I’m hoping that this article will reflect the work and love we’ve put into our Ford Transit Connect camper conversion project. We converted our van in 2 weeks and with only 500$.
Advantages of a small cargo van
When we started researching van conversions, we found out about Nomads with a Van‘s project. Initially, I thought their Kia Sedona minivan conversion was too minimalistic and too frugal for us. We wanted a fully-equipped van like people have in Europe. We quickly understood that “Eurovans” (like Volkswagen Westfalia, Vanagons) and small RVs were not an option in the United States. We would have to consider spending over US$ 20,000. It would surely look better on Instagram but result much more costly. Then, we researched commonly converted large vans like the Ford Econoline / GMC Safari. Again, we realized they would be overbudget / not a good value for money, consume too much gas and not be as discreet as we wanted to.
So we went back to a small car-to-camper conversion project. We changed our mind, after all the minivan format was genius. It was going to give us much more freedom to move around and you just need a bed if you’re following nice weather, the rest of the time being spent outside. We started looking for classic “Soccer Mom” cars (Grand Caravan, Nissan Pathfinder, etc.).
One day, we saw this yellow NYC cab parked in front of our building in Queens:
It’s a Ford Transit Connect. We both fell in love with this European looking car which looks very much like a Renault Kangoo. It is certainly not sexy, nor modern. Believe it or not, this car was designed in 2002. I think the designer was probably 75 years old already. But we thought it was super cute, like a panda or baby owl type of cuteness.
After more research, we concluded that it was the perfect car for our need. Besides taxis, this car is typically convenient for people who need accessible transportation (= wheelchairs) or small businesses. There is a lot of headroom and the back is quite large for a 4-cylinder car. Henri is 6 feet tall and would fit inside. Finally, it’s gas-efficient: 22 to 27 mpg.
Since it would have been stupid to buy a used yellow NYC cab, which can carry above 200K miles, we looked for options on Craigslist and we found this beauty for sale in Poughkeepsie, NY:
2012, 75K miles. The owner was a blues musician who took it on a U.S. tour already, which was a good sign. We brought it back to NYC and converted it.
How we converted our Ford Transit Connect into a camper in just two weeks for $500
We started by removing the three back seats, which required a bit of efforts, like purchasing special tools at Home Depot —you need a TORX screwdriver. Then, we put some plywood to use as a base. Plywood is very easy to customize and purchase at Home Depot.
For the bed, instead of selling our house bed spring box from Overstock, we decided to reuse it as a foundation and storage facility for the van. We unscrewed and rearranged the metallic parts in order to fit the size of the area (about the size of a full size bed), which was surprisingly easy using just a screwdriver. We could have put more plywood on top, we just didn’t think it was necessary. The foundation is fixed on the plywood so that it stays in place when the car is moving.
What we had in mind is that this foundation would be our storage space, through plastic boxes matching each compartment and accessible from each side of the vehicle (clothing: left door, toiletries: right door, food storage: back door).
We purchased boxes from four different stores (Ikea, Muji, Amazon, and another professional office furniture site) in order to fit each compartment with the exact dimensions and height we wanted.
Once we were done with this part, we just threw a full Ikea Meistervik mattress on top of our storage/foundation. It is one of Ikea’s thinest and lightest mattresses. A couple protections, sheets, sleeping bags, pillows… and that was pretty much it.
More privacy with Reflectix
To create more darkness for a better sleep and privacy, we just used DIY Reflectix blinds. When we left, we had not had time to figure out a proper solution. We initially used tape in order to hang the blinds, like in the picture below. It looked ugly and it was annoying to hang everyday. We recently improved this with some Velcro, which makes everything much easier and better-looking. Every van conversion I read about uses a lot of Velcro and Reflectix. But I still think Reflectix looks like being inside a sardines can, so I’m looking for better ideas that will make the blinds look prettier.
For additional privacy we also built a curtain that separates the driver area from the sleeping area. We simply did this with a rope and a $10 blackout curtain from Wal-Mart. On a previous picture you can see that we initially tried out a shower curtain rod, which just didn’t work out for us, it was falling down everyday.
We also have overhead storage above the driver and passenger seats (we use it for games, stationary) and on each side of the front seats, just like in any car.
It’s confortable! We don’t need more than this very basic van conversion.
YES, it is super cosy. We always sleep eight or nine hours straight and have no back problems or anything that might stop us from enjoying the adventure. I personally sleep much better than in our previous apartment in NYC. The storage solution has also been working out quite well. It’s a little annoying when we have to access our food storage, because we have to take the cooler outside first, but it’s not that annoying. I love the large side windows, they make waking up in the nature a very cool experience.
Our van conversion is of course not suitable for very cold or very hot climates, like an RV or insulated van would be. We haven’t worked on insulation at all. It’s enough for a snowbird, we will just follow the weather we need.
It’s also a good fit for van dwellers who don’t mind using external facilities, from paid campsites for example. We probably use more paid campsites than people with bigger vans, and we dread using Walmart cause we need to use outside space to cook etc., but our camping costs have been reasonable (as long as we keep jobs).
After 5 months, we’re very happy we did not invest too much money and time in the conversion, because we’re always outside (we think we would be even if we had a fancy van), and facilities (WC, showers…) are very easy to find in the US. So far, this simple conversion has been working out really well for us.
Any questions about our Ford Transit Connect camper conversion? Let me know in comments, I’ll be happy to answer.