May 25, 2022
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(CNN) — Search the #vanlife hashtag on Instagram and also you’ll discover tens of millions of posts from travelers on the street in tiny properties on wheels.

Whereas some van lifers could have opted to purchase readymade campervans, increasingly more are selecting to purchase a van or bus and convert it themselves.

After all, that is hardly a brand new phenomenon. Campervan conversions have been round since a minimum of the Fifties.

Nonetheless, their reputation has skyrocketed in recent times. Demand had already growing considerably before the pandemic, partly as a result of quite a few YouTube channels and Instagram posts dedicated to DIY van conversions.

However curiosity went by means of the roof as many individuals discovered themselves caught at house with little to do as borders shut down and restrictions have been put in place in lots of locations all over the world.

“Individuals wished to get out. They wished to get away from different individuals and keep protected, and we have been all restricted in what we might do,” Brian Jagodnik, advertising and marketing and artistic director at Outdoors Van, a luxurious van conversion firm in Portland, Oregon, told CNN Business last year.

“It pushed individuals exterior and to journey away from others and take the street much less traveled, and so the trade simply continued to develop.”

Consequently, the #vanlife group is increasing additional, with an growing quantity of travelers, a lot of whom might have already been mulling over whether or not or to not get a van, making the choice to purchase one, and in some circumstances, do it up themselves.

So how tough is a DIY campervan conversion? And are video tutorials and social media posts actually sufficient to get you thru a van construct? Right here, we discuss to a variety of travelers who’ve taken the plunge themselves.

“It’s practical and never too fancy”

Dale Comley and Charlie Low spent over a 12 months changing their van right into a campervan.


Dale Comley and Charlie Low, each from the UK, bought a yellow Mercedes Sprinter for £8,000 (round $10,500) in 2019 and spent roughly £6,500 ($8,500) changing it right into a campervan. The couple now reside in their van Ringo full time and have written a e-book about van conversions collectively.

Investing in a van was a no brainer for Comley and Low who met on a climbing journey and have been collectively for nearly six years.

“It’s one thing that we each all the time wished to do since we met,” Low tells CNN Journey.

“We’re each from a climbing background, and climbing and van life are pretty synonymous. When you go to any climbing areas, you’ll see plenty of vans. We determined to make the leap in June 2019.”

Like many different travelers, they selected to purchase a van and convert it themselves moderately than forking out on a readymade motorhome. That approach they may create one thing that was tailor-made to their wants and tastes.

“The nice alternative with changing your own van is that you simply don’t have to fall into the lure of basically shopping for a motorhome and being caught with one structure,” says Comley. “You possibly can really create no matter you need.”

As soon as they’d bought the van, the couple parked it at Low’s mom’s home, the place they’d extra space to work, and took trip to plan the design and structure.

“I’d say the commonest mistake that folks make is, if something, is spending extra time changing the van than really utilizing it,” says Comley.


“We’re each pretty sensible,” says Comley. “So we spent a very long time designing in order that we basically received it proper the primary time.”

They accomplished loads of analysis on YouTube, however say they discovered that everybody had totally different concepts about the easiest way of doing issues.

“There wasn’t actually a definitive single supply of knowledge,” says Comley. “There have been lots of or hundreds of opinions that weren’t actually based in any form of truth. It was all private expertise.”

They started by gutting the van, earlier than becoming in home windows, in addition to skylights and photo voltaic panels. The subsequent step was insulating the van, earlier than putting in {the electrical} system and cladding.

They then constructed their mattress, their kitchen, with a Belfast sink, overhead cupboards and different vital constructions, earlier than putting in the water and gasoline programs.

As soon as all of that was accomplished, they have been capable of start adorning their cell house, which meant portray the partitions, placing tiles within the kitchen space and upholstering the seats.

Though they’d a number of false begins, the place they adopted another person’s technique and located there was “one thing basically improper with what we’d been informed to do,” the pair, who documented all the course of on their Instagram account, say the construct went easily total.

“Supplied you’ve received a little bit of a course of to comply with, and also you spend a while designing it, there’s probably not any single job that may be very tough,” says Comley.

