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!
If you are short on time or this guide does not answer your questions, you can also read the 10 most asked questions about my campervan conversion. If you are interested in how expensive vanlife is, read this blog.
What's coming up
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 🙂
Choose 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 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 🙂
While looking for a van for my conversion, some of main considerations I undertook:
- I had to choose between a manual and automatic gears. I preferred an automat, 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 😉 . It had to 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 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 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 😉
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 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 🙂 . 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 campervan 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 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.
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! Total costabout €150
Detailed article: Campervan Insulation
Video: DIY Campervan Insulation
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. 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 the 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. For the front cabin, I have purchased readily available window insulation. 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 all about heaters in your campervan, make sure to check out this article.
Floor & 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. Total cost probably around €400.
Detailed Article: Floor, Ceiling and Walls of the Campervan
We started with cutting the floor out of 2 large wooden panels of 10mm thickness. We still had the old floor so it was easy to get 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 screw 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 planks 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.
Want to know more? Check this detailed guide on how the build the Floor, Ceiling and Walls of the Campervan.
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
Detailed article tbd
In the end 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
Detailed article: TBD
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 so far.
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.
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
Detailed article: TBD
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 🙂
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
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
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. These 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!
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
Detailed article: TBD
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 it 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 🙂
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.
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.
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
Detailed article: TBD
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.
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 🙂
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.
Detailed article: TBD
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 😉
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
Detailed article: TBD
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!
Check out my DIY campervan hacks post for more hacks!