Q. How did you come to the decision to not have a shower in the van, and is that a decision that you are happy with now that you have had the van for a while?
A. Part of how I decided on what to do with my van centered around avoiding ideas that made me so overwhelmed I wanted to give up the project. The idea of installing plumbing, figuring out how to have the water drain, and avoiding having water pool was too overwhelming. Ugh. It just made me cringe.
Because I didn't put a shower in, but still made incredible strides in my healing, I am grateful I did not become reliant on having a shower. Life happens, and to feel I could not survive without a shower could have been constricting. I do always travel with water and a fresh shirt so if I get a mold hit I can wash my head and change my shirt immediately. That is my best tactic for avoiding health problems...especially those deep, dark, physically painful depression symptoms.
We are now eight months into our time in the van and I still prefer taking a shower with the filtered water in our Arrowhead bottles. I don’t care if sometimes it is a little chilly. Filtered water is indescribably refreshing.
Q. Do you have a portable toilet that you keep with you in the van?
A. We have a portable toilet called a Dry-Flush toilet, but I refuse to use it inside the van. We got a little shower tent and have I have used it about a dozen times since I published Camp Like a Girl. It is not too shabby.
The van is my dream bedroom. I just cannot imagine any scenario where I would want to have a toilet in my bedroom.
Every time my husband sees long lines of RVs at dump stations he says something like: “I don’t understand how all these stoner rock ‘n’ rollers have been smart enough to figure out it is a terrible idea to “crap on the bus,” but these RV people keep insisting on doing it.” It always makes me laugh, but on the other hand, I do understand why people would choose the privacy and convenience.
We are all different in what we need to heal. You have to make your own determination about what is right for you. I choose a little inconvenience to keep my bedroom as pristine as possible.
Q. What would you do differently if you were to start over with a new van?
A. Nothing, other than disconnect the overhead lights. I still love it just as it is. The only thing that has changed is that I keep streamlining the number of things I need. I really hate stuff, now.
Q. What do you do for ventilation? What would you change, if anything?
A. We just keep the front windows open and use a small fan. Most nights we keep one or both back doors open, with a bungee attached so we can yank it shut if we need to. Our headboard is so solid that it feels pretty cozy and secure even with that foot of space open above it.
Our umbrella philosophy has been to let the locations we pick do 80% of the work. In an arid climate, open windows are plenty to keep the walls bone dry.
Q. Did you get a brand new van, or older?
A. Brand new.
Q. Have you added any more solar panels?
A. We have added two more solar panels and a 1250-watt Goal Zero charging unit. I will do a review of this system sometime soon. It is pretty fantastic. I wouldn’t get one of these until you are extremely good at mold avoidance, though. They are not cheap.
Q. I wondered how long the conversion took overall?
A. About a month.
Q. What did you use for wall coverings?
A. Just the plastic wall coverings that came with the Ford Transit interior package.
Bed, Mattress and Biomats Questions:
Q. How to do you plug your biomats in for power? Solar converter? Or do you use the extension cord out the window?
A. We have used an extension cord to plug them into power sources at campgrounds. Haven’t tried them yet with the Goal Zero system.
I remain amazed at what an impressive “passive solar” tiny house the van is. Between the insulation, the black wall coverings, and the way the Himalayan salt and latex mattress hold onto heat, we are almost never cold. In the last eight months we have only used our generic biomats for heat about eight times. And each time we only needed them for about two hours. I have pulled them out and used them for detoxing purposes, but they pale in comparison to what the clean air and getting some exercise seem to do.
Many of the items I used in the van I found on Amazon. Compiling a list for everyone is something I hope to complete soon. :)
Q. Has the far infrared heat source under your beds proven itself to be a good investment? Is it effective?A. I like them a lot and it is nice to know we have a way to stay warm when it gets really cold. They just haven’t been as necessary as I thought they would be.
I think if I were still camping alone, I might consider getting a dog instead. Companionship, security, and a heat source that runs on kibble seems like a pretty great deal. My friend, Susie, has been camping with her dog, Jackie, (pictured below) and he is having the time of his life.
Q. Are you happy with your bed choice? Is there anything you would do differently?
A. I am very happy with our bed. We had to replace the mattress in August. Erik has mentioned that he can’t keep a mattress pristine and so I figured we would end up replacing our mattress from time to time. This time we only ordered a 3-inch medium latex topper and it is quite comfortable.
Q. Aren't you worried about using latex? There are a lot of allergies, they say the allergies build up with use. But I think your approach is key to the success of the van conversion. Is there a caveat about natural latex?
A. When I was researching latex mattresses I found several sources that claimed the allergen-producing proteins do not survive the washing and heat treatment the mattresses undergo. As such, many people with latex allergies can often do well with latex mattresses. It would be a good thing to discuss with your physician, though.
If I had a known allergy to latex I would probably not use it, but I don’t so my doctor encouraged me to use an organic latex mattress. My allergies are getting much better with mold avoidance that I’m not too worried about developing new allergies. I ate a piece of a moldy tomato by accident a few months ago and didn’t have a reaction at all which was a first for me. My allergies to things like eggs, corn starch, and sorghum are still with me, though.
MCS and Decontamination Questions:
Q. You mentioned having a lot of trouble with formaldehyde, but then used plywood for the bed frame? What made this possible?
