Converting your Car into a Campervan: The Non-Professional Way

Written by Freedom Strider

On April 15, 2019
Converting your Car into a Campervan: The Non-Professional Way

Converting your Car into a Campervan: The Non-Professional Way

by Apr 15, 2019

Do you think you can manage not to pay for accommodation for 10 months, consecutively?

A lot of aspiring travellers we often meet always fuss about that they don’t have money, and that they need a plan, and how they are not going because they don’t know what is going to happen.

…..

Well, when we left for New Zealand we were fresh out of a long and hard year of work, with each of us carrying enough money to feel comfortable and set for a year to cover our basic needs (no flashy stuff). However, apart from those factors we didn’t even know how to leave the airport: taxi, bus, etc. (we paid a lot for not looking that one up). We knew at that point that we would need cash on the side, but, personally, I have never seen things only in black and white. I believe our own personal limitations come from what we individually perceive as impossible… deep I know.

Anyway, we were ready to get creative so we asked ourselves: ‘How can we reduce or remove our expenses completely?’.

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Let’s focus on accommodation:

Let’s focus on accommodation:

There are two ways to make money go further: first, earn more and second, spend less.

Sam eventually found work, whilst I was paying for our accommodation by housesitting. This was all well and good while staying in Auckland, but we quickly realized that when we start our road trip south, housesitting will really limit our flexibility and we wanted the freedom to jump and go whichever way the wind took us.

 

Let’s focus on accommodation:

Before arriving in New Zealand we had briefly considered buying a car, however, as discussed in ‘Should I Buy a Car to Travel New Zealand’, we thought the insurance would be too much. Quickly upon arriving, we discovered that was not true. Then literally it was a few days from the thought ‘we could buy a car’ to ‘we bought a car… what now?’.

For the particulars of the buying process check out ‘How to Buy a used Car to Travel New Zealand’.

We really didn’t know what we could, should or wanted to do with the car. Our objectives were make it comfortable to sleep in, eat in, cook in and we definitely wanted to use the full height of the inside space unlike a lot of the other campers out there, which have raised beds with a lot of storage but no multi-functional properties. This led us to randomly removing the back 5 seats, which at first thought would appear a difficult and daunting task however a few bolts later it hit us that you don’t need a mechanic for everything and with a bit of effort you can become your own mechanic.

At that point, we set ourselves the challenge of not paying for accommodation, at all, during our stay in New Zealand. Now, you may think that we have already paid for our accommodation in buying the car, however, don’t forget, the car is an investment, so as long as we broke even when selling it the mission would be a success. Plus, the car sorts out our transportation too, all we would need is fuel… and repairs (grumble, grumble, grumble)

Let’s focus on accommodation:

Hence, we did some doodles; some with a sink and a toilet however after a conversation with a DOC representative, who was excessively skeptical on the possibility of a station wagon size car of ever being approved (even if we managed to meet the requirements), we decided that it was going to be too much hassle and money to make our camper a self-contained one.

Having decided on the type of camper we wanted made matters a bit easier, however, we were still struggling on the interior design as we didn’t want to spend too much money on the conversion. The most straight forward action was to go to Bunnings or Mitre 10 and buy the raw matters and start cutting and drilling. However, since this could easily throw your budget out the window we took our time and ended up visiting at least one Salvation Army Store per day.

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‘To scale’ box template of the approximate loadable space in both Mercedes Sprinter and VW Crafter LWB.

Let’s focus on accommodation:

Whenever we saw something that may be suitable, we measured it and roughly sketched its position in the car. After about a week we struck gold and acquired an average size table for $20 (NZ), which just about fitted width-wise at the back of the car. Just this small addition made life in the car much better as now we were using its height and operating on two levels.

From then on we worked around that one table. We built a removable hanging shelf and utilized the space above the wheel arches by fitting food pantry style shelves there as well.

For this rather simple structure that we built, a professional would have charged us up to $1000 (NZ), while we spent about $200 (NZ) on the materials and build. We even filed and stained the chipboard and painted the table.

We applied the finishing touches of curtains, pillows and (because the grey of the car felt gloomy) we painted the inside yellow – which I advise you do before you even put the table in, but we were making things up as we went along.

Let’s focus on accommodation:

The major advantage of this setup was that we could place a mattress that would cover the whole floor hence the sleeping arrangements were not cramped. However, as I mentioned before, if living in the car full time was going to work, we needed multi-functional furniture – so we got a foldable mattress for $98 (NZ) – our most expensive purchase. This might have been pushing our budget, however it was a bed and a couch in one and if you wanted neither you can neatly store it away under the hanging shelf, thus freeing the floor space.

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Here is the complete overview of What alternative living is, Why it’s a good idea and How you can get the ball rolling.

We lived in the car full time when we were not housesitting and in total we saved 5 months’ worth of accommodation, which with an average price of $30 pp/night ($60/night for 2 people) would have cost us approximately $9000 (NZ). Therefore, no doubt that the car was always going to be cheaper.

Let’s focus on accommodation:

The only compromises we had to make were the use of a toilet and showers. Now for toilets, it was relatively simple as there were plenty of public and mostly well-kept toilets. While for showers we went to swimming pools – sometimes we went to actually swim and then use the showers or occasionally there were facilities where you could pay about $2 for a hot/warm/freeeeezing shower. Some of these are timed, though with enough preparation a 4-minute shower can seem an age – funny how perspective changes.

We paid no electricity or Wi-Fi, spent $20 on gas for cooking and anything we spent on water was in the form of showers and when replacing our plastic bottles with new ones.

The financial effect of converting your car into a camper is, first, only worth it if you will use it as a camper long enough for you to pay it off. The conversion will pay for your accommodation and partial transport. You will have ownership of a property that still has value, hence with the right market and season (summer/winter, high/low), you can sell it and even make a profit if you are lucky.

Furthermore, buying the car and then doing the conversion yourself, gives the car a higher value as the next buyer would be paying not just for the mechanical aspects of the car but also for the comforts inside. I would further recommend the Do-It-Yourself path (if time allows) as you can design your campervan to suit you – rather than trying to adjust to someone else’s idea of comfortable.

If you have long term intentions of staying in New Zealand, as we did, I personally think that undertaking this type of project was highly beneficial as it made the long 6 months of working in Auckland more worth the time. It definitely was very enjoyable and a challenge.

Just to round things off: WE SPENT $0 on accommodation, while in New Zealand. ;D

Get our massive Van Layout design bundle!

‘To scale’ box template of the approximate loadable space in both Mercedes Sprinter and VW Crafter LWB.

Here is the Step by Step Process we took to build our car:

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