Step1: Finding inspiration
If you’re longing to start living the #vanlife dream then you’re probably already scouring the internet for tips and advice on becoming a van-dweller – maybe that’s why you’re here! – and if you’re not already we seriously suggest you get started!
There are tons of videos on YouTube and hundreds of blogs online providing all sorts of advice for people with different budgets and lifestyles. There’s also subreddits and Facebook groups full of experienced vanlifers bursting with advice on living a nomadic lifestyle.
Instagrammers are also a well known, ‘vanlife inspo’ resource but when it comes to conversion inspiration Pinterest is our go-to and – in traditional, vanlifer collaborative spirit – we’ve created an All Things Van Life group board. Simply follow us on Pinterest and drop us a message with your Pinterest URL if you want to join.
Step 2: Choose your facilities
So now you’re done soaking up all the vanspiration the internet has to offer it’s time to decide on your facilities. Do you want a shower? A solar setup? A wood burner? The choices are endless. Our time in New Zealand gave us a firm basis for our decisions. However, if you’re someone who’s never been camping, a week in the wilderness may give you a better idea of the things you’ll miss. Check out the stuff we can’t live without below:
Solar power – This one is a must. As Vanlifers we love a good digital detox but severing the digital umbilical cord for months at a time just doesn’t fit in with our work/life balance. This means a good quality solar panel is on our list.
Heating – Not necessarily a deal breaker for everyone. However, we plan to spend some time camping under the Northern Lights so we figured it makes sense. Plus, nobody really likes being cold. We’ve considered a wood burner as they’re just the coolest but we really want to maintain the stealth element so a Propex heateris on our shopping list.
A shower – Washing in lakes and rivers like an ethereal forest maiden sounds majestic. In reality, when there are no natural water sources you’ll just end up desperately washing your hair in a public bathroom #liveauthentic. To avoid this we suggest investing a simple portable shower so you can always stay fresh wherever you choose to camp.
WiFi – This is a tricky one and we haven’t quite ironed out all the details yet. We know we want the option to connect as often as we need to. Even if we don’t plan on using it all the time.
Leisure Batteries – Our greatest Vanlife moments have been found in the most secluded locations. Good quality leisure batteries that allow us to go off-grid for days even in poor weather is a must.
LPG – Butane is an expensive disaster where we’re going. We want to stay warm and full of the best kinds of foods cooked in the comfort of our very own home on wheels. We want to do this with minimal cost and hassle so that’s where LPG comes in.
Step 3: Consider your layout
Next, you’ll want to get an idea of the layout of your conversion. This means you’ll need to think about what you’ll be taking with you. For example, are you a climbing, surfing, diving or cycling enthusiast? If so, you’ll want to make sure your layout can accommodate all your gear in a way that conserves as much space as possible. Our Pinterest is full of great ideas you might want to consider when making your plans. You’ll also need to make sure you can safely seat and sleep all your adventurers. Here are our final layout choices:
Fixed Bed – We’ve decided on a fixed double bed as opposed to a folding bed for the following reasons:
- We want plenty of under bed storage for our bikes, a kayak and our hiking gear
- We figured when we’re in the van we’ll be sleeping or relaxing anyway
- It keeps the cost down – fold away beds are expensive
- It’s more durable and we’ll be using it every day
- Saves time in the night/morning
Windows – We’ve decided on a van with 1-2 windows. None of which are on the sliding door due to:
- DVLA requirements – our van is registered in the UK – as we want to change the v5 when complete
- Maintaining the stealth element – fewer windows means less obvious
- We’ll have the option to incorporate a wooden sliding panel for extra security
- Better insulation in the winter
Bulkhead – Although many Vanlifers choose to rip out the bulkhead and install swivel seats we’ve decided we’ll be building a custom insulated bulkhead with a small door for a couple of reasons:
- A sealed bulkhead prevents condensation which leads to mold – a huge problem for us in NZ
- It’s easier to control the temperate in the living space on hot days and cold nights
- It maintains that stealth element we love so much – even if someone is peeking into the cab
- Keeps the cost down – swivel seats are expensive
Shower – Outdoor showers are simple but not so good in Scandinavian winter. We want to build simple facilities that will allow us to shower outside and also inside the van. Ideally, we want a small pop up shower so we don’t have to sacrifice space. Our Van Life Showers board has some really cool examples of what we want to achieve.
Seating/Sleeping – There’s only two of us and right now our van seats three. This is why we considered building 3-berth camper with a bench/bed that doubles up as storage to accommodate an extra person. Since we decided on the bulkhead door we’re now leaning towards switching our double seat in the cab for a single for easier access.
Kitchen – We’ll be incorporating a small, simple kitchen area into the living space up against the window. Our kitchen will include a tap, sink and a double gas burner. Initially, we decided against a fridge to keep the cost down – instead opting for a good quality cool box – but following advice online we’re on the look out for a 3-way fridge. Take a look at our Van Life Kitchens board for some tiny kitchen inspiration.
Step 4 – Interior Styling
A considerably less stressful part of making conversion plans is thinking about how you’re going to style your van interior. There are tons of options to choose from to suit you. Check out our Van Life Interiors and Van Life DIY Decor boards on Pinterest – our go-to for camper interior styling.
We decided we want a cozy, rustic ‘Hygge inspired’ look for our interior. A space that feels homely and welcoming as opposed to the sometimes bland look and feel of a typical campervan interior. For these reasons, we’ve steered away from MDF and modern curved edge cupboards in favour of neutral colours, reclaimed wood and soft, warm lighting.
Read Next: How To Get Your Van ‘Conversion Ready’
Step 5 – The Design
Now you should have a good idea in your head so it’s time to knock up some designs. If you’re a designer by nature SketchUp Make is a great tool for creating 3D designs and also free for non-commercial use. Another great tool – although not free – is Adobe Illustrator which also has many powerful features.
In the end, we simply opted for good old pencil sketches. The reason being we have very little experience with the above programs – with little hours in the day – we felt design software would be a counter-productive choice for us with our given timescale. Also, we tend to be rather indecisive and wanted to choose an option that allows us to churn out new designs quickly as our ideas grow and change.
The great thing about designing your van is you can approach it in whichever way is best suited to you. However in order to save time we’d advise focusing on a floor plan which includes all of your facilities/gear whilst maximising available space before moving on to more detailed structural designs.
Ready to get on the road?
The great leap into van life starts with buying your campervan. Whether you’re looking to become a weekend warrior, take a long-term trip or make a full-time commitment many people feel this is something completely unattainable. That’s why quite often when we tell people we’re converting our own off-grid camper the most common response is ‘I wish I could afford to do something like that’. Well we’re going to tell you that you totally can!
We’ve been forced to deal with a ton of mechanical disasters. So – although we know some of these are no brainers – we’ve decided to share with you everything we’ve learned.
An early morning yoga session, deeply inhaling the fragrant scent of fresh pine followed by a short hike over earthy, volcanic terrain. A late afternoon swim in sun warmed pristine, glacial fed lakes accompanied by a campfire dinner as the sun sets over great snow topped ridges.
Have you recently finished your conversion or are you in the process of designing your soon-to-be home on wheels?
Let us know in the comments below or get in touch if you think we’ve missed something.
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