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How to Convert a Camper Van

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Harvest Hosts
November 6, 2020

TL;DR: Discover the perks of #vanlife and learn how to convert a camper van into your mobile home, complete with essential steps and tips for comfortable living on the road.

How to Convert a Camper Van

If you've ever dreamed of quitting your job and hitting the open road, the dream might be easier to achieve than you think. You might not even have to quit your job. More people than ever are converting a camper van into a comfortable mobile home so they can live a more nomadic lifestyle. Before you head out to find a van and start your conversion, it's important to know how the process works. Read on to learn more about #vanlife and how you can get started on your own adventure.

The Benefits of Having a Camper Van Home

The trending hashtag #vanlife refers to living in a van either full or part-time. You can convert your vehicle into a residence that includes everything you need like running water, a comfy bed, a small bathroom, and a place to cook your meals. When you live the van life, you're getting a range of benefits that will make your life more exciting and fulfilling.

  • Travel: If you've always wanted to travel the country, living the van life is a great option. You can easily go anywhere in a camper van since they're smaller than an RV and easier to park. For those with serious wanderlust, the ability to travel anywhere and at any time is certainly alluring.
  • Freedom: Say goodbye to the traditional 9-5 job when you choose to live the van life. Since you're constantly mobile, you can find a new career path that will allow you to pursue your true passions and dreams.
  • Versatility: You don't have to live in your campervan full time to enjoy it. Whether you want to take a weekend getaway or travel for just a few weeks, it's a great way to get the comforts of home without having to pay for a hotel room.
  • New Experiences: Traveling in a camper van allows you to see new places, try new foods, and experience new things. It's a great way to expand your horizons and discover new cultures and new landscapes.

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Van Conversion Steps

How to Convert a Camper Van

When you're ready to live the #vanlife, there are a few important steps to follow to make sure that your new mobile home is set up the way you want it. Here are the steps you need to take to make your travel dreams come true.

Get a Van

It's important to note that living in a camper van is much different than living in a full-sized RV. A van is much smaller in size, which means you might not have room to get all the amenities you want. However, you'll save money on gas and it's much easier to find camping spots in a van than it is in a larger RV.

  • Types of vans: Some camper vans already have built-in features that make them ready for mobile living. Other models are much simpler and will require you to do some legwork before you can start roaming the country. Look for vans that have some of the basic facilities already installed. It may cost you more in terms of money, but it will certainly save you a lot of time. Talk to your local dealership or go online and browse the different vans that are available. A bus is another alternative that gives you a lot more space for a lot less cash.
  • Pros and Cons: Living in a camper van can feel cramped, so it's important to make sure that you have one with enough space to stretch out. On the plus side, you can create a space that provides you with everything you need so you can focus on your travels. Another pro to the van life is that you'll be able to downsize and get rid of things you no longer need. If you're doing this full-time, it's the perfect opportunity to declutter. Another con of living in a van is that you won't have as much storage for clothing, food, and other items. Maximize your space so that you're able to take the essentials with you wherever you go.

Gut and Clean the Van

If you're converting a van from scratch, you'll need to "gut" it first. Here are the basics steps to help you get started:

  • Unbolt all of the seats in the van and take them out to clear the vehicle and create an open space. Saw any leftover metal that may still be sticking up from the floor, then sand everything down to a smooth finish.
  • Remove seatbelts where there are no seats only. This will prevent a trip hazard and free up even more space for the inside.
  • Take off all interior door panels, except in the front driver and passenger seat areas.
  • Use a mixture of soap and water to scrub the walls, floor, and ceiling. Rinse everything thoroughly with clean water and air-dry the inside.

Make a Plan

Now that you have your new campervan and it's completely clean and gutted, it's time to think about your plan. Start by determining what items you absolutely need to have, and which items you can sell or donate. This is a good opportunity to declutter and really think about which possessions are most important to you. Next, write a list of the essentials that you'll need to include in your van conversion.

  • Kitchen: You'll need a small fridge or a reliable cooler to keep food and drinks cold. A small sink is great for food prep and washing your hands.
  • Bathroom: If you have room, install a small stand-up shower. You'll also need a toilet, so look into a variety of options including compost toilets that won't require plumbing.
  • Heating & Electricity: Whether you need a source of heat or cooling, think about how to wire your van so that you can keep the temperature comfortable. A box fan or floor fan with a rotating head is an easy, energy-efficient way to stay cool while keeping a decent airflow.
  • Layout: Draft the layout for your van on paper and determine where everything will go. Focus on sleeping quarters and the kitchen area first. If you have the extra room, you can draw a layout for a small living area or dining space.

