DIY Camper Van Build from Start to Finish | Tour and Recap


Just a few months ago, this van was nothing
but a metal box. Now it’s Alexander’s full time home, equipped
with everything he needs to live and work. This video is about how and why we built this
van, as well as a tour of the finished product. First, the back story. Two years ago I met Alexander in Moab, Utah. At the time he was already two years deep,
living out of his Mazda hatchback, named Sheila. With no room to sleep in Sheila, Alexander
relied on everything from campsites to friends houses for shelter. He wasn’t homeless, but he was definitely
houseless. By living this lifestyle, Alexander was free
to explore the USA, while SAT tutoring remotely to make ends meet. Naturally, he ended up with a very successful
YouTube channel chronicling his travels, eventually ditching SAT tutoring to make videos full
time. It was around then that he ran into Hannah
in Tennessee. She had a sweet van, with a fridge, a place
to secure bikes, and even a solar panel for off grid camping. Alexander posted a tour of Hannah’s van
on YouTube, and everyone freaked out. Alex knew a van would be in his future, but he
was still apprehensive. What would this cost? Who would build it? Would this be a huge mistake? I promised to put Alex up at my house and
help him build the van. You guys kept the pressure on, and even contributed
funds to help him build it. This gave Alex enough confidence to get the
ball rolling. He traveled down to Florida where his family
lives, to buy a van and get started. Except, he didn’t. You would think a free spirit like Alex would
throw caution to the wind and jump right in, but time and time again he got hung up on
which van to get, how much to spend, and whether he should wait for a better deal. This went on literally for months, and nobody
could understand why. The
truth is, Alex was outside his comfort zone. This van would be a huge responsibility, the
biggest purchase he ever made, and a binding commitment. In Alex’s eyes this went against everything
he had been doing for three years. But to everyone else, to us, from the outside,
it was clear that a van was the next logical step. So we pestered him all winter. And finally on one Spring day, Alex went to
the dealership, traded in Sheila, and drove home in a brand new van. A high top Ram Promaster, known in Europe
as a Fiat Ducato. We could talk about why he chose that particular
van, but he could have gotten a Toyota Sienna and we would have been just as excited. The following day, Alex set off to my house
in North Carolina to get started on the build. We came up with sort of a plan, bought supplies,
and got started. First we installed swivel brackets for more
flexible seating. Then we wired up a second battery and fuse
box for all of Alexander’s electronics. We also insulated the van for climate control,
and closed up the walls with plywood to hold it all together. Our friend Johnny lent his woodworking expertise
as well, helping us with the power station, the work desk, the bed, and these storage
trays. We also had help from our friend Todd, who
supplied essential electrical accessories like the solar panel, and helped us with countless
projects for an entire weekend. We were all invested in seeing this van through
to completion. But Alex got a lot of criticism, for appearing
to sit back as his friends did all the work. Of course that’s not really how it went. With very little electrical or woodworking
knowledge, Alex was left to do the dirty work. He stayed up all night replacing the wrong
insulation we had used, applied sealer on all the interior panels, ran countless errands,
and returned the favor to Johnny and I by helping us with our YouTube channels. I, for one, was not shy about putting Alex
to work in my yard. Regardless, I had been itching to dig into
this van from the start. It’s a DIYer’s dream to embark on such
a crazy project, get to make videos about it, and do it all on someone else’s dime. Looking back, I can’t even believe it’s
all finished. We’re out today to celebrate the completion
of the van, and get some shots of the finished product. Introducing Dora the Explorer. I’m just kidding. Alex hasn’t named his van yet, but I’m
calling her Dora until he does. Serves him right for procrastinating. From the outside, you can see that Dora has
a big ‘ole solar panel on her roof. This panel combined with a large deep cycle
battery, powers the fan, lights, charge station, and other accessories, for 24 hours per day. If it’s cloudy for weeks on end, the house
battery can also be charged by running the engine. Let’s take a look at some of Dora’s electrical
accessories. First off, there’s the fan which keeps the
air moving. Combined with these window vents, Alex can
pull fresh air in through the front, and exhaust it through the rear. This high efficiency fridge also runs 24/7. Since it opens from the top, Alex can pile
in as much stuff as he wants to survive for weeks off the grid. Under the fridge in this custom platform,
Alex also has storage for his camping stove. To charge Alex’s laptop I installed this
60 watt USB C module, which eliminates the need to use this big wall wart. This uses far less power and creates less
heat as a result. When you’re living off the grid, efficiency
is key. For the rest of Alex’s accessories we built
a charging station inside of a lockable drawer. All his cameras, spare batteries, and charging
