When we sit back and think about building our own camper, we start to realise how many things that we learnt along the way, and how much we enjoyed picking up new skills that enabled us to bring our plans for our tiny home on wheels to life.
One point that we want you to remember before reading this is that we had no previous knowledge or experience of the van converting process, so we were starting completely from scratch. But we’re both creative people, and we just viewed it as another creation (only this is the biggest project that we’ve ever taken on!)
So without further a do, heres a list of the top 10 things that we learnt whilst building our own camper.
1. It’s Worth Buying a Jigsaw
We made it one day into the build using just a hand saw and gave in. We only did about 5 pieces of cladding as trying to manoeuvre along the curved lines we’d drawn for the wheel arch with just a hand saw was too hard, and we ended up wasting expensive timber. Just spend the £50 and get a decent Bosch Jigsaw from Amazon – it’s totally worth it for the amount you’ll be using it.
2. If You’re Not Happy With It, Do It Again
We learnt this the hard way time and time again. If it doesn’t look right first time then it isn’t going to look any better in a weeks time or six months down the line. Fix it before it’s too late and you won’t regret it.
3. Planning Is Good, But Sometimes You Just Have To Get Stuck In
We spent a long time thinking about the build before we even had a van, but when it comes down to it you just need to start somewhere. When you’re building your own camper van, you need to break your plan down into certain sections, (separate your inside space into floor, ribcage, walls etc so its multiple smaller sections) that way it’s not too daunting. It helps you feel as though you’ve achieved something too (little things add up to big things in the end!) Before you know it you’ll be half way through your build.
4. Make YouTube Your New Best Friend
If this is your first time building your own camper van then you’re going to need some guidance, and if you’re facing a problem then the chances are that somebody has faced it before you and made a video of how to sort it. (Handy, right!) We consulted YouTubers for everything from how to countersink a screw right through to the best methods for fitting a stove in your van.
There’s lots of people doing similar stuff to you out there, sometimes even with the same vehicle, so it’s worth having a search. The important thing to remember is that this is your van, so for some problems you might need to use a few different methods and fuse them together for the best results.
5. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
Just because you want to ‘do it yourself’ doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for help. Although we picked up a lot of new skills throughout the process, the electrical and solar systems were a bit mind boggling at times, and it was great to be able to turn to a friend with professional experience to help us out (pick a friend that used to work for BMW and keep them close for as long as possible). This was one area where we really didn’t want anything to go wrong in, and we were more than grateful for the help.
If you don’t have an automotive wiring technician in your favourites list, then check out some e-books. Van Dog Traveller has a great section on electrics in his self build book that should help you to work out those pesky energy calculations. We used it when building our own camper when it came to figuring out how many solar panels we’d need, and it definitely simplified the process.
6. Know When To Put The Tools Down
If you’re finding that something is taking twice as long to do than it did six hours ago then it’s probably time to stop. Even though you just want to get the build done ASAP (trust us, we’ve been there) it’s important to recognise when you need to have a rest and put the kettle on. You’ll come back refreshed, and everything will seem ten times easier.
7. Get Organised
It’s super frustrating when you know that there are screws somewhere within a 1 metre radius of you but you just can’t find them! Invest in a tool box or, like us, just keep some tupperware from your next Chinese takeaway and get organised! You’ll thank us in the long run (or your local takeaway).
8.Ebay Is Always Cheaper Than B&Q
This one is self explanatory, and we wish we’d know this earlier. Things like door knobs, drawer runners, hinges and locks etc are always going to be cheaper on eBay. eBay became our second best friend when building our own camper, and it also meant that we didn’t have to keep breaking off to head down to get supplies. Buy stuff in advance so you know you’ve got it when the time comes and store it somewhere safe.
Building your own camper van is going to take much longer than you think. Once you learn this lesson then you’re halfway to achieving enlightenment. Our build realistically took six months (whilst working full time). This is about twice as long as we’d first imagined, but we just kept going as there is nothing worse than a half finished project. (If you’re gonna do it, you gotta put the time in!) Make a chart if you have to, set yourself goals, and keep thinking about the positives. Trust us, the end result is worth it.
10. Anything is possible
If we can end up building our own camper without any previous know how then you can too! Just go for it and enjoy the ride! Unless you’re a carpenter/ builder or you’ve done a van conversion before then the odds are that it’s not going to be perfect. There will always be the odd join that could be neater or a drawer that could run smoother but it doesn’t matter! Just remember that it’s homemade and be proud of what you’ve achieved.
Written by Rose & Seb @vincentvanlife