QUEST FOR A NEW CAMPERVAN: Is My Design Really So Weird?

I’ve been a bit quiet on the Campervan Quest front lately because I have been experiencing an ‘interesting’ struggle to find somebody who can help us convert our Vivaro van in the way we want it to be converted. I don’t think our design is that weird but, is it just me, or are there only 2 ways of converting a campervan at the moment  – Do-It-Yourself or an expensive, standard conversion by a professional converter who has a 6-months waiting list? I was feeling a bit down about it, but the Fates have provided a solution and I am really excited about it now…

“We’re Going to Do it All Ourselves” – Really?

When we first decided to buy a panel van and convert it a few months ago I had the idea that we would do a lot of it ourselves and maybe just contract out the electrics to be on the safe side. I think I was kidding myself a bit.

Neither Glyn or I are DIY people and, although I love the research and design side of it and I know exactly what I want our van to do, I think we both began to realise that we weren’t looking forward to the DIY work and that we don’t have a location or the tools to do it properly (we don’t have a drive at our cottage). I have watched as much YouTube on van converting as I could absorb, and it certainly has given me the overview and understanding of the principles that I know I need but my heart sank at the thought of trying to do the physical work and that what we probably would do wasn’t going to look that nice in the end.

We don’t need our van to look showroom glossy or fancy, but we do want it to look professional and to feel comfortable and be practical. (When I was doing a cooking demo at the Norfolk Motorhome show the other day, I spoke to one of the stallholders who sells campervan equipment and he said that most new motorhomes/campervans are designed to look tempting in the showroom and are not that practical for actual camping!) The thing is, there are so many different ways to go camping and everybody has different requirements for their camping style anyway.

Also, we don’t have a ‘glossy’ budget and, as the Vivaro is an older van (2007), it doesn’t make sense to throw mega money at it.

Unconventional Layouts a Growing Trend

The layout I have designed is also not conventional as, having been campervanning for a few years now, we know what we need and what we don’t need, in fact, from talking to various people in the campervan world, the current trend does seem to be towards simplicity.

We were talking to a local auto, window-tinter the other day to get some prices for the 2 side windows in the van and as it happens, he is converting his VW van at the moment. He is an experienced vanner and he said that he is designing it so that when the bed is down, everything, like the fridge/storage etc, can be accessed from the top around the bed and they are going to have just a simple one-ring portable gas cooker for the kitchen.

As a campervan chef, I am always researching kitchen kit and cooking trends and it does seem that more and more people are wanting to move away from a full-on kitchen unit in the van. I also get the feeling that people are not so keen on having a gas cylinder in the van (which would need to be certified anyway, I believe) and I saw something the other day that brought that home for me too.

Serious Accident on the M4 Brings it Home

I was driving to Wales from Swindon along the M4 and, when I got to junction 18, the traffic had stopped dead, and we were parked there for half an hour because of an accident. When we eventually could drive on and pass the accident I saw a classic WV campervan on the hard shoulder that had been completely gutted by fire. I later learned that a faulty gas cylinder had created the fire.

Of course, this is very rare and most people never have any trouble with their cylinders but, personally, I don’t want to give room over to it (and the secure storage you need for it) in the van. I also find that I can cook most of what I want on one-ring (sometimes two) and I can do this by having an induction hob inside the van, and a one-ring portable gas cooker with gas canisters to take outside and cook which is where I do most of my cooking anyway (hate cooking in the van).

It was interesting as, when we took our Vivaro to a local professional van converter for a quote and he learned that I wrote campervan cookbooks he thought that I was going to want him to design a really fancy kitchen! Once I explained how I cook he understood and admitted that when his family goes away in their van they prefer to cook outside too. So, all I want is a shelf and socket inside for my induction hob and I am going to use a fold-out kitchen unit to cook outside on the portable gas ring. If the weather is really so bad that I can’t cook outside or in the awning, then it’s time for the pub!

Easy Sleeping

We wanted to keep the sleeping arrangements simple too and, personally, I don’t find rock-and roll beds very comfortable unless they are one of the full-sized ones that cost around £2000 and would be too big for our van anyway. We are going to have a wooden frame bed across the back of the van that doubles-up as the seating area with a middle ‘insert’ that can be raised up to be the table as well. I know this wouldn’t work for everybody, but neither Glyn or I are tall people, so it should be OK.

Working in the Van is Important for Us

Vivaro Campervan Conversion - Clearing the Van
Camper Cookie starts to convert her Vivaro Campervan

Sometimes I take the van away by myself and work on my laptop quite a lot and Glyn likes to get on the laptop in the early mornings while I am still asleep, so we decided to build a little workstation next to the window behind the driver’s seat. Our van was a crew van so had 2 belted seats in the back, one of which we have turned around to face a partial wall running alongside the bed which will have a flip-down table on it. This will also double-up as the cooking table for my induction hob which will sit in a purpose-built slot on the partial wall while we are travelling.

Under-floor Heating a Possibility

We want to be able to extend the camping season so we are looking at some integral heating for the van and, at the moment, I am exploring the possibility of underfloor heating. You can now buy strips of underfloor wiring that can be cut to size and I think this would work brilliantly as it is silent and doesn’t pull a lot of power and, we find that once the van is closed up, a little heating goes a long way anyway.

I am still undecided on the ‘loo’ arrangements but as this is really just for the occasional pee at night I think it only needs to be something simple.

What Fridge?

We find that we don’t really need a full-on fridge and the Waecos and Dometics are so expensive anyway if you don’t really need them. We just need a high-performance 2-way cool box so I am researching these at the moment. We have decided that we want one with an Eco setting so that you can turn it down at night so noise is then not a problem. These can also easily be unplugged and carried away from the van if you want a picnic. I really like the idea of flexibility and being able to move easily from inside to outside for most things.

But how to make all these less conventional ideas manifest on a modest budget?

Yay, It’s Terry!

As luck would have it, I was talking to the builder who renovated the property that we are living in now and he has done a lovely and creative job on it. Terry is one of those people who can master virtually any of the crafts and he really cares about the finish and, as it happens, he has worked on holiday lodges and his own vans and boats so understands the principles of ‘tiny-living’ and he is really enthusiastic about it all.

He came to look at the Vivaro and he really gets my ideas and has some great suggestions of his own. He is also happy to do it in stages as we want to get the lining and first-fix electrics done and then try it out for a night with just a mattress in the back before we decide on the final design as we find that it’s not until you really ‘camp’ in it that you find out what works and what doesn’t work. When I mentioned this to some of the professional converters they seemed to lose interest and didn’t even reply to my emails.

I can appreciate that it is easier for them to just have the van for a couple of weeks and do the whole thing in one go but I think that they are missing out on a big gap in the market. But then, most of them have so much work and a waiting list so I guess it is not something they need to think about and, as they are running a business, I can see why they might think that way.

Anyway, I am really looking forward to working with Terry on our van and to let it develop in a creative and fun way.  I’ll keep you posted!

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