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Home » Small Van Conversion Ideas & Costs (Step-by-Step Guide)

Small Van Conversion Ideas & Costs (Step-by-Step Guide)

Small Van Conversion Ideas & Costs

Thinking of small van conversion ideas and wondering about the costs? We detail our experience, ideas and guide for turning a small van into a camper.

Converting a small van to live in is entirely feasible with careful planning, creativity and resourcefulness. You’ll need to make the most of the space, but it is entirely doable.

You can create a comfortable, functional and personalized mobile home that allows you to embrace the freedom of van life.

Whether you choose to undertake a DIY project or hire professionals for certain tasks, the end result can be a rewarding and liberating living experience.

How Much is a Small Van for Converting?

The cost of a small van for van life can vary widely based on several factors, including the make and model of the van, its age and condition, and whether it has already been converted for van life.

Here’s a breakdown of the potential costs involved based on some of the most popular small van on the market:

Base Van Cost

New Vans

  • Ford Transit Connect: $25,000 – $30,000
  • Ram ProMaster City: $25,000 – $32,000
  • Nissan NV200: $23,000 – $29,000
  • Mercedes-Benz Metris: $34,000 – $38,000
  • Chevrolet City Express: Discontinued, but used models range from $15,000 – $25,000

Used Vans

  • Ford Transit Connect (3-5 years old): $15,000 – $20,000
  • Ram ProMaster City (3-5 years old): $15,000 – $22,000
  • Nissan NV200 (3-5 years old): $14,000 – $20,000
  • Mercedes-Benz Metris (3-5 years old): $22,000 – $30,000
  • Chevrolet City Express (3-5 years old): $12,000 – $18,000

Conversion Costs

DIY Conversion

  • Basic Conversion: $1,000 – $3,000 (includes essentials like bed, storage, and basic kitchen setup)
  • Mid-Range Conversion: $3,000 – $8,000 (includes better insulation, more comprehensive kitchen setup, and possibly a portable toilet or shower)
  • High-End DIY Conversion: $8,000 – $15,000 (includes solar power systems, advanced plumbing, and custom cabinetry)

Professional Conversion

  • Basic Professional Conversion: $10,000 – $20,000
  • Mid-Range Professional Conversion: $20,000 – $40,000
  • High-End Professional Conversion: $40,000 – $60,000+

Additional Costs

  • Insurance: $500 – $1,500 annually for van insurance, depending on coverage and location
  • Maintenance and Repairs: $500 – $1,000 annually, varies based on van condition and use
  • Registration and Taxes: Depends on the state or country, typically $100 – $500 annually
  • Outfitting and Gear: $500 – $2,000 (camping gear, cooking utensils, bedding, etc.)

Total Estimated Costs

The cost of a small van for van life can range from as low as $16,000 for a used van with a basic DIY conversion to upwards of $90,000 for a new van with a high-end professional conversion.

Your choice will depend on your budget, desired comfort level, and willingness to undertake DIY projects versus opting for professional services.

New Van with DIY ConversionTotal Cost: $26,000 – $45,000
Used Van with DIY ConversionTotal Cost: $16,000 – $35,000
New Van with Professional ConversionTotal Cost: $35,000 – $90,000
Used Van with Professional ConversionTotal Cost: $25,000 – $80,000

Can You Convert a Small Van to Live In?

Yes, you can absolutely convert a small van to live in. Many people have successfully transformed small vans into fully functional mobile homes.

It is possible to make the most of the limited space through clever design and efficient use of resources.

Here’s our step-by-step guide on how to convert a small van into a livable space and the best ideas to create a wonderful home.

Step-by-Step Guide to Converting a Small Van

1. Planning and Designing

Assess your needs from your van and determine what amenities are essential for your lifestyle.

This will help when it comes to layout and how you can best include a fixed bed, kitchen, storage, workspace and anything else required.

Consider your budget at this stage too and the amount of time you’re willing to invest in the conversion yourself or pay specialists.

Create a Layout:

  • Sketch a floor plan to visualize where each component will fit.
  • Measure your van’s interior dimensions to ensure everything will fit properly.