“The entire sensible stuff is kind of fast and easy. You don’t really want any specialist instruments and also you don’t really want any expertise.”

If unsure, travelers have the choice to rent professionals to assist with components of the construct they’re much less assured about.

“It’s very potential to simply outsource one a part of your van construct,” provides Low.

The couple say it took simply over a 12 months, or the equal of round 1,000 hours between them, to finish the van.

“It [the van] is a pleasant customary. It’s practical and never too fancy, which is principally us. So it could be fairly straightforward to spend considerably extra [or less] in case you wished to,” says Comley.

“Our authentic plan was that when we’d completed the van, we’d go touring for a 12 months,” says Low.

“However what occurred in actuality was that we completed the van, after which every week later, the UK went into lockdown. So it was pretty appalling timing.”

It was at this level that they determined to jot down a e-book, “The Van Conversion Bible,” with the goal of stopping others from making among the similar errors they did.

“You possibly can type of fall from one gap into one other, into one other, into one other,” explains Comley. “Some price you financially, and a few price you time.

“In order that’s actually why we wrote the e-book. To attempt to assist individuals keep away from as a lot of these holes as potential.”

The couple, who even have a van conversion weblog, have been lastly capable of go on the street when journey restrictions eased all over the world, and have since traveled to France, Switzerland, Spain, Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Croatia.

The couple at the moment are having fun with life on the street, and say they wouldn’t change a factor about their van, Ringo.


“It [the van] goes to permit us to discover international locations that realistically, we in all probability would by no means have gotten to,” says Comley.

They’ve been dwelling in their van Ringo for round a 12 months now, and consider that anybody can convert a van, offered they keep centered and consider the undertaking in levels

“When you concentrate on changing a van, it feels fairly scary, doubtlessly, and never potential,” says Low.

“However in case you break it down into the entire various things you should do, and then you definitely type of study every particular person factor, it makes it really feel much more manageable.

Comley additionally recommends that travelers attempt happening a minimum of one van journey earlier than even fascinated with spending money and time on a conversion.

“Be sure you really prefer it,” he says. “Regardless of how good it [the van] is, you’re going to spend so much of time and possibly cash engaged on it.

“I’d say the commonest mistake that folks make is, if something, is spending extra time changing the van than really utilizing it.”

‘I did all of it myself’

Jennifer Mckechnie from Northern Eire purchased a minibus for £2,300 (practically $3,000) in 2019 and spent round £3,500 (round $4,564) changing it into the campervan of her goals. The former health teacher has since arrange her own campervan conversion enterprise and accomplished six conversions final 12 months.

“I used to go snowboarding yearly to Chamonix,” Mckechnie tells CNN Journey. “And I bear in mind being in a bar as soon as and I noticed a video of a man who had a van. He was touring round snowboarding. I believed, ‘Oh, I’d love to do this.’ “

One of many largest points of interest of van life for Mckechnie was that she’d be capable of journey round together with her two huskies in tow.

“I like touring to totally different international locations and going snowboarding, however I’ve all the time wished to take my canines with me. So it [getting the van] was purely in order that I might drive to Chamonix and convey them alongside.”

After spending a little bit of time watching YouTube movies and studying articles on easy methods to convert a van, she bought one in 2019.

Whereas Mckechnie had deliberate to work on the van on weekends primarily, she discovered herself with an excessive amount of time on her fingers when the pandemic set in and he or she was unable to work.

“All the things else on the earth was closed,” she explains. “So I didn’t have anything to do.”

She started by stripping out the entire seats within the van — there have been 17 in whole — earlier than eradicating the partitions and flooring.

“I principally stripped it again to a naked metallic shell, after which began from there,” says Mckechnie.

The subsequent step was masking corrosion on the ground with rust converter, then filling in gaps within the partitions, flooring and ceiling and insulating the van.

After putting in the partitions, the ceiling and the electrics, Mckechnie took a while out to design the structure of the van.

“The largest drawback was that builders retailers and issues like that have been closed,” she says. “So it was exhausting to get supplies.”

Mckechnie was capable of full the entire labor herself and says she spent a complete of 100 days on the construct.

“I had my dad assist me put the ceiling up, because it takes two units of fingers to do this,” she explains. “However I did all of it myself.”

