Where to Start When Converting a Van to a Camper

Man standing inside his newly built campervan

If you’ve recently purchased a van or bus to convert into your very own tiny home on wheels, then you might be wondering how to get started. It can be both equally exciting and daunting when you have your blank canvas and aren’t sure where to even begin. 

However, if you take your time and plan your conversion well, it can be a really rewarding process. In this blog, we’re taking a look at how to get started when converting a van to a camper van. This will include what you should do before you begin getting stuck into building your dream van.

1. Establish a budget for your conversion

Women with a meter and a campervan behind - Converting van to camper

Converting a van to a campervan can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. However, one of the first things you should do before you plan your conversion is to establish a budget. While this might vary from person to person and even fluctuate over the build process, it can be helpful to work out how much you want to spend before you get started.

Establishing a budget will then help you when it comes to planning your conversion layout and deciding what you want your van to have. There’s not much point in designing an elaborate layout if it blows your budget constraints. There are lots of different ways you can design your van build to fit your budget, so it’s really helpful to sit down and work out how much money you have to spend first.

2. Do lots of research

Woman sitting on her campervan doing some research - Converting van to camper

One of the biggest parts of the van build process is doing all your initial research. There’s so much to know about converting vans to campervans, that it can be a lot to take in. However, there’s plenty of ways to do research and find inspiration with YouTube, Instagram and blogs offering a great insight into other van builds.

Instagram in particular can be a great way to find inspiration for your van layout, with plenty of #vanlife accounts out there (like our very own @nomadsaroundaustralia). YouTube can then help provide more detail, with full van tours, van conversions and how to videos available to help you along the way. 

You might want to spend a bit of time watching, reading and listening to how other people have been through a similar process before you. There are lots of things to learn from other vanlifers!

3. Plan your van conversion layout

A woman inside her campervan planning the layout - Converting van to camper

Once you have your budget and have done plenty of research into conversions, it’s time to plan your own van layout. Designing your very own home on wheels can be really exciting, because this is where you get to decide exactly how your van will look. 

There’s plenty of things to consider when designing your van, including different campervan bed ideas, kitchen layouts and bathroom options. All your previous research will help at this stage, as you’ve likely taken notice of all the different design layouts people have come up with. 
It’s all about what’s practical and how you visualise vanlife working for you. You can base your design off other van layouts which can be tweaked to suit, or start completely on a blank canvas with your own ideas.

4. Seek advice for your 12V electrical power

Man installing solar panel on the roof of a campervan

One of the most important aspects of your van build which will require some thinking is the electrical and power side of things. You might want to work out what kind of electrical setup you’ll need, which will depend a lot on how you’re planning to live and travel.

If you’re hoping to have a fridge, lights and charge your appliances and electronics, you’ll likely want to think about a decent battery, solar and inverter installation. If you’re not familiar with any of this, it’s a good idea to speak with an auto electrician or someone who has experience with campervans who can recommend the kind of setup you need. 
If you want to do your own 12V electrical, we have some nice DIY 12V electrical packs available for small, medium and large vans or buses that could be interesting. Kev, our 12V expert can help you with your electrical set-up. Live chat with us here.

5. Decide how much you’re going to DIY

Equipment to use to start a converted van

Once you’ve worked out your van layout, you should start to consider how much of the build process you’re going to do yourself. While there are many vanlifers out there who have completed their build all on their own, there’s no shame in seeking help from professional van builders or specific tradesmen. 

You can outsource the entire build process to a van builder. This is becoming increasingly common, as it saves a lot of time and headaches in doing things that you may have never done before. However, it can also be really rewarding to get stuck into your own van conversion and try to do it yourself as much as you can. 

In saying this, it can also be a good idea to get some help along the way from professionals in certain areas. For example, in Australia 240V electricity and LPG gas is required to be installed by licenced professionals. So for example, if you’re planning on having a gas cooker or hot water system, you should leave this up to experienced, capable and certified hands! (And you’ll probably need a certificate of installation!)

6. Get started on your build!

Kid playing and planning inside a campervan

Now that you’ve done all the preparation and planning, it’s time to start on your build. Everyone will have a different starting point when it comes to their van conversion. If you’re planning on cutting extra windows or a roof skylight into your van, generally it’s a good idea to get started on these first because they affect the exterior body and you need these installed before doing the interior lining.

As for the interior, many van builders will lay the floor first. Once you have a nice floor down, you can start to mark out where everything from your van layout design is going to go. This will give you a good blank canvas to visualise everything and perhaps make some changes before you really get started.

Then, you can move onto more of the serious build, including insulation, cabinetry, electrical and gas, plumping, and the list goes on!

7. Conclusion

The first thing you want to do when you buy a van is immediately get started on converting it into your dream home on wheels. However, there’s some really important steps you should take first. Establishing a budget, doing lots of research and planning your van layout and design in detail all take time but are very important first steps when converting a van to a camper.

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