Jordan Tarver’s Econoline Build Keeps Vanlife Simple and Cheap

You don’t always need to be fleeing a frustrating and confining 9-5 to embrace the wanderlust wonders of the camper van. You can also be a young adventurer with a mobile job, an eye for scenery, and a burning urge for travel. Like Jordan Tarver here. He’s a writer and a photographer who just happens to love hitting the road. It’s as simple as that. Growing up in Northern California, his dad and uncles puttered around in adventure vans, spending days at a time at the beach, in the forests, wherever. The bug hit Tarver early, and a bit more than a year ago, he bought a stripped down 2010 cargo van and set to making it his mobile photography studio/writer’s cabin. It’s the perfect rig to help Tarver create his own travel stories. And it’s a dead-bang simple build.

Year, make, and model?
2010 Ford Econoline.

Does the vehicle have a name?
The Story On Wheels. I’ve never been one to name cars, but the van is a bit more special than your typical car. I’ve always been a storyteller at heart. Much of what I do—traveling, camping, surfing, exploring—is all around the idea of creating a story. I thinks it’s important to document and share our stories to possibly inspire another person.

Years owned?
Just one year so far, but in that year I have seen and gone to more places than I initially anticipated. I think the beauty of that is that this is just the beginning. There are many more chapters to be told.

How did you get it?
Craigslist. But I was having an extremely tough time finding a Ford E-150 cargo van near where I live in Southern California in decent condition. Most of them were banged up and had gnarly damage from being used as work vans. I expanded my search to Northern California and found this one in the Bay Area. Luckily, my parents still live up there. I sent my dad the link, he checked it out and seemed to be more stoked than I was. When I arrived and saw the van for the first time, it was fully loaded with ladder racks, industrial shelving, and a metal gate behind the driver seat. A complete work van. All I could do was laugh. I made the long and loud drive back down south battling the sound of the rattling shelves with louder music. I’m glad that stage was short-lived.

How did you modify it?
I chose the budget van route. I was in no mindset to spend thousands of dollars or make it livable. I wanted to create a van for surf trips and road trips. First, I sold all the work gear that came with the van—I think I profited around $600 – $700. This helped me get going on the build quickly. I started with removing all rust and filling any holes on the floor to prevent water from coming in. I used denim insulation in the walls. Denim insulation is insanely cheap. I think I spent about $40 for the entire van. To cover the walls of the van, I bought 8’ x 4’ wood paneling from a hardware store and cut it to size. Remember, measure twice and cut once—seriously. These ran me about $25 a pop plus the stain I bought.

I found someone selling a large roll of tan shag carpet for $70 to give it a bit of that 70s feel. I made a stencil of the van floor using large art papers and cut the carpet to size. It fit like a glove. Then  I decided to build an RV dinette style bed/table combo. This gave me storage under the seats, a table to eat at, and converted into a bed. This dinette probably ran me about $150. For more storage, I sketched out a cabinet unit in my journal and went to town. It combines a counter space, cabinets, and a pull-out stove for outdoor cooking. It works perfectly and supplies ran me about $200.

Also—I had no prior woodworking experience and didn’t even own a single power tool.

How many states have you visited?
I’ve kept her on the western side of the country so far. She’s been to three states and counting. There’s honestly so much to do in California alone, it’s hard to want to venture anywhere else. I just came back from a 10-day road trip, which took me and my girlfriend Nicolle to Sedona, Lake Powell, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, and the Grand Canyon. The Story on Wheels has also been to Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Alabama Hills, Central California, and up around Sonoma County.

What do you get up to out there?
We do our fair share of hiking. As a photographer, I enjoy the incredible hikes national parks offer, which is where I spend most of my time camping. I’m always itching to get a bit higher to see places from a more interesting and unique perspective than I’ve previously seen.

I think the biggest pro is that it’s always fully packed with gear and supplies. At a moment’s notice, we can just pack a bag of clothes and go. It makes the whole “prep” stage so much easier. Before this, packing was one of the more stressful events of a trip. Also just having shelter whenever needed. We were in the heart of monsoon season while out in Arizona and Utah and the ability to hunker down in the van during a storm made everything so much easier. Definitely, something I took for granted until then.

The gas mileage. I usually get 13 MPG city and if we’re on a long road trip I will get around 17 or 18 MPG. Not terrible, but could be better. I know this is a reason some people choose Sprinters over Econolines. But, one thing I stand by is I will never let the price of gas or gas mileage restrict me from doing what I love. Gas is just a part of the whole story, as you can’t really avoid it. So I try my best to not let it bother me.

Also since it is a budget van that means everything is still stock in terms of what came on the van. So, it doesn’t have the greatest off-roading tires, shocks, and clearance. This makes some areas restrictive when on the road, but we find our way around that problem by using our feet to get places if needed.

Overlandia is the art and science of driving in the dirt.



Four issues, free shipping, evergreen content…