A pal persuaded her to share a video of her renovation work on TikTok, and Mckechnie was quickly inundated with messages from travelers asking her to construct them a van.

“Everybody was saying, ‘I need one. Are you able to construct me one?’” she says. The publish went on to obtain around 14 million views.

As soon as she’d mulled issues over, Mckechnie finally stated “sure” to one of many van construct requests.

“I made a decision that I’d give it a go,” she says. “And if it didn’t work, I’d simply return to doing what I used to be doing.”

Nonetheless, Mckechnie went on to obtain so many bookings that she determined to give up her day job and arrange a bespoke van firm. She now spends her days constructing customized campervans for different travelers and says enterprise is booming.

“This was by no means the plan,” she says. “However right here we’re.”

As soon as her own van was full, Mckechnie went on her first street journey together with her canines and says every thing went easily.

“I did have a few individuals ask ‘what occurs in case you hit a pace bump? Does all of it fall off?’ she says. “Nevertheless it really went rather well and the canines loved it. The solely factor that in all probability moved could be the cushions.”

Mockingly, the success of her firm, Custom Conversions NI, has meant that she hasn’t been capable of journey in her van a lot over the previous few years.

“The final time that I used my van was August of 2020,” she admits. “I’m totally booked for the following 12 months. It’s insanity.”

Nonetheless, there’s nothing she enjoys greater than sending travelers off in a campervan that’s been personalized only for them.

“They inform me what they need and I construct it that approach, versus them shopping for a motorhome or a van that’s already been transformed and should have issues in it that they simply don’t want,” she explains.

In accordance with Mckechnie, probably the most uncommon request she’s had thus far is a sliding wardrobe.

“I did handle to place that in there,” she says. “However I believe generally individuals overlook that we’re in a bit sq. field, so you need to take into consideration the requirements.”

Though every traveler could have totally different concepts on what they contemplate important, for Mckechnie the fundamentals are usually “a mattress, a kitchen, someplace to cost your cellphone, a few lights, and in case you have the area, a conveyable bathroom.”

Mckechnie often helps her clients discover a van earlier than starting a conversion and has observed that costs have shot up within the three years since she transformed her own van.

“They’re like gold mud for the time being,” she says. “Everybody is aware of how fashionable it [van life] is.”

‘Our partition wall is kind of controversial’

Claire Falconer and Luke Morris spent round 4 months engaged on the construct for their campervan conversion.

Luke Morris and Claire Falconer

In January 2020, Claire Falconer and husband Luke Morris left Dubai and relocated Down Underneath, the place they purchased a Mercedes Sprinter for 32,000 Australia {dollars} (round $23,740) and spent roughly $13,470 changing it into a superb house on wheels.

They have been each dwelling in Dubai once they first received collectively, however after a number of years within the emirate, Falconer and Morris determined to pack up and transfer to Falconer’s native Australia.

“Luke and I’ve all the time liked touring, it’s in our blood,” Falconer tells CNN Journey by way of electronic mail. “Now we have seen loads of the world and it was all the time my dream to return to Australia sooner or later and at last journey my house nation.”

As soon as they started investigating the other ways they may journey Australia, they determined to go down the van route.

“I didn’t actually find out about the entire van life motion in a lot element till I began wanting into it, and realized how massive and the way superb among the vans are,” says Morris. “I actually had no thought what I used to be getting myself into.”

They are saying they opted to go together with a van as an alternative of a caravan, “only for the flexibleness of with the ability to park up on the seashore and issues like that,” and have been eager for one thing with a excessive roof in order that Morris, who is six foot two inches tall, would be capable of stand in it.

The couple bought a Mercedes Sprinter only a week after arriving in Melbourne, and received began on the construct just about instantly.

They have been figuring out the structure and among the finer particulars when the pandemic hit, and Melbourne went into lockdown in March 2020.

Fortunately one of many few retailers that remained open within the metropolis was a ironmongery store, so that they have been capable of pay money for lots of the supplies they wanted and “simply cracked on with the construct for the entire of the lockdown.”

