The mission is clear. Get the heck out of your living situation and FAST.
Maybe your roommate is a crazy person who flushes your socks down the toilet, or maybe you can’t stand your neighbors constant screaming.
One thing is for sure, van life has to happen immediately.
Luckily, I can help! I’ve been in your shoes and can help you out by giving you my master list of tips for the cheapest DIY van conversions for your tiny home. Now, these won’t be the nicest options, but they will get you comfortable and out of your house with minimal effort and investment besides the cost of the van.
First things first, you’re going to want to start by cleaning some things up.
Step 1: Gut the Van: FREE
Get all that stuff that’s inside of it, out. Any second-hand van will come with a fair amount of other people’s junk inside. The first thing you’re going to want to do is to take all that junk out and clean down to the frame. Of course, if the interior is finished then great, skip to step 3.
If not, a bucket of warm soapy water will be your best friend. And don’t forget to sweep the floor! For some reason, every van comes standard with about 6lbs of stray nails and screws littered all over the floor. You probably will never need those and don’t want to accidentally step on them, so give the floor a good sweep.
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Step 2: Insulate the Van: $20-$60
This isn’t going to be the in-depth insulation job you’re going to want if you have time and money, this is the “my roommate keeps licking my food and leaving dirty underwear around I have to leave this house NOW” type of insulation job.
Get a couple of rolls of this insulation from Amazon. It’s very easy to use for someone that doesn’t know what they’re doing. All you need is a pair of scissors and a clean surface. Cut the insulation to the desired specifications and stick it on.
After you cover the walls and ceiling with the beautiful silver foil, plop some down on the floor, then cover the entire thing with an area rug. Find one on Craigslist, people give that kind of stuff away all the time for free.
Step 3: Deep Cycle Battery and Inverter: $150
You can skip this step if you want, but you’re going to be much more comfortable if you are able to turn on a light every now and again. If you’re van living in the winter, don’t forget that it gets dark at 4 or 5 pm. Since you might be stuck inside during those hours, you might as well be able to read or use your computer.
The best bet for doing this on the cheap is to get yourself a deep cycle RV battery and an inverter. The reason you want a “deep cycle” battery is because it can take a lot more abuse. Standard batteries are only meant to start the car. After that, the alternator takes over. A deep cycle battery, on the other hand, can handle the load of your electronics and whatever else you need to plug in.
The inverter is the key to make that energy usable. Once you hook the inverter up to the battery, then you can plug all of your devices in with no problems.
Step 4: Get a Bed Solution: Less than $100
There’s a couple of different ways you can take this depending on what you’re looking for. My van has steel beams with a slab of wood on top and a foam mattress. The great thing about that option is that it elevates the bed, and we can fit storage bins underneath.
The quick DIY version is to get storage bins, these heavy duty ones will work, and place a cheap inflatable mattress on top. As long as your mattress is properly inflated, you won’t put too much weight on any one area of the bin and you won’t break them.
Of course, you could omit the storage bins entirely, but then you would miss out on that sweet, sweet extra storage space.
Step 5: Get a Small Cooking Device $50
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been thankful for the stove in my van. I am a coffee person, and I will cut you if I don’t get a cup in my hands the second my eyes open. That’s where this Coleman Camp Stove comes in handy. I have this exact model in my van and it makes a world of difference in making van life feel like home life.
I’ve had to get creative in my stealth camp cuisine over the years, so I’m telling you, it can be done. Just be prepared to eat the entire pan of whatever it is you make since you probably won’t have anywhere to store the leftovers without a fridge or cooler.
Not only will it save you grocery money, but cooking is fun!
Step 6: Toilet Time $0-$40
In my Stealth Camping 101 post, I talked about the bathroom options you have available to you when living on the road. You could get a portable toilet like the one I linked to in that article, OR you could go rogue. I know LOTS of people that do their business into bags of kitty litter, then throw it away.
It’s not the most glamorous solution, but it gets the job done.
If you feel like you need the comfort of a toilet seat under your bottom, this toilet seat snaps on to a bucket! Best of all, it’s only 10 bucks! Of course, the bucket isn’t included, but check Craigslist in the free section. I promise you will be able to find a free bucket somewhere, just look!
Step 7: Black Out Curtains $16.99
These curtains not only block out the light, but they are also another layer of insulation to keep you warm. We have a rope hung up behind the driver seats that we use to hold these curtains up. They’ve worked great for us so far. If they’re a little too long for your setup, cut them to the length you need and use the scraps to block out any windows in your living area.
Our camper van luckily doesn’t have too many windows. We only have the two over the back door, and one on the side. Makes it very easy to stay stealthy at night. It makes it hell in the summertime when we want to some ventilation though!
Step 7: Let There Be Light! $12.99
These adorable solar powered globe lights are the only time I’m going to suggest you using solar power when you’re low on cash. These are bright enough to make it so you can see what you’re doing, but not bright enough to give away your stealth status.
When it comes to trying to park in neighborhoods, you won’t want a 60-watt bulb blazing away inside, it’ll give you away! Instead, find a nice soft light like these and feel free to relax in your new romantic tiny home on wheels.
If you follow these steps for cheap DIY van conversions, you’re looking at a final cost of $430. Not too shabby!
Of course, that’s always assuming you already have the van. If you don’t, check into cheap cargo vans on craigslist. I see them for sale all the time! Usually, you can find them for less than $1,500 depending on the condition.
You don’t necessarily need to get the exact items or brands I’ve linked to. If you see a good deal at Walmart for a deep cycle battery, then grab it! I’ve just listed some suggestions of things that have worked for me.
If I had to do it all over again, I would have just moved into the van right away and not worried about all the bells and whistles that were out there. If you are still living in an apartment right now, I can guarantee that the things you think you NEED, aren’t really necessities.
Once I started living in the van, I realized how stupid it was to be worried about bathrooms, and showers. It’s all so easy to do, and I believe anyone can do it. You just have to get in the van and go!
Ready to take the next step? Check out 18 Hacks and Tips For Car Camping