So you are thinking about a campervan conversion? You want to get into vanlife, or get a campervan to travel around with during your holidays? But don’t want a huge RV or super expensive camper? Then a van conversion is a fun and cost-effective way to get your own campervan!
But a van conversion is not for everyone. It takes time, it’s not always easy and requires a lot of creativity and dedication 🙂 I took about 2 months to research, collect inspiration on vanlife on Pinterest and find suppliers that could deliver all I would need for the van conversion.
This article is perfect if you want to get a high-level introduction that takes you through the whole conversion in 12 steps. I rank each steps according to 4 factors and give them a score with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest. Enjoy the read, check out the videos and detailed blogposts and if you have any questions, feel free to comment!
NOTE: This article is work in progress – Every week or so I will publish the next part on the list 🙂
Some checkboxes before you start your van conversion
Some van conversion preparations that you really need to think about:
Location: do you have a good place to work on your van? Not disturbing the neighbours? Electricity and light?
Tools: do you own, or can you borrow a wide arrange of tools? If not, this will influence your budget a lot! Having good tools will save you a lot of time and frustration 🙂
Experts (or just friends and family 😉 ) – you simply cannot do everything by yourself. It’s not that much fun either! You have enough (skillful) people to help you?
Time – are you still working full time? Any other commitments? Long holidays coming up? I cleared all my weekends but 2 for a period of 3 months and I can tell you, it was very tiring!
Money – make a budget up front, it will help a lot! There are many blogposts around the on the budget of a van conversion, so make sure to do your research 🙂
Step 0. Choose & Get your van
Difficulty 4/5 – it’s not easy to find the right van for your specific wishes and needs
Fun 4/5 – it starts out fun and the process is exciting, but it can get annoying to visit yet another car dealer after not finding what you’re looking for
Time 3/5 – in the end the buying took less than a week, but the whole admin (with some issues) took almost 2 months
Cost 5/5 – easily the biggest part of my budget 🙂
It took me quite some time to figure out what kind of van I wanted. I had decided in a pretty short period of time that I would go live the vanlife, and I wanted to leave within 3 months of that decision. I had a look at old Volkswagen vans and at newer Volkswagen vans, but as one wasn’t a match for my mechanical skills and the other out of my budget, I made the choice for a van conversion. Some main considerations I undertook:
- I had to choose between a manual and automatic gears (which is not so common in the Netherlansd)
- How much mileage does it have?
- How big should it be? I didn’t have that much driving experience, so an 8 meter van was maybe a bit too much to start off with 😉 It had to big enough to live in, but bigger vehicles are harder to drive across mountainroads and small French village roads.
- High top, or pop-top – do you want to stand, or be able to park in parking garages?
- Other smaller things as does it already have windows, can the cabin be taken out, does it have one or two side doors and how do the backdoors work.
After visiting several dealers and almost going for an automatic Mercedes Sprinter, I found this beauty: A stunning 2012 Renault Trafic with only 50.000km down! Not too big, but big enough for a lovely tine home. Windows in the back and the sides, airconditioning, well maintained, a high roof so I could stand in it. The only minus was that it was a manual, but it had a solid diesel motor in it so I wasn’t too scared 😉
Take your time for this step :-). Read more in this extensive guide on how to choose a van for your vanlife adventure (coming soon)
1. Stripping the van
Difficulty 1/5 – preparing the van for the build was not difficultFun 3/5 – it starts out fun because it’s the first step, but soon just turns into lots of sweat and hard work 😛
Time 1/5 – this took us one day with 2 people
Cost 0/5 – this step actually made me money!
Stripping the van was good fun! It started out with much excitement as it is the first real step of your van conversion. I woke up super early that morning and we got to work 🙂 To get the whole van empty took about a day’s of work because the backseat cabin was stuck really badly with glue. Other than getting all the glue off, preparing the van for the van was an easy activity. My van is only 5 years old and in pretty good shape, so I didn’t have to repair any rust spots etc.
I was able to sell the backseat cabin for €250 on Marktplaats (Dutch Ebay). It was in pretty good shape and had only minor damages.
