Entrepreneur's Van Life Journey Is the 'Ultimate Form of Self-Care'

This cleverly design van home has a gallery wall, and a double folding bed.

Reaux van conversion by Claudia exterior

Tiny House Expedition

There's a wide range of reasons why people are drawn into van life: Some are entrepreneurs who work remotely while they travel, others might be looking to live an alternative lifestyle while working a full-time office job, while others might be trying out a hybrid arrangement of traveling in a van while renting out their primary residence for income.

Whatever those reasons may be, they can certainly be fascinatingly diverse. For entertainment and lifestyle consultant Claudia, van life became the next best option after her five-year involvement with an organization that was working to get tiny houses legalized in Atlanta, Georgia, became a bit of a dead-end. Though that path was making small—albeit slow—strides forward, Claudia was nevertheless growing more restless.

In the autumn of 2018, Claudia chanced upon a van life video tour online, and she got the idea that a van could be converted into a mobile office while she traveled to client's homes. However, things took a very different turn in early 2019 when Claudia was seriously injured during a job at a client's house. Claudia took it as a clear sign that it was time to take the plunge toward unknown horizons, and van life has eventually become a meaningful path of long-term physical and emotional healing for her. Claudia has since been living and working full-time in her self-built van, Reaux, and shares her moving story, her van home, and some of the challenges she faces as a Black van dweller, via Tiny House Expedition:

Claudia's solar-powered home on wheels is built out of a silver 2017 Promaster 3500 high-top cargo van with a 159-inch wheelbase and extended body. The total exterior length of the vehicle measures 213 inches—the interior living/cargo area is thirteen feet, three inches long by six feet, five inches in width and six feet, six inches tall.

One enters the van interior from the sliding side door. Here we have part of the kitchen counter, as well as a convenient flip-up tabletop that Claudia uses as an extra workspace, in conjunction with the swiveling passenger seat, or as an extra surface for preparing food in the kitchen.

Reaux van conversion by Claudia table extension

Tiny House Expedition

The kitchen itself occupies the central part of the van, and features much of the usual things one might expect in a regular house.

Reaux van conversion by Claudia kitchen

Tiny House Expedition

There is a big sink here with an integrated drying rack, overhead storage for food and small kitchen appliances, as well as a stove that is hidden under a piece of countertop that flips up—a clever space-saving design idea.

Reaux van conversion by Claudia hidden stove

Tiny House Expedition

Since her van home runs completely on solar power, Claudia also made sure to get an energy-efficient refrigerator from Whynter that would be compact enough to fit, but wouldn't be too much of a drain on her solar power system.

Reaux van conversion by Claudia refrigerator

Tiny House Expedition

From the get-go, Claudia knew that abundant storage, a shower, and having an art wall were some of her biggest design priorities. These elements are incorporated into a sizable zone opposite the kitchen counter, which is all covered by a series of doors that visually conceal their contents. It's on these doors that Claudia has affixed different pieces of art from friends and family, and from her travels.

Reaux van conversion by Claudia gallery wall

Tiny House Expedition

Behind one door, we find the shower and composting toilet. The door has been smartly designed with a piano hinge so it can extend out to provide more space for showering, as well as for adjustable storage containers for various toiletries.

Reaux van conversion by Claudia bathroom

Tiny House Expedition

Past the shower, we have Claudia's closet, which incredibly, holds about 150 pieces of clothing on thin hangers, as well as sections for storing long dresses, boots, and out-of-season clothes. Claudia's organizational design skills really shine here, and Claudia's wish to "stay fancy" meant that she has translated the contents of her former apartment's closet, and successfully reconfigured it to fit in the van—a feat that is quite impressive, to say the least.

Reaux van conversion by Claudia closet

Tiny House Expedition

There is even a small section reserved for a laundry hamper, with an integrated chute to the side, a section for makeup storage, and a mirror on the back of the door.

Reaux van conversion by Claudia closet

Tiny House Expedition

There is more shoe storage underneath the rear platform in the 4-foot long hidden drawer, allowing up to 30 pairs of shoes to be stored neatly away. As we've said many times before, while some people may go the minimalist route, others may go the maximalist route—whatever may float your boat, the idea is to make it your own space, which Claudia has ingeniously done here.

Reaux van conversion by Claudia shoe drawer

Tiny House Expedition

The rear of the van feels like a cozy, verdant haven, thanks to the skylight, and lots of artificial plants. There's a table mounted on an adjustable arm, which Claudia uses for meals and work.

Reaux van conversion by Claudia rear of van

Tiny House Expedition

Amazingly, this area is also her recording studio, thanks to a piano hidden underneath the table, which Claudia uses for making music, and for doing voice coaching lessons.

Reaux van conversion by Claudia hidden piano

Tiny House Expedition

The bed is actually designed as two parts of a queen-sized mattress that flips down, as Claudia wanted to minimize having to constantly make the bed.

Reaux van conversion by Claudia double murphy bed

Tiny House Expedition

While Claudia has wholeheartedly embraced van living, she tells Treehugger there are other day-to-day aspects that make it particularly difficult:

"As a Black woman specifically, [van life] is really challenging, not just because of racism, but a lot of implicit bias in general. Most people don't believe that this van is mine, and just assume that it's someone else's. When they see that I have this van, they say 'Oh, that's a very expensive van, how can you afford that?' And other people don't get asked that question. [In addition], I have to be really cognizant of where I am, because it's not safe for me [in certain places]. So that feeling of having a target on your back is the most challenging thing about van life as a Black person. It's [not about individuals per se, but] more about social conditioning, and the history of this country, and how people have been conditioned to behave."

Despite experiencing moments of misplaced prejudice to outright harassment, Claudia remains determined to live this new life she's carved out for herself, in a home that she has made uniquely hers. The process of designing, building, and living in it has made Claudia realize that:

"Being in a vehicle that's completely under your control, every moment of your day is decided by you. [In that way] van life is the ultimate form of self-care. I strongly believe that van life is for everyone -- maybe not in the same way, not for the same period of time -- but I think that everyone can benefit from spending time hitting the road."

To learn more, visit Claudia's website and Instagram.

Correction—February 8, 2022: This article has been corrected after a previous version included incorrect measurements.