By June 2014, we had a vehicle that met our specs and was ready to convert into a simple camper van to be our home for the trip. Given that we were planning to be away for so long, we wanted something that had the potential to feel like a home, as well as be practical for long term living.
Earlier in the year, we had tried a couple of campervans by hiring them for long weekends, and had been inspired by fit-outs by outdoor enthusiasts and pictures of vehicles used by overlanders. We had also found and visited a team that would do a fit out of the interior to our spec. The team at ActionVan in Southampton usually prep vans for surfers, mountain bikers and the like, but had helped one couple make some modifications to Land Rover ready to take to Africa, and Drew was really open to our ideas.
The final design was sketched up one unusually hot and sunny June Sunday afternoon sat in our garden armed with a nice bottle of wine and the internal dimensions of the van! A comfortable bed was a priority for us and, having tried the beds that roll out in the back of campervans, we dismissed that idea! We went for a permanent bed platform that is 2/3s full bed length, with an extension to pull out for the night to make it full length. This means that we cannot feel any seams or edges to the bed and we can have good support from the mattress. It also provides for a huge storage area underneath, good for all our climbing, trekking and scuba diving kit that we are travelling with!
The extra 40cm of length that comes from the van being long-wheel base gives us room to get in and out of the full length bed and also to have a storage box at the back as a “kitchen”. We haven’t had a kitchen built in, but have kept things simple with jerry cans for water storage and gas rings and 3kg canister bought out here (there are notorious problems getting European gas canisters refilled out here). We prefer to cook out in the open out of the back of the van, but we can move the rings and canister inside onto a table and cook inside when either weather or insects drive us to it…
Although we have kept things simple, we have got a top-loading (more efficient than a side-door) fridge powered by the “leisure” battery (a 128Ah gel battery), which is in turn charged by a low profile 52W solar panel on the roof, the engine or by plugging into the mains where that is possible. We’ve got 12V sockets and have got 12V leads for pretty much all our devices, cameras etc. so that we can live of the van electrics without needing to plug into a power source. All the lighting in the van is LED and it’s all proving to be remarkably efficient. The only other thing fitted inside the van is an Eberspacher diesel heater, which uses a little diesel from the fuel tank to heat the inside of the van – something that we had tested and found invaluable in the rented vans in the UK at the start of Spring and we suspect may be useful here when at altitude.
The team at ActionVan started by stripping the interior completely. We tried to sell the 6 minibus seats, but only succeeded in selling one! They laid a new floor, and, with the wiring in, insulated and repaneled the interior. Then came the build of the bed frame (a bespoke metal frame) and the units for cupboards, fridge etc. The drivers “captain” seat and the double bench seat on the passenger side were put on swivels so they can be turned around and used as part of the living area when parked up – particularly useful when the weathers bad and we retreat inside the van.
We sourced a mattress from a company (NaturalMat) that do made-to-measure mattresses for yachts and it sits on a frame of wooden slats (from a requisitioned futon), which provides some ventilation under the mattress. The spare wheel has to be inside the van itself on the Syncros (the 4wd rear differential doesn’t allow room underneath) and we started with it under the bed, but we’ve now got it covered and bolted to the floor of the main living area, freeing up under bed storage space without getting in the way, except to be a foot stool.
Other modifications to the van to make it ready for the journey were:
- Tyres – fitted as large all terrain tyres as possible to cope with some of the more interesting roads we will travel, retaining the original 15 inch steel hubs
- Suspension – both front and back was upgraded and raised to give us as much clearance as possible
- Windows – all the windows (except the cab area) are tinted as dark as possible for security reasons as we firmly believe that the best security is from people not being able to see what there is to steal (it does make the van a bit dim in the morning when we wake up, but makes a huge difference when parking and leaving it). We also had the two cab side windows fitted with security film (makes it harder to smash the window), which is also UV filtering
- Sun-roof – fitted for extra ventilation without having to leave a side-window open and with removable glass so Becca can stick her head out to take photos!
- Air-vent – in the roof of the body of the van for ventilation at night without having to leave a window open
- Safe/secure box – bolted to the floor for secure storage (although we are aware that nothing will stop the determined!)
- Cruise control – retro-fitted by Bruce thanks to a kit – and boy are we already glad of it, with all these long straight roads!
Further finishing touches that make it practical for day-to-day living and turn it in to a home are:
- Neat salt based system for purifying the water in the jerry cans for drinking and washing anything that won’t be cooked (Miox from MSR and, we think, one of the first H2Go purifier), although so far mineral water has been pretty cheap to buy as well
- Midge grade netting purchased from Scotland and fitted inside the air-vent and across the back behind the bed, plus a mosquito net can be rigged over the bed (when spraying the van with insecticide during the evening before going to bed is just not enough!!)
- Rewired the stereo (with a nice simple “aux in” socket) to the leisure battery, along with speakers in the back gives us surround sound in the evenings
- Navigation is by mapping apps with downloadable maps for offline use with GPS on a tablet
- Cupboards next to bed area provide just enough space to hold day-to-day clothes and necessities for easy access, with longer term storage in boxes and bags under the bed
- Extension mattress cushion, matching supplementary curtain over the rear window and cab curtain to hang inside the cab area at night (there were already curtains fitted to the windows and across behind the drivers and passengers seats, which are useful for security when leaving the van parked) – thanks to Trimshack campervan curtains Doncaster for being so helpful – along with some small cushions, pillows and bean bags around the place that have a surprising impact on comfort, both night and day!
- Covers put on the cab seats and various cargo nets / storage bags fitted to have places to stow things in regular use
- Insulating windscreen and cab window cover to go on when parked up in the sun and sometimes overnight (also provides additional warmth in the cold)
So that is the Yellow Van… Some pictures to serve as a virtual tour are below.
So far most of this seems to be working well for us, although we envisage doing some further modifications over the years. Maybe, at some point, we’ll let you know what has worked and what hasn’t.