Camper vans enable their owners to have complete freedom on where they travel and sleep. The only thing required is fuel, and a general idea of which direction you wish to travel in.
However, the upfront price tag and fuel-hungry nature of this form of travel is often a turn off for people with serious cases of wanderlust.
Luckily, there is a new wave of do-it-yourselfers proving that you are definitely able to live life on the road if you want it enough.
These people who are slowly but surely bringing back a trend which started years ago with classic VW vans, by turning standard vans into camper vans.
Here are some of things to be considered if you’re thinking of making the leap.
What Kind Of Van?
Commercial vans are normally the cheapest option if you planning on completing the conversion yourself.
The fact the vans don’t have rear seats cuts down on some of the preparation work. However, the height of a commercial van is generally not tall enough to allow for an adult to stand upright. A high-top transit van have higher ceilings which can reach six or seven feet. These are a better option for camper conversion, but not as handy for parking.
People who wish to take the retro route, may be able to find a vintage Volkswagen van for their project. Although these may have the perfect look, they often come with a whole host of mechanical issues due to their age.
Although commercial vans don’t have seats to remove, they could have shelving, matts and probably lots of dirt and dust which will need to be removed.
This may be the least glamorous of all the jobs, but is necessary as you’ll want to prevent it from becoming worse in future. If you build your interior over these problems, you may not be able to see the issues but it will gradually get worse.
By removing the rust with a grinder or similar small tool, you can remove the problem before continuing with the conversion of your camper van.
The first stage of construction you will need to undertake is installing interior walls, flooring and a ceiling. In order to create even, flat flooring, you’ll need to cut an amount of plywood to the correct dimensions and screw this to the floor of the van. After this is complete, you can cover it in whatever you wish.
Floor and ceilings can be made of any type of panelling. Standard plywood is generally the easiest type of wood to work with in terms of cutting and fitting. After this is complete you can go on to paint or paper the surface to fit with any colour scheme you wish.
Although this may not be the most obvious design feature in a camper van, it is one of the most necessary.
By applying a layer of insulation, the interior of your camper will remain warm on cooler nights, and will help retain cool air.
This can be essential for warmer nights when you don’t want to open the windows, which may let mosquitos or other pests in.
Rigid polystyrene or styrofoam panels are normally the most cost effective. Flexible “blanket” insulation is another option for the entire van or for the corners where the inflexible panels cannot cover.
Power In The Van
The lights and other appliances you will use in the van will take up more power than a car battery can provide.
One option is to use solar panels on the roof of the van to charge the “house” batteries constantly, so that they never run out.
Although this is the greenest option, it will require someone professional to fit them, which may deter people. On the plus side, after the initial investment in the panels themselves and having them fitted, you’ll never have to find an electrical hookup again.
Running water is an important trait which changes a van you can sleep in, to a home-on-wheels.
The easy option is to have cold running water for a sink, supplied by a couple of containers below the sink and a small submersible pump.
However, you may wish to install a larger tank, to be used for supplying water to a shower. These tanks can be stored under the van, or under furnishings in the van. Tank heaters come in different sizes, so you can pick which is the best for your van. Four to six gallons is the minimum size.
It’s one of those things no one really wants to discuss, but going to the toilet it a necessity.
If you’d rather have a toilet in the comfort of your van, rather than relying on campsite toilets, then the most convenient is a composting toilet.
These toilets are odour-free and environmentally friendly if set up and maintained correctly. They are also handy because they don’t require water or a separate waste tank.
Other options are available, but most will require manual emptying and cleaning with a number of chemicals.
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If your van is big enough, or you have a high-top van, you may wish to install a small shower area.
To save space, it’s easier to have a shower curtain rather than actual walls. However, you’ll still require a drain, a shower fixture and a hot water heater.
If you’d rather not deal with any kind of plumbing, you can use gravity power with a basic tank mounted on or under the roof.
As well as a sink and counter, you may also want to build some shelves and cabinets to maximise space.
Unless you want to use a gas camping stove, you could use an electric induction hot plate or microwave.
Be sure to have some meal ideas in mind before you begin your trip, so you know what utensils you’ll need.
You can buy mini fridges, which if you get a good efficient model, shouldn’t drain your battery. Some portable fridges will even plug into your car battery via your cigarette lighter.
A popular space saving tac-tic with most van-dwellers is to have a futon bed, which can fold it or out.
Alternatively, you can make a wooden frame with alternating slats which slide between each other, meaning it can extend out when required.
If you plan on having a bed which is more permanent, you can utilise the space beneath it for storage.