How did you afford your van and how much was it?

“bY wOrKiNg”
Come on, be specific!

Ex: I taught English in Asia for 5 years, saved up, and bought one off of Craigslist.
Ex2: I bartended for a year and saved up to buy my uncle’s van.



I am now an old man, but I’ve been living on wheels since right out of high school, and I’ve had many rigs over the years. My first van was a 1961 VW Westfalia camper van thaat I bought for $700 cash. I mowed lawns and worked as a construction helper to save up the money.

It was beyond great, and the only thing it lacked was a shower, which I added almost immediately. When I graduated from high school, I had a construction job waiting for me on the other side of the country, and I spent the next 30 years working as a traveling construction worker. After 30 years, my body was worn out, so I switched to making money online from the comfort of my home on wheels.

I’ve had many rigs over the years, and with only one exception, all of them were cheap, under $2500. I’ve had factory camper vans, factory motorhomes, and vans, buses, and a step van that I converted myself. The exception was when the promoters convinced me to buy and convert a cargo van. $30k for the van & $30k+ for the conversion, and it was the most miserable camper I had ever owned. I sold it a year later for a $30k+ loss. Lesson learned: “The promoters are liars & thieves and are only after your money, THEY ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS!”.

My current van was originally a camper van, a 1973 Dodge Travco Camper Van. The promoters had convinced the previous owner to gut it and start over, even though there was nothing wrong with it. The promoters conveniently stripped it for him and hauled everything off… He immediately discovered he was in over his head, so he bought another intact factory camper van, and sold this one to me for $700.

I went to a wrecking yard, and for $50 picked up all the window trim, door & wall panels, and original carpet & padding out of a similar passenger van. That restored my interior to original and beautiful, but empty. I then drove it to a used battery shop, where they installed a deep cycle used house battery for me, along with an isolator and low battery cut-offs for both my starter battery and my house battery, for a total bill of $80. Before I left, I added a marine battery box, and 8 accessory ports to the side of it for maybe an additional $20, and my power system was ready to roll.

I didn’t want to restore the original camping interior. I wanted to keep everything modular and portable, rather than having everything built in. Just move it in and secure it. So I scoped out the free classifieds, and a got a metal futon sofa/bed frame, a handicap bedside bucket toilet, a kitchen cabinet with countertop, drawers, and shelves, a lazyboy swivel rocker/recliner and a nightstand.

I bought 2x new 4" foam camping pads, and 2x flannel type sleeping bags for cushion covers, and my sofa/bed was complete and ready to use. I proceeded too buy a $99 no name generator & a $29 battery charger, so I would never be without power. I picked up a kerosene heater & kerosene camp stove for maybe $10, and went to a dollar store and bought a couple of dishpans to use for sinks, and spray bottles for the water delivery, I also bought a hula hoop, and shower curtains/hooks for my shower, all from a dollar store. A weed sprayer and a roadside ice chest with no lid, and my shower was complete. All in, from empty van to move in ready, cost me maybe $300, and I wasn’t even trying to save money, but to do it quickly. Start to finish it took me about 3 days, and the only things I was missing was air conditioning, curtains, and bug screens, which all came later as I got around to it.

Later I ditched the air conditioner which required the generator for a much more energy efficient indirect swamp cooler that I run on battery power alone. It actually works better than the air conditioner ever did.

So my current custom built by me, hightop camper van cost me well under $1500 all in, van included, and it is currently aprroaching 500k trouble free miles, and been a very comfortable, full featured home on wheels for me for over 11 years now. This time around I avoided all the costly mistakes I made in the past thanks to the promoters. No solar, no roof vents or holes in my roof, no 12v compressor fridges, no buddy heaters, not a cargo van, no added insulation, etc. etc. Instead I have opening windows, a view, and all of the many benefits windows provide.

With years of experience, I now suggest cheap older unmodified factory camper vans or motorhomes for newbies. Try it out for cheap, and risk very little. If you like it, you can upgrade later as time and money allow, but never forget some of the most important advice from the old timers like: “Income first, vandwelling later.”, “Never gamble more than you can afford to lose.”, “There is no hurry, the road will always be there.”, and last but certainly not least, “NEVER LISTEN TO THE ADVICE OF PROMOTERS!”.


