Friday, June 4, 2021
Vacation News for the USA

Van life: Fayetteville-based Open Street Camper Vans offers customized build-outs for all times on the highway

When Northwest Arkansas residents Invoice Harris and James Henson purchased a couple of cargo vans to transform into campers within…

By Staff , in RV Rentals , at June 3, 2021

When Northwest Arkansas residents Invoice Harris and James Henson purchased a couple of cargo vans to transform into campers within the early months of 2020, their plan was to hire them out to folks as a enjoyable facet challenge. Harris’ background is in residential house constructing and Henson’s is in electrical engineering. They posted photos of their comprehensively trendy apartment-style van conversions on social media, and it wasn’t lengthy earlier than it grew to become obvious that there was fairly a requirement for what they had been doing.

“We simply began getting hit up from all over about doing customized builds,” Harris stated. So, they transitioned into full-time van constructing, employed 4 different mechanically inclined builders and arrange store in west Fayetteville.

Novo Studio
James Henson (left) and Invoice Harris stay in a van down by the river, however in a great way.

Whereas residing out of vans has been a motion for fairly a while, it’s beginning to faucet into the mainstream, and the most important distinction is that individuals need skilled, Instagram-ready builds for his or her #vanlife, versus DIY initiatives, Harris stated. When you search for the hashtag #customvanbuild, you’ll discover effectively over 1,000 pictures. The enchantment of the van versus campers or RVs is mobility, Harris stated. “They nonetheless have sufficient room for all of your hobbies, your whole gear. All of the vans that we construct include a full listing of home equipment: fridge, range, sink, photo voltaic … so you may get all of the fundamentals that you’d have in an RV in a a lot smaller, easier-to-maneuver bundle.”

Proper now the three mostly used vans for customized build-out initiatives are the Dodge Ram ProMaster, the Ford Transit and the Mercedes-Benz four-wheel-drive Sprinter. What makes these vans so particular for build-outs? For one, until you stand over 6 ft 2 inches, you’ll be capable of stand upright inside. Additionally, the vans are “mainly like a clean canvas,” Harris stated. “They’re simply clean metallic cargo vans. We will deck them out with regardless of the buyer desires.”

Full customized builds can vary wherever from $25,000 on the low finish to as much as $75,000 on the upper finish, Harris stated. Open Street has performed about 15 builds so far, not together with a number of partial builds for patrons that didn’t wish to deal with the whole construct by themselves, Harris stated.

Considered one of Open Street Camper Vans’ first purchasers was a household of 5. Matt and Sarah Elder had been dreaming of van life for a very long time. Impressed by Foster Huntington’s e book, “Dwelling Is The place You Park It,” the Elders initially deliberate on touring internationally with their three kids, Jackson (6), Maeve (5) and Margot (2), earlier than embarking on a 50-state van journey. They offered their home in Northwest Arkansas and had reservations to go away the U.S. final April for a yr of worldwide journey, however the pandemic put the plan on an indefinite maintain. The U.S. banned journey to Europe the identical day the Elders’ youngsters’ passports arrived. So that they determined to purchase a house on wheels. However nothing’s simple within the time of COVID, and manufacturing shutdowns made discovering the Mercedes Sprinter they wished — the 2500 mannequin weight class with a 170-inch wheelbase — a sophisticated search. A dealership in Bentonville positioned one for them in Florida and it was shipped to Northwest Arkansas. It was the one 170-inch four-wheel-drive mannequin the dealership may discover in all the nation on the time.

The Elders initially thought they may deal with the build-out themselves. They knew what specs they wished, and Matt is a residential house builder. Sarah follows different native house builders on Instagram and inquired about some cupboards she favored and thought they may have outsourced, and that’s how she was put in contact with Henson and Harris. Matt and Sarah realized after speaking with them that they had been “much more competent than we had been to deal with {the electrical} system and the plumbing and all that, so we simply determined to do the entire construct with them.”

Courtesy of Elder household.
The Elder household.

What sort of specs would a household of 5 want for all times in an 85-square-foot van?

“We had an enormous listing, mainly a PowerPoint of all of the issues we would have liked, however the principle factor for me was the security of the kids,” Sarah stated. It was for that motive that they opted for the crew van versus the cargo van as a result of it had a factory-installed bench seat that was Division of Transportation-approved “so there weren’t any points with security with the automotive seat hookups,” Sarah stated. Additionally on their listing: a sink, kitchen, range, fridge, compost bathroom, full bathe and bunk beds. Utilizing a switch-operated system known as the HappiJac carry, the youngsters’ mattress could be raised all the best way to the ceiling in the course of the day. “The decrease mattress is the bench and desk setup, which folds out at night time.

“They had been nice to work with,” Sarah stated of Open Street. “We got here with a fairly heavy wishlist and we received all of it in right here.”

Delays sourcing supplies stored the Elders from hitting the highway till November. After spending a while with household in Northwest Arkansas over the vacations, they spent mid-January by means of February in Florida visiting Disney World and all of the state’s nationwide parks.

One of many perks, other than seeing new locations and terrains on daily basis, Sarah stated, is that they’re studying lots. “The children are doing the Junior Ranger program at each nationwide park. I’m serving to them by means of the books and it’s very informative,” she stated.

Considered one of their favourite nationwide parks they visited: Dry Tortugas, which consists of seven small islands about 70 miles west of Key West and might solely be reached by ferry or seaplane.

The van’s four-wheel-drive was put to the take a look at in the course of the snowstorm that hit in February when the Elders had been touring again by means of Arkansas.

“I had no points by means of it. [It’s] most likely one of the best car I’ve pushed in snow,” Matt stated.

