We'd decided on a #vanlife adventure and we were excited. Too excited.
Our initial plan was to go ‘all out’; blow all our savings (and some!) on a van that would essentially take us on the road for a year or more around Europe.
However after a bit of consideration, that all changed: we remained excited, cut our costs by around 50% and are now earning a passive income on the other 50%. Read on to find out how…
Choosing the base van for conversion
We knew we wanted a reasonably large van; enough for 2 people and a dog, with space for a permanent raised bed, cooking and working. It had to be in decent condition too as the plan was for a year on the road, thousands of miles from home and travelling to countries where we did not speak the language, and we'd like to be able to fit (reasonably well!) into car parking spaces.
A mid-long wheelbase with mid-high top or an L2H2 (Length 2, Height 2) panel van with good service history seemed about right.
What we weren’t prepared for was how many varieties of panel van there are with differing model numbers, measurements and wheel bases.
However, we quickly discovered the merits of a galvanised body with boxy, squared sides for easier conversion.
And so we started our research very much focused on finding a ‘Sevel’ van, ideally L2H2 in size. These vans are known for having maximised internal space with sides that are more ‘square’ than other popular models and have been galvanised since 2006/7.
What is a Sevel van?
I Googled this a lot in the early days. Essentially, it is a Fiat Ducato, Peugeot Boxer or Citroen Relay (previously Citroen Jumper)— vans with the same body that have all been manufactured in a factory owned by Fiat in Sevel, Italy, hence the name.
In the US, you’ll know it as a Ram Promaster.
As you can see, the ‘Sevel' vans come in a variety of sizes and wheelbase, are a square/boxy shape -which is easier than slopey sides- for a van conversion and have good width, more than enough width for a sideways bed that would fit us! (we're short, but it's wide enough for most people!)
Other popular makes / models of vans for medium conversions are; Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit, Renault Master, Vauxhall (Opal) Movano, Volkswagen Crafter and IVECO Daily. The Renault Master and Vauxhall Movano are essentially the same van in older models.
Setting your campervan / conversion budget
After doing some preliminary research into the cost of vans and DIY conversions that could accommodate ‘wild camping’ (off-grid for several days at a time), we had ballpark figures of £8-10K ($11-$14K USD) for the van and £7-8K ($9-11K USD) for the conversion — approximately £15,000 GBP or $20,000 USD in total, on the road – tax and insurance inclusive.
$20,000 was slightly uncomfortable as it used up all our joint savings (around $12,000) and we’d each need to contribute around $4,000 USD.
But hey; we were set on the dream of travelling around Europe and ‘the plan*’ was to work remotely on the road whilst renting out our home.
(1) it was doable and;
(2) we should have something to sell if it all went wrong.
* We didn’t actually have a plan at this point. Just a ballpark estimate that, between savings and remote work/earnings, we would have enough to do the van conversion and head off within a few months.
The base van (again)
Turns out these Sevel vans are few and far between, and they’re in very high demand.
Over the past few years the cost of 2nd hand panel vans, minibuses and any vehicle suitable for conversion in the UK and Ireland have gone through the roof and especially over the past year.
After two months, we didn’t find any Sevel van that met our budget/requirements and so decided to expand our search to Renault Master or Vauxhall Movano, 2004 or later.
These two vans are essentially the same and as of 2004 have had galvanized bodies.
The downside of the Renault Master or Vauxhall Movano in comparison to the Sevel vans is the space and body shape — the Sevels have better space for a camper conversion and their squared/boxy sides are much easier to work with.
We totally avoided the most common and affordable second hand vans in the UK; the Ford Transit and also the Mercedes Sprinter due to their reputation as rust buckets (for older models – I've no idea about newer models).
Saving 50%…and making so much more
We also took the decision to look at ‘cheap’ vans; something we could essentially practice with in terms of both conversion and lifestyle. The Renault Master and Vauxhal Movano bodies have been galvanized since 2004 which means a lot more vans should be available on a tighter budget.
And, instead of the big trip to mainland Europe, we’d explore what's on our doorstep for 12-18 months in shorter trips around the UK and Ireland. Then, if all goes well, we would upgrade our van based on the learnings and head off to Europe for a year or longer.
This has proven to be a life-changing decision for several reasons, including developing a passive income stream.
The base van we purchased (& cost)
By November 2020, with COVID showing no real sign of ending and everyone looking for projects or thinking about holidays, vans suitable for conversion were like hen's teeth. We couldn't find anything and the one we eventually got was the first one (only one!) we went to see.
Auld sniper, aka Jules, seen the Gumtree advert and within 15mins of going live we were enroute to take a look, negotiate the deal, pay the deposit and get the advert removed ASAP!
We had been looking for a ‘blank canvas' based van but ended up with a 2004 Renault Master, ex-ambulance bus that had been striped out (sort-of!) and semi-converted many years prior.
