How to Convert an Old Van into a European Vacation Home on Wheels… in 6 Steps!
We’re still in shock about the fact that not long ago, we were just casually chatting about getting a van for a European trip. The next minute, we’ve laid out all of our monthly pay on one! While it left us broke and eating bread for the rest of the month, it’s going to be totally worth every pound we spent.
To start, Pinterest and YouTube became our best friends. We talk about nothing but the van and our wild ideas. We’ve been immersed in van conversion, vlogs, blogs, and anything that will provide us with the slightest idea of how the hell to actually get our van from people mover to ‘home sweet home.’
Unfortunately planning is something Tom and I struggle with. We just wanted to slap a few panels of wood together, chuck a mattress on the floor, and then just magically appear on a beach in Lagos, drinking sangria over a candlelit dinner in our new van, Betty. However, it turns out there’s a heap of random shit you need to do before you can just live in a car. Surprise, surprise!
So here’s the process of converting our van:
As we plan to travel through Europe in summer, it’s going to be like sleeping in a small oven if we don’t properly insulate her. We chose to use EARTH WOOL insulation which we shoved into all the nooks and crannies. We then used spray glue to insulate the roof as we progressed.
2. Building the bed
The bed was a difficult issue since my boyfriend is the world’s lankiest man. If we put the bed across the van, Tom would be squished up while trying to sleep, but if we put it lengthwise, we would lose a lot of space. Tom decided he could sleep diagonally if we put the bed across the van and if we could make it wider. So thats what we did.
The bed is 1.4 meters wide and 1.8 meters long. We purchased an old king-size memory-foam mattress from Gumtree for £25 which was easily cut with a bread knife and turned out to be really comfortable.
Tom and I disagreed on this one. I wanted to use old pallet wood, which was free and obviously up-cycling. However, he had a more realistic idea that it would be too heavy and too much hard work separating the pallets and then cutting them to size, given that the only tools we had were a drop saw and jig saw.
We ended up using GEOM 2400mm x 95mm x 7.5mm for the cladding, which set us back £7.42 for each packet (5 lengths). We used 6 packets the cover the whole van. The cladding looks so much better but was an actual pain in the arse, as we had to cut every individual piece to size. This took us so much longer than expected but it looks unreal. I’m glad we went with the cladding instead of the pallet wood, although I would never tell Tom that. (Don’t you tell him either!)
4. Cupboards and Drawers
We used all recycled wood for the rest of the van, reducing our cost by heaps. Tom mostly picked up spare wood from his work at Heathrow airport or, if I saw something on the side of the road, he would be summoned to collect it with his work van.
The kitchen cupboards are 90 x 40 x 73 cm with one shelf in it. Our clothes drawers are 60 x 88 x 56 cm. We used baskets, that are apparently used for delivering avocados, in the drawers to separate our clothes. (These baskets were something we discovered when we woke up after a big night out, so we assumed they were free as well!) We’ve also made two hinged seats which include storage for more food items.
From the get -o I envisaged grey flooring in our van. I knew this would be a difficult request, since we were trying to get everything for free, but luckily Tom came home one day from work with scrap vinyl floor boards … and they were GREY!! I was so excited! We literally just had enough to cover the floor in the van.
We also used an Ikea brown door mat, which we trimmed to size so it slotted into the step groove. These cost £2.50 each.
6. Paint and Decor
We opted to paint the whole van white. Tom was able to get free paint brushes from work so we used a Home of Colour, Pure Brilliant White. One tin cost £12 for 5L. We did need a little more but our friend kindly let us use the left over white paint he had at home. Thankfully this saved us from buying another one.
The final step was decorating: Now, this is where we needed to spend some money. Obviously we could have just chucked any old blanket and not have any decorations but I just couldn’t help myself. I wanted the van to look nice and be a space where we would want to spend months living.
Our biggest set back was a reindeer hyde from Sweden which we drunkenly purchased and brought home. This set us back £80 but we will obviously take it home to Oz and keep it forever. (We say that now but it will probably get trashed with red wine and cheese platters which I’m sure will be consumed on our bed at one point or another).
The next biggest purchase was a lot less expensive. A throw for £20 from Ikea. (Ikea literally became my best friend trough out the whole decoration process.)
Now lets answer the question on everyone’s lips – “what was the final cost?” We spent in total £2823 for the whole van plus conversion. This includes the van, insurance, taxes, and all the camping gear we need to live our life on the road! There are still some bits and pieces we need to purchase before we leave for Europe but hopefully not too much more to add to the total cost.
I am absolutely bloody thrilled with the results of our hard work. The van turned out just as we’d ‘planned’. The bed is comfy, we have heaps of storage space and it feels like our own little oasis on wheels. I can’t wait to get it on the road and sink some hard earned beers while we watch the sunset over the ocean … somewhere. Bring it on!!!