I realise how lucky I am to live only a stones throw from Dartmoor. As a photographer and videographer, it's a gift I always appreciate. What an incredible place it is, deeply spiritual, always different, beautifully barren.
On to the van. My day times are rarely predictable, so the idea of owning a properly flexible vehicle which would allow me to stay at locations in the South West with enough space to work in was always a plan. The plan grew, I wanted warmth from a woodburner, roof top solar power, a toilet, a decent table for my laptop/tech, and seats for 5. With a chunk of cash, this is easily achievable (minus the woodburner!), off the shelf, and from one of my clients - https://www.venturacampers.co.uk.Trouble was, having browsed Insta hashtag #vanlife and discovered www.quirkycampers.co.uk, I became convinced I wanted a woody van interior that can only really be custom made.
Finding the van
I friend lent me his Renault Master minibus when my car was in for a service, and I drove her down to Plymouth and back. Not bad to drive, but low on creature comforts, she was most lovable for her full service history, zero rust, and low 79,000 mileage. Full of seats, headlining sagging and stained, and with all the windows blacked out, she had endless potential. There's plenty of choice when it comes to selecting your van, I just didn't want a VW as I felt like they'd be done endlessly, and frankly are massively overpriced. VW's ain't made of titanium, but you'd think they were, looking at UK prices. Vans like this solid and reliable Renault can be had from £1200 upwards, and provide more room than most stock T5s. Having looked at a few Vito's, I saw they were all suffering with rust, unlike this 17yr French van which was rot free (please always get a mechanic to put it any prospective purchase on a ramp for you before you make any decisions.)
I enlisted the help of a fencer/carpenter called Mat, who I drove mad with instructions on what I wanted on little bits of paper, while he set to removing all the metalwork from the seat tracking.
Things I learned
Although I did my research, there's always things you learn as a project unfolds day by day. The whole conversion took about a month in total.
- If you buy a minibus with seats in it, you may find like I did that there's a myriad of metalwork lurking underneath the floor boarding. This is heavy stuff, and in removing, you will allow a day's work to get it all out, and get rid of all that metal.
- If you buy a van that's 'not normal', you can't expect to buy all that 'ready to fit floor' T5 parts, instant fit window curtains, etc. Everything will need to be made to fit. Allow extra time and money.
- When negotiating with your tradesman if you're not doing this yourself, you might prefer to bite the bullet and ask your trader to agree a fixed price to do a job. List the jobs, and work out a price.
- If you want to make a DVLA registered motorhome or camper, there is a very specific set of criteria ie: must have high top, graphics on sides, photos of kitchen etc. This might have a big impact on what van you choose.
I'd highly recommend you check out www.park4night.com which is a mine of information of where you can stay in your van overnight without bothering anyone, and without the costs and rules and regulations of regimented campsites. I recently tried my first Park4night stop in leafy Frenchay in Bristol, which turned out to be a brilliant one night stop inbetween two work commissions.
I've ordered the same TDI tuning box I've got on my car, just to give her a bit more pulling power.
There are several DIY build your own campervan groups on Facebook you might want to join, as well as some great books to read on your Kindle or device, such as How to Live in a Van and Travel by Mike Hudson linked to Amazon Kindle version here.