The Elders had been hard-pressed to seek out any robust challenges they’ve confronted since taking off of their new house. Parking could be difficult in the event that they’re in a significant metropolis. Typically they’ve to go searching for diesel gas. Total, although, they love the van and van life. They don’t need to hook as much as a sewer system to dump waste, they solely need to refill their water tank about as soon as per week and their battery system and photo voltaic panels maintain them from having to hook into {the electrical} grid. With an RV, it takes time to hook up or unhook and get every thing able to go, Sarah stated. “We will simply buckle the youngsters in automotive seats and take off. It’s good to only be capable of go wherever you wish to go on a whim.”

The toughest half isn’t a technical element, however the lack of privateness, Sarah stated. “It’s lots of togetherness, however that’s good, that’s what we wished. That’s the explanation we’re doing this, so we are able to spend this time with our youngsters whereas they’re younger.”

“The children are on the age the place we thought we may do the homeschool with the older ones and nonetheless journey earlier than they get too caught up in pals or sports activities or no matter,” Matt stated.

The Elders plan on being on this present journey till November (see them dig up shark enamel and climb into lighthouses at They’ll come again to Arkansas for the vacations after which hit the highway once more for an additional 4 to 6 months, Matt stated. The aim is to go to each state and nationwide park within the nation. “We now have the van. We have to use it,” Sarah stated.


Mary Mickler’s first job out of nursing college was within the intensive care unit at Washington Regional Medical Heart in Fayetteville, the place she began only a few months earlier than the pandemic hit. She was there the night time the hospital’s ICU was reworked right into a COVID unit and labored always the following few months, doing night time shifts and buying lots of additional time hours. And whereas the expertise of engaged on the entrance strains throughout a novel pandemic was at occasions “heavy,” she’s grateful for all that she realized. “It made me a greater nurse,” she stated.

Whereas Mickler was in Fayetteville, she discovered herself drawn to the skilled van conversions she was seeing on Instagram, and “began obsessively researching,” she stated.

“I didn’t suppose I used to be going to be a journey nurse, truthfully,” she stated from a grocery retailer car parking zone in Modesto, California, when reached by telephone. “I used to be like, ‘I’m bored with shifting, and I’m able to plant in a spot and construct deep friendships and simply keep put.’ ”

However not lots of deep friendships had been being constructed throughout a time of social distancing, and Mickler realized she could possibly be a nurse whereas being paid to journey. She may work day shifts and go to the opposite 90% of the nation she had but to see.

Whereas researching, she got here throughout an Open Street rental that was on the market. She favored the value, so she seemed them up and was shocked to seek out that they had been positioned in Fayetteville. “I used to be stoked as a result of lots of these van corporations had been in Utah and California and so distant,” she stated. The van she was thinking about wasn’t out there, however Harris and Henson advised her that if she purchased a van, they’d construct it out for her. She selected the Dodge Ram ProMaster. It was a bit cheaper than the Mercedes Sprinter, she stated. Very like the Elders’ expertise, discovering one wasn’t simple, however Mickler positioned a van in Bryant and had it delivered to Harris and Henson’s store. Collectively they got here up with a plan for the 75-square-foot residing house. Whereas Open Street executed the construct, Mickler continued to work lengthy hours to pay for it.

Mickler’s first contract was in Henderson, Nevada. On off days, she visited nationwide parks like Zion in Utah, Loss of life Valley in California and Valley of Hearth in Nevada.

Between her earlier contract in Barstow and her present one in Modesto, she spent practically a month hanging out with a crew of rock climbers in Yosemite Valley.

“We’d all get up and both go climb rocks or hike all day or spend the night time in caves or go to random hidden waterfalls and comes. … That complete expertise felt like paradise,” she stated. Considered one of Mickler’s reservations about residing in a van was not with the ability to host like she would in a extra conventional house house. However her van grew to become the “Yosemite lounge” amongst her new pals. “All my pals present up at my door for espresso [and] breakfast within the morning, all of us go climbing within the day and at night time we all the time come again for what we name household dinner. … I wished to have the ability to host and do issues like that, however I had no concept how a lot I’d truly use this house,” she stated.

Hailey Setley
Mary Mickler

A pleasant endorsement for her customized build-out was the lengthy pause when requested about challenges she’s confronted on the highway. “I’m so low upkeep. It’s identical to regular life residing in a van,” she stated. The van has a bathroom, however she has to get artistic typically to discover a place to bathe or park for the night time. These issues, although, “have all the time labored out for me whether or not it’s showering on the hospital or discovering a co-worker who I pays to make use of their utilities …”

The toughest problem is discovering a hose to fill her 20-gallon water tank. All the pieces else is self-contained.

“I don’t wish to hook one thing up,” she stated.

Mickler has no plans to cease touring any time quickly and sees herself doing this for a minimum of two extra years. She desires to go to the Pacific Northwest however not fairly but. “Lots of people say that after journey nurses stand up to Washington, they simply re-sign contracts and simply ultimately get a workers job as a result of it’s so nice. So I’ve been making an attempt to carry off,” she stated.


Harris stated that since they did Mickler’s build-out, they’ve had different touring nurses attain out to them. For many who wish to check out van life or go on an journey, renting is a extra reasonably priced choice and a great place to begin.

“It’s often a very primary bundle,” Harris stated, “nevertheless it type of offers you a style of what the probabilities are, they usually’re tremendous enjoyable to take out for a weekend.

“One of many issues, when you get into it and you purchase a cargo van and also you outfit it your self, it’s nearly a assure, even with all the data that’s on the market now, you’re going to … have issues that you simply actually like about it and then you definately’re going to have issues that you simply want you’d performed otherwise. So it’s good to begin with a primary bundle, learn the way you’re going to make use of it after which type of dial it in from there.”


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