Not entirely sure how to start this blog, and I'm honestly not completely sure how the camper van idea became a reality for me (us). What I do know is I've instantaneously fallen behind online because working on the van was a far higher priority for me than documenting everything here. I'll try to catch up, but it will take time!
Over the past several years Alicia and I have become far more "outdoorsy", and we've been escaping to the woods or lakes far more often. I've always loved the idea behind these camper vans, but Alicia has never been on board. Come 2020, and the world is turned on it's head by this pandemic; Alicia and I both continued working full time but all of our travel plans for the year were cancelled, and soon cabin fever set in. The reality of building a camper van became far more interesting! Combine that with the fact that I was gradually heading towards wanting to start seriously backpacking... and Alicia was far more willing to be flexible so that did not become a new hobby.
We discussed what it would take to comfortably replace our frequent AirBNB stays with a campervan, and what our priorities would be. A toilet and ceiling fan were easy necessities, and these are commonplace on nearly all builds. But we decided to go ahead and add a rooftop Air Conditioner, as well as an indoor shower, not so common place on most van builds. The air conditioner would only work if we plugged into a power outlet, whether it be at a campground, or outside a home/business. It could also work off a generator, but our intention is to not carry a generator with us, and we're honestly hoping to rarely need the air conditioner. That being said, having it and not needing it on most trips seems much more ideal than wishing we had it and not. The shower was the other toughy, but our intention with this van is to take it hiking, or biking, or kayaking, or whatever outdoor activity we can do all day, and then sleep in the van at night. Being able to shower off at the end of the day was a requirement.
I did plenty of playing around with scale drawings to figure out exactly how we can fit everything, and I landed on the idea that the high roof, long wheel base Sprinter would be the best van option. The extra long Promaster would have worked similarly well, but we could not find them in our price range and we've had numerous issues with our Promasters at work, so I didn't want to go that route. Similarly, the longest Ford Transit would have worked as well, but my understanding is they are plagued with transmission issues. Finally, the Nissan NV 'tall' van contender, which is my favorite work van, is only available in a shorter wheelbase option, and would not work for our grand plan.
Alas, the Sprinter was in our price range, large enough for everything we wanted to fit, and reasonably available. Unfortunately, I learned after the fact that their are better and worse years for the Sprinter. 2004-2007 seem to be the optimal years for reliability, but they can be difficult to find without being plagued with rust. The newer models have an extremely delicate emissions system, that can be the cause of some mighty expensive repairs.
We set out looking for an inexpensive model to start our build, and checked out several ex-Fedex models. All needed more work than I wanted to put in right off the bat, and didn't come with a passenger seat. We eventually found the 2011 model we ended up buying at a used car lot a couple hours away. With about 195k miles on it, we felt it had plenty of life left in it for our intentions, and it had recently been serviced with several new parts (most relating to emissions system). It had previously been a delivery van, but was setup much nicer than the Fedex models; with two regular seats, no delivery placards, and no roof GPS tracker cutout. The interior and exterior were in decent enough shape, and the tires and brakes were all fine.
Unfortunately, shortly after driving the van home it registered another emissions system issue. With no knowledge of this specific vehicle at all yet, and a limited number of 'starts' available (emissions issues will shut down the engine if not resolved somewhat quickly), I was forced to take it to a local dealership. They replaced a couple more sensors, and confirmed that there was in fact several new OEM parts recently installed. We were not happy at all about spending the money on repairs so soon, but eventually decided to look at it in the positive light, that our new travel camper van will have a few more brand new parts that will hopefully last for the rest of it's life.
So after acquiring the van and getting it up and running well, it was time to start the build!