Build it Out

Once your van is clean and you have your list of essentials, it's time to start the building out your floorplan.

  • Start with the floor of the van, which will serve as the base for everything you add including built-in furniture and plumbing. Plywood is a good starter for your floors, and then you can install laminate or vinyl on top of it once everything is in place.
  • Gather essential tools before you get started. Some of the most important tools you'll need include a jigsaw, a quality drill with several different sized drill bits, a hammer and screwdriver, and your insulation and cladding materials.
  • Install the walls first, then add insulation to keep your van warm in winter, and cool in summer. You can then start to build your furniture including a frame for the bed, kitchen counters and cabinets, and a small table or desk. Make sure you measure everything several times to ensure you're building everything in the right proportion to the amount of square footage you have.

Set Up Utilities

In order to live comfortably, you'll need to set up a few essential utilities:

  • Water: Since you're not connected to a well or sewer system, you'll need a durable water tank that you can take with you. Make sure you choose a tank that can hold at least 50 liters at a time.
  • Electricity: A power inverter is a must. This device converts 12V to 240V electric so you can charge your devices and use power outlets. Set up a fuse box and install all of the wiring – if you're not confident about this step, it's best to hire a professional. Consider adding solar panels to your van for a natural source of power. Two 100W panels should be enough, and you can connect them to a regulator inside your fuse box. You'll also need batteries to power everything, so be sure to calculate how much electricity you plan to use so that your batteries will be powerful enough to handle daily living and power your appliances.

Go Shopping for Gear

Here's a handy checklist you can use to make sure you have everything you need in your camper van:

  • Kitchen utensils including pots, pans, silverware, and dishes
  • A quality first aid kit
  • Replacement lightbulbs
  • Bedding, blankets, and pillows
  • Pet supplies if you're planning to bring Fido with you
  • Window coverings like blinds or curtains for privacy
  • A gas can just in case you ever run out of gas while you're on the road
  • Smartphone and device chargers
  • Snacks and nonperishable foods
  • A few flashlights
  • Basics like toilet paper, soap, a toothbrush, and other hygiene essentials

Here are some more ideas on what to bring on your first RV camping trip.


Once you have everything you need, it's time to get organized. Store everything in a designated place and make sure that everything is secure, so it doesn't rattle around or come loose when you're driving. Consider adding a latch or lock to your cabinets so they don't accidentally fly open. Under-bed storage is great for clothes and shoes. If you have the room, add a vanity or medicine cabinet to the bathroom so you have a spot for small bathroom items.

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Camper Van Life Day-To-Day Tips

Here are some tips and suggestions to make your daily life easier while you're enjoying the van life:

  • Learn how to fix basic things yourself so you save money and time. Keep a small toolbox with the basics on-hand.
  • Practice good hygiene and be sure to shower and brush your teeth daily.
  • Even though you'll be traveling, it's best to stick to a routine. Get up at the same time each day, and set a schedule so your life feels normal, even when you're on the road.
  • Figure out where you plan to stay overnight or park your van in advance. Then, when night falls, you'll already have a plan in place and a secure place to sleep.
  • If you're working on the road, make sure you have Wi-Fi access wherever you go. Look for shared office spaces where you can sit down at a desk and do work-related tasks whenever possible.

With the right type of van and some creativity, you can easily turn a camper van into a comfortable mobile home. Remember to draw your layout ahead of time and build out your van so you have the furniture and the space you'll need to stay comfortable. Downsize the things you no longer need and gather the most important essentials before you hit the road. With a bit of planning, you'll be able to live your dreams and explore the country in style.

This article was originally published on Oct 6, 2020 on the Porch.com Blog here.

About the author: Evan Dunn is a Content Marketing Specialist at Porch.com. He is passionate about research and enjoys reading, camping, hiking, and traveling.

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Harvest Hosts is a unique RV camping membership that offers self-contained RVers unlimited overnight stays at over 5,658 small businesses across North America with no camping fees. Boondock at farms, wineries, breweries, attractions, and other one-of-a-kind destinations throughout North America, and you’ll get peace of mind knowing that a safe place to stay is always nearby!
Harvest Hosts-profile-image
Harvest Hosts
Harvest Hosts is an RV membership program that allows self-contained travelers to overnight at unique locations around the country including farms, wineries, museums, breweries, and more!