Part V: How to choose your bed, sofa, or hybrid for your camper!
This is the final in a series about our own campervan conversion. We’ll talk about the reasons we made the choices we did, pros and cons of decisions, and hopefully provide some advice for your own adventure!
We faced a major decision in the design of our camper. Where would we sleep, where would we sit, and how could we make it as comfortable as possible without sacrificing space? We went back and forth on this decision, visited several online and in-person shops, and did much research about what other travelers do. Ultimately, we reached a decision we are happy with.
There are two main ways a campervan’s sofa/bed situation can be designed. You can either have a permanent bed and a separate seating area, or you can have a bed that converts to a sofa. We chose the hybrid. From Amazon we purchased this sleeper sofa.
There are several reasons we liked it.
It was very lightweight so there was no issue moving it around.
It has 3 different positions depending upon our needs.
We could use it as a sofa and thus have more walking room inside the camper during the day.
We could fold it out at night for a bed.
It came with 2 extra pillows. (Added comfort)
Overall, it is fairly comfortable. Not likely something you’d want in our house to replace a bed, but with our padded camper floor we didn’t have any issues sleeping. It is narrow, so we both snuggled plenty and our cats often slept on top of us. But when you are out traveling in your camper you often sacrifice comfort for a richer and more adventurous experience.
You also could build a platform to raise this if you wanted to. That is not the direction we ended up going, though.
Other Options Aside from the Sleeper Sofa
After reading this, you may have decided that doesn’t work for you. Many who travel in a camper prefer to have a permanent, raised bed with storage underneath. While that does take up more of your “living” area, you are in a camper, after all, and are out to explore! So do plenty of research and discussion before committing to decision. But so as long as you have the time and money, most anything done to your camper can be changed later. It’s hard to tell until you are actually on the road.
This is the final post in our Campervan Conversion series. Learn how to complete your camper with our other entries!
This is the fourth in a series about our own campervan conversion. We’ll talk about the reasons we made the choices we did, pros and cons of decisions, and hopefully provide some advice for your own adventure!
When you get your campervan conversion all finished up with the practicalities in place, it can look rather functional. But now it’s a blank slate on which to paint your personality! We have some tips here for how to decorate your camper safely for the road, as well as examples for what we did.
One primary canvas for your decor is your cabinets, shelves, and drawers. If you have gone this route, they are blank slates of wood that can easily be painted upon. While some may like the plain, rustic look, we wanted to add more color.
A good thing here is that you don’t have to have any artistic ability. Even though I (Ashley) am an artist, we opted for buying stencils at a local hobby and crafts shop. Using the paints I already had, I added the decoration. Our primary campervan colors were blues, oranges, and yellows. So I went with aqua and bronze paint.
To help “pretty up” the ends of the shelves, we had bought many “back splash” stickers from a craft store. We used these a few places in the camper to bring color and design, as well as on the ends of each shelf.
We had a few adventurous posters we liked, so we took them out of their frames and taped them to the walls. These included a map of Middle-Earth, a map from our Thread of Souls book series, and art of the tower of Barad-dur. Yes.
We also didn’t like the wiring you could see all along the top of the van’s interior. So we wrapped them in plastic vines and leaves to give a wilderness feel to the whole thing. Overall we added a lot of decor here and there in order to add personality, color, and a travel vibe to the entire thing.
Here is a simple overview of where we added decor:
We tied Celtic shawls on the back of our seats (my ancestry)
We hung up a dream catcher
We twisted plastic vines and leaves all around the wiring in the cargo section
We added stick-on back splash tiles to the ends of the shelves, the sink, and on some parts of the walls
We used stencils to add paint onto the cabinets and shelving
We taped up some posters
We used stick-on mirrors for the walls
We hung a single travel decor sign
We placed a few stick-on wood-style tiling to the walls for some variations
This is the third in a series about our own campervan conversion. We’ll talk about the reasons we made the choices we did, pros and cons of decisions, and hopefully provide some advice for your own adventure!
