Max pulling the ply wood panels readying our van for our van build

Why Would We Even Consider Building & Living in a Van?

| We’re building our first home, but it’s not what you expect.

Follow our Van Build Journey to #vanlife

On the 26th June we got the keys to our first home. But, it’s not what you think. We’ve started a van conversion!

While most of our friends have the keys to a one or two-bedroom property, we’ve decided to follow the less conventional route. We’re going to put our doormat (and muddy hiking boots) outside of a Long Wheel Base Citroen Relay van. It’s going to be a challenge but we’re excited and eager for it. Here we go with our van conversion; turning an everyday white panel van into a little home on wheels made just for us and ready for adventure!

Why a van conversion?  

Before Covid-19 we had planned our Walk for Good. We were going to spend 2020 hiking 14 National Trails around the UK, and raising money for charity. Then, we went into lockdown. But we believe that no matter what, you have to keep moving forward. After many discussions about our options (taking into consideration the unpredictable time we’re living in) we decided on a van conversion. 

We’ve talked about doing a van conversion for years, but it never felt like the right time. After hiking the Appalachian Trail though we realised that we could live in a smaller space. And more so, living out of our backpack gave us a thrill, an excitement for hiking. We loved the feeling of moving forward and sleeping in different places along our journey. 

Nevertheless, we started a lawn care business upon our return, and even tried to buy a house, but it fell through. Despite the success of our business, we just weren’t entirely happy with our lifestyle. When we start something, we give everything, so we were 100% committed to the business and our customers, which meant stress and worry and never being able to switch off.  We knew we weren’t doing what we really wanted to do and it didn’t marry well with our ‘life is short so make every day count’ mantra. So, we decided to make a change. In February 2020 we sold our business and made our hiking plan. But, things changed again, and so it finally felt like the right time for us to do a van conversion. 

Why We Think Van Life Will Suit Us?

‘Vanlife’ and a van conversion for us means we can be self-contained. In our little home on wheels which will allow us to work from anywhere and go hiking everywhere! With hopes to walk those beautiful UK National Trails,  but also to travel, hike and camp around Europe, we will continue our adventures in our new home. 

Plus, over the years we’ve heard such great things about vanlife and the vanlife community, so it’s about time we experienced it for ourselves.

Introducing… The Van

Make & Model: A Citroen Relay Long Wheel Base van 

Age: 2015

Mileage: 36,500 

Van Collection Day!

Vans are practically flying out of the… van shops (I can only think of car lots? lol) right now with so many people jumping into the van conversion life, so we were really pleased to find ours. (He/She doesn’t have a name just yet!)

On the 26th June we drove to Vansco in Eastleigh in our little Seat Mii and brought our new home, home. 

We planned on parking our van near our back garden for easy access but we were a little worried about getting the van through the low car porch (attached to someone’s house!). We were so worried about damaging the van and the house, Tom let most of the air out of the tyres and crawled it through. (It was all good, we had a 10-centimetre clearance and since then we’ve driven it through with tyres pumped up.)

Plan, Plan & Plan for a Van Conversion…

Despite our mega excitement to get cracking, we knew we had to get back on the laptops to continue planning the layout, construction, what tools we needed, and we had to carry on ordering  supplies to begin the build. We wanted to order as much as possible at the beginning, so we weren’t waiting on parts and timber etc. once we began as we kept hearing people say materials had been out of stock due to Covid-19 and the influx in demand. 

We bought Nate Murphy’s e-book and modelled our plan on his, whilst changing and altering bits here and there to suit our needs. This was great because it gave what could be a massively overwhelming project a starting point and a foundation to work from. Thanks Nate! 

Layout for our Van Conversion

Our layout changed so many times. We thought we knew what we wanted but after spending time going through Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube, there were so many ideas and options. So, we started by making a Pinterest board of van layouts and interiors we liked. 

But, don’t underestimate the importance of physically getting inside your van and getting a feel for the space. We got in, started laying masking tape here, there, and everywhere, and around 4 or 5 layouts later we finally arrived at one that worked for us.

At the same time, after saving so many Pins, we started to see a pattern develop of the things we liked. The kind of seating we wanted, the style of kitchen we preferred and whether we wanted a fixed bed or pull out, for example. Even the colours we seemed to be favouriting. It was hugely helpful!

Take Advantage of Available Resources

If you are planning a van conversion, you don’t have to simply follow what others are doing. Get inside, discuss what you want your van to do for you and really think about what you want from your little home. You may just come up with something totally different! Use Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube as inspiration. Create as many Pinterest boards as you need; with layouts you like, beds, storage, kitchens etc. because planning your van is such a personal thing.

Tom then recreated our van layout, inside and out, to scale, using Adobe Illustrator. It’s simple but it is a great next step that allows you to visualise the space and see how everything will work and fit in the van. He used it to map out the internal battens, lighting, general layout, and the roof with the solar panels and vents. If you don’t have Illustrator, you can use one of the many 3D programs out there or even draw it out. Whatever works for you.

Thank you for reading our blog, we hoped you enjoyed it! If you did and you haven’t already checked out our other blogs you can here or find more videos on our YouTube channel. If you like what you see please give it a thumbs up and subscribe to see more and to follow our journey.

Helpful Van Conversion links

We’re going to document the whole build, so stay tuned for our van conversion videos, with as much help and hints as possible because we’ve been so amazed by the amount of information that’s out there, we want to do our bit to help the next wave of van converters. 

A huge thank you to so many vanlifers and converters out there that have helped us just get to this point, to name but a few:

FAQs

How do you choose a van for a conversion?

The van you choose to convert depends on what you want from it. We liked the idea of having a fixed bed that fits width ways across the van. This helped to limit our search because we found the most popular vans for this layout to be the medium or long wheel based Citroen Relay, Peugeot Boxer or Fiat Ducato – all pretty much the same van.

Will you have a toilet in your van?

Yes! We are going to have a compost toilet in our van that will hopefully slide out of one of the seats, and we’ve chosen a compost toilet rather than a porta-potti because we don’t want to deal with the chemicals and the limitations that come with disposal. We’re going to make our own compost toilet with a separator and use sawdust or simply dispose of waste straight away.

How will you wash in your van? Will you have a shower?

We are not going to have a built-in shower, but we will have something at the back of the van. Either a tankless, gas shower or a bag with a shower head. There are lots of great portable shower options out there, we just need to find the one for us. We can fashion a screen using the back doors, but that will be the second phase of the van conversion. First, we need windows, walls and a floor!

How much will your van conversion cost?

That’s a tough one, but we’re aiming for around £6,000 (not including the cost of the van). Some people spend as little as £1,000 and others up to £20,000. It all depends on budget, your layout, what you’re going to use your van for; are you going to live in it or use it for weekends away?

Our van is going to be our main home for a while, so we want to keep the cost down as much as possible but we also want to build it to a good standard and buy items that are going to last, and that we can rely on. We want to be able to ‘work from home’, so our electric set up is key, as is having enough kitchen space, because we both enjoy cooking (and eating).

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