Choose Materials:

  • Decide on the materials for flooring, insulation, cabinetry, and other components.
  • Opt for lightweight and durable materials to maximize efficiency and longevity.

2. Preparing the Van

The most underrated stage of the van conversion build is preparing the van. Once stripped, give it clean and prepare any rust spots, areas of concern or blemishes before you start creating your dream layout.

Clean and Insulate:

  • Thoroughly clean the interior of the van.
  • Install insulation to regulate temperature and reduce noise. Popular choices include foam board insulation, spray foam, and reflective insulation.

Install Flooring:

  • Lay down a subfloor using plywood or another sturdy material.
  • Add the final flooring layer, such as vinyl, laminate, or carpet, depending on your preference.

3. Building the Interior

This is the exciting stage as your van starts taking shape, but we have to tell you it is hard work and won’t just build itself overnight.

You will run into many problems along the way, but that is all part of the process. From your bed to your kitchen and storage options, you can put together anything with the help of a YouTube video or two.

Here’s the best plan of attack when it comes to building out your van and using camper conversion ideas.

Construct the Bed:

  • Choose a bed design that fits your needs, such as a fixed bed, pull-out bed, or convertible bed-sofa.
  • Build a sturdy bed frame using wood or metal, and add a comfortable mattress.

Create Storage Solutions:

  • Install overhead cabinets, under-bed storage, and wall-mounted shelves.
  • Use storage bins and organizers to keep items tidy and accessible.

Set Up the Kitchen:

  • Install a countertop with a small sink and space for a portable stove.
  • Include storage for kitchen utensils, cookware, and food supplies.
  • Consider a small refrigerator or cooler for food storage.

Build Seating and Workspace:

  • Include a foldable or multi-purpose table for dining and working.
  • Use collapsible chairs or built-in benches with storage underneath.

4. Adding Utilities

You’ll need to add in water supply and tanks, electricity, solar panels or energy sources, gas, heating and anything else you deem a van life essential.

From a fully equipped kitchen to a working shower, toilet and bathroom, these are all important if you are adding them to your van.

Electrical System:

  • Install a 12V electrical system with a battery, inverter, and necessary wiring.
  • Consider adding solar panels to generate renewable energy.
  • Include outlets and USB ports for charging devices.

Water System:

  • Install a simple water system with a freshwater tank, a greywater tank, and a small pump.
  • Use a portable camping shower or install a compact shower setup if space allows.

Heating and Cooling:

  • Add a portable fan or roof vent for ventilation.
  • Consider a small heater or electric blanket for cold weather.

5. Final Touches

Making your van your home is soooo important and it this finishing touches stage where that comes to life. Soft furnishings, the decor and the real finer points all happens at this point.


  • Personalize the space with decorations, curtains, and cushions to make it feel like home.
  • Use lightweight and durable decor items to avoid adding unnecessary weight.

Safety Measures:

  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher and first aid kit on hand.

Optimize Space:

  • Use multi-functional furniture and storage solutions to maximize space efficiency.
  • Regularly declutter and organize to maintain a tidy living area.

Best Layouts for a Small Van for Van Life

When planning a layout for a small van for van life, the goal is to maximize space efficiency and functionality. Some of the best layout ideas are shared below.

These aren’t just ours, but some we’ve loved seeing in other van toos. They can help you make the most of your compact living area.

1. Convertible Bed Layout

This layout features a bed that converts into a seating area or workspace during the day. The bed can fold up into a sofa or be a Murphy bed that folds into the wall.

Key Features:

  • Day/Night Use: Dual-purpose furniture allows the space to be used efficiently for both sleeping and living.
  • Storage Under Bed: Utilize the space beneath the bed for storage of larger items.
  • Foldable Table: Include a foldable table that can be used for dining or working.


  • Maximizes living space during the day.
  • Provides a comfortable sleeping area at night.
  • Offers ample storage options.


  • Requires daily setup and teardown of the bed.
  • Limited to smaller groups or solo travelers.

2. Fixed Bed with Under-Bed Storage

This layout includes a fixed bed at the back of the van with significant storage space underneath. It’s a popular choice for those who prefer not to convert their bed daily.