One of the biggest uses when converting your campervan is storage. You are starting with a blank slate, and aside from some general built-in spaces, there is not much for storage. We jumped through so many hurdles trying to decide what to do about our storage. But what we finally ended up with was simple, streamlined, and carried everything we needed for the journey!
We ultimately decided to install two cabinets. We really liked them because they had good space within for heavier or larger items. However, the cabinets themselves are weighty, so knew we couldn’t just stick them anywhere.
We bought two from Lowe’s and screwed them into the wooden studs already in place on the wall. This was after we’d installed our aesthetic colored poster board so it did require some feeling about and keen “eye-balling” to ensure we screwed them in the correct places! We also bought handles for the cabinet, as well as magnetic latches. But that is up to you if you feel you need those!
But we absolutely loved the cabinets for their interior capacity and ability to hold items on top, as well.
Shelving was, at first, a big puzzler for us. We didn’t want heavy shelves because we feared damage to our studs. We also needed some that had a lip on the front to ensure items did not slide off, which was surprisingly difficult to find! We shopped around at many stores and finally broke down and decided to build our own from scratch.
I (Ashley) was nervous about this idea because we’d never built a shelf from scratch before. But Scottie was excited and so we picked up what we needed from Lowe’s as well as a local craft store. Here are the parts you will need to recreate what we built for your own campervan conversion:
a simple board about the length and width for your storage needs
a smaller, thinner board the same length to serve as your front
2 square pieces of wood the same width as the board to serve as your ends
two metal “L” shaped brackets to mount underneath the shelf
8 screws (depending on the bracket you buy)
items to decorate (if desired)
Our process to put these together was fairly simple. And once we had a system down it only took 2 days to build from scratch and install 5 shelves. The longest process was the wood glue drying. But we chose wood glue over more screws to protect the integrity of the board.
Here was our process for putting together each shelf.
Mark on the largest board where the bracket holes are.
Screw in the brackets to the bottom of the board.
Mark on the wall where the board will sit using the additional bracket holes that will go into the wall.
Screw the bracket onto the wall, thus effectively hanging your shelf.
Using wood glue, set your smaller, thinner board along the front edge of your shelf to serve as its lip.
Follow wood glue directions to allow it to sit and get secured!
Do the exact same process for the two square pieces of wood to create ends for your shelf, thus securing your items.
Allow the glue to have 24 hours to set before testing its strength.
Go on a drive with the shelf full to verify you did a good job!
So overall we had two cabinets and five shelves, and they did well in holding what we needed them to. We had a few instances of a cup falling off one of the shelves if we hit a pot hole, but otherwise they were strong and protected our items!
You can read how we chose the camper we did here. And all about campervan conversion walls, floors, and utilities here.
Part II: Options for walls and floors. And what are you going to do about utilities, anyway?
This is the second in a series about our own campervan conversion. We’ll talk about the reasons we made the choices we did, pros and cons of decisions, and hopefully provide some advice for your own adventure!
After we picked out a campervan, our trusty Nissan NV2500 (high top, mind you), we were ready to get to work! Unfortunately all the really fun stuff and decorations had to wait until we had a base down. That meant deciding what to do about walls, floors, the ceiling, and our general “utilities”. You know, how would we get power, how would we wash things, did we need heat or A/C?
I don’t think a campervan conversion is every truly “finished”. It is an ongoing process as you travel about and make changes and learn new things. But here I want to break down what we started with and why we made those decisions. And also if there are any future improvements in mind.
We knew we needed some basic wooden studs along the walls to enable us to hang shelves or cabinets. Having never built anything like this in our life, it was an imposing task. We watched some other “van lifers” online and read some tutorials about what we would need to do.
This wasn’t necessarily a cheap endeavor and we ended up dropping a few hundred dollars on the walls. But let’s be honest here, $200 of that was for a powerful enough impact drill. Which we cherish very dearly now.
