Cargo Van to Camper Van

Original cargo van interior with metal shelving

If you are looking for a small, affordable RV, I hope this article detailing how my sister Gail built her camper van will spark your DIY enthusiasm.

This is not meant as a step-by-step tutorial.  It’s intended to show you how she designed a camper that suited her unique travel needs.

She wanted a van that she could overnight in without hookups one or two nights on the way to a destination.  But once she arrived at her destination, she would plug into shore power.  So a big battery bank and boondocking capabilities weren’t important to her.

You may well prefer to build yours differently.  But hopefully you’ll get some great ideas to use as a springboard for your own plans.

You can click the photos to enlarge them if you would like to see more detail.

Choosing the Cargo Van

Gail’s two most important considerations when looking for a

The decals give a fun, friendly touch to the van’s utilitarian exterior.

suitable used cargo van were inside standing room and an engine in good condition without excessive mileage.  A van that they couldn’t stand up in to change clothes, shower, cook — and just move around on rainy days — would become miserably confining.

Van exterior showing the air conditioner vent that Gail added on the side.

It took her several months to find one that fit her criteria.  She almost gave up the search because the available used high-top vans in her area were all far too expensive.  But  one day she saw an advertisement on Craigslist — and that was the one!

The New Floor

Kitchen and vinyl flooring

After stripping the van of all the built in shelving, Gail put in the new floor consisting of a layer of fanfold styrofoam for insulation, covered by plywood.

She decided not to use laminate flooring over the plywood because it is easily damaged by water.  She rejected stick-on tiles because water could seep between them.    So she decided on a nice grade of sheet vinyl that won’t be subject to water damage and can stand up to heavy traffic.

Insulated roof and walls

Insulating the Roof and Walls — No Upholstery Skills Needed

The top of the fiberglass roof was insulated with a layer of Reflectix and two layers of 1/4″ fanfold styrofoam.  Because it was difficult to work around the roll bars, Gail cut the final layer of styrofoam into sections, covered them with vinyl, then screwed the panels onto a frame she made of 1″ x 2″ wood attached to the roll bars. She covered the screws with little button screw covers to make them more attractive.

The vinyl on the side of the high top is stapled to a wood lattice strip which is wired to the rollbar on the backside. It hangs freely, except for a few pieces of velcro used to stick it to the 1″ x 4″ wood strip at the bottom.The walls of the van are insulated the same way — fanfold styrofoam covered by free hanging vinyl stapled to another piece of 1′ x 4″ wood.

Making the Beds

Beds with lots of storage underneath

Most people who build their own campers use excessively heavy and bulky wood.  If you look at any commercially built camper, you will find furniture framing built of 1″ x 1″ and 2″ x 2″ boards.

Gail built her bed frames of 2″x2″ wood.  She sized the height of the bed to accommodate large plastic storage bins underneath.  And she sized the bed leg spacing so the bins would fit perfectly between them.  Smaller bins were used in front of the wheel wells.

The bins are much easier to work with than vinyl drawer units, which can warp and stick.

For the mattresses, she bought a queen sized 6″ Spa Sensations mattress from Walmart and cut it to make two 28″ wide mattresses.

If you’ve ever slept on a mattress soggy from condensation drip, or from accidentally leaving a window or vent open in the rain, you will understand her reasoning in placing a waterproof liner between the foam and the fabric covering.

The plastic and fabric were then stapled onto a plywood base to finish the mattresses. Two 1″ holes were drilled in the plywood bottom to let air trapped by the plastic escape.   She made the mattresses 4″ wider than the 24″ bed frame.  This overhang makes walking more comfortable as you don’t stub your toes on the bed legs, and also keeps shoes out of the aisle at night.

If you prefer more padding over the foam, you could cut a mattress pad to fit and sandwich it between the foam and fabric.  Or you could use a quilted comforter instead of upholstery fabric.

Building the Kitchen

Kitchen with refrigerator, microwave, sink, camper stove, storage bins, and fresh and gray water tanks

The kitchen cabinet is framed by 2″ x 2″ wood, and covered with 1/4″ plywood.  The decorative wood motif glued to the panel covering the sink base really dresses up the appearance of the unit.  The unit was sectioned and shelved to fit the refrigerator, microwave, storage bins, camp stove, and fresh and gray water tanks.  The stove can be used outdoors or inside with good ventilation.

The fresh and gray water tanks are simply 6 gallon Reliance

The sink

water jugs with clear vinyl tubing.  The 15″ round bar sink uses a hand lever to pressurize the water system.

To conserve water, Gail uses a pump spray bottle of water mounted on the over-cab shelf.  She prefers using that to using the faucet on the sink as it uses less water and the pressure is better.

All-important shelves

She elected not to permanently mount the sink to the counter.  Unless they are parked completely level, the water in the flat-bottomed sink will not drain completely.   So since it just sets into the hole in the countertop, she can tip it to drain all the water.

After taking a couple of trips, Gail was happy with her setup except for one thing.  It was inconvenient having to dig through bins to find small items like kitchen and shower supplies.

She built the shelf unit in the photo which organized her supplies and made them much more accessible.  An added bonus was that it made a headboard for the bed on that side.  Now each bed has a place to prop pillows and lean against when reading, watching DVD’s, or surfing.