Earlier than the conversion, Falconer and Morris say they’d accomplished little or no DIY work apart from placing furnishings collectively. Nonetheless, they threw themselves into the construct utterly, sharing their experiences on their Instagram account.

“It was actually nice; we work tremendous nicely collectively as a workforce,” says Falconer, who works as a well being coach and a yoga instructor. “Clearly constructing the van had its robust moments, however for probably the most half we liked doing it.”

Falconer had been following varied van life accounts on social media for some time and says she’d picked up plenty of design inspiration.

“When it got here to paint schemes, she wished all of it white, beachy and fairly premium,” says Morris, who own and runs eco-friendly equipment firm Wild Wooden.

Falconer and Morris on the Tyalgum Tenting Floor in New South Wales, Australia.

Luke Morris and Claire Falconer

After a little bit of deliberation, they selected to place in a partition wall between the cab and the dwelling area moderately than preserve the area open.

“That [the partition wall] is kind of controversial within the van life world,” says Morris. “I assume it’s as a result of individuals typically need entry from the cab to the dwelling area, however we didn’t see the necessity for that.”

Though a lot of the construct course of went to plan, they discovered themselves in a sticky state of affairs once they settled on placing up actual tiles within the kitchen space and used the improper kind of adhesive, which meant they needed to rip them out and begin once more.

“That was a little bit of a nightmare for a few days, simply because it was so time consuming,” says Morris.

Whereas Morris was initially decided to finish the entire work himself, he finally selected to outsource the electrics and the plumbing work to consultants in order that he might concentrate on the components of the construct that he felt extra comfy with.

“You’ll want to get {an electrical} certificates, and a plumbing certificates to really signal it off as a motor house anyway,” he provides.

In the event that they occurred to be battling any a part of the construct, Falconer and Morris say they might attain out to others for recommendation.

“Individuals within the van life group are extraordinarily useful with that type of factor, they’re prepared to present you recommendation and really assist you to out,” says Morris.

The couple say it took round 4 months to finish the van, with their whole spend got here to 52,207 Australian {dollars} (about $38,732) together with registration, stamp obligation and insurance coverage prices, which was roughly what they’d estimated earlier than starting.

“A few of the issues have been a bit costlier [than we thought],” says Morris. “However nothing too loopy.”

Falconer and Morris welcomed their son Beau in April 2021 and admit that dwelling in a campervan with a child has proved to be extraordinarily difficult.

“Our lil’ man doesn’t cease,” says Falconer. “He’s so, so lively, so we’ve struggled with {that a} bit on the street, as its exhausting to all the time preserve him out of hassle.

“We are able to’t simply depart him to play like we’d in a home. Certainly one of us always must be on him. However we completely love touring with him and having him by our aspect at each second.

“There’s something so particular about seeing the world by means of his eyes.”

As a result of regional Covid-19 border restrictions in Australia, they haven’t been capable of discover as a lot of the nation as they’d have appreciated, or see a lot of their household and pals for the previous two years.

They’re on account of go to Asia to see household and pals the approaching weeks, however might be taking off within the van once more as soon as they return to Australia in a number of months time.

“It will likely be winter right here, so we’ll be driving north fairly shortly to get into some hotter climate,” says Morris. “Then we are able to end off doing every thing that we missed whereas borders have been closed. That might be actually thrilling.”

‘My coronary heart and soul went into it’

Van lifer Cori Geiger is vastly happy with her campervan, Cadia.

Emily Brianne Pictures

Cory Geiger purchased a used Ford Transit in 2020 for $36,000 and spent round $19,000 changing it right into a campervan that she might reside and work in remotely whereas touring across the nation. She is now primarily based in her van, named Cadia, full time.

Geiger, from Massachusetts, had typically dreamed about happening the street in a campervan, but it surely wasn’t till the pandemic set in and her job as a senior undertaking supervisor went totally distant, that she felt prepared to present van life a attempt.

“I actually didn’t need to be paying hire in a metropolis,” Geiger tells CNN Journey. “I wasn’t going to be commuting into an workplace anymore, and I wasn’t prepared to purchase a home — costs are loopy within the US proper now. So this made probably the most sense for my life.

“I might work remotely and journey round and see the nation on the similar time.”