It had been sitting for several years, however it drove well and due to the galvanised body, the only rust was surface level where ambulance decal stickers had been removed.
The cost of the van was £2000 (approx $2,800 USD) and then we spent £1,000 ($1,400 USD) for mechanical/safety works, including a full service and MOT (the MOT is an official annual roadworthiness safety inspection that is required to drive a vehicle in the UK — similar tests are required in other European countries).
Additionally, we will get new tyres before heading off on a longer trip.
Total cost for ‘base van’ on the road with service and 1 year MOT: £3,000 ($4,200 USD).
The savings we made
The original base van budget of £8-10K ($11-$14K) was reduced by more than 50% to £3,600 ($5,000), saving us the equivalent of around $6,000 USD.
Furthermore, we decided that our conversion budget would be reduced accordingly; the fit out would be relative to the cheaper van and we will likely exclude some elements such as an inverter, hot water and fitted solar power for van 1.0.
Original base-van budget: £8-10K ($11-$14K)
Actual base-van cost ‘on the road': £3K ($4K)
Original conversion budget: £7-8K ($9-11K)
New conversion budget: £3K ($4K)
Original road trip budget: unknown (never got around to budgeting – but, a lot!)
New road trip budget: minimal
I'll do a separate post with costs/spend at some point. UPDATE: here is the post of our DIY campervan costs.
A total DIY campervan conversion saving of around £7,500 / $10,000 USD!
And by remaining in the UK/Ireland for an additional 12-18mths, instead of heading to Europe, we’d also have the opportunity to earn more via paid work (my partner didn't have to fret so much about leaving employment) and we'd ‘save’ more due to less travel costs…and we'd get to see cool stuff in our homeland.
There she is! Out on her first trip, shortly after lockdown restrictions were lightened up in May. And yes, this is one of the many beautiful spots virtually on our doorstep – Strangford Lough in County Down, Northern Ireland. Plenty more to explore in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales; mainland Europe can wait!
Passive income: So, what did we do with this $10,000 saving?
I researched some opportunities for ‘passive income', one of which was introduced to me from someone in the van life community, and put the savings I made into two programs in December 2020.
I’d also carried out a ‘situation analysis‘ and de-cluttered aka ‘sold some shit’ which gave me even more cash and would have me better prepared for a more minimal lifestyle. Over time, we'd also work on the house and get it rent-worthy for the big Europe trip.
And what happened from January 2021 to May 2021 was pretty amazing…
After 5 months of doing nothing, those savings were generating more than $2,000 passive income every month. And growing.
I could withdraw monthly from one of the opportunities (Yieldnodes, a server-rental and profit share program) and could exchange rewards and withdraw daily from the other (Hyperfund is a membership rewards program).
That’s after only 5 months! Of doing literally nothing.
(I wasn't doing nothing that entire time — I was working 60+hrs per week, I was just doing literally noting in terms of managing either of the above! 😜).
YOU COULD DO ANYTHING!
That's just what we did…the concept is the same, regardless if you want to invest in stocks & shares (maybe even a pension to give you peace of mind?), straight-up crypto, designs for a POD business, or content for an affiliate website or an editor for you Kindle masterpiece….maybe even invest in a good course to give you the skills to earn some income remotely?
In a nutshell; do you really need to spend all your money on that van right now?
Do you really need to spend money going abroad on a big trip or is there some loveliness right on your doorstep that would be a great place to start?
Could you put some of the savings elsewhere? Somewhere that might ultimately help you “live” vanlife more comfortably?!
Disclaimer: This is not investment nor financial advice. Neither of the above opportunities are financial products. Also, if I told you exactly what I’d done it would be confusing, so please note that the information above is simplified/illustrative; I didn’t just throw all my money in in one go, nor did I do exactly the same thing, nor did I split the money equally with each program, nor did I fully compound – I did a lot of withdrawals..
If you want more precise information on how I split my funds between YieldNodes and HyperFund click here.
Fancy Van vs Passive Income (+ future fancy van!)
Either way, you can see how over just 5 months, those adjustments and that $10,000 saving could have a massive impact on our future vanlife and freedom.
That’s just a ‘simple’ example; it doesn’t even take into account the other funds we accumulated through de-cluttering ‘stuff' and extending our earning runway whilst remaining at home.
And that’s only part of the story…
Not only that, buying a cheaper van saved me the stress of drilling my first hole in what would have been a relatively expensive vehicle.
It has opened our eyes to explore our homeland before setting off on bigger adventures and it has potentially provided us with a lucrative passive income to support our #vanlife dreams in the longer-term, rather than short-mid term.
What would you do?
You can read posts on passive income strategies here.
Here's all the ‘earn money online' methods (‘active' ones too eg freelancing)
You can see our DIY campervan conversion costs here.