Our journey really began long before we hit the road bound for France and so it’s probably high time we introduced our van and a little about how we got to this point. Inspired by fellow van dwellers internet blogs and stories of how they converted their van/horsebox/double decker bus in just a few short weeks accompanied by photos of their smiling faces showing off various stages of their conversion it all looked like a great adventure! Build a van and travel! Let’s do it!
We decided on a long wheelbase high roof Mercedes sprinter to meet our needs, we wanted headroom to stand up and space for all 3 of us to live with storage for bikes and all the other fun stuff we’d be taking with us. Plus we’d repeatedly heard “Sprinters have fantastically reliable engines”, “a Sprinter will do 3-400k miles no problems”. Perfect. So we became the proud and excited owners of our sprinter van! Brilliant! We just had to convert it and off we could go! Except that within a few months our van had had a catastrophic engine failure! After a long and drawn out process leaving us vanless for months we ended up returning the van to where we had bought it and found ourselves back to square 1. We were very lucky that the van dealer we had bought it from was a really decent guy and although we were hugely disappointed we weren’t left out of pocket. So the search for van number 2 commenced and eventually we were once more van owners and ready to start the exciting task of converting it into our home.
The whole process was a huge learning curve, we spent hours researching every aspect of the build. We visited the Birmingham NIA caravan & camping show, sitting in vans and huge luxurious motorhomes opening cupboards, peering into storage holds, nosing at taps and water pumps and trying to absorb as many ideas as possible to maximise our van space. We sat in our empty van until late into the evenings with cardboard cutout templates trying to come up with the best possible layout options. The decisions were endless.
Finally we got stuck in, we fitted skylights, one in the front and 2 in the back above the bed so we can see the stars at night. We insulated and soundproofed so that we’re cool in summer and warm in winter. We built a raised double bed with a proper sprung mattress, under which, accessible from the back, we built a ‘garage’.
The garage houses 2 road bikes, 2 mountain bikes, bike helmets, an inflatable kayak with paddles and seats, wetsuits, life vests, camping chairs, a 70l fresh water tank, enough dog food to feed Chief for 6 months, hiking rucksacks, pretty much everything except the kitchen sink which obviously, is in the kitchen.
We also built an opening so we can sit in bed and open the back and admire the view.
The build took over our lives, we spent every spare minute working in the van. Every weekend we put in long days building when daylight was short and temperatures were freezing.
There were many occasions when, by late afternoon, wrapped up in coats and hats, one of us would look to the other, sawing or sanding, drilling or measuring, our extremities turning a bit blue, the excitement of going travelling seemed a lifetime away and we’d dash to the kitchen for a hot drink and a biscuit to keep each other going. There were very few smiling photos of us showing off the various stages of our build.
We built a sofa seat that also houses a shoe rack, a fridge, 2 batteries and all of our electrical system. We fitted solar panels to the roof giving us enough power to live off grid and be self sufficient. We built a kitchen complete with oven, sink, cupboards to store all our kitchen equipment, a 2 hob gas burner and an upcycled oak worktop.
We built a wetroom complete with shower and toilet. Dashing out on Boxing Day to spend our Go Outdoors Christmas gift card on a portapotti! Did I mention the van had taken over our lives?
We fitted a raised floor with compartments to store our food in a cool underfloor larder.
We built a wardrobe for all of our clothes and a step to get on to the bed that doubles up as a storage box.
We (this bit was mostly just Adam) wired in led lights and plug sockets with USB points and fitted a heating system that blows hot or cold air. We fitted black out blinds to the windows and the space where the bulkhead had been. We fitted extra locks to all the doors to keep all our precious stuff safe.
Finally we ‘decorated’, fitting interior lining fabric to the walls and ceiling and a few personal touches.
We had a sensible plan to finish the build 6 weeks before our planned trip, enough time to spend a few weekends away testing everything and make any adjustments if needed. Time marched on and this plan went out of the window to be replaced with the plan to just get the thing finished before we reached France! ….We were still finishing things the day we left!
It’s worth noting that with backgrounds in chemicals and Vet nursing neither of us has done anything like this before but we proved to ourselves we can do anything we put our minds to and we are hugely proud of what we’ve achieved. Our van may not be as fancy as some of those motorhomes we sat in looking for layout ideas but it’s ours and we built it and for us it’s perfect.
So, with our van complete it needed a name, after a lot of deliberation we settled on Liberty; “to be free within society” it seemed fitting. And here we are, on the road in Europe in our self built van, was it worth all the blood, sweat and tears? Of course it was!