The Bathroom

Porta Potty behind passenger seat

Although there are several options for toilets in a van, Gail chose the Porta Potty.  It flushes like a home toilet, there is no odor, and it’s easy to find places to dump.  Dump stations, toilets at rest areas or campgrounds, pit toilets at primitive camp sites, or a home toilet are all possibilities.

The Thetford Porta Potty with the built in pour spout makes dumping as neat and hassle free as it gets.

Shower setup

For showers, a shower curtain is attached to clips on the ceiling.  A plastic pan serves as the shower base.  Originally Gail used a plastic curtain, but had problems with it not drying.  She switched to a fabric shower curtain/liner that dries a lot faster.

She uses a plastic jug, fitted with vinyl tubing and a shower head, placed on the shelf above the cab to hold hot water for their showers.  The jug is painted black, so if it’s a sunny day, she can set the jug in the sun and let it warm the water.

A 25 cup coffeemaker makes a great water heater.

When the sun isn’t out, or if solar heating isn’t convenient, she uses a 25 cup coffee maker to heat the water.

She bought a battery operated camp shower to try.  While it does give more pressure than the solar shower setup, it also uses twice as much water.  The gravity setup uses approximately 1-1/2 gallons per shower while the pump operated shower uses around 3 gallons.  So she decided to stick with the solar/gravity fed shower.

When she is through showering, she picks up the shower pan and pours the water into the sink where it drains into the gray water tank.  Alternatively, she could use use the pump to transfer the water into the sink.  But since she uses such a small amount of water, that’s not necessary.

Curtains and Bed Skirts

Gail bought blackout curtain panels from Walmart for $10 each to use as curtains.  The 84 inch panels cost the same as the 53 inch, so she bought the longer ones to give her 1/3 more material for the same price.

Dark curtains on over-the-cab storage seem to fade into the background.

Not only are these curtains used to divide the cab area from the living area and cover the back windows.  They also help hide the storage areas under the bed, and above the cab and the shelf above the back door.

She originally used her floral fabric to cover those areas.  But the bright pattern drew the eye and made the van look smaller.  When she replaced the patterned material with the dark blackout curtain material, the storage areas seemed to disappear and the eye is drawn toward the van’s front window.

So, counter-intuitively, using the dark material in those areas makes the van look a lot larger inside.

Electricity, Batteries and Appliances

After struggling with trying to understand complicated RV electrical systems, Gail decided to use a simple system that made sense to her.  A surge protector with several electrical outlets that plugs into normal shore power is her main electrical source.  The wire runs out of sight behind the walls.

When she has hookups, she can use her refrigerator, microwave, and freestanding room air conditioner/dehumidifier.  In cold weather, she uses a small electric heater.

For overnighting without hookups, she uses camping gear designed to run from 3 different power sources.  For instance her fan and lantern can run off internal batteries, regular AC power, or be plugged into a cigarette lighter and run off the van’s battery.  A Coleman Black Kat catalytic heater provides heat using disposable propane cylinders.  A small DVD player runs off batteries.

When they are traveling, or are overnighting without power, they keep perishable food cold in a cooler that fits between the van’s front seats.

In Conclusion

Gail’s van is perfectly designed for her way of traveling and camping.  She doesn’t want a 3 way refrigerator or permanent bathroom.  Nor does she want built in closets that visually cut the van in half — nor a lot of other features that some would consider essential.

That’s the purpose of this article.  To show you that you can design an RV that suits YOUR purposes.  Your van, your way, on your budget.



  1. This is really amazing. As a woman with virtually no carpentering talents, I hand it to your sister for all her talents!

    • Terry, she is amazing. She has remodeled a bathroom by herself, built a ceramic tile shower enclosure from scratch — including laying the ceramic tiles — put down laminate flooring in a whole house, BUILT a curved arm sofa and upholstered it. There’s really nothing she can’t do. She can even build drawers!

      She drew the plans for the house they had in Florida before her hubby’s job moved them to Texas.

      I am truly in awe of her skills and ability!

  2. Carrie

     /  January 18, 2012

    I liked reading about the shower design as I’ve been thinking about that for my campervan. Good to know about the liner – info like that is so helpful. Do you know where she got the shower pan? I would like to get what already has proven to work.

    Great article… thanks for sharing.

    • Carrie, glad you are finding info you can use. I will ask her where she got the pan and what size it was and reply here when I hear back from her.

    • Carrie, this is what she wrote back:

      The shower pan is a concrete mixing pan that i got from Lowes for $12.00. It’s 2 x 3 ft. And a little stool in it makes it much easier to shower in than standing upright.

      Hope that helps! 🙂

  3. Carrie

     /  January 19, 2012

    Thanks so much to you both! I had all the same design thoughts previous to reading the blog and researched the same solar vs pump options. I like the simplicity of the solar method and can empty into my sink (I have a 12 gal grey water tank). I was concerned about emptying the water due to the weight it adds. With a large pan containing the water and a pitcher I could probably scoop out most of it by hand then the remainder straight from the pan. Anyway, I’ll work it all out *before* my trip to the Smoky Mtns this June to see the Synchronized Fireflies phenom.

    Love the practical daily-life-in-a-camper tips. So helpful!

  4. Corrie, since you only use about a gallon and a half of water, it shouldn’t be too much to just pick up.

    Synchronized fireflies! Sounds very intriguing. I’m going to have to google that!

