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Our Van Susan: Family of 4’s Van Conversion

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This wonderful family was frustrated by the rising costs of rentals in the UK, and it led them to explore other living opportunities. That’s when they found van life on YouTube and Instagram and started thinking maybe they could live tiny as well!

So they found a van, moved in with family and started their wonderful conversion for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Enjoy their story in their own words below!

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UK Family Driving into Freedom

In the New Year of 2022, we started looking for houses to rent in the Lake District. With the rental prices increasingly high since the pandemic it was becoming impossible to make the move happen. Our mind’s started to wander on the different ways to live. The idea of travelling has always been there but was far too daunting to follow through. We love the outdoors, walking and even camping. As the cost of living continues to rise in the UK, we started to look into travelling with the kids. Running away from crazy politics, mass media and living costs.

We spent our days reading blogs about travelling with kids and found endless stories of families travelling in converted vans and campervans. From young couples to older couples, to families of 4 to families of 7. Travelling around the UK, Europe and some were even travelling the US. It all looked bliss. So, it was possible. We could potentially do this. We got giddy. Excited. Scared. We found ourselves on YouTube, watching hours of van conversions. Watching how families of 6 and 7 had managed to fit beds for everyone in their van. They even had all the kitchen essentials from a fridge to cooker, even a toilet and shower! What more could you want?!

After lots of research we quickly started searching for our dream van. Hours searching dealerships and eBay, after lots of bids nothing was coming up. Vans were selling for 6/7k with panel damage or long failed MOT history. We started to think our budget wasn’t going to get us what we were looking for. Had we rushed into this with unrealistic expectations? We’d already drawn our plans up, but we had no van. The dream started to feel like it may be a short-lived dream, back to endless mind-numbing house searches.

But then we struck gold! A 2008 long wheelbase VW Crafter, the best we had seen under budget too. One slight mark running along the sliding door, it was fixable. Everything was perfect. Mileage was 202k, still lots of life left to be loved. We bought her, for £5500. We couldn’t believe it. We had a blooming van! What were we doing?! Had we gone crazy! Safe to say the drive home was extremely quiet …I think that was the nerves of what was to come next, yikes!

It was time to start getting organised. We had agreed the best way to do this conversion was to give up all our rental costs and bills by moving back in with Holly’s mum. And so, the build began…

Before we started converting our van, we decided to upgrade Susan a little, with a new battery, new alternator, starter motor and timing belt giving her a new lease of life. This in total cost us around £2000 before even starting any of the build work. We believe that all the mechanical work should be done before conversion to save breakdown costs.

The mechanical work took us up to mid-April, that’s when the fun all started. We picked up the wire brushes and Hammerite to begin the rust treatment. We stripped the van back to basics and treated all the rust, of which there wasn’t a lot for a 14-year-old van, but we quickly learned that every job takes a lot longer than we first thought. We then fitted two rear seats; it does mean we have lost space, but it means our two boys will travel safely! Towards the end of April, we made a start on insulating the entire van (you will use more insulation than you think, we learnt the hard way after several visits to the DIY store to purchase more!), built a new bulkhead wall with custom storage areas and we fitted the floor.

Fast forward to today, 3 months on and we are still mid-conversion with a fully functioning super king size bed, windows have been installed (not our favourite job), max air fan for AC / extraction, Victron solar panels wired to recharge our Renogy 200Ah lithium leisure battery. We couldn’t have started this build without the helpful YouTube videos from The Whole World or Nothing and Greg Virgoe. We’re so grateful to have stumbled across these two channels as without their helpful videos we really wouldn’t have known where to start.

As we write this, we are currently on with cladding the ceiling and installing our lighting using touch LED lights. It’s safe to say we are in awe of people who manage to complete their conversions in just a few months as this is taking a lot longer than we expected, but we really want this to be perfect for us as we are planning to live in our van full time for a few years at least. A tip to remember for anyone planning on starting a project with kids, it will take you twice as long as you think to complete a task!

As many might wonder why anyone would give up everything to live in a van surely, it’s not that luxurious, and they may well be right. But our aim isn’t to live in our van forever. We hope that our travels will take us to places we may never have been able to reach living the normal bricks and mortar life. We’ll gain so many memories and experiences with our two boys that we will all cherish. Right now, the current education system doesn’t appeal to us either, so we’re eager to teach our children on the road, learning about the great outdoors, cultures and how to live sustainably.

Which leads us to our later life plans, hopefully being on the road we find our forever home, we’re yet undecided where this is or even what country this is in. We would love to travel the UK and Europe before choosing where to live. Hopefully one day we’ll have a house with plenty of land to grow our own food, maybe even generate our own energy? But who knows where life will take us… right now we’re preparing to have a once in a lifetime adventure.

If you’d like to follow our journey and you’re intrigued to see our progress, please follow our Instagram page @our_van_susan.

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Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee is a contributor for Tiny House Talk and the Tiny House Newsletter. She's a wife, and mama of three little kids. She and her family are homesteaders with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and quail on their happy little acre.
{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Marsha Cowan
    September 6, 2022, 1:54 pm

    It looks great so far!

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