build or no build?

Build or no build?  When it comes to converting a small van into a camper, there are several approaches you can take. Two popular options are the “no build” approach and the DIY build approach which will require tools to construct.


The “no build” approach involves using pre-made items and camping equipment that can be easily installed in a small van and don’t require any modifications or construction. This can include things like a portable stove, a plastic cabinet, plastic bins, cot and a cooler. While this approach is convenient and cost-effective to get started fast, it may not be as personalized to your needs and space, limiting you to the pre-made options available on the market.

On the other hand, a simple DIY build approach that requires  a few tools can be a great option for a customized camper van that meets your more specific needs. I recommend using a removable installation with no or very limited permanent interior modifications to maintain simplicity. With basic tools, such as a drill, jigsaw, circular saw, and screwdriver, you can create a comfortable and functional living space in your small van.  Another plus of a removable installation is that it doesn’t have to be an all at once proposition.    You can decide to transition to a customized build from a no build camper as you go along.     

  The last option for a small van camper is a permanent installation where stock interior panel and ceiling parts are replaced with a custom design and materials.  However this is a much more complex and time-consuming undertaking. It requires more specialized tools and technical skills, making it a better fit for those who are more experienced in DIY projects.  A permanent installation will most likely reduce the resale value of your vehicle if this is a consideration. 

Nonetheless, whether you choose a removable or permanent installation, the DIY build approach allows for flexibility and customization to create a unique living space that meets your specific needs.

By building your own camper, you can tailor the design to your specific needs and preferences, adding features like a custom-sized bed platform, storage space, and a kitchen area. This allows you to make the most of the limited space available in a small van and ensures that everything is exactly where you want it.

Moreover, the DIY build approach allows for more creativity and flexibility in terms of design and materials used. You can use reclaimed or repurposed materials, which can not only be cost-effective but also add character and uniqueness to your camper.

Regardless of whether you take the build or no build approach to build your small camper, Small Van Life can be a great resource for information and perhaps inspiration. While the main focus of this blog is on simple DIY builds that require tools, it also covers topics suitable for the “no build” camper. 

To conclude, a simple DIY build approach is a great option for converting a small van into a camper, providing more flexibility and personalization compared to the “no build” approach.  I hope you find Small Van Life as a great resource  to help you create your own customized small camper van.

Inside look at my build with kitchen set up
An inside view of my minivan build with popup kitchen set up.
Here is the bed mode for my minivan build
Bed mode set up in the same minivan build
Example of "no build" futon couch bed set up
Here is an example of a “no build” bed setup using a convertible futon couch. This is in the same minivan space as the build set up shown above.
Transitional build using both no build and very simple build items
Here is a transition setup with elements of “no build” to “build” using off the shelf items like fridge and portable toilet. Build items include a plywood floor and toilet cover. You can see the edge of futon couch shown in previous “no build” pic.




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