  5. Jesse

     /  February 20, 2012

    Thank you for sharing. I am converting a 1979 Dodge Transvan to a more Zen like nature. Ive pulled out all the old heavy crap like fridge, carpet and old wood shelves. Gutted it and will replace with solar panels etc. It saves on rent and allows me to concentrate on what really matters in life… and good simple living.

    • Jesse, it really frees you up when you finally “get it” that less is more, and that simple living is the path to a richer life, doesn’t it? 🙂

      Best of luck on your van renovation.

    • Rob

       /  March 30, 2014

      Those old Dodges are almost imposable to find . Is it a class b or c?

  6. Thanks for sharing. I am currently rebuilding my trailer, enjoy seeing how others have made RVing work for them. I liked the shower details, something I have been thinking about including.

    • I took a look at your Boler project. The very best of luck on it, and hope your family makes forever memories in it. It should be a gem when you get it finished.

      • Thanks for checking it out. With the summer weather here I am feeling the pressure to get it on the road. If not eh family may be in a tent this summer again.

  7. If you don’t feel confident in doing your buildout yourself, how do you go about finding someone to build out your ideas? I live in Los Angeles and want to buy a high topped fan and do the same thing with my own needs in mind but I want it to be done professionally, like your sister’s, and if I did it, it would probably be very messed up. The shower idea was really terrific.

    • wpesr, this isn’t first-hand knowledge, but advice I read on choosing someone to do the work.

      First, do NOT look for a cabinet maker. They are frightfully expensive. I have read that if you look for a “finish” carpenter, one who does trim work on a house after the main construction is done, that they can do beautiful work for a lot less money.

      And if you can find a handyman with good references, that might be a way to go, too.

      I’d ask friends if they know someone who could do the work for you, or to recommend someone who has done nice carpentry work for them, before I’d try to blindly hire a handyman from an ad in the paper or Craigslist, though.

      Wishing you the very best of luck.

      • While looking at the cabinet I originally thought it was a conversion of a sink cabinet found at Goodwill or a Habitat discount store (ReStore?). I really like to recycle as much as possible. But you are entirely correct, a handyman that does finish work can do wonders. I designed and had him build a tower for the bathroom (on wheels) that held towels, etc. It is just perfect.

  8. Ocdpa

     /  September 3, 2012

    I was wondering what you use for air conditioning? Do you happen to have a picture of the setup? Great work!

    • Oedpa, she uses one of those freestanding air conditioner/humidifiers. I don’t have pictures of her setup, but have seen it. It’s not perfect, but it helps. She would like to replace it with a window unit if she can figure out a way to mount it so it doesn’t stick out and look unsightly.

      I’m not sure which exact model she has, but it is similar to this one:

      BTW, I did not put that buy ad in for Amazon. I just copied the link of the page and Amazon automatically inserted it!

      • In found a used standalone AC to supplement the overhead Coleman AC/heater came with my conversion van. I have also found a reflective tarp over the top of the van drops the inside temp when it is 90+ outside and my AC wasnt keeping up.

  9. dagwich

     /  September 4, 2012

    Thanks very much for the info. We just sold our 93 Eurovan (very tiny camper) and are looking for something more like what she has. I’ve actually seen on ebay a Ford E350 with an elevated top and was wondering how that might work out. So this is great information. Fantastic work on the remodel.

  10. The van is absolutely awesome. Your sister is very creative. What a great idea for a project someday.

  11. How resourceful! This is amazing, I love it! Thank you so much for sharing!

  12. Sarah

     /  January 21, 2013

    Not sure if someone has asked this already, but how many miles to the gallon do you think it gets?

    • Gail

       /  January 22, 2013

      Sarah, I’m getting about 13.5 on the highway and around 9-10 mpg in town. This is a one-ton van.

  13. Tim McDougall

     /  February 21, 2013

    Great van and setup!

  14. strivingfortiny

     /  February 22, 2013

    I’m super impressed with this article!! She’s got it down just the way she wants and needs it.

  15. She did a great job! Love it!

  16. i don’t like how much view some people could get when going to the loo. 😦

  17. Dottie Wagstaff

     /  May 21, 2013

    Where can I get a stand-up top put on my van?

    • Dottie, it’s pretty expensive to have one added. I think the tops alone are around $1500 plus labor. You can do a search for “install high top on vans” or something similar and see if there are any places in your area that do that kind of work.

  18. preston

     /  May 25, 2013

    What did you use to adhere the reflectix to the fiberglass roof? I am currently do a conversion.and that fiberglass is being very stubborn to take on the adhesive.

    • Preston, I’ll ask my sister Gail to reply to this comment since I don’t know how she did it. Hopefully you’ll get an answer soon.

      • Gail

         /  May 25, 2013

        Hi Preston. I first made a wood “trellis-type” frame of 1×2’s above the rollbars. This allowed me to lay reflectix and a layer of insulation on top of that frame as well as screw the 1/4 inch insulated panels onto the underside side of it which created the ceiling.

        • preston

           /  May 26, 2013

          Thank you .. I’ve just been nervous about putting screws into the hightop..but the old conversion that I ripped out had screws going into holding the plywood for the hi top paneling… Di you have tuse pilot holes being that its fiberglassd?

          • Gail

             /  May 26, 2013

            Preston, I did not put any screws directly into the high top. The existing rollbar was 2 inches underneath the fiberglass high top. I screwed the ceiling panels into a wood frame that I made which I placed on top of the rollbars. Nothing touched the fiberglass top. I would not attempt to screw anything at all directly into the high top.

