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Woman sick of living with family builds incredible home-on-wheels


Mackenzie was desperate for her own space, now she has it. (Picture: Jam Press/@kenzklem)

There comes a point in most of our lives when we just have to branch out on our own.

For Mackenzie Klimek, that point came when she was 27 years old. But she didn’t just move into a new apartment on her own, she moved into a van.

Despite having no DIY experience, Mackenzie managed to transform a van into a tiny home-on-wheels – using nothing but YouTube videos and her uncle for help.

The actuarial analyst, from Minnesota, US, was living in a shared apartment with friends, but when the lease ended moved in with her sister and brother-in-law.    

Although she liked spending time with her family, the space didn’t feel like home and she felt eager to get out on her own.

That was when Mackenzie stumbled on the van life community and instantly became hooked on the idea.

In July 2020, she bought a 2017 Ford Transit van for $21,900 (£15,900) and set herself the task of renovating the vehicle from scratch.

Inside it is really well kitted out. (Picture: Jam Press/@kenzklem)

‘Around this time last year, I was living with three of my best friends,’ she says.

‘One was getting married and one was moving to Florida, so it was time to end the lease. I moved in with my sister and her new husband.    

‘I ultimately couldn’t shake the constant feeling that I was living in someone else’s home.    

‘To decide what was next, I physically made a list of things I love doing which included hanging out with family and friends, going to the cabin, problem-solving, making things with my hands, travelling, drinking, dancing, hiking.    

‘I started looking for ways to incorporate as much of those things as possible, and I found van life.    

‘I can’t describe my pull toward van life as anything less than an obsession. For weeks, I stayed up late watching hours of videos, listening to podcasts, and scrolling through Instagram.’

Mackenzie spent an additional $16,000 (£11,700) transforming her new home, with the aim of being on the road full-time.

This is how it started. (Picture: Jam Press/@kenzklem)

She watched tutorial videos online to get inspiration for the layout of the van and then roped in her uncle, Gary, to assist with some of the tricker parts – but had no professional help in building her new home.

First, the pair stripped the van bare to install new electrics, insulation and plumping.

Opting for a nautical colour scheme, Mackenzie painted the walls white and the ceiling navy blue, as well as installing new flooring.

She also bought a new fridge and installed a new kitchenette, and a roof rack at the top of the van for secure storage.

Finally, adding some homely touches, Mackenzie invested in a mattress, new bedding and cushions.

The 27-year-old also forked out $390 (£285) for added security measures, including a motion-activated video doorbell that senses any movement.

It took around five months to complete the work, with Mackenzie and Gary working up to eight hours a day – but she couldn’t be happier with the final results.  

Mackenzie has to shower at local gyms, but she has a camping toilet for emergencies. (Picture: Jam Press/@kenzklem)

‘I’m so incredibly proud of what we built,’ she says. ‘Every single time I open the door, I can’t help but smile a little bit.    

‘One thing I am really grateful for is that I have yet to find anything major that makes me question how I built my van.’

Mackenzie has so far travelled to South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California while living and working in the van.

She uses a hotspot to access the internet for work and cooks food using a small burner camping stove that runs on butane.  

As Mackenzie doesn’t have a built-in bath and toilet in her van, she showers at the gym and uses public restrooms whenever she can, but she does have a portable camping toilet for emergencies.  

‘My favourite thing about van life is spending so much more time outside,’ she says.

‘It is the cosy little home that I never knew I needed.’ (Picture: Jam Press/@kenzklem)

‘What makes van life hard is that the ordinarily easy things, such as going to the bathroom, showering, washing dishes, sleeping, which become the difficult things.

‘But what makes it magical is that the ordinarily difficult things like doing chores, paying bills, managing time, making friends that are now much easier than before.’

However, travelling along as a woman means Mackenzie does occasionally get scared and feels ‘on edge’ when she has to pop outside her van at night – but she adds that she would feel this walking outside anywhere after dark.

She says: ‘I don’t think that’s a van life feeling, I think that’s a woman feeling.

‘I’m not living in a constant state of fear. When the van is locked up for the night and my key is hung on its easily accessible hook, the van is my safe space.  

‘It is the cosy little home that I never knew I needed.’ 

In a few words of advice for others who wish to renovate a vehicle, Mackenzie adds: ‘When designing your space, physically sit down, close your eyes, and imagine yourself living in the space.    

‘Walk through your entire daily routine as it exists today and think through how you can make life easier for your future self with each of your daily tasks, then add any expected changes to that routine.    

‘The barely visible corner that you convinced yourself you would paint once you hit the warmer weather will never get touched up.    

‘Even if it’s getting cold, even if you want to hit the road, take a few hours, days or weeks to fix anything that will keep you up at night.’   

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