Van building – final week 8 plus maiden voyage

This was the week during which we had to finish – our jobs in Switzerland were already waiting. The most important thing to get done were the car documents – the vehicle type had to be changed to M-category, the colour & weight updated. My dad contacted the officials from ARK (the Estonian car registry), explaining the rushed situation, and luckily received a fast answer and an order to go for an inspection at the office. In order to get the updated weights we also went to weigh the van – the good news is that we are currently at about 2800kg, including 2 people but no luggage.

Before heading out for the inspection we put some kitchen tiles up and updated the storage of the gas tank – it now has a welded aluminum box around it (apparently an ARK requirement we didn’t know about).

Another big piece of metal that had to be mounted was the ladder, which had now been painted. Some glue and rivets later it looked as if it were done by professionals. We also covered the rivets with some black glue as a protection against water & rust.

We also worked hard to put in place all the finishing touches – the step at the entry was finished, the opening between the cabin & separation wall was closed up & covered by felt and in general a lot of profiles was added everywhere to cover up all open ends. We used a flat stainless steel plate by the window & a custom bent profile by the kitchen/entry.

While we were waiting for the ARK approval we also quickly drove to Tartu and back, sorted all of our earthly belongings and then packed the needed items in our van. The good news is that all of our skis fit perfectly in the skibox. The snowboard, however, just needs to chill on top of all the other things.

We were in a hurry to get the inspection done on Thursday because the office was to be closed on Friday, so the whole morning passed in a rush. My dad had actually tried to adjust the clutch the previous morning but something broke and the van couldn’t actually even be driven on Thursday morning. Luckily he could quickly buy a new part and get it fixed pretty fast. He also bought a new belt for the engine as the current one looked pretty wrecked but he decided to switch it only after getting back from the short 30km drive to ARK and back.

At about 14:00 (the office would be closed at 16:00) we started the car and were about to set off when we noticed that one of the back lights wasn’t working. Dad then shuffled through all his car parts and found a suitable light. Now we were ready to go! The ride started well with all three of us in the cabin. About 5km in, just as we were saying good things about the car, the engine lost power. Great! The belt had broken and upon opening the hood we saw it was also completely stuck.

After some tries dad finally managed to call a colleague to come to us with the new belt & the necessary tools, meanwhile we got the old belt off the pulleys in strips. Time was running – we only had 1,5h left until closing time. Luckily the colleague arrived soon and by using a googled photo of the Transit belt system the guys set about replacing the belt. It took three times of putting it on and pulling it off again to figure out the correct order of mounting the belt. At about 15:00 we were on our way again!

It went super smooth at ARK and they asked us no questions, just took some photos. After paying the needed amount of dough for the bureaucracy we received the new car passport. With that done we headed to the technical inspection, which our baby also passed with flying colours. Somehow, however, during the suspension test the same backlight that had been broken before broke again – what the hell? On the way back we bought some new bulbs at the store and headed home for a little celebration. Some cookies were baked, a cake eaten, beers drank and some sauna enjoyed.

The next day was the last vanbuilding day and it was a short one as we planned to go to the restaurant with my dad’s family, visit 4 places in Tartu to show the van & say goodbye and then still get to Riga by night..  One of the most important things we did was to mount latches on all of our drawers so that they wouldn’t open during driving. A curtain for the window was also mounted and some tiles added for the back corner of the kitchen. There were still a few thing that we wanted to add but we simply didn’t have time. For example one of them was a curtain for our mini-projector so that we could have our little cinema in the van, but we will add it sometime later. Well, we were ready, or as ready as currently possible to hit the road and go on our first maiden voyage with our newly built van!

Bon voyage

Our destination was Davos, Switzerland, but we spent a full day in Riga before setting off. We bought some necessary household items and also popped by Ikea, spending too much money. In the evening we met Kristians’ friends and said more goodbyes.

The next morning it was time to go – we had 2000km ahead of us. The first day we drove around 700km and managed to drive past Warsaw. By using the Park4Night app we found a nice parking spot by a trailhead in a forest and got ready for our third ever night in the van. Everything went smooth and peaceful – we were warm, cooked our first ever meal on our gas stove and washed the dishes in the sink. So far so good.

The second day was not much shorter – we had about 1000 kilometers to reach the Rosenheim area in Southern Germany, where we were going to visit Tom from our PCT trail family. And by 22 in the evening we reached his house in darkness we ate dinner chatted for a bit and it was time to go to bed, the next morning we actually saw where we have landed.

We spent the third day with Tom, visited the beautiful Chiemsee and then drove to a hut high on a mountain to get some views. We also went shopping for some cheap food (compared to Switzerland) and then went to try to drive to the top of another mountain. We zig-zagged up green pastures, passed real Bavarian mansion-sized houses and ended up on a dirt road – then we were told by a guy in a tractor that it is a private road and that we can’t be there. Great. Nevertheless we had some awesome views and we ended the evening with a nice dinner plus shisha.

The next day we continued on our way and luckily we had an extra day before we had to be in Davos, so we decided to put it to a good use and go for a little hike somewhere in the Austrian alps as it was on the way. We took a more scenic road and ended up in a place called St. Christoph Am Arlberg, which is a tiny ski village on top of a mountain pass. We simply parked our van, changed into our hiking gear and went for a hike. It was partially snowy and we couldn’t see much of the trail so we just kind of made our own.

After a few hours of hiking we came back, cooked up some lunch and continued on our way as we wanted to have only a short drive tomorrow to reach our destination. Again, by using the Park4night app we found a place where we could spend yet another lovely night in our van. It was a long up & down ride on narrow mountain village roads but the trailhead & river where we ended up was just amazing – we wished we had had time to hike there, too.

The next day we reached our destination and home for the next 4 to 5 months – Davos. After the successful first voyage we unfortunately have to pause our vanlife for a little bit. We will park our van for now and continue travelling once the ski season is over. We are not that sad about it, though, as the place we are currently at is amazing; there is so much to do and explore that we will definitely be busy doing that.

What we learned from this process was that it’s not as easy as all the Youtube videos show it, there is a lot to consider if you want it to come out perfect. It’s also more expensive than you initially plan as all the little things add up quickly – so make sure you include some spare funds in your project. And definitely plan it through – we didn’t as we were under time pressure and so we kind of ‘freestyled’ the whole thing. But we were very-very lucky to have Stiina’s dad helping us with his expertise, otherwise we wouldn’t have made it on time. So take your sweet time planning it all out, then you can definitely do it on your own. There is plenty of good advice out there – videos, blogs, ebooks, websites. And if you have any questions regarding our build, please don’t hesitate to ask us.

Thanks for following our van building series and we hope that you enjoyed our content and as always: you are welcome to leave your opinion, comment or suggestion. Feel free to share this content with others.

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