Now that we have been on the road for a while, I feel as though I have enough perspective to write a post about lessons learned from converting our 2015 Ford Transit Connect cargo van into a camper. Here are my top 5 take-aways from our van conversion process.
- Choose a mechanically sound vehicle. For us, the primary purpose of owning a van is to travel with it. If you want to travel, you need a van that will take you where you want to go. In my opinion, the van’s functionality is more important than its form. Our van may not look as nice as a tricked out VW – but we know that we can go the distance with it, which is more important to us.
- Minimize the permanent changes to the van. It will be relatively easy for us to undo everything we have done to the van and make our camper a cargo van again. The only permanent change that we made was to drill a small hole in the roof for solar panel wiring. Everything else has been bolted into pre-drilled holes and can be taken out when we are done traveling.
- Customize to your needs. Because the van is such a small space, you can only bring a limited amount of gear and possessions with you. Therefore, it is necessary to think about what activities you really want to do and customize your space to prioritize those activities. For example, we like to cook a lot of our meals because it is healthier and saves money. Therefore, we have devoted a large portion of our van space to our kitchen table, propane stove, and cookware. Because the elements inside the van each interact with each other, it is also necessary to keep both the big picture and small details in mind while working on projects to customize the space.
- Get inspired! There are a ton of places on the web to get ideas for van conversions. I created a board on Pinterest where I saved ideas for our van. We also toured several tiny homes in Santa Barbara, and went to an RV show to get ideas about what we wanted to do. Seeing what others have done is the best way to find innovative ways to effectively use the small space in the van.
- Be prepared to go to the hardware store…a lot. Even though our conversion was pretty minimalistic, it involved countless trips to Ace Hardware, Home Depot, and Amazon. This was our first van conversion, and we had to carefully think through what elements we were going to add and the order in which they were to be added. Almost every time we thought we were ready to go forward with a project, we would realize we actually needed a different part, and we would have to go back to the hardware store to get it. Therefore, my number one tip is to be patient. It is more important to take the time to do it right rather than speed through the conversion and end up with a vehicle that does not fit your needs.