  19. Marty

     /  June 3, 2013

    I love your article and your sisters creativeness. I currently trying to convert my van in a camper. I love your twin beds. I camp with my daughter at various racing events and I never seen an article with twin beds. I was wondering how she mounted the wood strips to the sides to mount the vinyal. Plus where did you get the insulation and the relfextic and how thick was the plywood. I hope you don’t mind asking more questions later. This will give me a good start. Again Awsome Job!!!

    • Marty, Gail is selling her van. She is nearing retirement age and wants a new van so she won’t run into repair issues down the road.

      I believe she got all of her supplies at Lowe’s or Home Depot.

      Note: I am editing my reply because I got the answer from Gail this evening. This is what she said:

      The walls are wood. I used that very thin cheap paneling turned around backwards, then painted. That is the only way I could get something paintable that would bend with the curve. Behind it is a furring strip screwed to the body on teh top, middle, and bottom. I wanted painted walls so I can touch it up easily, as opposed to vinyl which could rip or tear. Only the part with the high top is vinyl and that strip between the body and top.

  20. This van is wonderful. Has your sister already sold it. If not and if she is looking for a buyer, would she be able to message me with the details?

  21. I enjoyed reading your blog. I also built my own style camper van because I did not want the extras that most people want (clothes closets, sewer, furnace, propane etc). I enjoy the freedom I get from having a simple set-up. Yes, occasionally I am too cold or too hot but in the long run our system or lack of system works well for me. Thanks again for your blog.

    • So glad you enjoyed the article about my sister’s van, Rena. To me, the thing that bothers me about many vans are the floor to ceiling closets and cupboards that make the van feel crowded and closed in.

      I have a small Casita trailer, but I dream of building out a van for myself like Gail’s. 🙂

  22. Debbie

     /  June 22, 2013

    Did your sister sell her van? And how did she vent the a.c. ?

    • Debbie, she decided to keep it. She couldn’t bear to part with it, after all. 🙂

      Her air conditioner has an exhaust hose that she runs out of one of the front windows. It has plastic parts that fill in the gap in the window. She is not really happy with her current set up as it does exhaust some heat into the front of the van and she can’t keep it as cool as she would like. She is looking for a way to install a regular air conditioner that wouldn’t look tacky.

      • Lady Red

         /  December 19, 2013

        she could vent it out the passengers window like some of the semi’s do it would cost her the duct and a piece of foam. Roll down the window stick the vent in the window with foam (cut to shape) then roll up the window to hold it in place.

        • Lady Red

           /  December 19, 2013

          oops it didnt load till I replied. :p they do have the new low profile wall mount but they are kind of pricy

      • How about tossing the hose out the back window when she is stopped. It really does need a hose run to the back doors let the AC water dribble down and out.

  23. Tim

     /  June 22, 2013

    Hi Sharon, I have seen some small household A/C units installed by permanently removing the rear window from one of the rear doors and installing it there with a plywood frame bolted to the door. If the wood is “made fancy” it doesn’t look too bad.
    Or- it can be removable for traveling.

    • Tim, she is so picky. The only way she will use a regular AC is if she can disguise it with an attractive grill some way. She refuses to have one sticking out of her van anywhere. It will be interesting to see what she comes up with! 🙂

  24. Debbie

     /  June 22, 2013

    I just saw where someone vented in the floor around rear wheel well,and when not in use put a marine type screw on cover over it . I may try as I am converting a dodge 12 pass van now.Glad she is keeping van, it is so nice.

    • Debbie, at one time Gail had an air conditioner mounted in a wooden box under the bed vented through the floor. She touched the box one time and it was so hot she was afraid it would catch on fire. It probably needed an additional vent in the side.

      I don’t think it would be too hard to mount one under a bed or cupboard, though. Check out the way Parkliner trailers mount theirs under the dinette seat here.

      The only thing is, it would cool better if it was blowing the length of the trailer instead of to the side.

    • Debbie, I’d love to see pictures of your conversion progress. Do you have them posted anywhere?

  25. Helen Park

     /  June 23, 2013

    You have inspired me to do a cargo van to camper van conversion. I am about 3/4 of the way through. WooHoo! Question: Have you been happy with the Walmart Spa Selection memory foam mattress? I am at the bed stage, and am deciding what to do. Thanks!!

    • Helen, my sister is the one that did the van conversion, but I also made the beds in my Casita from the 6″ Spa Sensations mattress. Both my husband and I have been very happy with them. We sleep better on our camper beds than we do in our house.

      People’s preferences differ, so I can’t guarantee that you would be happy with it. But we sure are. 🙂

  26. Thank you for your reply. The memory foam bed came today, and I read above that your sister got a queen and cut it in half. I think my van must be more narrow than hers, so I got a full size mattress that I will cut in half. It will be narrow, but adequate (I hope!). Question: what did she use to cut the mattress? I am kind of stumped on this. Your reply very much appreciated! Thank you.

    • Helen, we both used an electric knife (like you carve the Thanksgiving turkey with). I learned the hard way not to buy the cheapest electric knife at Walmart and burned out the motor on mine. But a decent one will cut the foam cleanly and evenly.