We went to Lowe’s and bought six wood planks after measuring for van wall height and how many we would need. We then bought long enough screws that would fit the screw holes already in place in the van. It didn’t come with as many as we would have preferred, but we made it work.
After measuring and marking with pencil, we successfully secured each wood plank along the walls. At this point, some people may want to do insulation. But we had no intention of traveling to any intense climates and skipped over that step. After testing this full-time on the road, we didn’t have any issues with extreme temperature that couldn’t be solved by rolling the windows up or down.
After the wood went in, we wanted to cover the walls to ensure they looked pretty. Nothing fancy here! We simply went to a crafts store and bought large square pieces of heavy duty poster board. We liked the combination of a turquoise and a deep yellow. We used smaller screws to secure these into the wood planks.
The hardest part about all of this was working around the wheel wells. Especially with our poster board as it required a lot of cutting and some guesswork. But in the end, we had smooth, colorful walls.
The Floors & Ceiling
We did not do anything fancy for the floors or ceiling. I know you see a lot of these campervan photos with pristine wooden planks on the floor and ceiling, but that didn’t match what we envisioned. First off, I (Ashley) hate wood floors and find them uncomfortable. Second, we didn’t really intend to hang anything from the ceiling so having all that support didn’t seem necessary. And third, that is a lot of effort and money for something we weren’t 100% invested in.
So what did we do for our campervan conversion? For the floors, we bought very thick foam padding and taped it all down with rug tape. After that, we bought beautiful accent rugs and laid them on top. The results was a floor so soft you could sleep on it! Moving forward, we will secure the rugs with some type of heavy duty tape as there were issues with them shifting.
We left the ceiling blank and instead hung up a fishing net. We bought it from Academy and cut off the weighted sides. We then hung it up with zip ties through holes that already existed along the ceiling. That served as a flexible storage area.
Electricity & Water
We were faced with our next big question. What would we do about utilities? How would we wash things and ourselves? How would we power our computers for remote work?
Let’s start with water first. Off Amazon we ended up buying a $70 portable camping sink. It has a five gallon bucket it draws water from, as well as its own liquid soap dispenser and towel rung. We absolutely loved it and it was super convenient. However, we still struggle with a good place to let the waste water flow. The sink comes with a disposal hose but nothing to attach to it. We used a bucket, but in the future we will likely design it in a more convenient fashion. Still workshopping ideas!
We opted for the bucket method to wash dishes and clothes for our campervan conversion. We had four buckets total for this endeavor as well as your standard cleaning products. A clothes drying rack was chosen to dry them out.
And what about the big question? You know, the toilet? Well, we made use of shops and gas stations around us. We also bought a fold out portable toilet from Amazon. It is not glamorous, but with some sanitizing products and good cleanliness practices, it works in a pinch!
A shower was our next concern. How would we keep ourselves clean? A simple solution presented itself at Academy with a portable outdoor shower that is heated by the sun. We hung it outside, put on bathing suits, and got clean! We had to help each other out as gravity is what pulls the water down and we didn’t have a really high place to hang it. To be honest, we never quite got the hang of timing our water warming. Either we showered too soon (because traveling is a busy life!) or we waited too long and the sun was setting. So our showers were cold. But we laughed and shivered and washed each other and let the wind dry us.
That brings us to our final topic. Electricity. Driving to our destinations was a great source of charging for our phones and inverters (more on those in a moment). But how would we power things when we were just parked?
We looked into various options of installing a second battery during our campervan conversion. In fact, a second battery was Plan A. But this van wasn’t designed the best to install a second one. We got several professional opinions and all involved rewelding parts of the van, running long cables, weeks of build time, and of course plenty of $$$.
In the end, we decided to rough it a bit more and rely on two inverters we bought off Amazon. They could charge all of our things. Does it work? Technically, yes. We never were out of power. But the inverters themselves have to be recharged by driving (or hooking up to an electrical outlet). In the future, we will probably will allow the time and money to install a second battery. But for now, these work as well as we can expect!
