So you are thinking about a campervan conversion? You want to get into vanlife, a more adventurous lifestyle or get a campervan to travel around with during your holidays? But don’t want a huge RV or super expensive camper? Then the option of converting a van to a campervan is a fun and cost-effective way to get your own campervan! I converted a Renault Trafic Campervan and lived in it for almost 2 years!
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DIY Campervan Conversion Guide
But a DIY 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 my DIY van conversion.
This van conversion guide is perfect if you want a hands-on guide that takes you through the whole conversion in 12 steps. I rank each conversion step according to 4 factors and give them a score with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest. Enjoy this van conversion guide, check out the videos and detailed blogposts and if you have any questions, feel free to comment!
Some checkboxes for your self build campervan conversion
Some campervan conversion preparations that you really need to think about before buying your van:
- Location: do you have space for a self build project? 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 campervan conversion 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
Choose your van
Choosing your van is crucial! It took me quite some time to figure out what kind of van I wanted. There are so many considerations to take into account, but it is also a fun process!
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 buying the van 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 for my campervan conversion. I had decided in a pretty short period of time that I wanted to go live the vanlife, and I wanted to leave within 3 months of that decision.
First I had in my mind that I wanted a Volkswagen van. I had a look at both the old and the newer ones. But neither one wasn’t a match for my mechanical skills or my budget. Then I came across DIY campervan conversions on Instagram and I knew I had found what I was looking for! So I started looking at regular person / cargo vans to convert.
While looking for a suitable van for my conversion, some of main considerations I undertook:
- I had to choose between a manual and automatic gears. I preferred an automatic, but they are not so common in the Netherlands and thus more expensive.
- How much mileage does it have? More mileage is cheaper, but also comes with negative points.
- 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. Also, bigger vans make for more expensive van conversions because you simply have more ground to cover. On top of that, the van had to be big enough to live in, but bigger vehicles are harder to drive across mountainroads and small French village roads.
- High top, low, or pop-top – do you want to be able to stand up, 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 to convert into 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 to drive it 🙂
Stripping the van
Stripping and cleaning 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!!!
Difficulty 1/5 – preparing the van for the build was not difficult
Fun 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! Total win + €250
Detailed article: Stripping the Van
Video: Stripping the Van
Stripping the van was the first step of my campervan conversion and it was good fun! I
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. We started out with taking all the existing interior out. Wooden panelling, the floor, the cabin.
To get the whole van empty took about a day’s of work. This was mainly because the backseat cabin was stuck really badly with glue.
Other than getting all the glue off, preparing the van for the conversion was an easy activity. My campervan 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 Renault Trafic backseat cabin for €250 on Marktplaats (Dutch Ebay). I had a buyer within one day of posting the ad! The cabin was in pretty good shape and had only minor damages, but anyway it seemed an easy sell.
Read more about this part of the van conversion in the detailed blogpost about stripping the van, or ask me questions below this article.
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. In the end I choose X-trem insulation material.
Difficulty 1/5 – depending on the material you choose, this may or may not be 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! Total costabout €150
Detailed article: Campervan Insulation
Video: DIY Campervan Insulation
A very important part of your this van conversion guide is insulation. There’s a lot of debate about it, and I can only share how I did it. I did find that insulating your campervan is super important. If you don’t do it, it will feel like travelling in a steel box. It will get really cold when it’s cold, and super hot when the sun is out.
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 (this was in 2017). 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.
Read all about how I did my Campervan Insulation right here The first step was to clean the van from any grease. Then we started on the Xtrem material. It had come in big rolls that we could cut out. The cutting of the pieces was super easy with a sharp little knife and fun to do. Taking off the sticky layer 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, I’m very happy with the little noise while driving and also the temperature stays quite stable! The one thing that is still a challenge are the many windows. You can use the most super insulation for the steel parts, if you have lots of windowns you will still have issues!! That’s why for the front cabin, I have purchased readily available window insulation. I’m thinking about having some made for the other windowns too. The curtains keep the sun out, but not the cold!
I did not install a heater because I ran out of money! I would definitely install a heater next time as it would allow me to travel more inland in winters! If you want to know more about this, read this article about heaters in your campervan.
Floor & Walls
Making the floor, walls and ceiling was great, but not easy! Nothing in a van is straight and this can make it a challenge. It may seem you can just put the wood agains the wall, or create the ceiling but beware!
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. Total cost probably around €400.