  27. WOW!! An electric knife! I *never* would have thought of that. Thank you for your response. 🙂

  28. zach

     /  July 15, 2013

    I echo the sentiments of all the others, great job. It seems your sister has a gift for this type of stuff. I’m going away to college for two years, and this is something i’d like to do to save money so i’m definately saving this artcle. thanks

  29. Dana

     /  August 2, 2013

    Great job! I’m in the planning stages of a camper project of my own, using either a van or an old F250 pickup that I’m restoring, and you’ve given me several very good ideas of how to go about it. If it were just me, it’d be simple, but I’d like some amenities for my wife, which makes your perspective and solutions very useful.
    I don’t want to discourage anyone, but I would like to offer this one caution: try not to buy a heavier vehicle than you need. When it comes time to service or repair your running gear, you’ll pay more for 1-ton parts than you would for 3/4 ton parts, which in turn cost more than 1/2 ton. The same goes for tires, which you can easily compare for yourself at Wal-Mart. Furthermore, lighter-duty vehicles generally ride better, get better mileage, and sit lower to the ground, which should make them easier to handle in heavy cross-winds.
    For what I’m planning, which is essentially what you’ve built, a 1/2 ton anything would be just fine, but I already have the F250 and can’t let it go – it’s been in the family – so it makes sense to use it. You can just as easily justify the heavier vans for their roomier bodies and be more rational about it than I am regarding my F250, and the extra weight capacity certainly won’t cripple you.
    A tip: For tires, look at They do retreads for light trucks. Their most street-able tire has an all-terrain tread, which has done very well for me. They balance, ride, and wear well, and are about 2/3 the cost of comparable new tires.
    And that’s enough from me. Enjoy your van!

  30. Hello again.

    I have installed a small window-type a/c unit in the side of my van. The conversion should be completed soon. . . Looking forward to my first trip. I have been looking at campgrounds that have electrical service. My a/c is 15 amps at 115 volts. Can I plug this into a campground recepticle? Thanks!

    • Yes, you should be able to plug it into a campground receptacle because all of them that I have seen have 15 amp outlets like a regular house, as well as 30, and 50 for many.

      I hope your maiden voyage turns out to be a wonderful introduction to van camping!

      • I would recommend you bring along a conversion plug fits between the 15 to 30 amp plugs.

  31. What a neat setup! I like the fact that she built out the van for HER specific needs. There is such a vast spectrum of types of vehicles and lifestyles that solution is person specific. What keen insight! Awesome job!

  32. HI, I have wanted some sort of vehicle and have been stuck in the decision phase forever. I was going to buy a RV but after attending an RV workshop realized I didn’t want that much maintenance responsibilities. I wanted to be able to pull out a broken refrigerator not take it into a RV service plant. I couldn’t imagine how to go about converting a van to a more simplistic design. So thank you!! What power tools do you think would be necessary to accomplish this project?

    • Elizabeth, the only power tools you would absolutely need would be a jigsaw and drill. An electric screwdriver would be nice. And an electric sander would help give your woodwork a nice appearance.

      You can cut a hole in the roof for a vent or fan with a jigsaw using a blade for metal. Just drill four holes at the corners of your cutout and draw straight lines from hole to hole. Then cut along the line. Wear goggles and a mask.

      It’s not nearly as scary as it sounds. Making up your mind to do it is 90% of the battle.

      You CAN do it. Wishing you the very best of luck!

    • I got my cheap little frig from Home Depot. Bottles of water in the freezer while plugged in and it keeps everything cold while I drive during the day. I can always buy a bag of ice and put it in there if needed.

  33. thanks you are right. I am a hard core over thinker! I live in Tucson and started looking for vans with a high top and I was surprised how few there were. I thought factoring in Phoenix I would have no trouble. Not so. Thanks for all your posts!

  34. Curtis Carper

     /  October 31, 2013

    Very well done!! I’m glad my blog was inspirational for you! Curtis

  35. I also want a van could overnight in without hookups one nighton the destination .

  36. We are also working on a camper van and have a question about how Gail attached the plywood floor. Did she screw it down and exactly what did she screw it to? Thanks and we’re basing our van on yours and love it so far.

    • Pat, I’ll write Gail and ask her to answer your question directly. 🙂

      • Gail

         /  November 11, 2013

        Hi Pat. After laying down fanfold insulation over the metal floor, I laid the plywood over the insulation, then screwed through the wood and insulation into the metal floor, using as few metal screws as possible, making sure that I screwed into the hump part of the corrugated floor. (You can make a screw line using masking tape since the wood will cover up the humps and valleys from your view.) I used as few screws as possible so as not to damage anything underneath the van. I would LOVE to see pics of your van. Hope you get as much enjoyment from yours as I have from mine. 🙂

  37. Joanna

     /  November 11, 2013

    What a beautiful van, thoroughly creative! May I ask- what kind of shower head did she use here? Any pictures of this? Thank you so much 🙂

    • Gail

       /  November 12, 2013

      Hi Joanna. Due to the mildew problem with camp showers, I ended up making my own shower container which works much better. I bought a plastic black 3 gallon oil recycle container from Walmart, then fitted it with the hose and shower head from the camp shower bag. The black container can be put out in the sun if I’m too lazy to heat water. 🙂

  38. Nice DIY camper van! I really admire the determination of people who go this route and build their own camper van, suited exactly for their own needs, rather than a mass-market RV that can be expensive and inadequate. I’ve got a gallery showing a dozen great DIY Sprinter camper vans on my Sprinter RV site:


  39. CassWas

     /  November 19, 2013

    this is pretty miuch the set up I’m looking for, super super simple! Although I would want more storage space, solar panels for small devices (laptop, cell phone, air cooler, heater) and a bike rack for my bike as I plan on living in it during school.

