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Campervan Cool on the Cheap
December 27, 2012 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Show me pictures and tell me things about really cool DIY camper van fit-outs. What does your dream hippy travel van look like?

Thinking of converting our Dodge/Mercedes Sprinter - a high-top, long wheel base, turbo diesel van with two passenger doors, slide-back slide door and two rear doors. The interior load dimensions are 4300mm long, 1800mm wide, 1900mm high. It has windows in the rear doors but not in the sides. It is walk through from the two seats in the cab section to the van.

We have tools, skills and materials to do a cabinetry fit out ourselves but am in need of a ideas about clever storage and utility needs/design, energy efficiency, light control etc. We want to make it a clever, stylish but simple traveller on wheels for a couple in the late 20s visiting Australia from overseas for a year.

What are the must haves? What are the useless things in many camper vans? What is unusual but brilliant once you have it? Our budget for inclusions is about $500 in scrounge dollars ($1500 in new dollars). Bonus if the fit out is easy to remove and reinstall.
posted by Kerasia to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hmmm. With your starting point, Dodge/Mercedes/Sprinter I would just assume you would be able/willing to invest more in fitting it out.

Anyhooo. My first stop would be a camper show that has professionally fitted out Sprinters for sale.

That's cause I am not above stealing ideas from others.
posted by notreally at 3:32 PM on December 27, 2012


My grandfather owned two VW Campers before buying a VW Transporter and building the interior from the ground up. The feature that always impressed me the most was having a switch in the floor to activate the water in the sink.
posted by furtive at 3:33 PM on December 27, 2012


I've spent a lot of time in various makeshift not-quite-camper vehicles that I've slept in. The things that I've always felt were useful/important were

- Light - find ways to darken windows in a way that is very very simple to put up and take down. Standard two ways I've seen this (besides RV-like pull-down shades) are curtain on a string and little velcro corner stickies. Bonus points for having a set up that, from the outside, doesn't say "someone is asleep in here!" because then you can park wherever to get some shut eye.
- Hot/cold - I don't know what the temperature is where you are, but finding decent ways to deal with both moisture/humidity and staying warm or cool while sleeping are useful. So insulate the walls so you don't get condensation, be careful where water goes, etc. I've seen people who have bug netting that gets magnetized over windows that are open and I recommend a ceiling fan or other vent fan if you just want to swap out the air really quicklike.
- Container storage - similar to the cube style of packing luggage, have some sort of modular storage bins/tubs that fit in a lot of the cabinetry you made. So instead of having rattley drawers full of silverware, have a flat silverware tub that slides in someplace. Take out to use, put back to store. This is especially true for under-bed space where you can put some less-used items. Think "What do I want handy?" and "What do I need access to but can basically deep store?" Reproducing a kitchen setup is not actually such a great idea. Find ways to anchor things.
- Kitchen - speaking of kitchens, if you're somewhere where weather is decent most of the time, consider more of an external kitchen the way teardrop campers work. So have the back of the van pull out into a table/storage tubs/mess kit/water and then don't even worry about having food inside most of your living space. Obviously this won't work if you're someplace with real winter and/or rain.

So I'm not sure how much you need to reinvent the wheel here and how much you can just crib from others, but there are some great forums that are more dedicated to how to get the most out of your vehicle and doing various low cost fixes to them. The Googleable term is boondocking, fun to click around and look.
posted by jessamyn at 3:38 PM on December 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have no personal experience with this, but it looks really cool and is right up your alley.
posted by adamrice at 3:51 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can get some awesome ideas at the cheap RV living website. They talk about what works for some, and what doesn't for others. There used to be some active blogs about this a few years back, but googling them shows me that a lot of them have gone dormant. You can still google Camper van conversions and get quite a bit of information.

Also, this all depends on how much time you'll be spending in the cities, or how much time you weight you want in the van - water weighs a lot. I was an urban dweller, so I camped in parking lots. Therefore, I didn't have a kitchen in my camper, I chose to eat out a lot and otherwise subside on whatever didn't need refrigeration or cooking. I also used public restrooms and gym showers. The shower area in my trailer held my cat's litter box (way more important).

Your needs will be different than others, so only you can decide what your "must haves". You won't need a cat litter box, I think, but I did. You might need hot food first thing in the morning, but I could wait until later on in the day.
posted by patheral at 3:54 PM on December 27, 2012


This isn't an answer per se, although I like jessamyn's quite a lot, but I just did a post that might give you some inspiration.
posted by OmieWise at 4:05 PM on December 27, 2012


I camp a lot in my minivan, mostly in state parks for a few days at a time, sometimes on quiet city streets. I haven't done anything to it except remove the back seats. One critically important feature is screens for the windows in summer. My low-budget solution is some sheer curtains I got in a thrift shop and some of that blue paper painter's tape. I just tape pre-cut pieces of the curtains in place every night. I usually bring a cooler, and a propane stove, but tend to eat sandwiches or eat out. I have a wide-mouthed jar with a tight-fitting lid I can pee in if I feel the need in the middle of the night. If I ever do any lengthier trips I'll build a raised platform with 2x4s and plywood, and use the space under it to stow gear.
posted by mareli at 4:11 PM on December 27, 2012


I follow this blog, about a guy living in his RV. He posts lots of pictures, and writes a lot about how he fitted out his RV. Now he's working on doing the same to a van.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:08 PM on December 27, 2012


I can't answer your question directly, however, the forums at Expedition Portal are excellent for just this type of thing.

Don't be afraid to browse outside the van conversions. For example, this Teardrop trailer build will surely have some clues; I love what they did for the awning over the door.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:18 PM on December 27, 2012


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