Keep it Simple: How to Live in your Van

Bedrock Sandals co-founder Dan Opz has lived and traveled in his ’86 VW Vanagon for the past year. Below he shares the story of life in his van. 

The Inspiration 

During the winter of 2012 I took a 6 week long road trip through the entire Baja Peninsula in search of empty waves,  trails, and a brand new experience. I traveled nearly 4,000 miles in total from Northern California to Cabo and back all in an ’87 Vanagon Syncro with my old college roommate Foster and good friend Trevor.

In addition to empty roads, waves, and trails, I discovered groups of American ex-pats living off dollars a day in their vehicles parked along the beach. Many worked for a few months a year in the states then headed south with surfboards in tow for 6-8 months in the fall, winter, and spring. What amazed me most was how little money they needed to be sublimely happy – living simply without many of the modern day worries and woes most folks have. Fishing for halibut, surfing your brains out, and heading into town for internet and fish tacos once every week or two.

Spring 2012 I decided that I was done paying rent in my Northern California apartment. I wanted an experience that forced me to simplify my lifestyle, list of belongings, and afforded me the opportunity to travel and work on Bedrock full time.

The Van

I decided I wanted an ’80s VW Vanagon because of their relative ubiquity, affordability, and spacious living quarters. The major issue, however, with VW Vanagons is their unreliability and underpowered nature. In order to have the best of both worlds I figured that I needed a more reliable, modern engine.

After hunting Portland, Oregon craigslist (great place to find VW’s) for months I finally found what I wanted – a Vanagon in good body condition (no rust) but with a blown engine. I bought my non-running ’86 Vanagon for $750.

Next I found a used engine in good working condition off of a ’97 Subaru legacy. Subaru engines are perfect transplants into VW Vanagons because they are roughly the same shape,  have the same configuration (horizontally opposing 4 cyclinder engines), and are insanely reliable. Folks have used the same 2.2 liter Subaru Legacy engine (EJ22) on small airplanes. I found a great affordable mechanic – Dean – to lead the charge on the engine conversion and other more minor maintenance we did on the van. As a side note, Dean lives in a customized schoolbus with a Vanagon welded atop for sleeping quarters.

In addition to converting the engine we added an auxiliary battery that charged off the engine’s alternator while running – then when parked the aux battery cuts off from the starter battery to provide the van with off-the-grid power for 3 or so days.

Parked for a couple days along the Northern Californian Coast

Cruising in the High Sierra

Naresh and I running in Big Sur, California

I set sail from Portland on a cross country road trip to Bedrock HQ in Virginia. From there I headed north to renovate the van’s interior with another college friend and carpenter Tucker. We stripped the van’s stock carpet and installed red oak hardwood to make the floor easier to clean and more functional.

Next we used thin 1/4″ oak plywood to rebuild some of the panels (door, rear) inside the van. Once complete we built out the interior dresser with 3/4″ oak plywood and salvaged board wood from an old barn in Maine. The removable table uses a simple dowel system to stay in place.

The Journey

Over the past year I have traveled to the far corners of Down-East Maine all the way to central Baja California, Mexico. I’ve worked on designing and testing Bedrock Sandals on the road, growing our small company, and taking photos for our Instagram.

Running with Naresh in Point Reyes National Seashore, California.

The view from a vista in Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Along the way I have gotten the chance to run and hike in some breath taking wilderness, fly fish in both mangrove ocean and high alpine stream, and surf some awesome breaks across the US. More importantly for me though, I have simplified the list of things I need in life to be happy. I’ve learned that living such a simple lifestyle affords you the opportunity to focus on what truly matters.

The Bedrock Team before our John Muir Trail Adventure.

Fly Fishing in the High Cascades.

Parked along the California Coast.

Bedrocks in California by Outofreception

People often ask – “Where do you go to the Bathroom!”

Kayaking the Rio Grande River. To the left USA, To the Right Mexico.

In the High Sierra, California during the Bedrock John Muir Trail Adventure.

The view from my van in Crater Lake, Oregon.

Crashing outside during the Solstice in Northern California.

Surfing in Mexico.

The Northern Californian Coast.

The Redwood Trees of Northern California.

Ferry crossing in Southeastern Texas.

The van driving through Baja, Mexico.

A friend’s off-the-grid cabin in Northern California.

Humboldt County, California

Baja, Mexico.

You can also live in the back of your truck.

Acadia National Park, Maine.

Reading the Monkey Wrench Gang in the back of my van.

 Sunrise on the road in Joshua Tree, California.

After 1.5 years on the road Dan decided to sell his van, buy a sailboat, and experience life below deck anchored in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Read more about his story and transition from van to boatlife. 


  1. Great stuff, Dan — you’re an inspiration!

  2. I love it! Inspiring post. If you don’t mind sharing, how much over all did it cost to put in the new engine into the van? I’m looking into doing the same thing myself and am trying to upgrade from the toyota sienna that I have been using.

    • Sure thing. I got all the conversion kit parts from a small company called Smallcars based up in the Pacific Northwest. The kit was pricey at around 3k. Then another 3k for the engine + installation. I sold my Toyota Highlander 2 months before buying the van to afford the engine conversion!

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