  40. CassWasBornFree

     /  November 19, 2013

    How did she do the plumbing?

    • Cass, she uses a Porta-Pottie so no plumbing needed there. She has a hand pump for the sink that feeds from a 6 gallon container below the sink. But now she prefers using a sprayer from a water tank up in the cabover. She isn’t too impressed with the hand pump. And the sink drains into a 6 gallon jug underneath that she can empty anywhere.

      Also she no longer messes with the gravity-fed solar shower (which used a water tank in the cabover). She takes sponge baths and washes her hair in the sink with a rinse free shampoo (which she finds works better if you do pour a cup of water over your hair for a mini rinse), and takes showers at campgrounds.

      Her whole vision was keeping everything as simple, inexpensive and maintenance-free as possible.

  41. CassWasBornFree

     /  November 19, 2013

    K.I.S.S! (keep it simple stupid :P) Thanks for the input! I’m thinking i would be better to have a 5 gallon water dispensor (like for sparklets deliveries) suspended over a little draining sink I can plug up. Useing gravity is as simple as it can get.

  42. I want to offer my sincere thanks for posting about your cargo-van-to-camper-van conversion. It was a true inspiration to me, and what kept me going on my own van build from beginning to end.
    Finally finished the build mid-August of this year, and finally finished the van build blog just this afternoon (December 6, 2013).

    If you or your readers are interested, please take a look:

    (don’t know how to make this clickable, if you want to copy-and-paste it should work)

    Anyway, thanks again!!

    • I’m so glad the article was helpful to you. 🙂

      Good luck on your blog. I read your volcano adventure, but couldn’t find pictures of your van. Would love to see them!

  43. There should be a heading there THE VAN, to the right of the volcano blog heading. This is a pull-down menu – links to various parts of the blog are there. Please let me know if you have any other problems. 🙂

    • I found it this time. I had just clicked on “the van” before and there were no photos there. This time I clicked on the 5 parts. You did an amazing job of insulating and finishing your van. And I love your color choice for the upholstery.

      Congratulations on a fantastic job well done!

  44. So cozy! Great design and execution.

  45. It looks lovely. Very nice. I am getting quite excited about shopping around for a camper van ourselves. I hope to get one after Christmas.

  46. this is an absolutely excellent conversion. I love that she built what she needed, according to her usage requirements, and not according to the RV industry. Bravo!

    • I think the RV industry feels the need to pack something into every available cubic inch. Sometimes less really is a lot more!

      Glad you like it! 🙂

  47. keiron

     /  January 7, 2014

    Hi from the uk.
    I think your van is spot on and I’m so glad i looked at your blog before starting my build. Thanks and take care.

  48. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your sister’s process. I’ve been considering the same and you’ve just provided me with the confidence to move forward!
    Forever indebted,

  49. John Roberts

     /  January 11, 2014

    Thanks for the excellent info.I just bought a van and I wanted to keep the conversion simple. HAPPY VANNING 🙂

  50. I modified my ford transit connect into a little camper van. I love it.

    • Carole, that is so cool. I have also drawn up plans to modify a Ford Transit Connect in case I find a used one at a reasonable price. They are so cute!

  51. Annie

     /  January 14, 2014

    Thanks so much for posting this and also all you other commenters have had very interesting things to say.

    One question that I have: how did your sister address ventilation to avoid condensation while sleeping in the van? Thanks.

    • Gail

       /  January 14, 2014

      Hi Annie. I’ve really never had a problem with condensation because the van is insulated. When I don’t have electrical hookups, I use a battery operated fan to keep air moving. When I do have hookups, I’m using either an electric fan, my portable AC, or my heater, all of which keep air moving as well.

  52. Jim D

     /  January 24, 2014

    Very Impressed! I liked how you utilized a white van that not only blends in and doesn’t attract attention, but is also cooler in the summer sun. Im contemplating a similar project with my Dodge cargo van.
    As for the air conditioner issue, Ive seen small window units mounted in cargo vans so that the outside grill of the ac unit is flush with the outside skin of the van. It then sits on a wooden base with drawer slides, or a metal drawer with ball bearing slides like from a metal tool chest. This way it can be extended out when in use while parked, and pulled back in flush when moving. It can even be mounted so that it can retract far enough into the van so that the original section of metal skin that was cut out can be cleaned up and either mounted on with hinges as a door, or detached/reattached when needed.
    Best of luck with your camper, it looks great!

    • Fantastic ideas for the A/C mount. Thanks!

    • Happy Camper

       /  March 7, 2014


      Get whatever window air conditioner is sufficient, just make sure it has only front output and rear intake, put a vent door in the side or rear of the van. Build an aluminum box to mount the air conditioner in, and put a drain in the bottom. Nothing sticking out, and it will still draw outside air in, and drain moisture out. I built one for a friend, and it never gets hot to the touch.

      In mine, I use a non-evaporative swamp cooler mine, no venting required, and runs on 12v. Under 90f just water cools fine, over that add a block of ice and put on a sweater. At 120f outside, it was 60f inside on LOW. With the block of ice and water in a 40qt 7 day cooler, the ice will last 4-5 days. There is a commercial version on Amazon called Go Cool I think, kinda pricey, but for people who don’t want to build their own, it would be a good investment. I built my own using an old auto heater core to circulate the cold water through, in a sealed box with a 12v fan behind it, then a small 12v bilge pump to circulate the water. I built the air exchanger box out of coroplast (feather weight, but sturdy, plastic cardboard). I have a “house” battery, but it will run the cooler, my laptop, and everything else for 48 hours between recharges.

