Table of Contents
A change must come
We belong to the group of people who have always been full of wanderlust more than we are homesick. The feeling of being on the road, discovering new things, experiencing a new culture and leaving everyday life behind fascinates us every time anew. That's why we always like to be as close to the action as possible, do a lot during the day and have so far mainly been "at home" in vacation homes. We really appreciate the feeling of coming back to the vacation home after the excursions, but at some point the thought occurred to us: why always have to return at all when there is still so much to discover out there?
We wanted to get back out, back to nature, back to all the beautiful places we have not had our fill of for a long time. Back to the remote places without losing mobility and still being able to travel. So it was clear to us that we needed a mobile vacation solution that would still get us there and that would allow us to stay in several places and be independent at the same time. Since campgrounds were never in our focus, we landed quite quickly with a van or van. The idea of being able to decorate it ourselves according to our wishes and with heart and soul gave us the feeling of being able to create the perfect home away from home. Ambitious goals, as we have found out in retrospect, but as the saying goes: Where there's no will there's no way! And yes - so we too decided to live the hip "vanlife".
The mobile base
So why not "simply" find a Bulli and convert it? The VW bus is not only a classic, it was also perfectly suited for our plans. No sooner said than done. After lengthy research, we fell in love with a VW T3 Joker with a high roof from our area and were allowed to call ourselves the proud owners of the blue monster from 1985 a few days after the first viewing appointment.
Now we stood there, keys in hand, staring at the 4.6 m long vehicle. Our enthusiasm for the idea of traveling with a van and for the T3, had come so quickly for us that we had not yet thought about the further procedure to be honest. Actually, the good from the ground up already super equipped, offers (for us) enough space and also a small kitchen. We chose it primarily because of its external appearance and the space it offers, and because it simply looks like a real oldie. Inside, however, it didn't really spark. It's a little hard to explain but every time we took a look inside, we thought "this has potential" and not "oh, this is livable". And homely is what we wanted it to be on the road. The T3 should not only give us the feeling of adventure on the outside, but also be ready for such adventures on the inside, and that in the year 2020 and not 1989. So after some back and forth, we arrived at the following point: Expand yes, but how?
First decisions - Build from scratch or pre-built conversion kits?
Already the first bullis of their kind were converted for vacations and offered a lot of comfort in a small space. For this reason, a separate industry has emerged, which offers various conversion kits for the conversion of such a vehicle. Here you can find everything from beds to furniture to turn your vehicle into a motorhome where you can live well and comfortably. So we thought about whether we wanted to take advantage of such a kit to spice up our vehicle or whether we would rather do the conversion completely ourselves. In the end, we decided on a mix. We wanted to do many parts of the conversion ourselves so that we could add our personal touch and create something for ourselves. In addition, we also wanted to buy individual pieces of furniture that matched our vehicle. After all, we wanted to create the VW bus that fits and reflects our attitude to life. Therefore, we wanted to retain full control over the core elements.
Everything must go
This was the first step for us and also at the same time the one that made us doubt our plan: The expansion. True to the motto "Everything has to come out", we were motivated to get to work, only to discover shortly afterwards that it was a hell of a lot of work and that not everything could be quickly removed from the van the first time it was screwed or levered. Here it was stuck, there was no room, one part was screwed to the other. After we had our first rant behind us, we paused: You can't do it all that carelessly. So again, slowly and step by step: in the first step, we armed ourselves with pen and piece of paper and noted down the tasks at hand: The bench had to go, as well as the kitchen, then the rear cabinet followed by the side cabinet. The front seats and the high roof were allowed to stay.
After we had a better feel for the scope of the various steps, we made notes and collected every little screw in small bags, which we carefully labeled so that we could find everything again later and, above all, assign it correctly. After a few days of patience and painstaking work, we had removed everything more or less as planned, and instead of the expected yawning emptiness, the interior looked more like pure chaos. Everything looked raw and unbuilt, with holes and glue residue crying out for replacement.
Initial planning: electricity, power supply and lighting
In the first step, we chose these themes because they seemed particularly important and obvious to us. If you want to spend your vacation secluded from everything, you also want to see something of the surroundings and sit at the romantic dinner with light in the light. That was of course our first thought ;-)
Before we could lay the insulation of the interior, we should of course know exactly what wiring we need and integrate it into the insulation with cable ducts. I have to admit that we don't know much about electricity, so we called in a professional. He not only designed all the wiring for us, but also provided a suitably sized battery, current transformers and solar cells for the roof. We wanted to be as independent as possible from campsites and an external power supply in the context of our Vanlife.