Detailed Article: Floor, Ceiling and Walls of the Campervan
I loved doing the floor, ceiling and walls of my to-be Renault Trafic 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 wooden panels of 10mm thickness. When we took out the old floor we decided to keep it for the purpose of easily getting the size/measurements right. We drew the shapes on the cardboard and could then shape it correctly. After cutting them right it was really easy to just put them down.
We had glued wooden strips to the floor of the car, in between the insulation plates. So when it was time to put the floor down, we simply screwed the floor parts to the wooden strips. This went really well and made sure the floor was already stable.
We finished the floor with a lovely coloured vinyl. This was a cheap solution, it looks great and it makes sure no dirt or fluids enter under the floor to the wood! I cannot recommed having a wooden floor from laminate or so, as it’s not 100% waterproof!
The walls were one of the biggest challenges as they had all kind of weird shapes. We added wooden sheets right over the insulation. This way we could attach the wall panels easily to these planks.
We decided to make the ceiling out of two big plates. They are supported by the rails mounted on the car itself. They stabilize by pushing against each other, and by the wooden strips we attached to the ceiling.
Because there is too much to tell about this to fit in this van conversion guide, I wrote a detailed guide on how the build the Floor, Ceiling and Walls of the Campervan.
Creating the lay-out was not much hard work – but it was a lot of thinking! Comparing different options and costs, thinking about what you will use the van for etc! Not easy, but lots of fun!
Difficulty 2/5 – Deciding on the lay out was more something of inspiration, than of skills
Fun 5/5 – Pinterest and Instagram were my best friend of a while
Time 4/5 – Even before buying the van, this was already an activity I was entertaining myself with for many hours
Cost 1/5 – Deciding on the lay-out itself does not cost money
Deciding on the lay-out of the van was one of my favourite parts of the whole campervan conversion. I saw a lot of options and Pinterest and Instagram and sometimes it was hard not to become overwhelmed.
When designing your lay-out, taking into your lifestyle is super important. Are you taking a dog on your vanlife adventure? Do you climb or need to store any other outdoor gear? For me, there were some decisive factors.
The first one: I wanted to work, and have a good table to do it with. The second one: I want to have a clear entrance to the van to keep it light and roomy. The kitchen and storage options came only later in the process for me.
Because the van was quite small, the decision was easily made that the table had to double-function as the bed. I think this is by far the best decision for small vans, as you also have a nice place to sit and chill inside this way. The negative part is that in a campervan conversion like this, you will have to make the bed every day.
It was very hard to draw up the exact dimensions before buying the van. I had made countless of drawings. But only when we put in the floor and could really see the curves and difficult things in the van we had to deal with. We even put in a wooden bench from my mum’s garden to see what the height of the benches had to be
In the end, I think your first campervan conversion is very difficult. Now, after having travelled for a while, I would do some things different. But I am still in love with lay-out of the van – it’s so spacious and open!
Sleeping in a small space is no fun when no fresh air comes in. There are several solutions, but a roof ventilator is the most common. But, drilling a hole in your car is one of the most counter-intuitive things ever!
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! Adding window rosters, total cost about €450
Ventilation in a campervan is crucial. All the moist that occurs because of the simple thing of you breathing, or simply because of the rain outside, has to go somehwere. Otherwise you will get a moist, moldy van and that’s the last thing you want!
I bought one of the most expensive roof vents on the market: the Dometic Fan-tastic Vent. And I have to say – it was a great investment. When it’s hot, the vent makes sure enough fresh air flows in. It has a rain sensor and is remote controlled with many different settings.
Installing it was a fun process but also very scary! It involved cutting a hole in the roof of the van! With careful measuring, drilling and sowing, we made a correct hole :D. Then we put in the vent and sealed it off with kit. Make sure to use UV-resistant kit to close the edges. I had some small leakages at first!
The second way of ventilation is that I have purchased to window rosters and they work like a charm. They are rain proof but make sure there is always fresh air entering the car.
In retrospect, I would have done two things different with regards to my ventilation.
First of all, I would have made some ventilation rosters on the side of the van for a constant airflow. This option is not affected by rain.
Secondly, I would have made a small sliding window on the side of the kitchen. When you boil water or cook, there is so much condensation. When the weather is nice and you can open the door this is not an issue. But when it’s raining and your roof vent is closed, it becomes really difficult to ventilate.
Getting in the electrical system was one of the most challenging parts of the build. I had to learn a lot and luckily got some help!
