If you’re thinking of converting a van into a camper, or have already started, then this guide is for you.
I’ve written down all the useful stuff that I wish I’d known before I embarked on my first campervan conversion.
Plus, I’ve laid it out in a logical order.
This page gives you a sweeping overview of everything you’ll need to consider when planning and converting a van into a lovely campervan.
Each section is linked to some in-depth content to help you with that specific stage.
You can jump to the bits you need but if this is your first time converting a van into a camper then I’d really recommend reading all the way through at least once.
It will help to give you some clarity on what your priorities should be and the best order to tackle things.
Facebook Group: If you want some extra help with your van build, whatever stage you’re at, join the VanLife Tribe Facebook Group now.
Why do you want to do a van conversion?
It might seem like a personal or irrelevant question to ask, but starting with the ‘Why’ will make everything else that follows much easier. People convert vans into superb campervans for a whole range of outcomes.
It could be any, or several of these reasons:
- Having a place to call home
- Travelling with more freedom/less commitment
- Being able to work remotely/live near work
- Awesome weekend adventures/occasional trips
- Escaping ‘the system’/living off-grid
- Greater financial independence/saving money
- Want a challenge/project
- ….and plenty more besides!
Take a few minutes now to think about the ultimate reason(s) that you’re embarking on a van conversion and jot them down.
Charlie’s Example: My wife and I wanted to live in our van build full-time for several months and explore more of Europe. We could both work online, so would be using it for remote working too.
Therefore, when I came to plan my build I knew that we’d need to be comfortable in the van and being able to stand up was a must. Plus, I wanted some form of toilet and shower facility and a table/desk space where we could do our work.
Hopefully you can see that defining why you’re converting a van and what you’re going to use it for has an impact on everything else.
By thinking about this at the start, it will make all of the below points flow much easier!
Van Conversion Budget and Costs
I put this section near the start of the guide because it’s always good to know what you’ve got to play with financially before embarking on any project.
Your budget will ultimately determine what level of campervan conversion you can achieve.
If you Google:
‘How much does a campervan conversion cost?’
…then you’re unlikely to find a definitive answer.
Instead, flip the question around and ask:
‘How much will your campervan conversion cost?’.
Here are some things to think about to help you arrive at an overall budget figure:
Base Vehicle/Conversion Cost Split
I’d recommend spending somewhere around 50% of the total budget on the vehicle if, not more. Having a solid base to build your dream campervan inside is very important.
You don’t want to do an amazing conversion, only to have the vehicle fall to bits around it.
Even if you don’t plan on keeping your conversion forever – think of the total resale value.
There’s more on how to pick a great base vehicle in the section below.
Build in Flexibility
Even if you were able to plan out your entire van build to the nearest penny, there will still be some surprise expenses that appear along the way.
This is just a fact of life and applies to van builds as much as anything else!
Get a budget in mind but go 10% to 20% higher so that you can handle hidden expenses and upgrades if necessary.
Planning Your Van Build
As my dear old dad always used to say:
“Pre-Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance!”
In other words, having a rough plan in place to check off as you go and things will be much easier overall!
Here’s a basic framework you can follow for any van build:
- Research, budgeting and planning
- Source and buy a base vehicle
- Strip out and preparation
- Fit windows and roof vents
- Install solar panels and cabling
- Run electrics, plumbing and gas services
- Boarding out and carpeting
- Fix in floor and ceiling
- Install gas, heating system and water tanks*
- Complete electrical system setup
- Build frameworks and cabinetry
- Complete toilet/shower build*
- Install kitchen and appliances
- Finish off cupboards and doors
- Install bed frame*
- Final finishes and furnishings
How long will it take to convert a van into a camper?
It’s a great question but unfortunately with no simple answer. The time it will take you to complete a van conversion depends on:
- How much time you can spend on it per week.
- The size of your base vehicle.
- Any repairs required on the vehicle.
- The complexity of your plans.
- Ease of obtaining materials and parts.
- How many people will be working on it.
Us humans tend to overestimate what we can achieve on any short-term project, that’s a well researched and proven fact.
Just because you’ve seen a YouTube video of a van being converted in a couple of weeks, don’t assume you can do it in the same timeframe – especially if it’s your first time!
Charlie’s Example – I purchased a van on the 4th of March and expected to get everything done in 6 weeks max. I was still putting the finishing touches to my conversion at the start of June!
It took me around 3 months in total, I worked on it most days and had a bit of help from my papa.
It’s important to understand that each part of the above vanbuild framework involves hundreds of smaller steps and hold ups which will take way longer than you think.
I’m not trying to put you off starting, I just want you to be realistic about the time it will take to finish off your van.
The key advice here – whatever build time you estimate – double it!!
Base Vehicle Type and Size
Before you start planning your build in detail, it’s a good idea to know what type of base vehicle you’ll be using.
This impacts on everything else, such as what you can fit into your build and how you can arrange it all.
Charlie’s Example: I chose a L3H2 2014 Citroen Relay because they are just a little bit wider and squarer than the alternatives. This allowed me to fit a widthways bed and maximise the internal space.
Read our full guide on choosing a van for your camper conversion. It gives you a breakdown of van sizes, types and costs.