A. My MCS is almost gone now, but I still don't like formaldehyde in my sheets or clothing. The plywood I used is the highest quality I could find at Menards...furniture quality. I put it in a mattress cover to protect it from water...that might help with the formaldehyde. I'm not sure.
I just recently covered the plywood and insulation layer in aluminum foil to see how I like that. I can't really tell a difference, but it seems a prudent step. I think doing planks of wood could work really well, too, but just didn't think of it. For me, making sure things don't have mold or mold toxins is more important worrying too much about most man-made toxicants.
Q. Have you noticed any smell from the plastic van siding when the van really heats up in hot weather?
A. No. The HVAC system needed the most time to off-gas of anything in the van. The plastic siding seems pretty inert to me.
Q. Is there anything you would have done, built, or installed differently to simplify decontaminating the van?
A. The one thing I would change, which I mentioned in the book, would be to disconnect the overhead lights in the cargo area right off the bat. They can drain the battery in no time.
When I first started mold avoidance it was hard to believe how careful I would need to be with contaminated items. Erik has shared that he puts his contaminated clothes in a bin with water outside of his camper in it to prevent cross-contamination. He is the absolute best at mold avoidance so it should be obvious that we should just do what he does, right? But I had to mess up a few times before it really hit home that I needed to do that.
So the things I would change would be more along the lines of staying absolutely ruthless about how many belongings I need to be happy and healthy. I would make sure that I always had a bin for everything that I keep. And as far as protocols to prevent cross-contamination, I know now that adhering to them saves a lot of work and money in the end.
Here are some things that are just part of our routine now:
We never get in the bed without washing up and changing into our “nighttime clothes.” Need to take a nap? Tough. Wash up and change into your pajamas. Our nighttime clothes consist of PJ bottoms, white t-shirts, goofy socks we won’t be tempted to wear anywhere else, hoodies, and sleep hats. They have their own laundry bin separate from the “daytime clothes.”
We have a bin we keep outside for the shoes. If it is sunny we let the shoes get lots of sunshine.
We have a laptop just for the van for watching movies that never goes into a coffee shop or anywhere else. We keep it charged with our Goal Zero unit. Laptops for coffee shops stay in a bin.
My husband likes to listen to music at night so he has an MP3 player that is just for bed. No phones in the bed, even in airplane mode.
Q. How would you clean the inside of a used van from MCS triggers? Is there some thing I should ask the sellers about their cargo?
A. I wouldn’t buy a van, whether new or used, if I got serious MCS or mold hits from it. If I got that “needle through the heart” feeling I would run back to my car, wash my head, and change my shirt as fast as possible.
I tried a lot of vans and they all felt a little different. The one I bought felt really good to me right off the bat.
I’m a big fan of purposeful outgassing for fumes. When I bought my Subaru, I parked it in the sunniest place I could find. Then I placed a layer of carbon fabric over the seats and on the floors, cranked up the heat and let it run for a few hours. I put an oven thermometer in there and I got that thing up to sauna temperatures! I did that for several days and it got rid of almost all of those awful new car fumes.
When I built the van, I used the sun to help me outgas a lot of the fumes and toxicants. Most of the items spent a good amount of time in the sun before going in the van.
Mold avoidance requires learning to hone your intuition and trust it. If you are looking at a van and you get a strong “NO!” feeling, it is not your van. It should feel right when you buy it.
Q. Now that you have had your van for a while, would you have gotten a bigger model if you were to do it over again?
A. No. I like the medium height and medium length. The taller the van, the more it acts like a sail in the wind. We have plenty of space. I even had an empty drawer for much of the summer. It now has a few fleeces in it for the colder weather ahead.
Q. Do you have enough room for storage? Where did you make space to store all the laundry machines, water filter, etc?
A. We have had plenty of room for storage. I do love to throw things I’m not using away, though. The switch to digital music, movies, pictures...well, really memories...means that we just need computers and kindles for entertainment. The space under the bed is tall enough for the spin dryer, so that is a lot cubic footage of storage space.
Q. How do you store potable water?
A. Six, 3-gallon, BPA-free, water jugs I got at Safeway. Filtered drinking water we keep in recycled glass milk jugs.
Q. Are you content with the ice chest, or would you install a refrigerator?
A. I like the ice chest. I have always hated the humming of refrigerators. It is nice to just use the ice chest.
Q. Are you still using the trailer for extra storage?
A. We sold the trailer.
Q. Do you feel safe sleeping in your van?
A. I do. With the lessening of toxicity has come a sharp drop in my anxieties.
Q. I want to build the kitchen into the cabinets by the back end of the truck, under the bed. What would you think the disadvantages would be (if we keep all the water tight)?
A. I think a slick kitchen system would be a lot of fun. I like the removability and portability of the SwissRoomBox systems a lot and would probably try something like that if I wanted to add that:http://www.swissroombox.com/
I was such an insomniac before I started living in the van that I don’t want to do anything that might contribute to my bed being anything other than pristine. This new version of me that sleeps so soundly every night without any meds is so pleasant and such a dream come true. I just don’t want to take any chances. That is the reason I don’t want to cook in the van or have a bathroom in the van.
I also think that, in truth, it is not “the van” that has been so healing. It is spending so much time outdoors, getting so much sunshine and fresh air that is the reason my health rebounded. The van is my perfect bedroom and it allows me to rest and rejuvenate in a healthy mold-free place at night. But part of its magic is that it forces me to cook outside, clean dishes outside, and do laundry outside.