I was tired of paying so much money in rent that buying food was a struggle. That’s no way to live. Long story short I made a pros and cons list and decided to try living in a van. It was an experiment at first. If I didn’t like it, I would go back to doing what I was doing before.

Then I got this van for $3,000. A new home on wheels. After not having a van for a little getting this van just felt like I got my freedom back. I named it Freedom the Van. Freedom the van is a 1996 Dodge Ram B2500. It was a Primetime conversion van so the back seats already folded flat into a bed and it was super comfortable.

I stopped paying rent and loaded all my stuff into a storage locker. With nothing set in place, I lived out of the storage locker, my Toyota Corolla, and various couches, mostly my parents. After 3 months I had $1,500 saved up. I had been browsing craigslist looking at vans I couldn’t afford for the entire 3 months. Basically, I was dreaming about living in a van, waiting until I had enough money to afford one. I was getting antsy.


That’s when it happened. A $1,500 1978 Dodge Tradesman 200 that drove popped up onto craigslist. This thing had some style. I called within 5 minutes of it being posted and went to look the next day. I told myself that if this thing actually does drive, I’m buying it. It actually did drive, and it actually had a ton of power and seemed to be running pretty good. My new home on wheels. The back had nothing in it at all. It was a blank slate but my new home. Not only my new home on wheels but the start of some of the best times of my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. As my brother would say, I had just purchased a new lease on life.

I lifted the van and put bigger tires on it thanks to the help of Greg at G&M Diesel Services in Orange, California.

The day I bought that van was the day I turned my life from boring and dull to exciting and adventurous. I didn’t just take a step outside my comfort zone but a giant leap. This leap caused me to learn. I learned about myself. I learned about life. I learned how to live more simply. I learned how to stop and smell the roses. I learned how to keep going outside my comfort zone to expand and grow myself.

The next thing I did was add a roof vent. I went all out on this as this is important. Not just for me but for Wander the doggy also.

Initially, I really had no idea what to expect from van life. I was conditioned to live a certain way, and by moving towards van life, I was going to have to relearn how to live. No unlimited power source. No Water. I didn’t even have a stove for like the first month. I had no plans really. I just jumped right into van life and figured things out along the way. It’s 4 years later, and I’m still figuring things out.


The day I bought that van was the day my life turned into like this crazy survival video game but in real life. What do I mean by this? Well, we all know how video games work. You improve your situation through a variety of different ways causing you to “level up.” Well instead of playing video games I began living a video game. I started out van life with the van. It was time to figure out a bed situation. Time to try to level up.

I ripped everything out of the interior to install a more weatherproof adventure floor as opposed to the carpet that existed.

I remember getting these seats my coworker had taken out of an old van. They folded every which way. Became two rows of seats, a bed or they could fold so they were facing each other. I had leveled up!


I’m not writing all this to scare you. Well, maybe I am because moving into a van is scary! I was not sure I was doing the right thing. Good news is it’s 4 years later. I’m still living in a van and loving it! I would not have traded any of it for anything, and I would not have done it differently. The amount of knowledge, power, and self-sufficiency I have gained in the last 4 years could not be taught in school….well unless you are in the school of life! I have no idea what level of van life I’m currently at. Sometimes you pass levels. Sometimes you fail. Van life isn’t just all fun and games. After all. Vanning Ain’t No Joke!

Then I Installed garage flooring to replace the carpet flooring previously used. If I were to redo this, I would get flooring that wasn’t ridges although there are advantages and disadvantages.

One thing to note when your looking at these pictures of all the changes Freedom the van has been through is that these changes happened over the course of years doing what I could as I could. I slept on the floor of this, and I built a few different beds for this van. One valuable lesson I learned about living in a van and building it while you live in it is you need to understand short-term solutions for things. Sometimes those short-term solutions become long-term solutions. Enjoy the journey!


This van has been through so many more changes then what I can show in these pictures. A lot is unfortunately undocumented except for in my mind and memories. Van life is whatever you make it. It can be expensive or inexpensive. You don’t need a $20,000 Sprinter Van all decked out to live the van life. The good life can be had for pennies on the dollar if you just live your life more simply and spend less money.

I got a used roof box. It was silver, so I went to my buddy Mike’s house, and we painted it using the plant in front of his complex as a stencil. Later I attached two 30 watt solar panels onto the roof box.

I knew nothing about working on a car, woodworking, electrical or any of the other skills I have acquired from living the van life. The point is anyone can make this happen, and it’s fun to learn new skills. The only way to grow is to step outside your comfort zone. See you all in the real-life video game I call van life!



I moved the jack to the side of the van and then I realized I could also put my shovel and pickaxe there. SCORE! Also installed lights all around my van.

Building a wall and bed frame. I ended up changing the side my bed was on several times. Thanks to my friend Merlin for showing me a thing or two about woodworking!

Cedar planking and a backrest to the bed! Just this part started making this van feel so much more homey.

It goes from couch to bed mode.

I built this kitchenette but later ended up changing it out for an oven from an old RV.





After painting the roof box, I decided to paint my whole van the same way. This took way longer and way more paint then I originally expected.


This van has been through so many more changes then what I can show in these pictures. A lot is unfortunately undocumented except for in my mind and memories. Van life is whatever you make it. It can be expensive or inexpensive. You don’t need a $20,000 Sprinter Van all decked out to live the van life. The good life can be had for pennies on the dollar if you just live your life more simply and spend less money.

I knew nothing about working on a car, woodworking, electrical or any of the other skills I have acquired from living the van life. The point is anyone can make this happen, and it’s fun to learn new skills. The only way to grow is to step outside your comfort zone. See you all in the real-life video game I call van life! - Lee Eel Eisler


Check out this article and the rest of the 1st issue of the Vanning Ain't No Joke Magazine by clicking here.


A message from the Editor

“Vanning Ain’t No Joke.” This is all my friend Brad Parker said to me after showing him photos of this 1978 Dodge Tradesman 200 I was going to buy to live in. I had no idea what this meant at the time. I had no idea what I was doing. That little saying stuck in my head. I didn’t know why he had said that originally but I sure do now. Living in a van forces you outside your comfort zone. You are constantly learning and growing. You are always facing problems you have to overcome. You are always moving, always going...

Vanning definitely Ain’t No Joke!!!

 

After 4 years of living in a van, many people have told me they live in vans because of me or that I have changed their lives. That’s where this magazine comes from. I thought to myself. If I could change peoples lives just from living my own life and show it on Instagram then how can I do this on a bigger scale? Not only do I have tons of stories and information to share but I know lots of people who also do. 

 

I called my brother Neal Eisler and asked him if they wanted to start a van life magazine with me. We could change peoples lives I told them. After getting them on board, we got to work to make something we could be proud of...something that could not only change peoples lives but change peoples mindsets. I am really excited to share this first issue with everyone and can’t wait to share future issues we haven’t written yet. 

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