In January 2019, we took the plunge and bought our big yellow Sprinter Ringo, after over a year of planning out our dream van conversion. Dale has a background in engineering and design, and Charlie has a background in physics and is also a photographer, so we knew we would have some useful skills for converting a van, but we’d also not done anything like it before. We learned everything we needed to know for the build by watching YouTube videos and reading blogs and did the entire conversion ourselves in just over a year, whilst working full-time jobs.
We had always wanted to have a camper van ever since we first met – the freedom that a little home on wheels gives you, that you can take wherever you want and have a different view outside your bedroom window every day is incredible. We’re both very into rock climbing, and van life matches perfectly with that, as you can follow good weather and have a little base to go back to near beautiful climbing areas.
We have always hoped to go away for a long climbing trip in our van at some point in the future, and so we based our layout on the fact that we’d be living in our van long term at some point, so it would need to be big, and have enough space to sleep and live, and also work too. We wanted to make sure that our van was both practical and looked good, so we spent a long time designing it and thinking every feature through before starting the build.
We bought an LWB Sprinter so that we’d have enough room for a fixed lengthways bed – this was important to us to minimise faff of putting a bed up and down each day, but also to give us enough room to store all of our climbing gear and our bikes. Converting an LWB meant we still had enough room for a big seating area and an L shaped kitchen, so we don’t feel like we’ve compromised on space at all. We have a pull-out table in our seating area, and also a pull-out bench which converts the space into a 2nd bed. As well as lots of storage underneath our bed, in our kitchen and under seats, we have overhead storage stretching the length of our van, and a big bedside table storage space next to our bed – we’re definitely not short for space to store things! We maximised space in our van by opting not to take up a lot of space with a big indoor shower/bathroom area, and instead have an outdoor shower that can be used by pulling a shower curtain across the back doors for privacy. As we plan on spending most of our time in warm European countries and away from cities, this will work perfectly for us.
We built our van so that we would be able to live off-grid, without having to rely on staying at campsites. We have 300W of solar panels on our roof, and 2 big ( lead acid) batteries which give us 360Ah of power, as well as a big 70L water tank, which means we can spend several days ‘wild camping’ and have enough resources and power to keep us going, even if we’re working on laptops and charging phones and cameras.
One of our favourite features of our van is our silly Belfast sink! Some people think it’s crazy that we put it in, as it’s quite heavy, but we actually made our kitchen in a super lightweight way to justify the weight, and we absolutely love it! It’s so big which makes it perfect for doing the dishes and washing clothes when we’re away, plus it just looks lovely and makes the kitchen feel super homey.
Our total build cost was £6,700 which considering the spec and finish of our van, we were really happy with. We managed to save a lot of money by doing everything ourselves and buying a few expensive items second hand. We chose to buy a Sprinter because they’re very reliable vans, and so far we haven’t had to spend any money having any work done on the van itself.
We love Ringo so much, and the flexibility that it has given us. Being able to get up and go anywhere without having to think about accommodation or flights, or booking anything in advance is amazing. We cannot wait to be able to go away for a long trip in the van and really make the most of the freedom. We hope to go away for a year once COVID has blown over, spending time exploring Europe’s best climbing spots.
The advice we’d give to others hoping to do this themselves is just to take the plunge and go for it! You can learn everything you need to convert a van online, and it’s totally possible if you set your mind to it. Make sure you spend enough time planning before you do, though, we definitely saved hundreds of hours by properly planning out everything beforehand.
We have created a van conversion blog with everything we learned along the way, which will hopefully be useful to anyone planning on converting their own van: www.climbingvan.co.uk.
We also have an Instagram where you can follow our adventures in Ringo:@climbingvan