Self converted GMC Vandura campervan

All I know about my van is, my engine is running and brakes are braking + my full weight and load capacity is a small blonde girl with her bed, kitchen, and anything she collects along her way!

I grew up in upstate NY about 30 miles from Montreal! I have my Masters in Business/Accounting and worked as an auditor for about a year before I realized an office setting wasn’t for me. I definitely didn’t see it happening but quitting that job was the start of a series of decisions that would change my life and mindset forever. After that, I worked as a front desk associate at a Crowne Plaza in Key West, Florida – then started working as a festival cab driving golf carts around music festivals. I have always picked up random bartending/serving jobs wherever I am as well! I got my first DSLR camera and started photography at the same time as I was studying to be a Realtor. I was a Realtor for almost two years and saved up money to buy the van and renovate it to head out west!

diy rv 1988 GMC Vandura  

When I was working at music festivals, I saw a couple that had put a bed in the back of a van and loved it! It was way before it became popular on Instagram. I think that planted the seed and once I saw a few conversions popping up on social media, I knew I had to do it!
Photography inspired me to want to explore the west coast. There are so many places I want to see and the idea of getting an apartment/setting roots anywhere wasn’t appealing to me. 

alabama hills vanlife

I knew I wanted an older van because I like the look and don’t have $100k. I hate having monthly payments and being in debt so financing anything wouldn’t be ideal. Once I found the van, I had done so much research, I pretty much knew what I wanted it to look like – I just had to make it happen! I definitely still have the sketches of the layouts I did.

I LOVED the building process. It was such a special time for me and my dad. He was working on getting his shop up and running and would also help me figure out what I needed to do with the van. I think the biggest challenge that sticks out to me was making final decisions on colors! There are so many different aesthetics you can go for and I really just didn’t want to get sick of what I chose! It took 3 months working on it 2-3 – 8 hr days each week. I got most of my materials new but used recycled barn wood as accents and shelves/tables.

diy lightning in self converted camper van

My van came with solar. So I have two 100w solar panels that charge two dc 80amp hr batteries. I have an inverter and an isolator as well. I also have a propane furnace and an under-mount propane tank. I’m from the Northeast so the heat was a must. I use a regular 120-volt minifridge. I turn it off at night and it stays cool and doesn’t run my batteries down. I have a small water setup. I have an electric pump and two 5 gallon water tanks under my sink for regular and gray water. 

I like having my bed low so I can hang out on it comfortably. Having back storage wasn’t as important to me since I’m trying not to ‘store’ things and only have items I use on a daily basis. I never put handles on my cabinets which I like. I think it looks cleaner and prevents people from just trying to open them to see what’s inside! I have a pretty straight forward build.

1988 GMC Vandura  self built rv interior

The main idea was to have the van just feel open and cozy.
 I think the stain of the wood, cabin vibes, and my plants make my van stand out! People are very judgemental of my plants sometimes. hah!
My favorite feature is probably my 6-inch memory foam mattress. It’s the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept on. It’s so funny when I visit people and they ask if I want to sleep on their couch or in their spare bedroom. I also really like my plants and candles.

My van itself cost $3,300 USD and the conversion was done for about $3,500. A year into my journey I had to get the transmission rebuilt and that cost $2,100 with a 3-year warranty. Not including the transmission rebuild, I probably spend about $800 to maintain the van annually.

1988 GMC Vandura stuck of wood

Downsizing was exciting and not challenging. I love not having things I don’t use.
The best things about van-life are being able to move anywhere you want + waking up with a new view each morning. Even when I stealth camp in cities and towns (without insane views) I still like waking up in a new area and finding a nice coffee shop to check out.
Worst things – Not having a bathroom but you get used to it. Having to rely on people during a pandemic (not ideal) but have AMAZING friends.
I just feel like living in a van and traveling around feels like who I am and I’m happy I had the ability to do it. I’m excited to talk about my life and that feels good.

If you want to downsize, my best advice to you is to find a purpose to why you want to live in a van. Figuring out why you’re doing it is SO important. Not just ‘I want to travel’ – like WHY do you want to travel? – Dig deeeeep! Living in a van isn’t going to solve your problems. Also, being able to stand in your van is nice. 🙂

Cooking in diy rv GMC Vandura  

I think I’ll be ‘traveling’ indefinitely. It’s always going to be a part of my life. In the next couple of months, I will be doing a trip with Kierra Summer through most of the west coast + parts of Canada. I’m VERY excited. Once things abroad start to open up, I hope to take off. Longterm, I think eventually I will have some sort of tiny home but will probably always have a van of some sort. Excited to see what happens!

My Instagram is @michelle.lawrencee. I have a website that I totally dismantled recently but will be working on putting it back together eventually – michellelawrencephotography.com 

monument valley camping in self built rv

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