“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure”
– Chris McCandless
One thing a lot of people have asked me, apart from “how much did it cost?” is “what gave you the idea to convert a van in the first place?” And, to be honest, it’s not a question I find very easy to answer. It could have been when I first stumbled across the incredible the rolling home on instagram, it could have been in one of my law lectures when we were studying just how much you pay back with a mortgage (and I almost passed out with dread), it could have been when I finished reading Into The Wild or On The Road, utterly infatuated with a life more travelled, more wild, it could have been the influence of my parents or, it could have been a combination of all of the above.
I have had a very adventurous and active upbringing. For years in my family, my parents and even in generations above that, have taken a lot of delight in camper-vanning and caravanning. Summer for me started at about 4am of a morning, when the Landrover would be packed to the brim, the coolbox inbetween me and my sister in the back, parents apprehensive of travelling 6 hours to Dover or Portsmouth port with two young children. France, we were headed, for what felt like the entire summer, and I loved it. We would travel all over the place to sightsee and spend days on the most beautiful beaches. We also went across the UK too, going on rallys with hundreds of other likeminded families and also just to tiny farms. We made our own entertainment, usually with several groundsheets, a hosepipe and plenty of fairy liquid.
I don’t think I have ever really been a materialistic person, I always got much more joy out of building dens and jumping waves than feeding my tamagotchi or tending to the incessant bloody crying of baby annabelle, and once when attending my primary school’s end of year fancy dress, I was adamant that I would be dressing up as my future occupation… the fantastic explorer, David Attenborough. I was obsessed with places such as the amazon, the temples of Angkor Wat, the watery depths of the Titanic wreck, maybe it was too much Lara Croft, or maybe I was infact just born to explore.
Initially, I wanted a Volkswagen Autosleeper, because they came with an already high top roof, plenty of windows, living facilities and were fairly new but still with a retro look to them. But, they were each about £8,000 to buy on average and my dad had other ideas, and he was the person I needed to convince to let me spend my savings. I searched and searched and searched for months, often finding what I thought was ‘the one’ only to find out they had too many miles or were absolutely rotten underneath. And then I found it, about three hours away, sky blue, on sale for £6,000 with just over 35,000 miles. It was nothing short of a miracle find. A few days later, I had left a deposit and was looking forward to picking it up.
That was in April 2016, fast forward almost 18 months and me and my Dad have completed a full conversion. (Even with me on a ski season in the middle of it all) We have dealt with a leak that we attempted to fix at the beginning but recently came back to haunt us, my dad has wired in all the incredibly complicated (and overwhelming) electrics despite him being colourblind and my mum has even made the seat cover and curtains. It has been a real family affair, which only adds to the value in my eyes.
To start with, it was quite difficult, the van was a blank canvas and I was overwhelmed with ideas, I had full creative freedom and knew I wanted something different than the standard rock’n’roll bed conversion, with a bigger, more comfortable bed. The first job was putting the windows in, we bought kits from Van Demon and Dad bought an air nibbler and with slightly shaking hands we cut into the sides and rear of the van. Dad also took it upon himself to install a new radio with reversing camera because he doesn’t have a lot of faith in my driving. (Like, seriously, this is my LIFE SAVINGS on wheels, I’m really going to crash it!?!) After the windows were in, we had to insulate it, and carpet the ply on the walls. Then there was the floor to cover, which I did so with patterned vinyl flooring from Burts Carpets using the ply as a template. We designed and built the bed using sections of steel that were welded together and then cutting down slats from IKEA to fit (a very painstaking job). At this stage, it was time out for 6 months whilst I completed my ski season.
After returning from my ski season, the only way I was able to finish the conversion was with a £1,300 commission bonus from the company I worked for, this allowed me to buy the very expensive bits such as the fridge, (who knew camper fridges were worth £500 a piece) a sink and hob unit, and the electrical control system, known as Sargent units. Of course, there was a lot of ply needed to build the cupboards, and a lot of head-scratching on Dad’s behalf on how he was going to cut and shape it. I have to say, I am incredibly lucky to be blessed with the powerhouse that is my Dad, we have had no outside help (apart from a friend of a friend who could weld) or tools whatsoever in this conversion, and he has done it all from his own knowledge. There has been many shouting matches, tools flung across the garden, and enough expletives to make Gordon Ramsey wince, but this has absolutely brought us closer.
And now, finally, I am at the stage where it is all complete, it has been reclassified, and it is ready to insure. The first planned trip is Edinburgh at New Year and across Europe to Greece next summer, with lots of spontaneous adventures inbetween. My own personal vision is to live a life of freedom, minimalism and absolute spontaneity, to wake up with views people pay £1,000 per night in a hotel for, to climb onto my comfortable custom-made bed aching after a days surfing and exploring a foreign place. To be limited to the amount of ‘stuff’ we carry around with ourselves, to live and be happy with just the essentials. To have no definite ‘start’ and ‘end’ to an adventure, to find likeminded people with their own dreams and their own alternative living spaces. To never lose the little girl who wanted to be an explorer when she grew up. My plan, in essence, is to have absolutely no plan at all, except maybe a rough idea of a route somewhere – and that is what I call The Van Plan.
sidenote: if ANYONE is thinking of completing a conversion themselves, or if you just have any questions at all about any of the above, or cost, or where to source materials, please feel free to hit me up in the contact page!
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
– Jack Kerouac, On The Road