Our Journey of Making a Van Into a Camper

Cargo van being converted to camper

We wanted a camper van but without the high costs associated with a traditional RV. So, we decided to buy a cargo van and turn it into a custom camper.

It’s likely that you have seen such vans around the internet these days. Especially on Pinterest or Instagram where they have become popular. You’ve probably seen pictures of some beautiful millennial couple laying in the bed, nearly naked, looking out of their van into the sunset.

Ah the glamorous life of living in a van. Makes you want to quit your job and hit the road, right?

These staged photos don’t really show the reality of how it is to actually build a camper van and then to travel in it.

My intention is to show you how it actually is, not just show you a bunch of serene, beautiful pictures that make it look like we are living in some kind of dream.

My wife and I have worked in the camping industry for many years and we know some of the realities of how it is out there. I was also in the Marines and had my fair share of sleep in some of the most uncomfortable places in the world.

Building this van is going to be a challenge but we are up to the challenge and look forward to sharing the experience with you.

Our Reasons for Doing This

Need for adventure

I was a Marine so I had a life of adventure for at least a little while in my younger days. However, those adventures ended when my enlistment ended.

It’s been corporate life ever since with the occasional vacation sprinkled in here and there.

Although, we have been blessed with great careers, the mountains are calling my name and I just want to get away more often than I have in the past.


I have been an amateur landscape photographer for many years but I have no way of going to locations throughout the country without boarding a plane and spending a small fortune on a stressful trip.

I have visions of me pulling up to my photography location in the mountains, crawling into bed to enjoy a good nights sleep. Then in the morning, I can simply roll out of the van and get to work. After my pictures have been taken, I can come back to the van, brew some coffee, eat some breakfast and enjoy the morning.

Is it really going to be like this? Who knows, but I surely will never know if I don’t give it a try.

Our Fur Child

One of the main reasons is that we have a dog that we love very much and we don’t like to leave her anywhere. However, she doesn’t like to travel either.

She also doesn’t like to stay in strange places so we feel like a camper van would really give us a solution to be able to travel with her and she could always feel at home.

We wouldn’t have to worry about where we were going to stay, whether they allow pets and we could make her feel at home while we’re traveling. At least that is the plan. The reality of this remains to be seen.

YOLO (You Only Live Once)

What would you do if you knew you only had a short while to live on this earth? What if you had a day left? A month? A year?

Well, we don’t know how long we have on this earth and any minute could be your last one. Why spend so much time doing things that don’t make you happy?

I don’t know about you but when my time comes, I want to know that I did all I could do to make sure my life was filled with intentional moments. Moments that I chose and things that I chose to do.

I don’t want to get to the end of my life and have regrets. What if I just said, nah, building a van is too much work or it’s too expensive? Instead, I am taking on the challenge and I know that it will either bring me joy or it will just be another learning experience.

You only live once.

Where do we plan on going?

One of my goals for travel has always been to visit all of the National parks in the USA. As an avid hiker and photographer, the national parks provide a great place to do this.

Traveling to the national parks throughout the country is a great use of camper vans or RVs in general. Most of them have campgrounds and you get to be up close and personal to the landscapes at each place rather than spending your time in a hotel.

We plan on using the van to travel to as many national parks as possible. However, there are many other places we’d like to go and we don’t even know them all yet. We’ll figure it all out once we get on the road.

Deciding on a layout and how I’ll build it?

It’s tough deciding on a layout but there is one thing we knew for sure when we started this; we want a bed that stays a bed instead of a couch / bed contraption.

We also knew that we wanted to incorporate a shower and toilet into our build. Without these basic things, It just wouldn’t be as fun to us. We wouldn’t want to have to worry about where the next bathroom is or how to get clean after a long sweaty hike or bike ride.

I’m not a carpenter and really don’t have a desire to do most of the work that I’ll have to do. However, I generally keep my sights set on the end product in mind and am willing to do what it takes to get there.

I do have some low voltage electrical experience and I would consider myself to be a good do-it-yourself type of person at most things so I’ll be able to test that out on this van build.

You’ll be able to follow along and see our layout as well as problems we may encounter and what we do about them.

Timeframe for our van build

I’m an optimist so I plan to have this van completely finished in only a month. No, just kidding…

I really don’t have a time frame, although I think 6-12 months is probably a good place to start. The real goal for us is to just get it done.

If we don’t start now, a year from now, we’ll still be wishing we had.

I’m not one to put things off and I know this is going to be a monumental challenge but that doesn’t scare me. My eye is fixed on the end result so I’ll do whatever it takes to make this dream a reality.

Follow our progress

I’m looking forward to the process of building this van and I’m excited to see the finished product. I will also be sharing parts of the van build in a series of posts written here on this blog.

Some of the posts you can look forward to seeing are as follows:

  • Insulating a camper van – I’ll show you what I do for insulation and keep you posted on how it is working out.
  • Solar power solution – I don’t know much about solar but I will learn all about it and I’ll share what I learn here. This is the part of the build I’m looking forward to the most.
  • Cutting holes in the van for a fan, windows, etc. – scary stuff but I’m gonna tackle it.
  • Installing a full featured shower – I couldn’t imagine a real camper van without one so you can bet this build will include it.
  • Installing vinyl plank flooring – We want this build to look like a tiny home on wheels and our flooring will bring it all together.
  • Much, much more…

I hope you can find something of value here as we go through this challenging process of making our van into a camper.

Dan Collins

I consider myself an outdoor enthusiast. I love to travel and go to places that most people don't get a chance to go. I want to see it all and live life to the fullest while I'm alive. My camper van is helping me to do just that. I write about my experiences to help inspire others to do the same.

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