Camper Van Build

When I was 20, I packed up and went on a spontaneous month long road trip.
It was just a small taste of the freedom and adventure I craved, but it started my dream for a different kind of lifestyle;
exploring the coast, roaming free, seeing what I might become if I threw my inhibitions to the wind.

It took years of dreaming, saving, and working up enough courage, but in 2016, I finally purchased my van.
A 1997 Chevy Express 3500 for $7,000. A few months and an additional $3,000 later, I made my dream a reality. 

Here’s how it turned out…

 1997 Chevy Express 3500 

Price: $7,000
High Top
Under 100k miles
Owned by a School District, so it had all maintenance records


Painting and Insulating

It took four coats of paint to cover to ugly fiber glass ceiling.

The vans ceiling clears my head by just half of inch in the very middle. For this reason I decided only to insulate the walls. My Dad had some old styrofoam insulation collecting dust in the garage, which I cut into slabs to fill the vans paneling.

Tip: When caulking doesn’t stick, duct tape does the trick! 

The van purchase was one of chance. Though a van was my first choice, I did not actually anticipate finding the perfect one, and therefore did very little research beforehand on the materials or construction methods I would use.

For this reason, I ended up spending countless hours at Menards and Home Depot. It seemed I was there every other day, either purchasing an item I didn’t anticipate needing, or returning something that wasn’t adequately sized.

Luckily my Dad is very handy and agreed to help me with the construction process. 

Interior Finishing

We used wood paneling to cover the insulation.

The upper part of the wall, where the high top had been welded on, had an awkward 6 inch metal casing which came out from the wall. The casing also had jagged metal edges and was nearly impossible to work around. We covered the entire metal casing with a carpet runner and bolted wood shelves in on top of that.

Every surface was uneven or awkwardly angled. Each piece of wood had to be cut and recut multiple times.

We made benches to cover the wheel wells, and a foldable bed board to go on top.

The bed board had to fit perfectly atop the ledges of the benches. This was difficult because the van width is not even with its length. We cut, and recut and cut again.

Finally, I stained the wood and we put it together.


We worked through sun, rain and a snowstorm. I used music to keep me going…  until it didn’t.


The lights on the ceiling of the van are hardwired into the original electrical. This means that when these lights are turned on, it is powered by the van’s battery. 

Two LED strips that are powered by AA batteries are adhered to the wood on the shelving. This acts as a reading lamp above the bed at night. 


Built-in Storage

Originally, I had intended to have open shelving in place of the closet, however, my dad surprised me by building this closet space and I couldn’t be happier. 


The Kitchenette 

When planning the kitchenette for in the van, I had a few requirements. I wanted running water, counter space, food storage, and a way to cook. 

For my main kitchen space, I bought a $100 cupboard off of Wayfair and cut a hole to insert a tiny stainless steel sink into. 

To make it possible to have running water, we installed some water jugs with pumps inside the cupboard and hooked it up to a pump.

Originally we installed a foot pump to use with the sink, however it leaked from the first try. We took the foot pump out and replaced it with a windshield washer pump. It fit perfectly into the spout of the 5 gallon water jug, and worked with the push of a button, after some simple wiring.


My need for counter space was addressed with the most simple solution I could think of. I added rubber non-skid lifts onto the bottom of a bread board, and most of the time it’s home is over the sink to maximize the available counter space. 


For the floors I chose a wood colored vinyl, which I simply cut to fit.




I ordered a 6 inch memory foam mattress, which I was able to cut with an electric knife. I also cut the mattress down the middle, so I can fold it up and out of the way.


Note: After a trial trip, I decided the bed wasn’t big enough. I could lay down width wise, but my feet were flat up agents the wall. I added a fold out counter board to the length of the bed board. It works as a desk/table and bed extender. I used left over pieces of the memory foam mattress to created a mattress extender. When folded out, the bed now stretches 6ft long. 

Slowly everything came together…


Finishing Touches

 The end product turned out way better then I thought. I honestly never imagined I could create something this great with my own two hands. Every time I step foot inside I am inspired. Hopefully this inspiration carries on through my travels and takes me across many varying terrains.

The ledge on the bottom comes up an inch to hold the books in.


Hippy flags from Ben @ WildGranite


Inside view from the open back doors

The Kitchenette – Must have coffee! 


Storage above the entrance to the drivers area and around the top of the van

Below is a tour of the completed camper van conversion. Enjoy!

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