In accordance with Geiger, one of many foremost causes she determined to transform the van herself was as a result of pre-built van conversions have been considerably costlier.

“They are often over $100,000,” she says. “So I didn’t need to go that route, and I wished the problem of constructing it myself. That approach I might really management how a lot I used to be spending throughout the construct.”

Geiger had already been watching on-line movies about van life and tiny properties for a pair years earlier than deciding to construct her van, so she had an thought of the kind of layouts she appreciated, in addition to how a lot work she’d have to do.

As soon as she’d bought the van, Geiger started the conversion, working her approach by means of the undertaking step-by-step.

“It begins with constructing the insulation and prepping the van for every thing that you simply’re going to be placing on to it,” she explains

“Which means placing down the ground and the framing that you simply’re going to be drilling the partitions into and placing issues on the surface.”

Though she had little expertise with renovation work earlier than beginning the construct, Geiger discovered that she picked issues up comparatively shortly for probably the most half.

“My abilities have been very fundamental,” she admits. “So studying easy methods to use energy instruments and measuring stuff, that was undoubtedly a studying curve. Nevertheless it was actually enjoyable working by means of all of it.”

Apart from calling on her household to assist with duties that required “a number of fingers,” Geiger was capable of full the construct on her own.

“It was actually necessary to me that my van felt like an residence or a cozy house,” she provides. “The structure was additionally actually necessary, I had a very massive canine on the time — I now have two canines.

“So I wished an open structure the place she could be comfy whereas I used to be working full and I wished an open area.”

Apart from calling on her household when she wanted further fingers, Geiger accomplished the entire conversion herself.

Cori Geiger

Geiger was capable of obtain this by constructing a Murphy mattress design, which folds out of a wall or cupboard, into the van.

“That basically modified the sport for me,” she says. “It goes down whereas I’m sleeping, however then it goes again up towards the wall, which implies I’ve much more area. I’ve a full lounge space.”

Geiger additionally has a full sink with a big faucet, which she makes use of as an out of doors bathe. She says she spent $3,192 on the outside equipment, together with a ladder, roof racks, and a safety system, and an additional $4,236 on constructing provides, together with instruments, wooden and different supplies.

The electrical system set her again round $5,667, which included energy sockets and wiring, and the plumbing prices labored out to $1,253. Lastly, the price of inside equipment, paint and different design components got here to $5,528.

“I like exhibiting individuals my van, as a result of my coronary heart and soul went into it,” she says.

Geiger says she purchased the van for $36,000 and spent round $19,000 changing it right into a tiny house.

Cori Geiger

Geiger set off on the street again in September 2021 and says she hasn’t seemed again. Whereas she admits that a number of points have cropped up with the van alongside the way in which, akin to her water pumps freezing up, she’s been capable of cope with them because of the talents she discovered throughout the construct.

“Simply dwelling van life, there’s so many issues that you need to remedy each day,” she says. “However you get used to it since you constructed the van, and also you needed to drawback remedy by means of the construct.”

Geiger has discovered being a part of van life really life altering and urges others who are eager to attempt it out to not wait too lengthy.

“Don’t watch for retirement,” she says. “I discuss to so many individuals on the street. And the primary factor they are saying to me is, “it’s superior that you simply’re doing it so younger, I want I had accomplished it earlier in my life.’

“So if it’s one thing you need to do, it’s best to do it. There’ll all the time be exhausting days and difficult days, however you may be a lot stronger, happier, fulfilled and happy with your self after you end a undertaking like this.”

‘Gem’s the inside designer, I’m the laborer’

Matthew Dacombe and Gemma Hitchcock showcase their van, the Joyful Hoppa.

Matt & Gem

Matthew Dacombe and Gemma Hitchcock purchased a inexperienced wheelchair accessible minibus for £4,500 (round $5,868) in 2020. It took them round eight months to transform it right into a campervan, at a price of round £5,500 ($7,170). The couple, who are each lecturers, received engaged throughout their first journey and plan to include their van, the Joyful Hoppa, into their marriage ceremony.

When their plans to journey round Europe by prepare fell by means of as a result of pandemic, Dacombe and Hitchcock started trying to find other ways to see the world collectively as soon as borders reopened.

