Camper van enthusiasts sharing photos of their adventures on Instagram make #vanlife look easy. In theory, it sounds great: buy a cargo van, outfit it with a few comforts of home, and bam, suddenly your entire life is mobile. Unencumbered by mortgages, leases, and location constraints, you can turn your life into a never-ending road trip (assuming your job is portable or you have significant savings, of course).
In reality, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Converting a van can be a costly process, and hiring professionals to do it for you isn’t cheap. Standard camper vans easily cost over $80,000, while luxury models can cost as much as $200,000. If you opt to go the DIY camper van conversion route, you’re looking at a ton of labor, and even doing almost everything yourself adds up fast. But if you’re determined to make it work, there are ways.
Check out this $1,000 camper van build by Grace and Marlon of “The Sweet Savory Life.” Nicknamed “Flippie,” this 2017 Ram Promster 1500 cargo van started out as bare as vans get. Now, it’s a comfortable abode, thanks almost entirely to products purchased at IKEA. And this isn’t a recreational vehicle that gets occasional weekend use and sits in a driveway the rest of the time. This is the couple’s full-time home.
Grace explains: “We had to figure out what we wanted to have in the van based on the lifestyle we plan on living. Aside from the obvious things like the kitchen and bed, we added a desk, shower, cabinets, and drawers to our must-have list. We had to assess what things we’re bringing in the van and how much storage we really needed. At this point, we had already been living minimally in our backpacks for over a year and camping out on my in-law’s couch. We needed some storage but not that much! Also, I wanted a rear kitchen (very uncommon) and a desk (considered a luxury for many van design) in the van. Trying to figure out the layout was not at all fun, poor husband! He’s the one who tirelessly took measurements and laid out our floor plan over and over again!”
“After an exhaustive few months of trying to figure out our floor plan, we figured how little we knew about how this new living situation would look like for us. The best decision we’ve made was to move in with only our backpacks and two gaming chairs that reclined flat and served as our bed. We started living in our bare cargo van part-time in the middle of winter without insulation! This really helped us finally create our final floor plan! Most especially the need to insulate! Though our floor plan was set, we still wanted our build to be open-ended! Meaning… we want to be able to easily take it apart or switch it around if needed. And this is where the versatility of our build comes to place. We can easily gut it out and take everything apart if we want a completely different layout down the road.”
That’s where IKEA comes in. While most van conversions rely heavily on custom built-in elements, Grace and Marlon didn’t have carpentry skills, didn’t want to buy tools, and had to keep their budget low. As it turns out, all of the stuff they bought was pretty easy to mount to the IKEA SKADIS pegboard walls for safety — not to mention the fact that they’re lightweight and easily replaceable. Going off of that, they chose furnishings that wouldn’t be damaged by road vibration.
The couple uses the BALKARP full-size sleeper sofa as a convertible bed, placing it just behind the cab to free up the rest of the space for a kitchen and workspace. On their blog, they lay out every single element they purchased and how much it cost (though that total does not include items like their Eco power bank station and refrigerator).
All in all, this DIY van conversion would be impressive even if the couple were only using it for fun. The fact that they’re able to live in it just shows how successful their plan turned out to be.