Building your Van DIY or pay someone

Do most of you build your own Van’s or have it custom built?

Hello Rambler!

I’m half and half, partially building myself while using professional contractors for the more “dangerous” stuff such as electrical/propane. But even those two systems I will be hands-on with and helping to install.

The majority of the vehicle though I wanted to build myself for comfort reasons. Not “luxury” comfort, but “peace of mind” comfort. I wanted to know every inch of my vehicle, not just how it worked, but how it was built. I’m also less concerned with “pretty” though, and more concerned with “functional”.

In the Marine Corps, we train not only to build muscle memory but also to build faith in our gear. Knowing the ins and outs, common issues, how to fix/repair/prevent those issues… You want to feel comfortable with the items that your life depends on. I look at this vehicle the same way, it is a piece of gear that my life depends on once I am in it full time.

I will know every single inch on that vehicle, I will know where the pipes/wires run, I will know exactly how each section was constructed and how to disassemble each section. Should anything break or have some sort of issue, I will have 100% confidence in my ability to diagnose and repair the problem.

I also won’t be held hostage by consumerism, should I ever want to redo or change a section, I will know exactly how much work that would be and what it would entail. I don’t need to find someone to hire or pay some company for an “upgrade”, I can just do it myself.

However I’m mainly looking to do some extreme boondocking anywhere between Canada and Mexico, so when something breaks and I’m alone in the middle of nowhere knowledge could be the difference between a good trip or a short one. In an extreme situation, it could even mean the difference between staying warm and alive in the snow or freezing to death because I bought my way to freedom without earning it.

But I’m sure it’s not that “cereal” for most people who aren’t wandering off into the wilderness like a dummy. :grin:

Where is your build taking place. I am afraid I’ll mess it up. I actually need some professional help.

Hello Rambler,

I’ve been documenting my build as I go in this thread…

Got my Vehicle! (1999 Ford 7.3L Shuttle Bus) - #9 by Van_Dweller

I’m not an influencer or professional, so take what you read from my thread with a huge grain of salt. I’m just an idiot with a bunch of tools. :stuck_out_tongue:

But what do you really need, like you personally, for your vehicle? Could you find it in a $2k factory RV/camper from Craigslist, just to get started at least? The Youtube Vans are cool and all, but really if you are just looking for “the freedom”, you can find that cheap on good ol’ CL.

Honestly everything I’m doing with my vehicle is mostly built around my paranoia, if I didn’t have that burden to deal with I’d happily save my money and run off in a nice little Ford RV or Camper.


I’m definitely in the camp of buying a cheap, older, FACTORY camper van or RV, especially for newbies entering into the lifestyle. Keep your risks and expenses as low as possible, especially when first starting out. You might quickly decide this lifestyle isn’t for you, because others glamorize it way to much for their own gain. Most of what you find online is a far cry from reality.

It’s not all rainbows & roses. For most people, myself included, it is much harder living as a nomad than it would be in a house or apartment. I traveled with my job, so it was practical for me, and saved me a fortune over living in motels. Since I retired from the construction industry, I make my living online, and I love to travel, so I’m still living on wheels.

While I save a fortune by driving a nearly 50 year old, under $1500, reliable, no frills camper van, many people with newer stuff pay big bucks for repairs, and the simple truth is that living on wheels costs them considerably more than traditional living.

What about MONEY? Money/jobs/income, cargo vans, DIY builds, expensive newer vehicles & equipment, and a lack of a large emergency fund, are among the major failure points for this lifestyle. You need a reliable income, and multiple backup plans. Proper planning helps prevent premature failure. Forget the promoters and the people who urge you to “Just Do It”, misery loves company.

All that being said, I live like a king, on about $6k per year total expenses. That’s without trying to be frugal, but I practically never pay for camping. I am mainly a city dweller, and park for free on city streets. When I do go camping, I try to choose free places. My rig is totally self contained, just like most factory campers, so I don’t need hookups, just a place to park.

Later, once you have experience and actually know what you want, is the time to consider a DIY version, but don’t get influenced by all the online garbage to start out with a DIY rig. Most of the DIY rigs are money pits, that only make the promoters happy.


"Smiles are contagious, pass them on!" ~ Van_Dweller

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Van_Dweller… thank you for your input. I have never really thought of it like that. I am a retire US Army soldier and am tires of being tied down. I guess the YouTube “influencers” enchanted me. I thought I was being smart by saving for the whole build at the git go and not having a payment on anything but the vehicle itself. My main concern is the stealth part of it. I don’t want to stand out as a “camper” when I am boo docking whether urban or rural.

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Hello Rambler,

It really is easy to be swept up by “VanLife” hysteria on Youtube and Instagram, next thing you know while you’re pricing your vehicle you look at the tag and it’s over $60k!

Van_Dweller pulled me back down to reality too just before I started my build, his reasonable advice can be found all over the forums and I definitely suggest taking a look through all the posts to filter out some of the nuggets of wisdom I’ve seen him drop.

I definitely get being nervous about giving it a shot, vehicle choices aside it can be daunting to run off without some sort of safety net. One of these days I’m going to start forming some sort of Veteran travel group that has a set path around the US based on the seasons, that way people new to the scene can jump in without having to worry about “going it alone”… :thinking:

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Re: Stealth…

While it’s pretty much true that creeps in cargo vans have to hide, they’re about as stealthy as a pink elephant with neon lights playing loud circus music. An unknown, unmarked cargo van draws nothing but negative attention at night, and SOMEBODY is ALWAYS watching.

On the other hand, obvious, harmless campers, don’t instill the fears in people that cargo vans do. I am mostly a city camper, and I try to pull in the first time around early/mid afternoon, and actually chat with my new potential neighbors. If they have a dog, I have doggie treats, and I’ll ask if it’s a safe place for me to park while I’m in town. Their answers can tell you a lot. Then, if you’re a good neighbor, you’ll be welcome to stay as long as you like. I stay in the same neighborhoods sometimes for as long as 6 months, and everybody knows me and we look out for each other just like if I was living in a house. If a neighbor needs help, I’m first in line with a helping hand. I keep the streets & sidewalks clean, and pull any weeds in the guttters. It gives me something to do in my spare time, and makes me a good neighbor. I like a clean neighborhood just as much as they do.

Hiding is counterproductive. Last summer, I parked in the same place I am again here this summer, and I was welcomed back, and everyone was curious about my winter activities. Technically what I’m doing is illegal, but since none of the neighbors complain, I am golden. In Minneapolis and Duluth MN, last winter, I returned to the same places I stayed at the winter before. All the neighbors know me by site, and many know me by name. Even when I’m doing much more traveling, and to new places, I generally follow the same routine wherever I go.


"Smiles are contagious, pass them on!" ~ Van_Dweller