Wondering about how to convert a van into a camper? We talked about owning a camper van for so long. I will be honest, my dream was to own a VW split screen, bumbling along the motorway with a garland of flowers hanging from the mirror. Putting my heart to one side, I knew that for us we would want to cover some miles in our campervan, and we needed space for our growing family. We get asked a lot about converting a van into a camper van. So I decided to put our vanlife conversion tips down in one epic post. We opted for a VW T5 camper and we purchased a panel van with a dream. Here is a little more on our VW camper conversion.
*post contains affiliate links
Let’s get things straight. We have absolutely no DIY skills. We had no idea where to start with a campervan conversion. We knew we wouldn’t be able to covert a van to a camper by ourselves and we were under no illusions that we would need to bring in the experts to help us. But we had a dream, and the determination to save, plan, and to turn our dream into reality.
We followed our vanlife dream and purchased a van to convert into a campervan…and so can you!
So where do you start with a DIY camper van conversion? How do you turn a van into a camper van? This post gives you our VW campervan conversion tips, and VW camper conversion hacks, including a few things that we have learned during our DIY campervan conversion journey.
Tips for a VW camper van conversion? first step – Find a van
Things we considered essential when looking for a van. The van had to be in good condition, with low mileage and air-conditioning. For us we knew that sitting in traffic in the heat without air-conditioning wouldn’t make for a pleasant journey, so this was an essential for us, and unfortunately it took us a while to find the best van at a fairly decent price with aircon.
We considered a long wheel base but parking was an issue at our little cottage (and our first home) – plus we would be using the van to commute so we knew that this wasn’t an option sadly.
We found a VW T5 short wheel base van that was about 18 months old, with low mileage.
A top tip from Gary over at Camping HQ – If you are planning to sell on at a later date, make sure the model you have chosen doesn’t depreciate in value too much. Also try not to go too bespoke with your conversion if you want to sell the van later on…pink with green spots narrows down potential buyers.
So shop around, and do your research (take along a second opinion too – AKA my wonderful dad!). Finding the van is the hardest part. I will also add, finding a van that ticked all our boxes – well it was extremely time consuming.
It also wasn’t cheap (is there ever a way to convert a campervan on a budget?) – with all our ££££ spent on the van we had to make plans for a simple camper van conversion that didn’t cost the earth.
converting a campervan? Plan out what you need (and stick to your budget)
The next bit is tricky, especially if you (like us) spent all of your budget on purchasing a vehicle to covert to a live in vehicle such as an RV or campervan. Yes all of our budget. And we are not DIY minded to do the conversion ourselves so we needed to save and really think about what we needed. So yep… next tip….know your budget and stick to it.
So let me start by telling you our VW conversion is not luxurious. We don’t have a hob or sink, skylights, shower or a toilet. Might save these for our next vanlife dream.
We made two lists. A ‘wish list’ and an ‘essential list’ for camper conversion. We really thought about what we wanted the van for, what activities we would be doing in the van (ie watersports or work commuting). We had a very small budget, so our van is practical and comfortable … and we love it.
The first thing we did initially was our windows and insulation. Then we chucked a mattress in the back, some sleeping bags, some bunting flags, and headed off with our youngest on an adventure. For our first trip we headed to the Llyn Peninsula and I remember it like it was yesterday.
We then took some time to think about our VW campervan interior. so next step …. Take your time to think about what you really need when building a camper? How many do you need the camper to sleep? Do you require a kitchen? How much storage do you need? If you are thinking of a campervan for a family…. you need to be clever with your storage.
VW Campervan interior
There are so many campervan interior ideas and camper conversion layouts to choose from. No two DIY camper conversions are the same and this is the great thing about a DIY van conversion – you can choose exactly what you want and need.
When converting a camper van – we chose individually custom built cupboards down the side of the van with a 3/4 rock n roll bed. We added a swivel passenger seat, underbed storage and a fridge. We also added lighting, electric hook up, a diesel heater and a TV. We later added a pop top roof as our family grew and a Fiamma wind-out awning which we absolutely love!
Gary from Camping HQ has some more great tips for converting a camper. He advises to look at other conversions & get some inspiration, really get an idea of the layout. Talk to other people with camper-vans, find out what works for them and what doesn’t and what they would do differently, if they decided to convert a camper again.
What would I do differently if we converted a van again? I would add a kitchen area for sure, with a microwave maybe and more storage….way more storage. Oh, and maybe a shower, and a toilet. Okay maybe we need a motorhome!
There are so many choices and ideas for your campervan interior. We opted for RIB Seat bed and certified RIB seat installation system, but there are so many options to choose from. Gary from CampingHQ highlights to make sure you conversion is safe – things like Rock’n’Roll beds and gas appliances have regulations that need to be followed – if unsure seek advice!
A top tip from Wirral campervan hire – “Look at the lighting in your van. Our pop up roof has no inbuilt lights so we did adapt by adding a remote control LED to provide more light. If you are starting from scratch, think about building in some LEDS, they look amazing, like a starry sky at night.”
Storage for a small campervan conversion
How to convert a van into a camper? It is one question that is asked a lot. Another thing I get asked a lot? How do five of you sleep in a T5 camper. Here’s how…..
Campervanning with kids? You may find our post ‘How to sleep 5 in a converted camper van‘ useful with kids sleeping hacks for campervans.
The next question we get asked a lot – where do you put all you stuff? Custom storage for campers for one, and clever packing.
Good storage is key – Wirral Campervan Hire and Camping HQ both agree that storage is key and add their top tip…if you are looking to convert a campervan, make sure you have enough storage space. You can never have too much.
Think of the spacesaving camper van ideas such as;
- Packing pods
- Baskets, boxes, storage nets and car organisers
- Clever packing – plan the outfits, we also love our hamman towels (these are wonderful and take up no space)
- We also use a small pop up tent for the really bulky items that come with babies… pushchairs… car seats…. and kids toys/scooters.
You may find my post on storage ideas for a small camper useful
Camper van conversion insurance
Consider camper van insurance and make sure you get a few quotes. It is really important to ensure you are insured for the work that you are intending to do.
You may find my post on camper van insurance for a self build helpful
If you don’t have the time or the inclination to DIY a camper – then why not hire a camper, or motorhome? You can then really find out if van life is for you. Before you spend ££££ on your DIY campervan conversion, hit the open road, explore and enjoy life in a campervan or motorhome with no hassle! There are so many places to hire a small camper in the UK, and if a small camper is not for you, you can look out for small RV rental or motorhome hire. Check out local rental companies.
Camper King agree and advise to “try before you buy.” They add- “If you are not sure whether your family need a long wheel base camper; whether you’d like an off grid focused kit, whether you would like a different style of bed etc. rent a camper van first! The best way to truly work out what is important to you in a campervan is to try it out before investing”.
So the big question – HOW MUCH DOES A CAMPER VAN CONVERSION COST?
Honestly? How long is a piece of string? We have spent ££££ but this is because of the cost of products and accessories that we decided to add, pop top roof, bed, and fridge, TV, heater etc not to mention the alloys and additional extras. We also paid for our camper to be converted, but you can certainly convert a camper on a budget especially if you are doing the work yourself. One last tip from Camping HQ – “if you are not doing the work yourself – get some quotes and speak to some conversion companies to get an idea of cost, they will also tell you if you have missed something or if your ideas or conversion plans may not work”.
So still thinking about buying a camper or converting a van into a camper van?
Please do get in touch with you van conversions – we love to hear from you!
How to convert a van into a camper – pin for later
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Should you click to purchase, this is at no extra cost to you, but I receive a small commission.