      I’m a fulltimer and I wouldn’t be caught dead without my cooler & my kerosene heater/stove.

      For anybody without carpentry skills, a junk $100 tent trailer might have a nice kitchen unit, foam pads, and maybe a dinette or sofa sleeper you can salvage too. Using your imagination, you can have a wonderful living space on the cheap.

      Keep the rubber on your tires, not on the road!

      • HC, thank you so much for the detailed installation instructions.

        Here in the SE with our sky-high humidity, we can’t use evaporative coolers, but that is good info for the rest of the country, too.

        Would love to see what kind of kerosene heater/stove you have.

        And checking out junk tent trailers for nice kitchen furnishings is just brilliant.

        Thanks for commenting.

        • Happy Camper

           /  March 7, 2014


          What I use is a non-evaporative cooler… The cold water flows through a heater core, just like your cars air conditioning except without the compressor and freon. So there is no moisture introduced into the air like there is with evaporative coolers. I’ve used mine all over the SE, and with the addition of ice, it will actually blow colder than most AC units. One bad week in Death Valley, I even drained the system, switched the water out for anti-freeze to keep it from freezing up, and put a block of dry ice in it on a small shelf to keep it out of the anti-freeze solution. At 130f+ outside, I actually had to open some windows to let some heat in! My van doesn’t have built in AC, so I just leave mine running in the back if I need it while driving too. I just sit it in the center aisle right behind the front seats and aim it forward. The beauty of these units is their flexibility and the the fact that they’ll work in humid climates too.

          Here’s a link to what my heater/stove looks like. When using for a heater, I place a clay flower pot over one of the 10k BTU burners. If you needed more heat, I’m sure you could do the same with the other burner too. The beauty of this is that you have complete control over flame height just like if you were cooking, so it is really easy to set it at just the right temperature. Since they use a wick instead of being pressurized like a Coleman or propane stove, they are totally silent as an added bonus. They sip so little fuel, that even in REALLY cold weather, running it on low all day plus cooking, heating water, etc. it will still use under one gallon per month of kerosene. That means I get all of my heating and cooking for under $6 a month this year, and it’s been a COLD winter where I’m at… But it’s Key West inside hehe.

          Here’s a link to a pic of a stove just like mine, and WOW… I went up to St. Paul Mercantile’s website to get a link for a picture, and I was going to tell everyone that they sold these too… When I got there, it says they’re closed due a to fire on New Years Day that destroyed their warehouses and inventory, and they are evidently not planning to rebuild because it says the business is for sale. What a shame because they were such a GREAT resource…

          Okay, let’s try this again, here’s a link to a picture on Miles Stair’s site:

          Happy Camping!

          • HC, that’s a bunch of fantastic info. Thanks so much for going to the trouble to add it all. I’m sure it will be beneficial to those who read about it.

            I really like the idea of the kerosene cooking/heating. I would never have thought of that for a van. And the cheap heating is something I wish a whole lot more people would hear about.

            I have a propane furnace in my Casita. It goes through propane and battery power a lot faster than I would like!

            • Happy Camper

               /  March 8, 2014


              Yeah, I love the kerosene and it doesn’t create moisture problems like the propane does either. Since it isn’t pressurized, it greatly reduces the possibilities of leaks and explosions too.

              Being able to cook outside on a hot summer night is nice too.

              I met a fellow up in Minnesota a couple years back, that had a stove that operates just like mine except his was designed to look like a mini woodstove with a glass front to see the flames. Boy did it give his little camper van a great ambiance. We were at a campground, and fires were banned due to fire danger. He brought out his little stove and lit it up, and everyone gathered round the only campfire in the park. Made for a memorable evening. He took the top covers off so the flames would come up, and I think he may have purposely turned the flames up a little higher, and we all got to roast the S’mores that we thought we were going to get cheated out of.

              Life can be such a great and enjoyable adventure, that more people need to experience, and learn that the size of their budget, or lack thereof, doesn’t have to determine their level of comfort and enjoyment.

              Happy Camping!

  53. LIz

     /  January 27, 2014

    Where do you store the shower pan when not in use? Also…did you consider making one larger bed across the back instead of the two smaller ones? If you did, why did you rule it out?

    • Gail

       /  January 27, 2014

      The shower pan is stored on the shelf above the cab when not in use. I put smaller items in it to keep them secure during driving. The two beds allow easier access to underbed storage. Had I made a bed across the back, I would only have access to one row of bins. With two beds, I have super easy access to storage bins under both beds. I also like having the back door unobstructed in case of emergency.

  54. jerry zelm

     /  February 10, 2014

    Love what you’ve done. Wanted a RoadTrek, but they’ve way too expensinve. Which vans (with years) do you think are the best to convert? I’m thinking of the larger ones, but don’t want to spend more than $4000, before conversion. Also would like to keep the mileage under 90,000.

    • Jerry, you will probably have to go with what you can find. My preference is definitely cargo over conversion van. You can insulate it properly, and the trim doesn’t steal away precious inches from the interior.

    • Happy Camper

       /  March 7, 2014


      Year and mileage really don’t matter much, mine is pushing 40 years old with over 800k miles. How well it’s been maintained, and how well you maintain it is what really counts.