Key Features:

  • Permanent Sleeping Area: A dedicated sleeping space that doesn’t need to be rearranged.
  • Under-Bed Storage: Large storage compartments for gear, clothing, and other necessities.
  • Compact Kitchen: A small kitchen area next to the bed, equipped with a stove, sink, and refrigerator.


  • Provides a permanent, comfortable sleeping area.
  • Ample storage space for larger items.
  • Simple and straightforward design.


  • Fixed bed takes up more living space.
  • May feel more cramped during the day.

3. Pull-Out Bed with Workspace

This layout features a bed that pulls out from a sofa or bench, with a dedicated workspace area. It’s ideal for those who need a place to work or dine.

Key Features:

  • Pull-Out Bed: The bed extends from a sofa or bench, saving space when not in use.
  • Dedicated Workspace: A small desk or table for working or dining.
  • Overhead Storage: Utilize overhead cabinets for additional storage.


  • Provides a dedicated workspace for working or dining.
  • Keeps living area flexible and multifunctional.


  • Pulling out and stowing the bed can be cumbersome.
  • Limited to one or two people due to space constraints.

4. Rear Kitchen Layout

In this layout, the kitchen is located at the rear of the van, with the bed or seating area towards the front. This design is excellent for those who love cooking and want easy access to their kitchen from outside.

Key Features:

  • Rear Kitchen Access: Allows for outdoor cooking and easy ventilation.
  • Sliding or Rear Doors: Access the kitchen area directly from the back doors.
  • Compact Bed/Sofa: A small bed or convertible sofa in the front area.


  • Great for cooking and entertaining outside the van.
  • Keeps cooking odors and heat out of the main living area.
  • Provides a clear separation between the kitchen and living spaces.


  • Requires access to the rear of the van for cooking.
  • May limit the interior space for seating and other activities.

5. Side Kitchen with Convertible Bed

This layout features a kitchen along one side of the van, with a convertible bed/sofa on the opposite side. It balances living, sleeping, and cooking spaces efficiently.

Key Features:

  • Side Kitchen: Compact kitchen setup with stove, sink, and storage along one wall.
  • Convertible Bed/Sofa: The bed converts into a seating area during the day.
  • Storage Solutions: Overhead cabinets and under-bed storage for organization.


  • Efficient use of space along the sides of the van.
  • Flexible living and sleeping arrangements.
  • Easy access to kitchen and storage areas.


  • Limited floor space for moving around.
  • Requires daily conversion of the bed.

Tips for Maximizing Space in a Small Van

Regardless of the layout you choose, there are ways to maximize the space in your small van.

By carefully planning your layout and employing space-saving strategies, you can create a functional and comfortable living space in even the smallest of vans.

  • Utilize Vertical Space: Install shelves and cabinets high up to keep the floor area clear.
  • Multi-Purpose Furniture: Choose furniture that serves multiple functions, like a bed that doubles as a sofa or a table that folds away.
  • Hidden Storage: Use hidden storage compartments under seats, in the floor, or in the walls to keep clutter at bay.
  • Minimalism: Embrace a minimalist lifestyle by only keeping essential items and regularly decluttering.
  • Compact Appliances: Opt for compact or portable appliances that can be easily stored when not in use.
  • Organizers: Use organizers, bins, and baskets to keep items neatly arranged and easily accessible.

Small vs Large Van for Van Life

Choosing between a small and large van for van life involves considering various factors, from space requirements to maneuverability.

Small vans offer great mobility, cost efficiency, and are well-suited for solo travelers or couples who don’t need a lot of space.

On the other hand, large vans like the Mercedes Sprinter provide ample space, more amenities, and better comfort, making them ideal for families, groups, or those planning to live in their van full-time.

Consider your travel plans, budget, and how much space you need to make an informed decision. Both options have their unique advantages and drawbacks.

Here’s a detailed comparison to help you decide which type of van might be best suited for your van life adventure.

Small Van


  • Maneuverability: Small vans are easier to drive and park, making them ideal for urban environments and narrow roads.
  • Fuel Efficiency: Generally, small vans offer better fuel economy, which can lead to significant savings on long trips.
  • Lower Cost: Initial purchase price and maintenance costs are typically lower for small vans.
  • Stealth Camping: Their smaller size makes them less conspicuous, which is advantageous for stealth camping in urban areas.


