Convert a Van: 10 Things to Know Before You Start

things to know before starting a van conversion

Converting a Van for many is a dream.

It’s freedom, it’s creativity, it’s life.

Let’s not forget though, that converting a van

Is also no joke at all.


10 things to know before starting a van conversion

When I threw myself, a bit crazily, into the project of converting a van, everything I knew about how to do it was what I had seen and studied on the internet .

Once I got my hands on it, I soon realized how unprepared I still was and how much there was still to study and to know.

In fact, the process of converting my van has taught me a lot of things I never expected and in this article, I want to share some of them with you to encourage and help you get started on converting YOUR van entirely DIY.

Happy reading!

1. For a Van Conversion, You Need Space

campervan conversion transformation needs space : tip 1

One of the very first things to think about before you start van conversion is where to do it. A van itself already requires more space than a normal car both in height and length (some vans are longer than 7 meters and almost 3 meters high!).

In addition to the van, you’ll also need space to store all the equipment (solar panels, fridge, etc.), construction materials (panels, boards, wood, glue, etc.) and work tools (jigsaws, screws, pliers, etc.).

Finally, you still need space to prepare all the materials/furniture to fit in your converted van. For that, you’ll need a work table where you can saw, cut, build and experiment with total freedom.

Having a convenient space where you can park your van, work, and store anything that has to do with your project is essential to speeding up your conversion as it will save you a lot of time.

A garage sheltered from atmospheric agents certainly would be ideal. I personally converted my van in the backyard, but as you’ll understand from the next point, it’s not always an ideal place for such a project.

2. If you don’t have a garage, wait for the good season

camper van conversion in winter tips

If the only place you have available for your van-to-campervan project is outside, what I can strongly recommend is to start your project during the spring or summer.

I crazily decided to start my project in February, outside (the only place I had available), in Trentino (Italian Dolomites). I have to say I regretted it a little.

Indeed, working in cold weather is not at all pleasantYou have to wrap yourself up in clothes like a little Michelin Mascotte, all the materials are frozen, the glues dry very slowly, the paints too, and what’s more, your working time is limited to the hottest hours of the day (at least where I live, it’s impossible to work outside on a winter’s night).

Besides temperature, the other factor to keep in mind is precipitation: rain and snow. In fact, many days when I had time on my hands, I was unable to work due to adverse weather.

A dispassionate advice: if you don’t have a garage big enough for your van at your disposal, start your camperization with the warm weather: it’s more fun, more enjoyable, easier and your time will be much more productive.

3. When you make the budget, increase it by 25%.

Budget Camper vanlife Italy van conversion

Before you get started, it’s important to have a realistic idea of how much you’ll be spending to convert your van. Once you’ve calculated how much your van conversion project will cost you, my advice is to add 25% to the total figure.

Most people who have converted a van to a van can tell you: there are always a myriad of little details that you don’t think about at the beginning of the project!

Fittings, paint, glue, cables, hooks, sprays, tools, splices, materials, coatings, decorations, extras, shipping costs, customs charges… if it’s your first time trying your hand at converting a van, believe me, no matter how much you pay attention to the details there will always be things you miss (and more costs!).

As you will find out, van conversion is in fact a “living” project in continuous evolution and to finish it at its best it is very likely that you will need materials or objects that you would have never thought of before!


4. Don’t skimp on Work Tools

tools for campering

On a van conversion journey, there are dozens of things you can save money on: you can create your electrical system, choose some materials rather than others, choose more spartan options, make your furniture by hand, look for the best discounts on appliances, etc…

One thing, however, that I absolutely do not recommend saving money on is this: work tools!

A good drill makes the difference between easy drilling and wasting hours on it, a good hacksaw allows you to cut straighter and more accurately, wrenches allow you to tighten bolts, the right glues will never come off, a good crimping machine will make electrical wiring much easier, and so it is with all other tools.

Screwdrivers, torx, pliers, grinder, hacksaw, blades, brushes… whatever you need, my advice is to get it of good quality. Trying to save money I ended up having to buy two hacksaws, two drills and two sanders… and trying to pull the bolts with pliers instead of the right wrenches some of them came loose and I had to get the wrenches anyway.

To do a precise job quickly and with less effort, you need the right tools and from my experience, I can tell you that on this really “the more you spend, in the end, the less you spend”.

5. The devil is in the details, and nothing is as easy as it looks

van conversion tip 4 - the devil is in the details

Reading blogs, seeing vlogs, and studying from the guides of others, the steps required to convert a van can often seem simpler than they actually are. I’m not saying they’re impossible, not at all: in the end with your good will and your hard work you can do anything!

I will say though, that once you’ve purchased your van for real, and you look at it for the first time and see the bare metal interior, maybe no windows, no holes, no floor, maybe needing to be painted…well, you’ll realize what a myriad of things it takes to convert a van.

And then, when you start getting your hands on it, you’ll realize that nothing is as easy as it seems and that The devil always hides in the details: a wrong hole, a few millimeters too many, a crooked cut, a wrong color, a glue that is dry or does not stick, a missing tool, a blade breaks, etc. etc. etc. The list of contingencies that can happen (and probably will happen ? ) is endless.

