Living in a camper van, it’s a dream come true. By the end of next week, that dream will finally be fulfilled.
Our dream of living the vanlife started in June. Jordy was working on his internship and the end of his master was approaching quickly.
He wrote all about his urge to travel and our reasons to choose to live a permanent nomadic life in a camper van in last week’s blog post, so be sure to read that for an extra background story.
I visited him in Jena, Germany, for a week or so. Whenever he was at work, I’d sit at my tablet reading blogposts and watching The Indie Projects’ YouTube videos. (Theo and Bee create amazing van tours and fun vlogs – be sure to check them out if you haven’t already, they have been my main source of vanspiration).
After a day or two, our urge had grown so strong, that we were done just looking at other people’s vans. We opened our browser and started looking at secondhand vehicles.
The Mercedes Sprinter and VW Crafter were initially at the top of our wishlist. Around here, both are known for their durability and strong engines. As one should expect though, this comes with a price tag. We soon realized that they were far out of our price-range.
After doing some more research, we decided a Ford Transit to be our perfect van of choice. Looking at the overall picture, they seem to deliver the best bang for your buck.
The search had started. We checked the internet multiple times a day to find our perfect van.
After about 4 months of almost obsessively searching the internet, we finally found it. On October 17th, a friend of ours (thank you!) drove us to the south of The Netherlands and together we admired the van for a full two hours (again, we can’t thank you enough). This was the first van we checked out, and we bought her that same day.
If you want to know more about our van, you can read all about her here.
To be honest, this four month wait can’t really be classified as a struggle. Finding a new apartment to rent or house to buy also takes a very long time.
By the time we finally bought our van however, we had both finished our studies and were ready to start a new chapter. To us it hence felt like a very long wait – especially since the build had yet to start.
But hey, who isn’t impatient these days? 😉 As our favorite guitarist Tommy Emmanuel once said during a concert. Patience is the hardest lesson to learn.
Let the converting start
Well that’s what we thought.
To be able to finance our little project, Jordy had started a full time job and I still had a part time job as well.
Additionally, we ran this website and a YouTube channel, and spent a good amount of time with our dog (and a few months later, we even added another puppy).
A typical workday for us looked like this: getting up at 6 am, so I could prepare lunch for the both of us and spend time with our dog Mojo before heading to work at 8:45. While I prepared lunch, Jordy prepared to go to work at 6:45.
Around 15:30, Jordy got off from work and went home to first spend some quality time with our dog. Around 17:00 it was finally time to do some work on future tiny home on wheels. Well, if it was’t raining or dark outside yet, that is.
I usually arrived home from work at 18:30 and helped Jordy out when possible.
The time at which we started preparing our dinners was totally reliant on the weather. If it was sunny outside, we ate our meals at around 10 pm, and when it sucked we sometimes had dinner as early as 7 pm.
The last few hours of the evening were usually spent working on our website; doing research; painting; and playing with Mojo before turning in around midnight.
This is definitely not something to complain about, but it is certainly not something to overlook. While being an exhilarating and fun time, it was an evenly exhausting period at that.
It mainly came down to fact that we weren’t able to build our camper van as quickly as we would’ve liked. We simply didn’t have the time, nor the energy.
Converting a camper van next to a full-time job is not something to easily dismiss. The weekends certainly were our best friends during this period!
Apartment turned storage space
When we bought our van, it was the middle of fall, and the winter was approaching quickly. Temperatures had started dropping which brought some difficulties. It wasn’t just incredibly cold to work in the van, but products like paint, adhesive, and sealant can’t be used below specific temperatures.
We knew beforehand that living in an apartment and having to park the van in a common area came with it’s consequences. It was only a few weeks into our build that we realized to what extent this would affect the entire process.
Carrying sheets of ply, stacks of cork insulation, and heavy toolboxes, we descended two flights of stairs. We rolled out two long extension cables and folded out a plastic crate (our makeshift ‘workbench’).
Fully equipped for a van build we definitely were not. But storing our tools and van in a rented workspace was no option either, as we couldn’t afford it and we’d have to spend too much time traveling back and forth with public transport.
Our apartment hence doubled as a garage. Tools and material slowly piled up. The dining table transformed into a permanent workbench topped with spruce and pine paneling, sheets of ply, and wooden beams.
Our bedroom was filled with leftover wood of every imaginable size and kind, and our wardrobe stored items like a four burner stove and a MaxxAir fan.
Each time we were relieved if we came back upstairs carrying less items than we’d brought to the van that morning. The next day however, there were always one or two new deliveries and somehow the amount of stuff we owned only but increased.