  • Limited Space: The most significant drawback is the limited living space, which can feel cramped, especially for long-term living or if you have a lot of gear.
  • Fewer Amenities: There is less room for amenities such as a full bathroom, large kitchen, or ample storage.
  • Reduced Comfort: Smaller space can limit comfort, particularly for taller individuals or those who need more space to move around.

Key Considerations:

  • Best For: Solo travelers or couples who prioritize mobility and cost-efficiency.
  • Ideal Uses: Shorter trips, urban exploration, and situations where stealth camping is preferred.

Large Van


  • Ample Space: Large vans provide significantly more living space, which can accommodate a full kitchen, bathroom, and comfortable sleeping areas.
  • More Amenities: The extra space allows for more amenities and luxuries, such as a shower, toilet, and additional storage.
  • Greater Comfort: Larger living areas mean more room to move around and better overall comfort, particularly for extended trips or living.


  • Higher Costs: Larger vans are generally more expensive to purchase, maintain, and fuel.
  • Difficult Maneuverability: Driving and parking a large van can be challenging, especially in urban environments or on narrow roads.
  • Visibility and Accessibility: Their size makes them more conspicuous, which can limit stealth camping options and restrict access to certain areas.

Key Considerations:

  • Best For: Families, groups, or individuals who plan to live in the van full-time and need more space and amenities.
  • Ideal Uses: Long-term travel, rural and off-grid living, and situations where comfort and space are prioritized over maneuverability.

Can You Really Live in a Small Van?

Absolutely, living in a small van is not only possible but has become an increasingly popular lifestyle choice for many adventurers and minimalists.

While it comes with unique challenges, it also offers a range of benefits that make it an attractive option for those seeking freedom and simplicity.

Negative of Living in a Small Van

One of the most significant challenges of living in a small van is the limited space. You need to be strategic about what you bring and how you organize your belongings.

Adopting a minimalist lifestyle is crucial, as it requires you to prioritize essential items and eliminate non-essentials.

Living in close quarters means comfort and privacy can be compromised. You might have to get creative with your layout to ensure you have a comfortable sleeping area, a place to sit and relax, and adequate storage.

Privacy can also be an issue, especially when parked in public areas, so installing curtains or blinds is a must.

Managing temperature and ventilation in a small van can be tricky. You’ll need to invest in good insulation, portable fans, or even a small heater to stay comfortable in various weather conditions. Many van lifers also install roof vents to improve airflow.

Without a built-in bathroom, you’ll need to rely on public restrooms, gyms, or portable camping toilets. Showering can be managed at gyms, public pools, or by using portable outdoor showers.

This aspect of van life requires some adjustment but is manageable with proper planning.

Benefits of Living in a Small Van

One of the greatest advantages of living in a small van is the freedom to travel wherever and whenever you want. Small vans are easier to maneuver and park, allowing you to explore urban environments and remote locations alike.

Living in a small van can be more affordable than traditional housing. You save on rent, utilities, and many day-to-day expenses. Additionally, small vans are typically more fuel-efficient, reducing your travel costs.

Van life encourages a minimalist lifestyle, which can lead to a greater appreciation for the essentials and reduce stress associated with material possessions. This simplicity can improve mental well-being and promote a more intentional way of living.

The van life community is vibrant and supportive. You’ll meet like-minded individuals on the road, and there are numerous online forums, social media groups, and meetups dedicated to van life enthusiasts. This sense of community can provide support, inspiration, and friendship.

Making It Work: Essential Tips

Design your van’s interior layout to maximize space and functionality. Convertible furniture, vertical storage, and multi-purpose items are key to making the most of your limited space.

Embrace minimalism by carefully considering each item you bring into your van. Regularly declutter to keep your space organized and functional.

Equip your van with essential amenities like a portable stove, compact refrigerator, and solar panels for off-grid living. This will increase your independence and allow you to camp in a wider range of locations.

Be prepared to adapt to different environments and challenges. Flexibility and problem-solving skills are essential for van life, as you’ll encounter various situations that require creative solutions.