Jeff Hill is pretty much the definition of DIY. He taught himself art, photography, surfing (almost) and now van reconstruction. From the East Coast, when he was living on the West Coast he decided to live in his van while converting it into a living space. But you can imagine how fun it is to live in a construction site. So he moved out, “finished” the van and moved back in. He’s back on the West Coast and just beginning his life-on-wheels. We caught up with him to see how the transition went and where he’s headed now.
So you’ve decided to move back into your van indefinitely. How long did you live in it before and how come you stopped? Why the decision to go back to it now?
I lived in my van for close to a year while I built it. It’s not fun sleeping in a construction zone…in a van. I stopped because I wanted to drive back home to Massachusetts to be with family. I was living in San Francisco at the time, plus my dad really wanted to be a part of the van process and offered to help me finish the build! A garage full of tools and an extra set of hands sounded nice. I drove back to California a couple months ago, planning to stay in Los Angeles, but it’s hard to have built this van, put the time and money into it, and just use it for camping trips. I want to get back to living rent-free again.
What is the make and model of your rig?
It’s a 1991 Chevrolet G20 “Sport Van”.
How long did it take to do the conversions? What tools did you use?
Kitchenette with sink and microwave, dinette/bed, shower, you name it. It took close to a year, I would say. Working on it while I lived in it in San Francisco, the build went slow and steady. When I got home to the East Coast I had nothing but time to work on it and my dad was really into it too, helping figure out some of the design aspects. He gets credit for the curved cabinet in the back of the van. It curves perfectly with the shape of the door, pure genius! Everything is basic construction. Most everything was built with a circular saw, jigsaw, wood chisels, power drill, wrenches, etc. It still doesn’t feel finished and there’s always little things to fix and adjust.
Do you have destinations that you for sure want to hit, or is everything play-it-by-ear?
I’m headed up the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles towards Big Sur for now. I love the California coast! I am playing it by ear but I have family to visit up north and I’ve been invited on a bicycle tour from San Francisco to Ventura for nine days, so as of right now those are my definite plans. All the rest is just winging it!
Will you be working from the road?
I hope so. I’ve been working on designing t-shirts, and I just got a small run printed. Hilltop Products is my brand. I hope to sell shirts I design to earn some gas money and inspire people to put “Lines On Maps” themselves. Maybe I’ll sell some paintings or photographs along the way, it’s all up in the air, but Hilltop has been my main focus.
How do you feel about alone time? How much is too much?
It’s hard to say… I think there’s a beauty in spending time alone, but sharing moments is what life is all about. I hope to meet up with some friends along the way. It’s a balancing act!
What is the biggest challenge about living on the road?
Most of my time on the road has been traveling with a destination…but right now there is no real “end of the road,” so that should be interesting. Researching some places to stay and stealth camp is always a challenge. Trevor Gordon gave me a short list of spots around Big Sur the other night. Suggestions are always appreciated! Thanks, Trevor!
What are you most looking forward to?
Getting outside, skateboarding, riding my bicycle as much as possible, hopefully getting in the water and doing some surfing, though I’m a total amateur. Excited to sleep under the stars!
Any advice for van-life newcomers?
It’s not all about a Volkswagen bus, haha. My dad has had maybe eight or nine VW buses in my lifetime, Vanagons and Westfalias. I grew up going to Volkswagen show after Volkswagen show, and yes, I romanticize too…but he was actually the one who suggested I buy something cheap and easy to fix. I bought a Chevy because I’m not at a place where I can afford German parts special-ordered if something breaks. Hopefully I’ll get there because I really connect with that culture, I grew up on it, but for now I love MY van because I built it.
I think what people should know is that they are capable of more than they realize. I didn’t know much more than how to use basic tools when I started this project but I have learned a lot. I think drawing a crappy “dream van” is essential, plan a bit, but really starting is where it all gets figured out. Building those first partition walls, it’s a very satisfying feeling! Build something that fits your needs, it’s always a little kooky, but in the best way! It’s all a matter of STARTING. Don’t just talk about it, go for it!
See more photos and follow Jeff’s camper life on his blog here: http://www.jeffisfindingit.com/van.html