"Always avoid expensive solutions to cheap problems." ~ OffGrid


Do you have any advice on how to find cheap vans for conversion? Was the one that was sold to you for $700 just a “lucky scenario” or would you guess that there are other people in the same boat?

$700 thirty or forty years ago is about the same as $2200 today. You might be able to find a van for $700 today, but it will probably be missing an engine, require tons of mechanical work, or a complete rust-bucket.

…But here’s the exact answer to your question:

Worked more than full time for many, many years in the US Military and then retired with a pension, after the military did bachelor’s and masters programs, worked in that field for 13 years (hydrogeology), semi-retired, and saved my money. Shared the cost of the van and its conversion with my better half (with her PhD she makes a hell of lot more than I ever did - university leadership position). The cost for the van plus its conversion is a drop in the bucket. We use the van for long road trips and weekend camping.

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Greetings & Welcome!

I found my current van about 250 miles away, in a pretty rural place. The Craigslist that it was advertised on was probably 50 miles from where the actual van was, so probably not too many local buyers. The fact that it had been gutted also greatly reduced it’s value.

The previous owner had paid a lot for it because it was a factory camper van. They had taken several cross country trips in it, and planned to do much more after retirement. The promoters convinced them to gut it and start over, and the promoters meticulously removed the interior for them for free. At that point the previous owner figured out he was in over his head, and was being scammed. It would cost far more to renovate it than it would to replace it, so he replaced it with an identical one for $10k.

Mechanically it was perfect, even though it had over 200k miles on it. (Now over 450k trouble free miles) It was the van I wanted with windows all the way around, and I knew I could turn it back into a camper very cheaply. In the end, the van and the conversion combined cost me about $1,000. It’s not as fancy as it was originally, but I have everything I want or need, including a working kitchen, a toilet & shower, a comfortable bed, a comfortable living/dining/work area, heating, cooling, and unlimited power.

There are still great deals out there if you’re patient and look for them. Last summer, I bought a $1500 Class C to help a friend out. In fact we ended up buying a bunch of them for under $2500 each, and his new business is renting them out. None of them were perfect, but none of them needed much either. Last I heard, they were all rented out for the whole winter, and he is making bank.

The most common problem with any RV is leaks & mold. Most often the leak damage in minimal, but the mold smell is terrible. Both of these problems can be remedied fairly quick, easily, and cheaply if you know how. I actually bought one once, spent under $100 fixing it, and wound up selling it back to the original owner for $5k more than I paid for it! And he was tickled pink! He had been told it wasn’t worth fixing. I had actually bought it for myself for $1,000, fixed the leak & mold, then realized that the seats were terribly uncomfortable for me, so I tossed it up on Craigslist for $7,500. To my surprise the the previous owner was the first one to come and look at it. He couldn’t believe his eyes or his nose, and offered me $6,000 to buy it back. $14k cheaper than what he had been quoted to fix it. A win/win for both of us. (He still has it, and now knows he needs to reseal the roof regularly.)

The price you pay doesn’t necessarily accurately reflect the quality or value of what you’re buying. The prices of the older vehicles are on the rise because of their quality, reliability, and longevity, but good deals are still pretty easy to find, but they also frequently sell very fast, so you have to stay on top of it. Camper vans & RV’s are in high demand right now, but after this virus thing works itself out, there could be a lot of cheap ones available.

One thing I don’t recommend is buying a non factory camper, or one that’s been modified. Factory campers are built to industry & safety standards, while DIY or modified ones are not. Most of the problems that arise seem to be non-certified builder related. You could get lucky, but it’s an unnecessary gamble.

Cheap, comfortable, convenient, and full featured DIY conversions are possible if you ignore the promoters and make better choices. With better choices you can literally save many thousands of dollars, and we can help by offering some of those available choices. There is no requirement that good or even great needs to be expensive.


"Opportunities are everywhere, but only action makes it happen." ~ Van_Dweller


It was actually only 11.5 years ago on my current van… Prices and demand are currently on the rise though.


"Opportunities are everywhere, but only action makes it happen." ~ Van_Dweller