      I paid $600 for this, with the interior trashed, but body straight, and ran really good. Pretty much all of my furniture came from thrift stores. Futon bunk bed running length wise, the bottom bed will convert into a sofa. My kitchen cabinet is an old record cabinet, comes up to the bottom of the windows, 30″ long by about 20″ deep with sliding doors on the front. Typical home style night stand beside the bed, swivel rocker just inside the side doors, and odorless handicap style toilet that has a tight fitting lid. Tent trailer style ice box that requires a new block of ice about once a week for 99 cents. My kerosene stove as well as my sink are portable so they can be used either indoors or out. A dollar store dish pan makes a wonderful sink. I use two for washing dishes, just like a double sink in a house. My running water is a 7 gallon jug with a spigot placed on an overturned rectangular milk crate beside the sink, gravity feed, no power required, and not much to go wrong with it. I have two of these jugs, one is painted black to heat the water via the sun. So I actually have hot and cold running water with no power needed. Same milk crate doubles as extra cupboard space.

      My power system is totally portable, and not connected to the van’s wiring at all. It consists of a small go cart engine hooked up to a car alternator, which charges a $20 battery exchange deep cycle RV battery housed in a plastic case with 4 fused 12v cig lighter outlets mounted inside the battery box also. Gives me all the 12v I need to run this laptop, my 12v electric blankets, lights, water pump for luxurious showers, for about a week between 15-20 minute long recharges. If I’m running my AC constantly, I need to recharge every 2-3 days. Total cost for all of the electric I need or want averages about $4 a month for one gallon of gas.

      Total cost of my mobile mansion, van + interior + heat/AC/stove/generator etc. came out to about $900 total. And ANY dummy can do this! Nothing complicated about it. To run everything to make my home VERY comfortable costs roughly $15 per month, and I NEVER hook up to any sort of outside power. I try to park where I can get free wifi, and my phone is using free VOIP over free wifi. The only drawback is that if I’m not connected to wifi my incoming calls will go to voicemail, and I can’t call out either, but overall it’s a minor inconvenience.

      So for less than the cost of a typical week’s vacation, pretty much anyone could own their own vacation home on wheels that will save them money every time they use it.

      Happy camping! If anybody needs any tips or tricks, I’ll try to visit fairly often…

  55. jerry zelm

     /  February 11, 2014

    I’m a retired Chiropractor who now does professional singing at senior centers throughout the Midwest. I’m really excited about crafting a van that will cut down on my hotel expenses. (Senior gigs don’t pay alot.) This will give me a tax-deductible project that will allow me to travel to some remote places, bringing my 50s, 60s and 70s music program to these folks. I’m really excited. Thanks for all your help! I’d love to send you a free CD!

  56. I found a trick for staying clean: wash your body (just like your face) with a soapy microfiber cloth, using a plastic dishpan for a sink and gallon jugs of water refilled at a Glacier water machine. Works great. I’ve been traveling the western states for a year in a pretty well equipped Ford cargo van that I turned into a micro RV. I was going for “maximum freedom and minimal possessions” and I wanted to keep costs down.
    I wrote an ebook about putting a road trip van together:
    Happy trails,

    • Roger, it’s amazing how clean those sink baths can make you feel, isn’t it? I discovered that years ago when I used to backpack. Even a cooking pot provided a quick sponge bath opportunity that could make me feel like a new person.

    • Happy Camper

       /  March 9, 2014


      Another neat trick I use, actually more than my running water, is to have dollar store spray bottles. I use 3 of them, with 2 of them painted black to help with solar heating. One has clear cold water, one has clear hot water, and one has soapy water, which can either be heated or not. A quick spray with these i great for washing hands, or dishes, etc. I even use them for quick showers inside my van. Not much to go wrong with them, and if they do give up, they’re only a buck to replace. I wish everything in life was so cheap, useful, durable, and easy to replace!

      Full time camping made cheap, easy, comfortable, and convenient. The only way to go!

      Happy Camping!

      • Gail

         /  March 16, 2014

        Awesome idea. Thanks for sharing it. 🙂

        • Happy Camper

           /  March 20, 2014


          No problem. If some of my hard earned experience can help a few others, then life is good!

          Happy Camping!

  57. Sarah

     /  March 22, 2014

    This is brilliant!
    I bought an old van a few years ago. Just last week I found mold in the walls, so everything has been ripped out, to the metal floor. Have you had problems with moisture and mold? I am from Canada and wonder what our difference in climate is.

    • Gail

       /  March 22, 2014

      Sarah, I have never had a problem with mold. I do remember sometime back though someone telling me that if you get a mold smell in your vehicle, turn a heater on and run it for about an hour each day until the odor is gone. Someone had to do this to a vehicle that flooded in Katrina. Good luck.

  58. Your sister did a wonderful job on her camper, and her sister did a wonderful job sharing the photos and details. Thanks!

    • Sue, what a thoughtful, encouraging comment! It means a lot to me and made me smile.

      Thank you from both of us! 🙂

  59. Anderson

     /  April 13, 2014

    Much respect for job well done.
    Please contact me
    I would like to discuss an offer to purchase.

    • Anderson, Gail sent you an email a day or two ago. If you didn’t receive it, let me know.

  60. amanda journey

     /  April 15, 2014

    Do you know what the cost for conversion was? Not including the vehicle purchase price?

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