Best Tips To Start Converting Your Van

The inside of a gutted van before the van conversion.

(Photo Credit @thevanlife.hub)

Imagine being a bird—free to explore the vast world with your home on your back. Being a nomad can offer you this liberating experience, but it takes more than just buying your own van; it’s about transforming it into a mobile sanctuary. That’s where we come in to help you with your van build. We’re here to share the best secret tips that’ll help you transform your humble van into a pro-level customized campervan conversion.

Whether you’re prioritizing function, comfort, storage, or creating a show piece, we have something for everyone. Regardless of your van’s current condition, we can help bring it to life with adaptable furniture, customized secret storage, and a plan for it to evolve with you. So buckle up and get ready to build a nest of freedom on four wheels like never before—one that reflects who you are and caters to your wanderlust spirit.

Identify Your People

The first thing you need to do is identify your people. Ask yourself these questions: Who are the friends that are cheering for you? Who wants you to succeed? Who is a little jealous and is going to be living vicariously through your YouTube videos? Who do you know that has a decent amount of tools you can borrow? And who has the expertise you need? Write down all of those people, their skills, and how likely they are to help you on your van conversion.

We know you want to brag about doing it all on your own, but having someone ready to lend a hand, advise you on your electrical needs, help with your solar installation, or double check your plumbing is a great idea. Make that list, write out your needs, and start having those conversations.

Woman standing in an empty van at the start of her van conversion.

(Photo Credit @the.skoolie.teacher)

Think Cubic, Not Square Feet in Your Camper Van Conversion

Now comes the planning. One of the mistakes newbies make when planning is being focused on square feet and not planning with cubic feet in mind. The difference is significant in a tiny space and can help you in selecting the right vehicle, planning out the inside, and hitting your perfect van goals.

Square feet focuses strictly on the floor plan, while cubic feet is three-dimensional and plans out every single inch of the space—from floor to ceiling, bumper to bumper.

Start with a Van Life Plan

Starting with a solid plan can help you see how it will all work in the end, make specific requests for help, and even save money in the process. Transforming a cargo van into your own camper van can be a daunting task, but getting a plan down on grid paper can help you slowly check off areas of concern and raise your level of confidence.

What does a good DIY campervan conversion plan have?

It has a budget. 

The easiest way to stretch your budget is to buy a used vehicle. Used vans or even partially built out camper vans cost much less. You’ll be spending the majority of your budget on your van and power supply. Other things get expensive, but these are the best ways to trim money from your budget without sacrificing that blog post you are envisioning.

It has a vision. 

A good plan has a vision with some details. It knows whether it wants a rustic finish or a posh palace. It knows if it is sticking to the highways or wants to go off the beaten path. It knows what you are looking at from the driver’s seat while heading down the road and whether someone is rolling with you in the passenger seat.

Look for inspiration from companies like Outside Van conversions. Just be sure to have a vision because this will help be your detailed guide while converting a van.

It has a specific van in mind. 

Choosing the right van is specific for each individual’s needs. A Ford Transit Van is the tallest option, and offers its owners a high roof and four wheel drive. A Mercedes Sprinter Van is the longest and offers four wheel drive too. A Ram Promaster’s dimensions are the widest and have the lowest floor, but it only comes in front wheel drive. And remember these aren’t the only options. There are other vans to consider too.

New vans offer warranties and peace of mind, but it can be easy to lose your warranty with certain projects.

It has an energy plan. 

Knowing how you’ll harvest energy and conserve energy goes a long way. Be sure to look at all of the options, including DC to DC chargers, solar panels, and power storage capacities. Will you have a fixed electrical system, or choose from one of the many portable power stations on the market?

It has a water plan. 

There are a few rules to life, and one is how essential water is to it. Having a good camper conversion includes a water plan. To save room in your DIY van build, locate the water over a wheel well near your water pump and then balance your van with the power system near the other wheel.

It has a sleeping plan. 

It knows how many people will be traveling with you at any given time. This will help you learn to accommodate people overnight.

Pick and Know Your Appliances

Now it’s time to dive into the exciting part—outfitting your mobile abode with essential appliances that will make it a breeze! With plenty of research and careful planning, you can find appliances that will compliment your space, fit your budget, and save energy. Here are some appliances to think about.

Refrigerator: There are refrigerators that have dual fuel options, only electric, or propane. Another consideration is choosing between a traditional upright fridge and a chest style refrigerator.

Stove/Oven: Many conversions only have a cooktop, but this does limit your cooking options. Another thing you’ll need to decide is how you want to cook—electric or propane?

Climate Control: This can get a little complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Again you’ll need to decide if you feel the need for a heating and/or air conditioning system. There are plenty of nomads who simply choose camper vans with strategically placed fans. This saves money, space, and an energy source.