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! Total solar installation including solar panel, battery, inverter, cables etc probably around €1000
From the first moment that I started my campervan conversion, I decided that I wanted to be as most self-sufficient as possible. That meant: a solar panel and electrical installation! This was the part that actually scared me the most, and I almost outsourced it! But luckily I had great family members that were not scared at all and helped me setting it all up.
Still we had a couple of things to learn. If found a small company helping me out with the solar panels and electricity for my campervan. Their supplies and knowledge helped a lot! I first thought about buying the flexible solar panels. However, the guy recommend against it. Because no air gets underneath, they don’t get cooled which lowers their efficiency.
In the end I got a 100W solar panel. On normal days, this is more than enough to keep my battery going. On grey or rainy days, it has also no problems with the fridge and lights, but it does get harder charging my laptop. So we also installed an exterior outlet to plugin to 220V at campsites.
I run on 12V: my fridge, my 12V touch lights, the water tap, the Dometic fantastic vent and the tv screen. All withouth issues. I did however run into issues with my battery and the amount of power I needed to charge my laptop. We often had to go to a campsite to recharge everything. That’s why I decided to have a relais installed, which helped a lot because it was charging everything while driving!
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.
Bed & Couch
This is when the van really started to come together! So great to see how your lay-out and interior decisions are becoming a whole campervan :)!
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! €900 for the cushions, €150 for the table, €200 for the wood and paint.
Detailed article: How to build a foldable table for your campervan
Because of the size of the van, I could not afford to have a permanent bed. So the couches and table had to transform into my bed.
The short bench had to fit between the backdoor and kitchen area. The long bench, I didn’t want to stick out in the side door because I like the open look and feel. In the end, the short bench became 1.10 and the long bench around 1.50. To the long bench, I can add a click-on plank to add 40cm so the bed becomes 1.90 meters.
To make the big bed I put the table down and add two planks. First they were vertical, but now I do them horizontally so the matresses can breathe! For the people with a fixed bed – make sure you have lot of holes in the planks under neath the bed so the mattress can breathe!
I had the cushions made by a professional cushion shop. I picked quite expensive foam, because I wanted it to be comfortable for sitting and sleeping. You pay for the foam and the cutting, the fabric and the assembling. I also wanted zippers in so that I can wash the covers if I want.
In the end, I got the couch cushions, plus two extra cushions to fill it up. They look nice, but are quite annoying because I cannot store them anywhere, so I would think of a smarter way next time!
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!
I loved installing the kitchen! It’s a crucial part in the van to live healthy and be able to cook. In order to save time during the build, I bought a DIY package to build the kitchen.
Difficulty 3/5 – Because I purchased pre-made packages it was quite easy
Fun 4/5 – Putting furniture in your kitchen is AWESOME! The painting was less fun though.
Time 2/5 – Because I was on a limited time schedule, I decided to order pre-made kitchen and cupboard. It’s definitely cheaper to do it yourself, but in the end it only took me a long weekend to assemble everything and another couple of days to paint it. This definitely helped getting ready in time.
Cost 5/5 – ARGH. Expensive. Fridge €900, Kitchen €1000, Cupboard €600
There are some beautiful kitchens around and I could dedicate a whole blogpost to it! Because of limited space and time, I bought a DIY kit for camperkitchens from Camperfixx. I bought a high-top kitchen so I could stand up cooking. It has space for water and gas, a sink and cooking plate and even a cutlery drawer! The packages took a bit to assemble, but the great thing was that everything you need is there at once.
I had to adjust the cupboard to my van, as there were no specific products for Renault Trafic Campervan Conversions at that point. This was a time consuming but OK thing to do. Now, you barely see that there ever was a gap between the wall and the cupboard.
The good thing about ordering this pre-fab kitchen here was that the wood was light and easy to paint. A splash of paint and your campervan kitchen is bright and shiny and ready for your own taste. If you don’t want to paint, you can also consider wrapping your kitchen – it gives a great result!
The kitchen came with 2 watertanks. One for the clean water and one for grey water. The clean water tank has a pump in it (they are cheap) and the sink has a pipe draining the grey water to the tank. They are 13L tanks because the van is quite small. If we are a bit careful, this can last us 3-4 days. We use the water mostly for the dishes and brushing our teeth.
When my boyfriend joined me, we also installed a drinking water tank of 17 liter. This we fill with potable water either from the tap where possible, or from bottles.
There is also space for a gas bottle. which we fitted in nicely. Next van conversion I will opt for a built-in LPG system to not run into issues with re-filling gas bottles in countries as Spain.