The important thing is to keep a flexible attitude, not be afraid to make mistakes, accept that you can make mistakes and work hard to improve and solve the problems that will come your way from day to day.

6. While Converting a Van, you will become a little MacGyver

tip 6: van conversion with the right tools

At the end of your conversion, seeing your van completely converted, you’ll realize the work you’ve done and realize you’ve become a little MacGyver.

Your knowledge will range from carpentry, electrical, plumbing but not only: in fact, at the end of the conversion you will have learned to use dozens of work tools, tricks and small tricks on how to use them at their best, you will have learned what products exist on the market and which ones to choose for which work.

In short, at the end of a conversion, you will be a little McGyver and no DIY job will ever scare you again!

7. Converting a Van in two, is four times easier!

van conversion couple in two - van conversion in italy

DIY van conversion alone or in two alone is possible? Yes.

Is it easy? No. Is it fast? No. Is it fun? Probably not.

Converting a van can be seen as a small yet huge undertaking, requiring a more or less large investment and obviously a lot of time.

From an economic standpoint, sharing a camperization project with someone can make it more affordable.

From a social standpoint, sharing the project with someone can almost certainly make it much more enjoyable and fun.

Finally, from a practical point of view, sharing the project with someone will certainly make it faster: and not twice as fast, but four times as fast!

Indeed, there is strength in numbers, and many steps of a camper certainly come better with two: insulating the walls, installing windows, fixing the roof, laying wires, testing the electrical system–work that alone would take two hours, with someone lending a hand can take only a few minutes.

Personally, if I didn’t have constant support from my girlfriend, my family, and even my neighbor, it probably would have taken me over a year to get my van converted and it definitely would have never turned out as well as it does today.

8. There will be Moments of Discomfort

depression in converting a van

Moments of discouragement along the steps of a van conversion are there for anyone, and that’s normal.

Sometimes, the things to do may seem too much. Sometimes there are just too many of them. Sometimes a little job you think of as “an easy 15min job” can turn into the work of a day. Sometimes a screw just doesn’t want to go in or a faucet doesn’t want to stop leaking. Breathe.

Remember that so many vanlifers have been there, I would venture to say practically anyone who has ever gone into the business of converting a Do-It-Yourself van with their own hands.

One piece of advice I want to leave you with is this: make a list on a piece of paper with all the things that need to be done. Start by doing the most immediate, simplest ones, the ones you can do today. Don’t overthink future ones because overthinking sometimes paralyzes you and wastes a lot of time.

From day to day, cross out the ones you complete and add the ones that emerge to do. Keep going step by step, one job at a time, and you’ll see your van take shape in no time.

BONUS TIP: If there will be a day when you feel discouraged, or something just doesn’t want to work out; abandon it, put it off and have a nice beer. The next day, rested, you’ll see everything with different eyes! 🙂

9. It’s stressful, but damn fun!

surprised by a hole in the van

Van conversion can be stressful we’ve talked about it before. About how fun it is though, not yet.

Converting a van, is like building your own home: plan it the way you like it, buy the products that inspire you, and assemble it the way you’re excited about it!

The mistakes, the small-big wins, the finished projects, the sleepless nights, the after-work beer, the photos, the memories with friends are all part of the conversion journey that can be stressful, but also damn exciting and fun.

Personally, the dream (because that’s what it’s all about for me) of traveling with my van once I’m done has motivated me to devote myself body and soul to the van conversion, before and after work, for over 4 months.

If you’re thinking of converting a van DIY and you have the opportunity to do it (time, place, money, right time in life, etc.), I say do it! It’s a special, unique and constructive experience, and you’ll see at the end,the satisfactions will surely outweigh any difficulties and struggles you may ever encounter on the way..

10. 20% of the time is converting the van,

80% of the time is learning how to do it

search information

Physically creating your camper van certainly takes time, but this is only a small part (in my opinion 20%) of the total time you will need to devote to your project.

If it’s your first time transforming a van, most of your time will have to be spent figuring out “how” to do things: what products to use and purchasing them, how to assemble them, how to fix them, how to customize them, where to find them, learn how to compare them etc.

Read, read, and read. If you haven’t started converting your van yet or haven’t even purchased it, you can already start spending time toward your conversion project by getting informed, growing your knowledge, and acquiring the essential information to create your DIY camper van when the time will come.

I hope that the Van Conversion Guidesfeatured in this blog, will help you reduce that 80% time at least a little bit! 🙂

Van Conversion Useful Tips – Conclusion

van camperized van finished

Converting a van into a campervan may seem like a titanic task, but I suggest you put things in perspective: in the end, you’re just trying to convert a van into a campervan. ;D

So many have made it before you (even me, who still can’t believe it!) and you certainly can too!

I hope this article has given you some inspiration and encouragement to start your van transformation project more calm, informed and peaceful.

Of course, if you need more tips on how to convert your van, don’t miss out all the other guides 😉

Thanks for reading, see you in the next articles!!! 😀





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