Kicking off a 14 month project

Hello! I’ve been thinking about converting a new (to me) van for several years now. Working through how it’ll be used. What’s out there. Gathering ideas. I keep putting it off due to the $$$ - the choice was get a new van or retire. The van didn’t win. But next year I and my sister-by-another-mother are having significant ends-in-zero birthdays. And I’ve always wanted to see the Canadian Maritimes. She can’t fly. And we’re in California. So, Trans Canada Highway here we come in the Fall of 2024!

My first thought was to rent a camper of some kind. She’s blind and trying to learn a new hotel every night is super stressful. So traveling in our home makes a lot of sense. I’m Driver. She’s Camp Cook.
And the dogs (we each bring one) are in charge of Guiding her and alarm service. I’m pricing out rentals for 4 to 6 weeks. And we’re looking at $6k to $8k just for rental and mileage.

Then I was like Wait. A. Minute! Why am I dumping $$$ into someone else’s camper when I have my own project I keep putting off? It’s time to pull the trigger! I just have to figure out how to do it myself at a reasonable cost. And I bumped into the Academy. And thought - yep, that’s just what I’ve been missing. So here I am. Ready to finally retire my 2001 GMC Savanna (which has been a great vehicle!) and get something larger I can stand up in.

It’s all part of the journey.

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Greetings & Welcome!

I can’t tell you how much time, money, and headaches I’ve saved over the years by buying cheap older motor homes. Drive em for 100k miles, shine em up, and sell them for more than I paid for them. I only build my own if there aren’t any move in ready motor homes available for cheap, or I’m helping build them for others.

Even then I buy the cheapest road worthy van I can find, and only spend a few hundred on converting it into full featured RV.

I’m cheap by choice, not necessity. Vehicles are a depreciating asset unless you buy one that is already fully depreciated. In the case of motor homes, you can buy a really nice, really reliable, move in ready, low mileage motor home from the mid '70’s-'80’s dirt cheap, and they will be far better built, and far more comfortable and convenient than 99% of the DIY camper vans out there.

DIY should be a last resort rather than a first choice. The promoters of DIY are getting paid to convince others to buy extremely expensive, yet very questionable products. If you read the forums much, almost everybody that follows the advice of the promoters is plagued with never ending and usually expensive problems, almost all of which could have been and SHOULD have been avoided.

This is my 60th year as a nomad living on wheels. I’ve had many many rigs, and made every mistake in the book, and survived them all. Given the choice, I’ll take a 40+ year old rig every time over anything newer. They drive better, handle better, are far more reliable, get better MPG, and built in a era where quality was actually important, and it’s not unusal to find them with under 50k miles on them, and only used for a week or two a year. In a typical scenario, every year before a vacation, they would be taken to a shop, and have all maintenance updated, and any needed repairs done.

In the end, the ultimate decision is up to you, just keep in mind that all too many tend to spend a fortune before they wise up and get it right. Many quit before they ever do get it right. Never gamble more than you can afford to lose. I prefer to buy cheap, keep original with no upgrades, and use them as they were intended. The good ones will have a generator, and all the comforts of home, even air conditioning which all of the DIY’rs are struggling with. I pay less for a move in ready rig than most of the DIY crowd pay just for their solar & batteries. Saving money starting with the initial purchase has been a winning strategy for me.


"Old school, cheap, simple, reliable,
and easily replaceable for the win!" ~ Traveler@Heart


i will be following for sure, as i just bought my first van and trying to get educated for my build. good luck and have fun!!!

Hi Van_Dweller - I’ve read a lot of your responses on other posts. You always seem to have something useful to contribute and bring up interesting points. I’ll look into other solutions to my problem than building out a van. The Trans Canada trip is simply the trigger to make the change. My requirements for a vehicle to use over the next 15-20 years are far more extensive. Once I get them written up I’ll post over in Finding a Vehicle. I’ll be interested in your take on a solution.


Sounds good, always willing to help when I can.


"Failures are merely a learning oportunity." ~ Rubber Tramp

Kia ora from New Zealand can u pls enlighten me what the makes and models of vans you suggest in the USA? As I’m wanting to do van life down in Mexico for 6 months and hopefully the rest of SudiAmerica

Greetings & Welcome!

That’s a tough one, and it’s been so long since I’ve been down there, I don’t think I’m qualified to give an accurate & up to date answer.

Back in the day, the air cooled VW’s were preferable, because they were very popular down there and everybody & their brother knew how to fix them & had the tools to do it.

Hopefully somebody with more up to date knowledge will chime in, or you might try googling “most popular vans in mexico” or South America.


"Not having an emergency fund, is an emergency!" ~ Rubber Tramp