Van conversion: A ‘schoolie’ that looks like a flat – ‘American vans seem to be bigger’

Campervans: UK’s ‘Coolest Campers’ discuss van conversion

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From motorhomes to fire trucks, a vehicle conversion calls on the DIY and creativity skills of would-be holidaymakers. A holiday home on wheels may sound like the perfect investment, but before they can drive off on their holidays, would-be owners need to get down and dirty, and splash out the cash.

Alex Waite edited the VanLifers book and immersed herself into the life of van owners and their conversions.

She’s seen the full range of conversions, from cheap to mind-blowingly expensive.

From people buying their vans “partially converted” who then “make it their own” to DIY enthusiasts who do it all themselves, there is no one size fits all approach to van conversions.

The van lifestyle is taking off in the UK, but many may still associate it with “sunnier places, or bigger places, you know that classic shot of the RV going across America on an empty highway and there’s nothing for miles around”.

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There are, however, many van lifers in the UK, and many, if not all, have converted their vans themselves.

The creativity demonstrated by van converters can seem daunting to would-be van owners who don’t have much design skills.

But Alex was reassuring and said: “I’ve seen people creating models with cereal boxes to get it started.

“Part of it is trial and error, in terms of the design aspect.

“Some people start with the way they want it to look and some people start from a practical aspect of what they want in it.”

She believed even people without a creative bone in their bodies could go on to successfully convert a van, with a little help.

She said: “The online community has been really helpful because you can see what others have done and adapt it to what you want.

“And if you do yourself, you don’t need to make it look good for anyone else, which I think is really helpful for some people, there isn’t that pressure.”

She added: “Thinking about layout seems to be really important.

“I love people doing models to try and figure out where everything will fit, that’s definitely something I would do.”

Her top tips for people who want to start their own conversions were to “Plan and be prepared for things to go wrong”.

She added: “Don’t expect it to be perfect immediately and be prepared to put the work in.

“If you think it will be three months it can turn into six.”

Alex’s research for the book was not confined to the UK, and she’s seen many conversions all over the world.

In North America, she said things tended to be “bigger”.

One example was “a schoolie, a school bus”.

She found this conversion particularly “crazy”: “It doesn’t look like you’re inside a bus, at all.

“You see the pictures and think this is a flat. I find this one kind of crazy.”

The school bus is a North American conversion, and it seems there is a difference between the UK and the US when it comes to vans.

She explained: “One difference is over in America, vans seem to be bigger.

“Over here, we’re so used to that small cosy packed together houses.

“Whether in America you get the school buses, huge, plenty of space, because they’re used to the RV lifestyle, so it’s not as alternative.

One of the reasons for this, she believed, was parking spaces: “They do have places where people can park up, and Europe also has places where people can park up, so it’s much easier there and less of an issue.

“I know people talk about in the UK they’ll park on the streets and residents will be very cross about it, which is an issue of course with more places being permanent parking.”

VanLifers: Beautiful conversions for life on the road is out from The History Press.

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