Travel Cheap – The Camper Van Conversion

Travel Cheap – The Camper Van Conversion


  1. In the beginning
  2. Camper Van Build … plus … Kitchen Chuck Box
  3. x4 Tips – How to find a great used van
  4. Updates: What I’ve learned so far 

In the beginning

I’m always dreaming and looking for ways to be creative, live & travel cheap.

For now, let’s figure out the How to Build a  Camper Van Conversion, Cheap!

Here’s what I discovered along the journey…

I was doing research into camper van conversions, particularly by those who actually use theirs on a regular basis. I will say, there are tons of people doing it, not just in Canada, but throughout the entire world. Lot’s of information, ideas and experiences out there to be discovered!  You can always start by looking at what others have done through Pinterest

If you do plan on looking further into it, you’ll be bombarded with TONS of options: Campers, Pull-behinds, Vans, Cube Vans, Panel Vans, Mini to Full size School Bus Conversions, RV’s, Tear-drop trailers, Gypsy Style Wagons,  etc… (too many to list) There are many beautifully well done conversions out there.

People are not only using their van conversions for camping & holidays. In reality, I’ve discovered people living full-time out of their vehicles throughout Canada, USA, and Worldwide. Some live out their vehicle out of choice, financial reasons, or just to be able to travel long term. There are some very creative and ingenious ways of doing so.  Also, if you live in BC or any other major city that is financially suppressing its people… Believe it or not, you have probably drove passed a “Stealth Camper” without realizing it, but that’s a topic for another day.

Let’s get back to the Cheap camper van conversion…

Start off with this in mind – “Experiences over Possessions”, “Wants vs. Needs” and “Spend Less to Do More!”.  This camper van conversion build definitely demonstrates those mantras. Obviously my needs and wants are different than yours, however, maybe this will get you thinking in a direction that is right for you.

I had been watching Craig’s List and other similar websites for a good used van that I could convert into a makeshift camper van. It took a few months of patients but I found one….

Camper Van Build …plus the Kitchen Chuck Box

Dodge Caravan – it’s a 16 year old van and in really good shape . It had belonged to an older gentleman who had maintained it excellently and was only driving it approximately 7,000km per year. I really lucked out with this find, patients paid off.

After I removed the rear seats, here’s what I did…

Bed Frame
*Tip: I went into Home Deport and looked at their Damaged Wood section, which is usually on their trolleys in the wood section and I found exactly what I needed… it was *Free!

Plywood sheet – 5/8” x 4 x 8 sheet  *Free!  I cut away the damaged parts and had a perfect piece of wood.
Legs – 2×3’s
Screws required – 1 1/2” and 3”

The bed sits 12” above the van floor, which gives lots of storage space underneath.  As you can see, I cut out a section of the platform behind the driver’s seat, where the Camp Kitchen fits into place.

Cabinet & attached Storage Box with lid
This was a little tricky to build because of the all the angles in the van. The cabinet rests on the van’s armrest and is attached to a wood storage box in front of it, which is screwed into the bed platform.

side note: This picture also shows you the Kitchen Chuck Box in place.

Window Coverings
The window coverings are cut to form each window and are made of Reflectix & an old bed sheet glued to one side (the side facing inwards to give the interior a prettier … err… I mean… to give the interior a more masculine look.)

What you’ll need:
a) Reflectix (Home Depot)
b) Spray Adhesive (Elmer’s or similar brand)
c) Old Bed Sheet (p.s. my brother is still looking for his bed sheet)
d) Duct Tape (used for the trim)

Note: The rear window requires a couple little velcro strips on each corner to hold the window covering in place.  All other covers don’t recover any velcro, they all fit snug.  

Keeping the Mosquitos Out during Hot Summer Nights
On a couple of the windows, I added thin strips of velcro around the interior of the window.  Then, with mosquito netting that was cut larger than the window itself, I can apply and take it down when required.  Note:  I only added velcro to the sides and top of the widow frame.  It’s not required on the bottom because the netting tucks in between the actual glass and frame.   Fresh air and no Mosquitos!  

The curtain adds privacy and separates the front seats from the rear.

I picked up picture frame hooks & key chain clips from Canadian Tire as seen in the 2nd picture. I’m still trying to figure out a better way than using a safety pin to keep the center up & attached to the roof.  Any suggestions?

Bed Mattress
You can (but I don’t recommend it) head to specialty stores that sell foam mattresses, but it’s going to cost you an arm & leg. I looked around and found a foam mattress (with a cover) on sale at Jysk and its very comfortable.

Camp Kitchen Chuck Box (aka: Stove / Kitchen Caddy):
I found this free pdf online to make the chuck box – Camp-Kitchen-Cut-Sheet 

*Tip – I went into Home Depot’s Damaged Wood Section and found a 4’ x 8’ sheet of 1/2” plywood – 1/2 price!  I cut away the damage sections and had all the perfect pieces I required.

Update: If I were to build another chuck box, I would alter the dimensions to suit my needs. I could have made the chuck box’s dimensions – 27” x 20” x 16 1/2”

So there you have it!
A very basic, but very comfortable, camper van conversion
for travel and stealth camping.

How to Find a Great Used Van to Convert
x4 Useful Tips

Food for Thought before you get started – “Do More by Spending Less” – If you keep your “Want’s vs. Needs” in check, you’ll spend less. This will give you more gas money to travel and experience those adventures!  

1. Patients is the key. I can’t emphasize that enough. Give yourself several months of researching used vans. It’s only a matter of time before one pops up on your radar.

The van I had found was 16 years old, however, it belonged to an older gentleman who was only using it to pick-up & drive his grandkids. He was only putting 7,000km on it per year and maintained the van in excellent shape. This is NOT a rare find either. I’ve found that the older generation to be more meticulous because they know the value of a dollar. Therefore they tend to respect and properly upkeep their vehicles.

2. Don’t Focus or be Narrow Minded. If you only focus on a particular make or model, you’re more than likely passing up a potentially perfect van. Also, if you are too focused… you’ll disregard tip #4 and can ultimately be screwed.

I almost missed out… I too had my mind focused on particular makes, models, & years, but when I realized what I had been doing, I immediately started looking at other options and that’s when I found the van I have now.

3. Set your Budget – With above first 2 tips in mind, Only look at used vans within your budget because you also have to keep #4 in mind…

4. The Year – Once you found the potential van, do your regular research on that particular Make, Model and just as important… the Year. Not all years are created equal. One year can be ten times worse – the lemon of lemons! You can have 2 vans that are identical, except the year, the year can either make or brake you with potential problems. So please do yourself the favour and include in your research the Years.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Update- Here’s what I’ve learned & discovered

  1. While in the van – The Kitchen Chuck Box’s top has been very useful as a table top. I can sit on the bed, put a leg on either side of the chuck box and use it as a table.
  2. If I were to build another kitchen chuck box , I would alter the dimensions to suit my needs. I could have made the chuck box’s dimensions – 27” x 20” x 16 1/2″   
  3. Cabinet & attached Storage Box – I’m pretty happy with the cabinet.  I’m also glad I had attached the storage box because it has come become invaluable with easy & quick access for smaller items that I regularly use or need within arms reach.    
  4. 12″ legs (bed) – perfect height to store items under the bed, including the water jug that just fits.  I would not have gone with shorter legs.
  5. (I’ll continue to update this section as I go….)


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