How to Plan Your Van Conversion
So, you’re thinking about converting a van? Where do you start? Well once you’ve chosen your van, you need to think about what you want from it so that you can create the perfect van for what you need. We’d never had a campervan before, or rented one so we had no idea what to expect from it.
The closest thing we got to a campervan was using my parents caravan which they bought 2 years before we chose to buy a van. We started using that for long weekend trips around Europe, but quickly realised that as much as we loved being able to use it, it just didn’t give us what we needed. And that was to travel!
We found ourselves choosing a central campsite, and driving up to 2 hrs in each direction over the course of a weekend. And then the fact that we’d loose two days of travel as we couldn’t see anything on the way there or home, because you can’t just park up with a caravan attached to you at a beach. So that’s when we decided to convert a van. And we’ve never looked back!
DVLA ‘Motor Caravan’ Requirements
Once you’ve chosen your van, you’re going to want to start with the essentials. Other than the obvious things like a bed and cooker, essentials can look different for everyone. But if you have plans to convert your van to a campervan legally, then there’s a little DVLA ticklist of things that you need to pass.
These things include (among others, I’ve just listed a few. You can see the full list here):
- A bed
- Water Storage
- A seating/dining area (this can convert to a bed)
- Permanent storage
- Permanent cooking facility
What do you want it for?
The first thing to think about is what you want to use the van for, so that you can think about what you want to put in it. Do you want to use it for sleeping in at events during the summer, in which case you can probably just go for a simple conversion with the essentials.
Do you want it for weekend breaks around the UK during the summer, in which case you might want to create a van with a large living area and a little bit of storage for just the essentials. Maybe a 12v fridge and a little kitchen area.
Do you want it to go travelling in for a week or two at a time? In that case, you might want to have loads of storage, potentially a garage so that you can carry all the clothes and gear with you for the duration of the trip, and have a smaller seating area or a fixed bed above the storage area. Maybe a bigger fridge for less grocery stops and potentially even a bathroom.
Or, the ultimate vanlife dream for most – you might want to create a permanent home on wheels in which case, you’ll probably want to go all out for those home comforts.
It’s entirely up to you what you want to do with your van, but thinking about what you want to use it for is a good start. We knew that we’d want to do mostly weekend breaks around the UK, with one or two longer trips each year, so we went somewhere inbetween the those two.
What Do You Need?
Everyone is going to need different things in their conversion, so you need to think about what YOU need. Think about the points above, and what you plan to use it for and then you can go from there. Do you really need a bathroom which takes up a huge amount of space, if you plan to use it for a maximum of 2 days at a time. Can you go a day without a shower?
I think it’s easier to break it down into things that you want and need for each area, rather than trying to think of the whole van, as you’ll probably miss things. I like to think of it as each area of your home.
Do you want a fixed bed, or are you happy to prepare the bed each evening and pack it away the next morning and have a caravan style bed? If you’ve got a smaller van, you’ll have the option of a rock ‘n’ roll bed too. If you have a fixed bed, how high do you want it to create storage room underneath? Do you need to fit other beds in e.g. for children, so would you need them layered at different heights? Don’t forget the minimum requirements if you’re planning on getting the classification legally changed in the UK.
Do you want a separate living area to the bedroom, or are you happy to just chill in the bed all the time? Do you want a separate area with a permanent dining room table and chairs, or do you prefer to have a removable table in between the seating area which then doubles up as the bed at night?
Again, think back to what you primarily want to use your campervan for. You might want a full on cooker with an oven, but in reality, for the amount of time that you’re going to use it, would the price justify it? Would you be happy to just have a 2 ring hob, maybe even 3? Do you want a hob AND a grill, or is the full hob, grill and oven that you want? Do you want a sink, or if you plan to only use your van at campsites you could save some cost and just have a washing up bowl and wash up on sites.
I know for a lot of people, whether to have a bathroom or not is a big decision. When we planned our conversion, this was a must for us, and we put in the frame for a wetroom. After a year of our conversion and two weeks in Europe with only a porta potti, we decided to rip out the entire bathroom and opt to keep the porta potti instead. Is a bathroom necessary for you? Will you use it, or are you more likely to use campsites? Could you just use a porta-potti, or do you want a full on bathroom with a toilet and shower?
You’ll need some type of storage in the van not just for the requirments, but also for practicality. Do you want overhead cabinets, open shelving, tall units, undercounter units, drawers, cupboards. Think about what you need space for. Clothes, food, games, even things that you’ll need on the road like a few tools, first aid kits, levelling blocks. Is there anything else you want to take with you that might take up a lot of space, e.g. paddleboards, kayaks, surfboards, bikes? Where do you plan to put these.
Practicality and Home Comforts
Once you’ve thought about the design of your van and what you need inside it, you can start thinking about everything else that can make it just a little bit cosy for your trips.
Believe it or not, you don’t actually have to have a permanently fixed water tank on board a campervan – as long as you have a way of storing water it should meet requirements e.g. a 10L water tank in a cupboard. You can free up storage space inside the van by getting fixed water tanks which go under the van. Do you want a sink with pumped water? Do you want hot water?
If you’re planning on fitting a shower, you might want to consider hot water. Do you plan on using the van during the winter and want heating? If so, do you want a wood-burner, gas heater or diesel heater or are you happy to just put on extra layers during the winter?
If you only plan on using your campervan at campsites, then you can save money by fitting an electric hookup point for use on campsites only. Otherwise, it’s worth looking at getting solar panels. You can read our thoughts on our solar panel set up here.
We wanted our van to be nice and bright inside, so we opted for 4 windows and 3 roof vents. The minimum requirement is 1 side window, but we love having the extra light inside the van. It’s worth noting that the more windows you install, the less insulated the van will be. To get in extra light and ventillation, you might consider roof vents, but they take up precious roof space that you can fill wth solar panels, so weigh up the pro’s and con’s.
Things we Learned
One of the biggest things we learned is that you will probably change your mind throughout the process. If you’re not sure on what you want, then it’s worth hiring a campervan and seeing the things you do and don’t like about it. Go to festivals like Camp Quirky where you get to wander around loads of self builds for inspiration and get new ideas and the biggest thing for us?
Use the van while you convert it! You’ll see anything that you need to add or make changes to. Each trip we made we’d come back with a long list of things that needed to be added or changed.
Is there anything that you want to add to the list?
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