Why you may want to reconsider building a travel van yourself

If you’re a traveler, you’ve seen and fantasized about that accomplished feeling of creating your “perfect” travel van.

While buying a clunker and turning it into a palace on wheels seems like the perfect project idea, there’s something to be said for dropping the cash on one that’s already complete and ready to go.

travel van

The inside of Morgan Wright’s 2007 Chevy van. The person she bought it from installed a vent for cooking. Photo: Charli Kerns

Here are the reasons why you should think about buying a van already dialed in to travel and the steps to make it happen.

You don’t know what you’re doing

If you’ve never worked on a vehicle, this is going to be on an epic scale you may not realize right now.

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That’s fine if you want to spend several times the amount of hours to finish half of what you intended to finish going into the project when you purchased your diamond in the rough … It’s just simple math.

It’ll likely remain half-done

The funny thing about travel-van projects is that it’s easier to plan and prepare for the adventure rather than the adventure vehicle itself.

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I’ve met several people who created a non-negotiable deadline for departure only to stress every day about the van still missing its insulation.

An expert will know better

travel van

Paddler Morgan Wright stands by her newly bought 2007 Chevy Express 1500 van. Photo: Charli Kerns

“I strongly feel that we could not have converted it for cheaper and done it as well as the guy had,” Morgan Wright, a whitewater paddling instructor and travel junkie, said of her recently acquired 2007 Chevy Express 1500 van.

The list includes standard wood paneling and overhead lights, as most anyone would think to include after seeing dozens of DIY projects on Pinterest.

The seller’s experience working with metal and fencing comes in with features like water tanks with an overflow release to prevent overfill, a switch to turn on for charging the “house” batteries using the alternator if it’s too cloudy for solar power and a vent over the stove so it doesn’t stink while cooking.

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Unplug the whole van and plug it into an RV spot at a campsite to use external power, and cap the van off with an awning off the side and a hammock rack.

“He seriously thought of everything,” Wright said.

Tips for finding your Cinderella van

travel van

Lots of storage space and room for a coffeemaker and paddling gear were crucial for Wright and Cox. Photo: Charli Kerns

Make a list: What must you have, and what would you like to have? What can you live without? Knowing this will make it easier to settle for a finished project rather than daydreaming about every little thing you want. You’ll know the price point, too, and won’t get surprised by how much money you ended up spending on your project.

Start saving now: Now that you know what you want, start saving. Wright and her boyfriend, Micah Cox, bought their travel van fully done for $13,000. The van is worth $8,500 on Kelly Blue Book, which means $4,500 in parts and labor, and Wright said everything they have is worth every single penny spent.

Network: Finding the van you want is all about networking. There are several Facebook groups to follow, including Bus Conversion and Trusty Bucket. Ask around and make it known in your community that you’re in the market. People will start posting and sharing with you what they’ve seen.

“I would say just keep a lookout and have enough money saved up to spring when a good deal pops up,” said Wright.