Read more about this part of the van conversion in the detailed blogpost about stripping the van, or ask me questions below this article.
2. Insulating the van
Difficulty 1/5 – depending on the material you choose, this is super easy!
Fun 4/5 – this was actually something I could do by myself without much help and it felt great 😉
Time 1/5 – this was about 4-8 hours job with 1-2 people
Cost 1/5 – the material was not cheap, but also not bad!
Although travelling with a campervan is not the most sustainable travel method, I did want to make conscious choices for the materials used in my van. I initially thought about using sheep wool or another ecological responsible material. But when I talked to some camper builders, they strongly recommended against this. Sheep wool is famous for absorbing water and this is NOT what you want in your van. Instead, they recommended using Xtrem insulation material. A flexible, lightweight, affordable material that is super easy to cut and self-adhesive. It does not absorb water and is great for sound and heat insulation.
First step was to clean the van from any grease. The cutting of the pieces was super easy with a sharp little knife and fun to do. Taking off the sticky later and put it on the wall! The Xtrem insulation material fitted in every little corner and insulating the whole van was a piece of cake! Up to today, (1,5 month on the road), I’m very happy with the little noise while driving and also the temperature stays quite stable!
Going to start insulating the van? Check out the detailed post and video to get more hands-on tips and information. (coming soon)
3. Floor, Ceiling and Walls
Difficulty 3/5 – this part was not easy and not difficult. Somewhere in between 😉
Fun 5/5 – this part is where the camper starts to look like a camper, yay!!
Time 4/5 – this part took us about 3 full weekends
Cost 3/5 – buying the wood was quite expensive
I loved doing the floor, ceiling and walls of the campervan! A lot of woodwork was involved and I learned so much! It’s super important to be accurate here and that’s not really one of the things I’m known for ;-).
We started with cutting the floor out of 2 large panels. We still had the old floor so it was easy to get the size/measurements right. After cutting them right it was really easy to just put them down and screw them to the wooden strips we had attached while doing the insulation.
4. Lay-out (coming soon!)
5. Installing the ventilator
Difficulty 4/5 – Drilling the hole the right size and connecting it to the electricity is not super easy 🙂
Fun 4/5 – Adrenaline while making a hole in your van 😉
Time 2/5 – Installing the fantastic fan vent only took me half a day
Cost 3/5 – The fantastic fan vent is not cheap!
6. Solar Panel and Electricity
Difficulty 5/5 – If you are a DIY campervan builder, this will probably be one of the most difficult parts of the conversion.
Fun 4/5 – apart from the difficulty, it’s SO cool to get your electrical installation set up 🙂
Time 4/5 – The whole setup is quite time consuming
Cost 5/5 – Easily one of the most expensive parts of the van conversion!
If found a small company helping me out with the solar panels and electricity for my campervan. Their supplies and knowledge helped a lot!
If you are looking for a way to calculate the capacity you need in your van, I highly recommend this super informative article by another vanlifer named Jill. She explains in a great way how to set up a solar power system for your campervan and gives links to specific articles.
7. Bed, Couch and Table
Difficulty 2/5 – all you need is accuracy in measuring, but it’s not hard
Fun 3/5 – seeing it all come together is awesome 🙂
Time 4/5 – all the measuring, cutting and putting it together takes quite a bit of time. This took us 2 weekends.
Cost 5/5 – the cost of the wood and the table is minimal, but the cushions were expensive!
If you want to know more about how to build a foldable table for your campervan, check out the link. I described how we made the table in a fun, beautiful and affordable way!
Water and gas go into the cabinets and fit perfectly!
Other small things and “campervan hacks”
- Rubbish bin
- IKEA cereal boxes
I hung this holder in the kitchen area to store my cereals for the morning. IKEA designed it great – it has not fallen off once yet!
- IKEA magazine holder
- The safe
Other great campervan conversion examples
The only way to make your own van conversion a success is to have a look at many others! Check out these boys and girls that were definitely an inspiration to me 🙂
The Vanual – Zach created a beautiful van (and website!) that’s full of useful inspiration. I love the looks of his van, so clean and fresh!