Alright! Speed round time to recap and hit up common questions I know we had when looking to do our campervan conversion.
Do you have a refrigerator? We use a Magellan cooler with ice.
How do you cook food? We’ve got a small charcoal grill.
How do you get water? We store multiple gallons at the back and refill our sink as needed, as well as our washing buckets, shower bag, and water bottles.
How do you take showers? A handy outdoor portable shower we bought from an adventure/outdoors store.
How do you go to the bathroom? A portable toilet, or local shops and gas stations.
How do you charge your devices? We have two inverters. The inverters charge themselves while driving.
How do you have light? Two battery-operated magnetic light switches inside the van. And sunlight!
How do you stay cool? Roll the windows down or turn on our rechargeable fancy fan (we call it fancy because it cools off better than a normal fan).
How do you stay warm? It was only an issue at night. If we got too cold we would roll up the windows and toss an extra blanket over ourselves.
What did you do for floors? Thick foam cushions and rugs.
How did you build the walls? Six wood planks screwed in with an impact drill. Thick poster board atop those for looks.
How do you wash your clothes or the dishes? Buckets we fill with water and cleaning products. And some elbow grease!
Working while traveling on the road isn’t ideal. Traveling is meant to be a fun experience full of adventure and new sights. But there may come a time when work must be done and you find yourself in the middle of nowhere and in need of internet access. It’s times like these that can make life on the road a bit frustrating but we’re here to help you through it because we experienced it.
Finding the Elusive WiFi
These tips are built for adventurers who don’t have WiFi built into their campervan, car, or RV. These guidelines are for more rugged trips where you’re farther removed from civilization. Perhaps on the beach enjoying the ocean breeze or you’re in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness and you need the internet to see exactly what bear that was outside your window.
Traveling extensively in a vehicle can be exhausting – which we cover here – and if you add on finding internet to the mix, you’ll be even more exhausted. More often than not if you’re away from cell towers, your phone won’t have the necessary juice to connect to the internet. One bar may be enough for browsing Pinterest but it won’t be good enough to stream Netflix so you can watch Henry Cavill strike down monsters as the handsome Witcher Geralt of Rivia. Prepare to do some driving.
There are many options when it comes to tracking down WiFi. One of the best is Starbucks (which is not one of our sponsors). Of course buying a coffee or dessert is preferably if you plan on parking outside and eating up their delicious WiFi – that is if you’re lucky enough to fit the vehicle in the drive thru and parking lot. Or you could just go inside if regulations allow.
Another location is McDonalds and trust us the urge to consume your own weight in nuggets may be high.
Public libraries are also great for finding WiFi and for hunting down that book on your read list. Or you could check out our fantasy series Thread of Souls.
Also, many rest stops may have their own WiFi you can pull from.
One we found most useful was a WiFi hotspot. If you are absolutely unable to locate a strong and dependable WiFi signal, the next best thing is to use your phone’s service. By either plugging it directly into the computer’s USB port or turning on tethering, you’ll have access to WiFi in no time, as long as the cell service is strong (three bars or higher should be fine).
Aside from using your phone – which will consume battery rather quickly – an actual hotspot device is another viable route. Keep in mind that these work similarly to a cell phone plan, each can be paid on a month to month basis or an upfront fee where you choose how much data you think you’ll use.
If fast and reliable internet is something you desperately need, hotels may be the best choice. Though you will have to pay for a room if you want to use their service. Or you may be able to ask them for the WiFi password and if you’re lucky enough, they may oblige.
As we’ve learned from experience, doing work on a laptop in a camper isn’t the most comfortable. Having a table or area specifically designed for working is key. Backs and necks can get sore without having a chair with good lumbar support.
Working and traveling on the road is a time consuming process. There may not always be a restaurant, rest stop, or coffee shop nearby so plan accordingly and find whatever way works best for you.