Hot Water Heater: There are several ways to get hot water too. The most popular options are either the slower, but less expensive solar option, or a propane hot water heater that is integrated into your water system.

Small Appliances: Will you have a coffee pot, toaster, air fryer, or Instant Pot? All of these take up space, but a lot of nomads swear by integrating these into their systems and for good reason.

Remember, every watt counts when living off-grid! Prioritizing energy-efficient appliances will not only save resources, but it will also give you more freedom on the road by reducing your stress about power supply issues. Up next: let’s delve deeper into how to raise your confidence level for your DIY campervan conversion.

Focus on Functionality

When transforming your home, you need to prioritize functionality. By focusing on function, you’ll maximize your space, enjoy being in it—which is key on cold or rainy days—and limit the temptations of leaving clutter. Find a spot for everything, and don’t stop until everything has a place to belong.

Get Creative with Storage Space

Don’t let a lack of space deter you from your van build. There are plenty of smart storage solutions to keep your van clutter-free and organized. Maximizing vertical space is key. Think about installing shelves or netting on the walls, a back door, or even the ceiling. These can hold smaller items like spices, books, toiletries or even clothes. Consider under-bed storage for larger items like camping gear, tools, or smaller sports equipment.

Some common hacks include magnetic strips for knives and other utensils, custom shelves to display spices, tension rods to keep things organized, and shoe holders for more storage.

My wife and I added this shoe organizer to the back doors of our Ram Promaster. It was fairly easy and worked perfectly for all of our clothes. This allowed us to have a walk-in closet at the back of our van when we got dressed and ready for the day, and we loved it!

Your creativity could be the only limit here! A DIY camper van will have your creative juices flowing. Just stay diligent and it won’t be long until you have your very own campervan.

Prioritize Comfort

Inside of a van decorated after a van conversion.

(Photo Credit @freedom_travelers_van)

Ensuring your Ford Transit interior feels like a cozy cocoon of comfort should be top on your transformation agenda. Blending function, storage, and comfort can be a bit tricky, but when campervans are planned and done right, the finished product should bring peace and comfort. Remember, you’re not just creating a vehicle; you’re crafting an intimate home on wheels. And here are a few key areas to consider.

Comfortable Bedding: No matter where you are, a good night’s sleep is vital. Invest in a quality mattress and pillows that fit the size and shape of your van layout. If you are going with a fixed bed, you might select a double bed—also known as a full size bed—over a queen to save some space. If a king size is your dream scenario, be ready to convert a bench seat each day.

Thermal Insulation: Proper insulation will help you stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. If you can buy a partially built used van that has this previously installed, you can count that as a win!

Personal Touches: Include elements that make your tiny home feel more like you. Try to vary textures and natural elements, but don’t forget to leave room for things you’ll add during your road trip.

Furniture Tips for Van Conversion

Choosing versatile furniture for your vehicle can make all the difference in maintaining a sense of spaciousness while meeting all your functional needs. Opting for convertible fixtures and space saving designs will allow you to maximize the functionality and comfort of your living area without sacrificing style or convenience.

Each area of your camper van conversion needs to be transitional. Beds that convert from a dining room to a bedroom, kitchen counters that double as working stations, and refrigerators that utilize the sliding door space for more bench seating are all great options to consider.

Don’t stop planning and looking for solutions inside either. If you need more space for storage or sleeping areas, look into a roof rack for your camper van. The cost of a roof rack can add up, but I’ve seen larger sports equipment, solar showers, and even pop up tents installed here.

As you continue transforming like a pro, don’t forget that part of making any space truly feel like home is adding personal touches. 

Add Personal Touches To Your Van

Believe me, bringing in personal touches will paint a perfect picture of personality and passion in your petite portable palace. Start by adding items that will make it feel more like you. Mementos, photos, and other keepsakes strategically placed throughout your home will act as reminders of why you are on this adventure.

Next, consider personalized lighting choices. The right light can give off an ambiance that reflects your style and mood. Maybe you’re a fan of fairy lights for their whimsical effect, or you prefer LED strips for their versatility. You might even choose various types of lanterns if you’re going for a rustic appeal.

Remember, every little detail matters. And the more you can blend comfort, function, and personalization together, the longer you’ll enjoy being on the road.

So go ahead—splash color on those walls, hang up curtains with designs from your aesthetic realm, integrate art pieces resonating with your taste; because there’s no better designer for this intimate living space than yourself!

Start Your DIY Van Journey Today

Now you’ve got the map to van transformation. Every journey starts with a plan, focuses on functionality, prioritizes comfort, and adds versatility. Remember, your van is an extension of you. Think of it as your magical mystery tour on wheels! And with these pro tips under your belt, you’re ready to hit the road. Your dream mobile abode is closer than ever before. Get set for an adventure like no other!

Kyle Arnold

Published in December


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