As someone who sees a lot of RVs for some strange reason, it takes a lot to stop me in my tracks and keep returning to the scene. But that’s just what happened when I saw the VANaholic entry at the Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV show.
VANaholic Corporation is a relatively new company founded by Tom Markel, who builds a very interesting concept indeed. The idea behind the company is to build out kits, much like furniture at an Ikea, then ship it to the customer and help make the install as easy as possible.
As such, apparently all you need is a screw gun to install a VANaholic kit.
There are presently four predetermined floor plans the company has to offer. But they are very, very open to changes or alterations, as the basic building blocks of their offerings allow for a great deal of flexibility.
The simple idea is that you bring the van, VANaholic supplies the kit and you put it together yourself. The best part is, if you bring a van that you found used and save a bunch of money, that’s no problem.
One of the hallmarks of the kits is that there is literally zero wood in them whatsoever. The structural elements are essentially extruded aluminum t-slot “legs” and then polymer panels coated with aluminum sheets. Simple. But also very, very durable and extraordinarily light.
In fact, Tom Markel said that his van build adds about 1,000 fewer pounds to the van than does a traditional build with wood.
But even better is that these building materials are much stronger and tend to stay together even over the road. In fact, they’ve tested the van I saw over many thousands of miles and had zero issues with failures whatsoever in the build.
I think what caught my eye with the build was just how different it was from virtually anything else I’ve seen.
Now, it’s good to know that this is unusual even for VANaholic. First of all, the van they used for this build started life as a passenger van. That means it’s a fully finished interior but with a climate control system that requires that the engine be running for it to work.
Since you’re bringing you own van you don’t have to go this route. You can get a cargo van or a window van (a cargo van with windows) and outfit it however you’d like—from spartan to spectacular. Or bring a used van.
Could be a Ram, could be a Ford or even a Sprinter. Doesn’t matter—they have kits for all the vans.
Lots of interior space in the VANaholic Tequila Sunrise floor plan
What I liked about this floor plan is the four seats directly behind the cockpit. These afforded adults a lot of interior space and foot room. There are tables that you can use for eating, and those also can convert the seats to twin beds if you’d like.
The conversion is very quick—we watched Tom Markel do it in seconds. But what he did was convert the two seats in the center to a bed. You can also convert the seats on the left side or right side into a bed. Or, you can fill in all the spaces between the seats and make one very large bed.
Tom Markel converted the seats and lounged while a customer of VANaholic and I sat and chatted. None of us were small people, with Tom Markel being 6’3” tall. I would guess the gentleman who plans to purchase one of the vans was probably about 6’ tall himself. Yet, at no point did any of us feel crowded. I was impressed.
One of the interesting things about this build is that all the cabinetry is at the back. So you have a bank of cabinets on the road side and one on the camp side.
On the road side was fitted a 12-volt cooler and then counter space. Tom Markel uses a single-burner propane stove to cook, but you could also implement an induction cooktop instead. Below the surface is a microwave.
On the other side are drawers and cabinets and counter space galore. Even with my size, I had no issues maneuvering through the kitchen and essentially doing meal preparation.
Since Tom Markel is a fly fisherman and also a camping enthusiast, this particular rig is outfitted with provisions to hold four fly fishing poles ready to go. Tom Markel absolutely stops on the side of the road to catch fish. Having the poles at the ready means there’s no barrier to impulsive angling.
He also tends to bring stand-up paddle boards when he travels with his wife. It’ll also hold things like skis and bicycles and such. His son, Peter, used the van recently to travel.
But the company also has versions that are differently adapted. So if cargo is more your priority, there are models for that. If maximizing the number of sleeping places is the idea, there is a model for that, too.
In the model I saw, the ceiling finish and air conditioning ducting precluded there being overhead cabinets, but those are available. The customer we spent time with, Jay, also asked if they could put a hanging closet at the back, and that was no problem.
The van we saw did have a cartridge toilet, which was portable. Tom Markel also showed panels that could be slotted into the rear-most cabinets to provide either privacy or segregate the rear area for cargo.
If I had to pick a drawback of this van, it would be that the interior has a colder feel to it. But that can easily be altered with stick-on wallpaper or different paint colors and such.
While prices vary based on customer choices, the kits start at under $10,000. When you add that to a high-roof window van such as a Ram Promaster with a retail being about $45,000, you come up with one heck of a bargain compared to many Class B RVs.
But instead of this being more affordable because the materials are worse, the opposite is true.
The names of the kits fall in line with the brand itself (VANaholic): Tequila Sunrise, Piña Colada, Hot Toddy and Mojito.
Even the basic kit for the Tequila Sunrise, which is what I saw, comes with a 3,000-watt inverter, all the wiring and such. You provide the battery(ies) and the cooler and such.
Water is sourced from two five-gallon Jerry cans. Gray water storage has a 12-volt self-priming water pump.
VANaholic will do the installation for you, if you’d prefer. But even then, you’re still saving a lot of money.
Now, it’s true. You’re not getting black and gray tanks hung under the van unless you figure a way to do that yourself. This can also be thought of as a great start to a van build. Compared to many commercially available vans, you’d be several steps ahead and money in the bank.
Will we hear more about VANaholic in the future?
The word is, VANaholic may also be working with some goofball RV reviewer on a custom trailer build in the near future. But that hasn’t been finalized just yet.
I was very, very impressed with how flexible they were and just the fact that this is a camper designed and used by real, actual campers. I guess the fact that this is an RV designed by real RVers is why it stopped me in my tracks. The focus is on a quality build at a fair price and actually being innovative for real—instead of just using that word in the brochure.
No chart this time—too many choices
Due to the number of choices including the van itself, I did not prepare a chart for this model.
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Tony comes to RVTravel having worked at an RV dealership and been a life long RV enthusiast. He also has written the syndicated Curbside column about cars. You can find his writing here and at StressLessCamping where he also has a podcast about the RV life with his wife.
These RV reviews are written based on information provided by the manufacturers along with our writer’s own research. We receive no money or other financial benefits from these reviews. They are intended only as a brief overview of the vehicle, not a comprehensive critique, which would require a thorough inspection and/or test drive.
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