If you travel for a longer time, storage is really important. Your food, clothes, camping gear etc. There are many smart tricks to increase your storage capacity
Difficulty 3/5 – The problem with self converted vans is that nothing is straight. So it’s not always easy to build extra storage.
Fun 5/5 – I liked building the storage facilities! It didn’t require much specific knowledge
Time 2/5 – Building storage capacity can be done in a few hours over a couple of days
Cost 1/5 – For the storage I used the existing structure of the van mostly, and some wood. So not too expensive
A crucial part of this van conversion guide!! If you are a full-time vanlifer, there are few things more important than storage. There are a couple of storage items that I am super happy with
1. Storage above the cabin – this was an existing space in the van. I put insulation in there to make sure it does not get too hot. Otherwise, this space was ready to go. When finalizing the van, we put some doors that open to the top. On the left side, I keep all the bedding. The right side has lots of space for clothes. I also used this space to hide larger valuables such as laptop and camera. One of my basic safety measures of my vanlife adventure was to never leave any valuables in sight!
2. Storage in the benches – The short bench contains mostly the electrical installation, but also our toolbox and drone. The right bench is full with sporting gear, food, yoga mats etc!
3. Storage on the side rails – My Renault Trafic Campervan had side rails on both sides of the van to start with. We used the rails the push the ceiling plates on, and as support for the clothing storage on the left side. But there were still parts of the rails left, of which we created shelves. We simply added some wood to make it look better, and put a bar (easy system you can buy at any DIY shop). Now there is a kitchen shelf and a book shelf
4. Storage under the fridge – as you can see in the main picture above, we built some drawers in the place where used to be storage for the portable loo. We got a drawer system from IKEA and with some slight modifications of the width of the drawer, it’s now great storage for food!
5. Storage above the fridge – there is a little cupboard above the fridge where I keep my girl things A whole drug store fits in there and I have my beauty and shower stuff in there. Also some jewellery, sowing kit and more.
There are many more storage ideas for small campers to be found online. Also, simply be creative! Look at your own van and the possibilities 🙂 Sometimes you will only realize what you need when you are on the road!
The interior design of your campervan can really make or break its atmosphere. For me this was really important and therefore it also took quite some time. But, this is also something that’s never really finished!
Difficulty 1/5 – The only difficulty I encountered was finding the exact things I needed. For example the pins to attach the curtain to the doors.
Fun 5/5 – Your van is coming together and it’s awesome!!!
Time 2/5 – Searching for and creating the different parts of the interior costs some time, but it does not take up full days
Cost 2/5 – If you are a bit creative, your interior does not have to cost much apart from paint, wood and some other materials.
Because I have a cabin that opens directly to the van, I wanted some curtains in front. I used some kitchen rails from IKEA (see the “hacks” section below) and some beautiful white curtains to match the interior of the van.
I used the same fabric of the cushions to make curtains for the windows. For the back windows, and the two side windows. The fabric is quite thick and dark which is great for creating shade and keep the van dark.
I decided to keep the largest part of the interior white, as it is a small van. I put blue wallpaper on the walls of the seating area to bring some colour in the van. What I found with hot temperatures though that this was not the best choice as the regular wallpaper glue doesn’t stick. So now I fixed the wallpaper with superglue 🙂
IKEA DIY Campervan Conversion hacks
Difficulty 0/5 – no skills needed
Fun 5/5 – I loved browsing IKEA for useful things for the van!
Time 0/5 – This is not a required part of the van and I did in the last few weeks on and off
Cost 1/5 – IKEA is quite cheap, and there are lots of other “hacks” you can come up with for cheap or free
I love some good old IKEA hacks! These small things can really make your DIY campervan conversion your own! Some of my favourites are:
1. The mirror – IKEA Campervan hack – a plastic mirror that you can easily glue to the wall. It fit the space perfectly horizontally, and I cut it vertically.
2. The cereal boxes holder – IKEA Campervan hack – This wall holder has been such a blessing. It fits all the cereal and oats I need for weeks, looks great and has never fallen down! Not even on the bumpy roads of Morocco
3. Kitchen rails as Curtain rods – Ikea Campervan hack – Cheap and good looking, and fits my van! The regular curtain rods did not fit my van and didn’t match the colour patterns either. These kitchen rails look great and were very easy to attach!
I hope you enjoyed this LONG post about my van conversion. If you have any detailed questions, read the detailed articles I wrote or simply leave a comment underneath this post Pin this post to your Pinterest board for later!