Van Conversion: Road Trip Stage 1; The Rust Bucket

Road trips are the kind of romantic thing you spend hours jealously dreaming about. Everyone wants to get that perfect camper van and go on an adventure on the open road. There’s something about a long van trip that’s always appealed to me. You’re free, on the road, answering to no one and exploring on your own time. You’re not reliant on anyone else to get anywhere, it’s just you and your van.

As a kid, my sister and I went on all kind of magical mystery tours in the motorhomes my parents had over the years. Some of my best memories were forged on road trips we took as a family. We took it abroad, to the beach, to London, to the countryside… there was no where we couldn’t go (apart from extremely narrow country roads).

On a road trip with a friend from Vegas to San Diego a few years ago, my love of the road trip was reignited. After driving for 8 hours or more in a day through the sprawling US countryside, schlepping a few hours here and there in the UK or Europe suddenly seemed a bit less like hassle.

After such a wet and busy summer, Jackson and I had been dying to get away to see the sun, do some surfing and just relax. We were trying to save so we booked the ferry to France, even though as someone who suffers motion sickness, just the word “ferry” makes me feel like puking. We planned on taking the van, driving down the coast and seeing where we ended up.

Last week (three weeks before our trip) Jackson’s van failed its MOT. Transits are known for being total rust buckets and this one was no exception, so unless we spent hundreds of pounds welding it up, it was off to Transit heaven.

Resigned to borrowing Jackson’s dad’s Volvo estate and a popup tent  (pretty comfortable but let’s face it, not quite as romantic) we dreamily searched the recesses of Gumtree and Ebay, checking out similar rust buckets or sexy WV transporters we couldn’t afford.

Shaking off the disappointment, we took the dog for a walk in the seasonal grey drizzle of late August and wondered what to do.  Save up and buy something that might last more than a few months, or find another damp, crumbling old van? The choice just seemed obvious.

…so we bought another crumbly old van.

Van conversion of a transit van for a road trip in France picture of the white van and me
Rust Bucket Numero Dos

Bought from a surfer mum down in Helston, this beast had it all. Sexy grey carpet lining with holes, mouldy blinds, only half the windows were blacked out and any insulation carpet that didn’t have holes was slowly coming loose. The only bonuses were that Jackson could just about stand up in there, and it already had a gas cooker fitted. No other bonuses were awarded.

Conversion of a transit van
The mouldy insides

As the van probably wasn’t going to last much longer and wasn’t exactly eco friendly on the gas, we decided to try and renovate it using as many reclaimed materials as possible. Being pretty poor right now, this seemed like an excellent excuse, I mean, idea…

We got the van back to the barn and started scrubbing. FILTHY on the inside and outside, as soon as we filled the buckets up with warm soapy water, a few sponge dunks later and it was back to black. I ripped out all of the sticky carpet that had been lining everything inside the van apart from the floor, vacuuming several years of sand, sweet wrappers and other guff. We scrubbed until the sun went down and went to bed giddy, excited and full of ideas for how we wanted to transform the van.

In the cold light of the morning, buyers remorse began to kick in. With three weeks to go before France, how were we going to make it liveable? I’m not really sure if that’s enough time to unearth all the spiders hiding in there, never mind make curtains, clean the blinds, strip the mouldy carpet lining, replace the units, insulate the roof, upholster the cushions… the cushions!!!

Not being the most practical of thinkers and obviously having no background in DIY meant that I had all kinds of crazy plans for what we could do with the interior. I like to think it’s an “anything is possible” mindset. However all Jackson really cared about was to waterproof the beast, shave off the rust and fix it up with fiberglass. Meanwhile I was just thinking about what colour cushions we were going to have. I had a feeling that Jacksons idea of reclaiming might not align with mine. Spray painting over mouldy blinds wasn’t exactly what I’d been imagining.

rusty transit van as it begins its van conversion for a roadtrip
Repairing the body work and removing the rust

After giving my sulking self a bit of a rain check, some brooding, a few arguments, a couple of sit downs with a cup of tea and several rounds of pacing around the van we managed to come to a compromise. I spent two hours getting lost in Trago Mills buying the materials we couldn’t reclaim. Jackson spent any spare minutes between workshops cutting worktops and boards for lining the van out of plywood.

This is what the van looks like right now… the 3 week deadline to road trip kick off has begun. Wish us luck!

If you have any tips AT ALL from your own van renovations, or any spare parts/bits you could donate to the project, please let me know in the comments below the blog! Thank you, you will be rewarded with a beer in the new van!

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