bricks can be at the ready, which is essential for a full time YouTube creator. Around the ceiling trim we installed LED light
strips. These are very efficient, remote controlled,
and multicolor—because why not? Up at the bed, I installed some USB ports
for Alex to charge his phone at night, and down at the base of the workstation we installed
a 110 outlet for charging drill batteries, and other things that don’t work off USB. All of this electrical stuff runs back to
this power station, complete with a solar charge controller, sine wave inverter, fuse
box, isolation solenoid, and labels on everything. Should we need to add additional accessories
in the future, I ran extra wires and hid them behind various panels. That pretty much sums up the electrical stuff,
so let’s start at the front of Dora and work our way back. These are custom window covers which reflect
heat, and most importantly provide privacy at night. Overhead is all of Alexander’s clothing,
stored in individual pouches to keep things organized. Both the driver and passenger seat can turn
180 degrees, providing additional living space and seating. You would be surprised how much space this
frees up, and how communal the space feels with the seats spun backwards. Behind the drivers seat is this work desk,
which Johnny measured to be at the perfect height and distance for Alex. His feet even rest on the electrical box,
which was also measured to be at a comfortable height while still clearing the battery. As you can see the walls and ceiling are dressed
in plywood, which is treated with polyurethane for longevity. These panels were tricky to install, since
there are no straight lines in any part of the van. It looks like a box, but it’s really a misshapen
box. Moving back, we have this big metal tool chest,
which holds everything from cooking supplies, to computer accessories, to that charge station
I showed you before. We chose this tool chest because it can lock,
securing the drawers while the van is in motion. It’s also practically indestructible, and
lighter than you might think. Behind the tool chest is Alex’s bed. This bed is actually queen sized, giving Alex
an extravagant amount of sleeping space. When not in use, the bed can be converted
into a couch. In this configuration, the front of the platform
slides back to reveal additional living space. The conversion can be done with this pulley
system that Johnny devised. In fact, Johnny designed this entire crazy
bed from the ground up. At the rear of the van below the bed are two
sliding trays. One holds these bins which are used for long
term storage like seasonal clothing and camping gear. The other tray holds three full sized mountain
bike bikes. Some of you couldn’t understand why we did
this, I mean why not just use a bike rack. Well, these bikes are expensive and Alex lives
in this van full time. He may leave the van unattended, sometimes
for days if he’s camping deep in the woods. It only makes sense to store the bikes inside,
and with this tray they take up way less space than you would think. Since the trays provide access from both sides
it’s easy to take the bikes in or out, and the space in the middle can even be used for
tools and accessories. Throughout the rest of the back, Alex employed
his own solutions to fill in the dead space. These ladder hooks above the wheel well hold
his pump and sleeping pad. These helmetor mounts hold his helmets in
place while he’s driving. This big canvas above the bikes holds all
sorts of other stuff, surprisingly without interference. On of the driver’s side in front of the
wheel well are two huge jugs, for drinking water and personal hygiene. On the back doors, Alex finished it off with
bike wheel storage, and shoe storage. Moving to the outside, some of you have asked
about this 6 inch PVC pipe. It’s not pretty, but it’s also not going
anywhere, with several large hose clamps securing it directly to the frame. This is where Alex stores his outdoor carpet,
which provides him with additional living space at campsites. People freak out about this pipe for some
reason, but the van has plenty of ground clearance and has been working without issue for over
a month. Alex, Johnny, and myself went out today to get shots of all
this stuff, celebrate the van’s completion, and go to dinner with Alex. He treated us to big bloody steaks, sides,
and drinks to thank us for our help. Tomorrow morning he’s officially leaving
North Carolina for the Rocky Mountains. Along the way he’ll discover new things
he needs, get rid of things he doesn’t, and get a sense for where to camp when a proper
site isn’t available. With the form factor of a commercial van,
he can fit in normal parking spaces, drive off road, and be incognito when need be. With that massive queen sized bed, Alex is
sure to sleep soundly in supermarket parking lots across the country. I hope you enjoyed this van tour, van story,
or whatever you want to call it. Between our three YouTube channels there are
videos covering every stage of the build. So click the link below to binge watch them
all. The next time I see Alex we’ll definitely
be following up on some additional van projects, and who knows? Maybe someone else we know will get a van,
so we can do this all over again. Thanks for riding with me today, and I’ll
see you next time.

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