So , you’ve done a few seasons on the road and seen the light. You’ve found a way to work from the road and escape the rat race, and decided to do away with the brick and mortar and invest in a proper home on wheels.
Your vehicle conversion is going to be really important, since it will become your full time home. While the Weekend Warrior and Seasonaires might be able to get away with a pretty basic conversion, the project of building a full time home-on-wheels is an entirely different beast. This is the point at which things become a bit more complex and some real planning and investment is crucial.
Converting vans has become a past-time for me. I first started out just converting a small van, for weekends away and have recently build a luxury six-bed mobile surf hostel, with all the luxuries and facilities guests could possibly want, as they tour the coasts and chase the best waves. All of my conversions have been a steep learning curve and I’ve done them all myself, without outsourcing any tasks.
A converted panel van won’t really cut it now. If you’re going to go full time, you really need to step it up in every aspect and you’ll need a suitable vehicle. A 5-7.5 ton vehicle is likely to be the ideal range. A good move can be to convert old horse boxes, or mobile libraries, since they’re likely to already have windows, insulation and maybe even toilet and shower. The drawback of this is that your layout may be restricted by the current position of these things. If you want a a blank canvas and full control of where your doors, windows, etc. are located then you’ll need to go for a removals truck set-up. This will require a lot more work to put in all the insulation, plumbing, electrics and windows. But the finished product will be exactly as you want it.
Anybody deciding to go full time is likely to have had plenty of experience with campers and conversions, so I’ll keep this section brief and just cover a few specific points. If this is your first conversion, it’s well worth doing a lot of reading beforehand. It’ll be a huge project, so you don’t want to make mistakes.
The toilet is well worth upgrading from your average camper. If this is to be your full time home, you don’t want to be pulling out cassette toilets every week to empty it. It’s certainly worth installing a black-waste tank of around 100 liters. You can have a dumping valve, so it’s as easy as driving over a toilet drain and pulling the valve to empty the tanks. Of course you’ll have a shower set-up so a wise move can be to have a marine toilet, which recycles the shower water to flush the toilet. This is a great way of increasing efficiency, improving cleanliness and avoiding having to use smelly chemicals. I have this set-up in The Wagon, and it works great.
A fully functional, clean and comfortable bathroom is a must for any full-timer. Photo: Matt H-B
It can be well worth upgrading a few facilities to a domestic standard. Although my wagon is designed to sleep eight guests in total (including myself and my better half), I still strongly recommend that others also opt for a domestic boiler, shower and sink. Having a proper shower with instant hot water and a full size sink to wash dishes certainly makes living in a vehicle much more comfortable.
With this being your home, you may want to be able to sleep guests. You may not be interested in building fixed beds for this, but it can be worth customizing the dimensions of bench seats so that they can easily double as beds if needed. Specially built board storage is of course warranted if you’re going to be surfing almost everyday and have a quiver of boards at your disposal. Security also is absolutely key for this storage and for the vehicle in general. After all, everything you own is likely to be in this van. Reinforced locks are well advisable and a suitable alarm system.
Having separate areas for living, sleeping and cooking is also advisable. You’re likely to collect quite a few belongings, so having separate areas will help to suitably arrange all these things. It will also make planning for the routing of electrics and gas much easier. When it comes to the setting up of the water, gas and electric, it’s smart to bring in a specialist for help. Not only do you want them to be 100% reliable, but it’s also a real safety risk. The last thing you want is gas leaks, sparking wires and leaking water pipes. If you outsource this work be sure to watch the full installation so you know exactly how all the components are routed behind the walls.
Of course there are a lot of considerations when converting a big van into a luxurious wave chasing wagon, and I’ve only just scratched the surface with this article. Building a high spec conversion is equivalent to building a house. You don’t want to underestimate the amount of work and complexity involved. The most important thing is your planning of course. Be sure to plan every detail before the first piece of wood gets cut.
Our living room, built right into this wagon. Photo: Matt H-B