It’s important to know that you don’t always know what you don’t know. And you don’t know what you don’t know, until you talk to people who know things you don’t yet know.
The following 10 questions became important to me. I didn’t start with them; I worked backward to them – they became apparent as I connected with people who knew things I didn’t even know to think about.
I hope they help you clarify your priorities, vision and van.
- What safety concerns are related to converting my van?
- Will I sell my van in the future? If so, as a camper or a passenger van?
- Do I want to change the van from camper to van and back again?
- Will I ever wish to have a seat in the back?
- Will I need to accommodate a second person in the van (to sleep)?
- What is my budget?
- Where will I travel?
- How much time will I spend inside the van?
- Do I need power in the van, and if so, how much and from what source?
- Who do I need to consult with in order to create a great, safe camper?
I’m sure there are many more questions, but these are my Big 10.
Here’s how and why they helped me.
- Safety First. I’m a cautious person but admit I was oblivious to safety issues related to a van conversion.
Here are some of things I was urged to think about: If you have the misfortune of being in an accident, it’s important nothing flies around in the van. Having furniture anchored to the frame is important in this scenario. Doors that close firmly and don’t swing open – spilling their contents- is also important. As silly as it may seem, being hit in the head with a can of beans could be deadly. Heavier items (an in-house battery, water, stove) are safest stored low, and lighter items stored higher. Cooking is most safely done outside of the vehicle, as gas can be deadly in a small space and can cause explosions; the standard minivan is not equipped with appropriate ventilation for cooking heat and fumes. If you want in-house power, it’s very important you buy a battery that does not produce noxious gasses and is securely strapped down. Discuss with a battery expert. Be informed. If you modify the body of your van at all, consult a certified mechanic to ensure you don’t compromise safety. Assess how well you see out the back and side of the van after the build, and decide if travel mirrors will help increase your ability to see traffic. Ask, “is this safe?” at each decision point, and consult professionals for their opinion.
- If you plan to sell your van in the future, remember the market may be growing but is still small. Selling could be problematic if you are unable to return it to it’s pre-camper state. If you intend to sell as a camper, its probably good to think about aesthetics and the quality of your materials.
- If you plan to change your van between passenger van and camper, think about how units can be removed with ease. I don’t plan to return my van to it’s original state so this is less a concern.
- If you will sometimes carry more than two passengers, create a design that allows you to put a seat or seats back in the van. The Caravan has a many seating configurations. I preserved only the front passenger seat. If I travel with more than one person, I will rent a car.
- Will you sometimes have company? How will they be accommodated? Although I am planning a second sleeping area, I will also bring a tent as an alternative sleeping space.
- Be clear about your budget and how long you are prepared to work on the conversion. Be realistic. For me, this meant allowing more time to find a designer and builder, and more time to develop a set of plans we could sign off on together. A good design takes time. I thought about it daily and researched what others were doing for two months before coming to a final design I could take to a builder. It’s not clear yet how close I will be to my budget, but because it’s taking a bit longer than I anticipated, I have a bit more time to save more money for it.
- What kind of traveller are you? Will you spend most of your time in camp sites where you access electricity? How often will you camp in “Stealth” mode? (ie. on city streets or in parking lots?) Will you camp where water, power or food is limited? These questions help arrive at decisions about food, water storage and power supply. The more comforts you want, and the more “permanent” your conversion is, the more you are likely to spend.
- How much time you will spend in the van? If you are travelling long periods without a tent, you may spend many hours in your vehicle. Will you want to eat at an inside table in bad weather? Will you be doing “work” and need a desk? Will you use a canopy to enlarge your space outside? How important is cooking when you travel? Ventilation is important for anyone spending long periods in a vehicle. Many people install a fan of some sort, or sleep with windows ajar to limit condensation build-up.
- Thinking about power is important if you intend to have any! Some people have no need for power and love “roughing it”. Others want to charge their phones and laptops without using their van battery. Some want to plug van into a campsite, while others camp only in remote areas. Expect to spend a considerable amount of time learning about power if you plan to have any.
- I quickly discovered what I didn’t know, and set out to find people who ultimately helped me ask the right questions. People who would know what I didn’t know that I didn’t know!
This is a remarkably creative and stimulating process. I started out with zero knowledge and here I am, in the midst of a fascinating and fun process that doesn’t require me to be an expert but only demands I ask the right questions and be open to learn from other’s experiences.