Test the waters. It’s a popular saying and one we put to test just one week ago. After a few weeks of converting our campervan it was time to set off. We routed the journey, created a travel playlist, and set out on the road. We’ve been traveling before but always stayed in hotels or with relatives. This would be the first time we didn’t book rooms and instead opted for sleeping in the camper wherever we could find. After one week out, we can say adventuring like a tabletop gaming party is difficult but completely worth it.
It’s always fun to throw a dart at a map and head wherever it lands but for our first outing we developed a plan. Our destination was Galveston beach and we had found three sites to camp before reaching the shore. The first was a few hours away from our location. Once we got there we decided to keep going as we still had energy and determination.
Having a plan isn’t necessarily key but it does help knowing where you’re going and what time you need to set off to avoid rush hour, traffic, or driving at night. From our first stop we worked out our next location and made plans to journey the following day. We still had that wanderlust feeling the next morning and drove several hours to the ocean. Was it worth the exhaustion and sore muscles? Yes, but that leads to the next step.
Driving for hours on end with little to no stops is exciting, if not challenging. Sitting in an uncomfortable seat can lead to sore backs, shoulders, and necks. As soon as our muscles locked up we noticed we grew more tired. Not to mention the growing headaches we developed as the hours droned by. It’s always helping to pack medicine in these situations and Icy Hot always helps reduce tension. That and drinking caffeinated beverages but we’re trying to cut the habit.
Expect the Unexpected
There are a few things to keep an eye on or be aware of while traveling on the road. Among the most important may be fuel. Our Nissan NV2500 with its beefy 28 gallon fuel tank isn’t necessarily a gas guzzler but it does get expensive.
Another top priority of traveling is finding a restroom. While RVs and campervans may have them it can be rather difficult to use it on the road especially for the driver. You can easily take care of business while getting fuel at a gas station.
Water and food are other important factors when considering the open road. Ensuring there is plenty of H2O in the car is beneficial. Being by the beach or higher altitudes can dry out the throat quite quickly and having a water bottle with fresh water will quench thirst and may even make you feel better.
Traffic is not something easily planned for. Always consider the destination before attempting to drive through it. Larger cities will naturally be busier than smaller ones and rush hour traffic will be especially difficult to contend with – specifically if you’re in a larger RV or campervan. If you end up driving at these times just take it slow and try taking back roads or longer routes to avoid it.
By far one of the most unexpected events you can run into is being stuck. Knowing what terrain your vehicle can drive through will ensure it doesn’t get bogged down. Not everything is built for sand, mud, or snow and even having off-road or snow tires doesn’t mean everything will be fine. When in doubt a simple shovel can be a best friend in times of trouble.
Adventuring in a campervan or RV is a great way to see the world. Having a set plan and schedule is just one part of a travel plan. Ensuring all the other aspects will make for a more comfortable and simpler time as well.
Part I: How to choose the perfect camper for your conversion, or one that doesn’t need converting!
This is the first in a series about our own campervan conversion. We’ll talk about the reasons we made the choices we did, pros and cons of decisions, and hopefully provide some advice for your own adventure!
The first step in our full-time traveling adventures was to pick our vehicle. Across a few months we did in-depth research into each one, talked to the companies that had them, and also kept in mind what we wanted our camper for. So that leads us to our first topic.
What kind of lifestyle will you lead in your camper?
If you can work out the details of this, that will have a major impact going forward.
Do you have pets? We have two cats, Danaerys and Gamora, and it was important to us to pick a camper that will have plenty of room for them.
What are your hobbies? While we love traveling and exploring, we are also artists and writers. Not to mention avid D&D players! So it was important to us to have usable space inside for these activities.
How are you making income? Are you all saved up and don’t need to work, or will you work remotely via your computer? Perhaps you plan to sell things out of the camper? Whatever your plan, make sure you have the space and flexibility to do so. We work freelance through our computer, in addition to leading our own digital business.
Where do you plan to park? If you want to do heavy off-roading, you’ll need a vehicle fit for that. If you plan to stay at RV parks and take advantage of their resources, you’ll need a vehicle for that. And if you plan to mainly stay to roads, gravel or asphalt, then you have more flexibility in your choices.