Our apartment was an utter mess, and there was no way to try and tidy it up.
But every misplaced item, every heap of sawdust, and all the specks of paint on our clothing reminded us of one thing. We were doing everything in our power to create the life we wanted to live. That’s the only motivation one could ever need.
Mistakes are made easily
Setbacks are part of every project. Sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps back. Yes, in that order. Some days we spent hours working and felt like we’d only messed up.
We learnt a lot from our mistakes though. Lessons that will help us during our lives on the road. Having built this van ourselves, we know exactly how everything connects. If (when) for example our lights stop working, we know exactly were to look.
One thing that influenced nearly every aspect of our camper van conversion was the delivery time of products and materials that had to be ordered online.
Even an item as small as an allen key delayed the build of our bed frame by five days.
Many items were delivered swiftly, but occasionally they were not handled decently during transportation and arrived to our doorstep damaged.
Since we live in the Netherlands, many items had to be ordered internationally as well. We spent so much time trying to find certain items locally but it was clear that our country just doesn’t have it all.
Not only did this increase the delivery time and costs, it also doubled the time searching online to figure out what the item is called in English or German, then find the correct item, and figure out whether it could be shipped abroad.
Time to make some important decisions
Initially, we did not set a deadline. We knew that we had to leave our apartment by the end of September, but we hoped to set off at the beginning of summer.
Things had proceeded slowly up until March, but at the end of that month we made some important decisions.
We terminated our rent, meaning that on May 1st, we would have left our apartment. On April 1st, Jordy quit his full time job and I handed in my notice saying that I’d leave my job by the end of April.
We started filming our daily progress and Jordy worked in the van from early mornings until late at night.
We ate our lunch in the van, and sometimes even dinner. We went to bed after midnight and got up by 6am – our new puppy needed to be potty trained of course.
Was it clever raise a puppy at this time? Most definitely not. But we had our minds set on adding a second dog to our family before we left, and the breeder we’d contacted a while ago told us he was planning the perfect match. It was now or never.
Working against the deadline
The ability to work on the van, combined with the longer daylight time and higher temperatures, we finally could make some progress. Things started changing swiftly during the last month.
We suddenly had a ceiling, solar panels, a fan, and a kitchen! Then there was a bed frame, a wardrobe, and just a few days ago, we switched on the LEDs for the first time!
Although large steps were made, time went by just as quickly. Before we knew it, we only had one week left while still having lots of work to do.
Our eviction date was nearing while we still had to build our wardrobe, install the wood burner, connect our electrics, and much much more.
During our final week, we met the new occupant of our small apartment and it couldn’t have gone any better. She mentioned that she wouldn’t immediately move in as she did not have the time yet.
So we took a shot and asked if we could stay for another few days to finish some things and to move out. She said yes, which really was a godsend.
The flue pipe for our wood burner hadn’t arrived yet and we still had to sell our belongings. Those couple of extra days really saved us. Our flue pipe order arrived a day before we left, and we were able to finish most of the things in our new home on wheels.
Which brings us to today – a little over seven months after we bought our van.
Four days after our deadline of Monday April 30th, we moved out of our apartment. It took us six hours to pack up the van with all of our belongings.
We drove north and parked the van next to Jordy’s parents’ place.
We’d advise everyone with such a hard deadline, to have a backup plan. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of work that still has to be done when building a tiny home on wheels.
Knowing you’ll have a roof over your head even if your van isn’t finished just yet really secures your peace of mind.
Suddenly, we have a garage right next to our van, where we can store our tools, saw wood, paint the finishing touches and do everything we need to complete our home on wheels.
The dogs can roam free around the house and play in the yard with their Dachshund friends, whilst we work on the van.
We’re not yet finished, but we’re nearly there. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. And this tunnel wasn’t too dark. It was fun, and full of surprises. Scary at times but we’d go through it again in a heartbeat.
We might be one of the few couples that built their home on wheels whilst living in an apartment. The only people that worked without a garage with proper tools, without a workbench, without any expertise. Perhaps we are not.
No matter where you live, you will no doubt run into numerous things that slow down your camper van conversion project. You’ll encounter things that increase the difficulty and cause setbacks on a daily basis. It will be chaos for a while, and you’ll shed a tear every now and then (I certainly did), but that’s okay.
Building our camper van certainly wasn’t easy, and definitely not always fun. But if you’re considering building your own home on wheels, we’d recommend you to start right now.
This might sound cheesy, but, if we can do it, so can you!