Whereas they’d beforehand mentioned the opportunity of getting a campervan, they are saying it was witnessing one other couple stress-free in a transformed van throughout a visit to the seashore that helped them lastly make the choice.

Because the UK went right into a second lockdown in 2020, Dacombe and Hitchcock drew up a plan for the structure of their dream van on the again of a brown envelope and commenced the undertaking.

“We’ve nonetheless received the envelope now,” says Hitchcock.

They initially setting themselves a finances of £8,000 (round $10,430) however realized they have been more likely to go over once they started wanting into vans, and located a minibus for about $5,868 that they couldn’t resist.

“I bear in mind simply staring in the back of this bus, pondering ‘oh gosh. What have we accomplished?” admits Hitchcock.

Dacombe and Hitchcock labored tirelessly on the bus with the intention to get it into form.

Matt & Gem

The couple say they didn’t actually plan out the construct in a lot element earlier than starting, however would tackle one thing new week by week and attain out to different van lifers for recommendation.

Decided to maintain prices down, they accomplished all the renovation utilizing only a jigsaw, a drill, a hand noticed, a spirit measure, a screwdriver, a sander and a workbench.

“We tried to go as minimal as potential,” says Dacombe. “We just about constructed the entire van on simply wood battens and plywood. Even the doorways of the cupboards and all our drawers.

“All of them got here from plywood. We saved it low-cost, however we’ve received good high quality merchandise.”

Not solely has this technique saved them cash, it’s additionally helped to maintain the burden of the van down.

The most weight restrictions for motorhomes and campervans throughout the UK and Europe tends to be 3.5 tons. If a automobile is over the authorized weight restrict, house owners are required to improve their driving license or they may face fines.

Whereas Dacombe and Hitchcock did the vast majority of the work themselves, the couple used a specialist firm for their electrical system.

“Going into it, I used to be fairly assured with the looks of changing a van,” says Dacombe. “However electrical energy was one other ballgame. You don’t need to get that improper.”

Additionally they introduced in professionals to assist take away some metallic flooring that had been glued to the ground of the van.

In an effort to preserve prices down, they constructed many of the inside furnishings and compartments from plywood.

Matt & Gem

As soon as they’d cladded the partitions and the ceiling of the van, constructed a mattress body and minimize their mattress to dimension, the following massive activity was constructing an L-shaped kitchen with a sink within the remaining area, and developing their couch areas.

“That’s when it received actually thrilling,” says Hitchcock. “As a result of we might really see what we’d deliberate on the brown envelope.”

The conversion took eight months in whole. Hitchcock says she was very explicit about how she wished the van to look and would give you new concepts on the final minute.

“I wished it to be very beachy, very wood and contemporary,” she says. “We actually wished to maximise the entire home windows on the bus.”

A number of days earlier than they have been on account of depart on their first journey within the van, Hitchcock determined they wanted a wine rack for their fridge.

Whereas this proved to be a difficult activity, Dacombe created one that would match inside by reducing a double wine rack in half, and each say it has are available in extraordinarily helpful.

“Gemma’s the inside designer and I’m the laborer,” he admits. “However I don’t assume we’d have been capable of do it with out each of us chipping in on either side.”

Dacombe purchased an engagement ring shortly earlier than they set off, and was ready for the best second to suggest.

He ended up popping the query on the seashore later that very same night after they’d parked up at Durdle Door in Dorset, a coastal magnificence spot in southwest England, and have been watching the sundown collectively.

“I had the ring, I had requested Gem’s mum and pa for permission and I knew I might be doing it throughout our travels,” says Dacombe.

“However the first night, with the environment of Durdle Door, the sundown, the sensation of what we had simply achieved collectively… It was the proper second.”

After placing a lot time and vitality into creating their van, the couple, who additionally element their adventures within the van on their Instagram account, are vastly happy with it, and say they typically get compliments from onlookers.

“We’ll be parked up and sitting on the mattress having a glass of wine or no matter and individuals are always coming to ask if they’ll take a look inside,” says Hitchcock.

“They’ll say, ‘oh my goodness, your van is gorgeous.’ That’s one thing that hasn’t actually gotten previous.”

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