Are you more adventurous or prefer to “glamp”? The type of comfort you require will impact what kind of camper you need.
The choices in campers.
Here is a list of all the choices we considered for our camper.
A Van We Would Convert Ourselves
A Camper Shell on a Truck Bed
Back of Jeep Living
Jeep Roof Tent Living
Let’s take a look into what we learned for each, and the pros and cons.
Our first thought was to buy an RV and live in that. We went to Camper World in Colorado Springs and took a tour of many of their RV’s. Honestly, we really liked them. And for a full month we were sold on that being our choice. But there were a handful of reasons we did not go with an RV.
Already converted for us
The layout isn’t customized to our lifestyle
Already has utilities
Limits on where you can drive and park it
Ultimately we decided not to go with the RV. We did like that it was already set up for us. But there were items within that didn’t suit our own lifestyle (like a booth or singular sofa). They were also more expensive then we wanted, and we wanted more freedom on where to drive them.
A Camper Shell on a Truck Bed
We also became fascinated by a camper shell we would mount onto the back of a truck bed. That would require us to a buy a truck, but we were okay with that. We visited some websites that provide them, and was in contact for awhile with a salesperson. We also really liked the fact that one company provided empty shells.
Less expensive than an RV
Need a truck to use it
Most are customizable
Smaller space for living
More flexibility in where you drive and park
The camper and driving area are separate
We decided not to go with the camper shell. The main reason was that we didn’t like the idea of having to get out of the truck to then go to the camper. It would mean our cats were separate from us. And it also meant if there was some kind of emergency it would be harder to go back and forth between the two.
Back of Jeep Living
We had our own Wrangler and we loved it. We called it our Raven. But it was only two door, which meant there frankly wasn’t enough space in the back. We would need a bigger Jeep. So went to a dealership and looked at them, and talked about the pros and cons.
Great for an adventurous lifestyle
Not really as affordable as you would hope
Easy to drive and park anywhere
A very small living space
They are built for outdoor needs
You can’t stand up inside
We definitely love Jeeps and liked how much easier they would making off-roading. However, we worried about good space for our cats as well as our hobbies. We also would not be able to stand up in it, which felt like a very cramped way to live.
Jeep Roof Tent Living
Given how much we loved our Jeep, we also discussed the possibility of installing a roof tent and living that way. It was an earlier thought of ours, and we did a great deal of research into what we would need and the cost. It’s worth noting you don’t have to have a Jeep for this. But as we already had one, we didn’t need to worry about buying a new vehicle.
Much more affordable
Very rough living
Easy to drive and park anywhere
Not a lot of privacy
Super adventurous way of travel
Has to have set up and take down time
While we were enamored by the simplicity of this, as well as the adventure, we decided not to. It wasn’t ideal for our cats, and we didn’t like the idea of constantly feeling exposed to everything and everyone around.
A Van We Would Convert Ourselves
This was the final idea we landed on and the one that scared us the most. We aren’t builders. How would we even start? We would lose our Jeep. But we looked at three different dealerships and online, and this ended up being our choice.
Affordable (depending on model)
You have to convert it yourself
Great living space and flexibility
Not the best for rugged off-roading
You can stand up in it
We found one Ford cargo van that was $62K, which seemed overpriced to us. The Ram cargo van was not in stock when we went to see it (even though it was listed on their website as at the dealership . . . ). Our final stop of that day was Nissan. At less than $40K, it was ideal for what we needed. We could stand in it, we could have privacy, and we had plenty of room to work with and customize to our own needs.
Yes, there are some cons. We had never converted or really built anything from scratch before. And we new there would be some limit to where we could take it. You can’t off-road it like a Jeep. And it is frankly to tall for drive-thrus (this is probably a good thing). But it handles well, its ride is smooth, and it is just the kind of space we want.
We went with the Nissan NV2500 high top, 2021 model.
Read all the posts in our Campervan Conversion series!