For the lighting, we have consistently opted for LED lighting. This is because it is not only particularly durable, but also requires less energy and, above all, generates less heat. This means that we can use both direct and indirect lighting in our VW bus, which can be easily controlled separately. And thanks to the suitably sized batteries in the vehicle, we can also work with our laptop, charge our smartphones or sometimes use the tablet for a movie night in bed. Thanks to the powerful solar panels on the roof, which charge the batteries underneath the bed, we can easily generate enough energy in most locations to enjoy our daily lives without restrictions.
A good insulation as a basis
The next question was about the windows of our Bulli. If possible, these should be able to close opaque and also provide good thermal insulation. In this way, we wanted to ensure that we could also use our T3 in the cold seasons or for somewhat colder vacation destinations and that there would not be a draught from every crack. Therefore, as part of the interior insulation of the Bulli, we decided to provide the windows with interior frames into which we could install matching roller shutters. Practical, absolutely opaque and darkening, these also provide another layer of insulation on the windows when it's sunny or cold, which has clearly paid off so far. This allows us to enjoy the view from the windows during the day and even experience nature almost tangibly while lounging in bed. In addition to the windows, we also added insulation to the walls, roof, and most importantly, the floor of the vehicle. The thermal insulation and the cladding above make the interior shrink slightly, but it's worth it to us to make sure we're neither too cold nor too hot. After we had everything well insulated, we moved on to the new covering for the floor. Since there was already foam-like insulation under the black rubber here, we just tacked some more insulation material to the underside of the floor board. The desired PVC flooring was then laid over the floor panels.
A toilet in the van? Only under clear conditions
Independence also means that we wanted to have a toilet in our VW bus. But the experience from previous vacations and especially from the allotment of the mother-in-law had proven to me that I definitely do not want to have a chemical toilet in my bus. With the well-known smell, which is familiar to most from a usual Dixie toilet, it shakes me still today. And also the idea of having to carry a brown, sloshing soup with decent weight always laboriously deterred me. In addition, we value our environment and would like to leave it as untouched as possible and not have a negative impact on it. Therefore, it was clear to me from the outset that only a composting toilet comes to us in the T3, which does not make us dependent on the disposal stations.
A composting toilet works according to a simple principle: The composting toilet separates urine and stool from each other, as the name composting toilet already suggests, without water and without chemicals, so that they can be disposed of separately. The liquid components of the excreta are thus collected in a different tank than the solid components. The feces are disposed of in bags in the normal household waste, while you can simply dispose of the urine in a drain. This makes disposal much easier and saves on the one hand chemicals and also water, since this is not necessary for use. This also minimizes the content that needs to be emptied. In the end, we opted for a small, plain variant of the composting toilet, which impresses with its simple design and is very compact, so that we can attach it behind the seats while driving.
The bathroom in the vanlife - simple solutions for on the road
Space in a van is limited. For this reason, we decided to move the bathroom outside. With a surrounding ring on the tailgate of the vehicle, we can easily and quickly mount a shower curtain and use a mobile shower to clean ourselves quickly and easily when needed. However, we are still figuring out how to better heat the shower water during cooler times. So far, we've always filled the tank with hot water and then regulated it with cold water until the temperature was right. Long showers are not possible with this, but we can still clean up quickly and effectively after a busy day. And let's face it: since we are on the road with our van mainly in the summer months and thus the shower can be refreshing, this is rarely a real problem. Our next consideration is to integrate a shower permanently into the tailgate. However, we have put that project on the back burner for now.
Our walk-in kitchen
Since we also removed the kitchen initially, we can use the existing lines and connections for the installation of a new kitchenette. However, we also wanted to do without gas for the most part on the road, so we converted to a ceramic plate with diesel stove, which is powered with the help of diesel and our solar system. For the implementation we got professional help from a company, because we were not quite comfortable with the connection and the installation is recommended via experts. Therefore, we left our hands of it and were satisfied with painting the body of the kitchen unit and spicing it up with a new sink. For the sink, we were able to use the existing connections. We also replaced the old refrigerator with a new model and plugged it in behind the kitchenette's designated cover. In the van itself, we added self-adhesive tiles to protect the walls from splashes while cooking. After that, we started on the equipment: from pots to small hooks for fruit nets to a small spice rack, we were able to accommodate everything according to our ideas.
The last moves
We did not reinstall the bench seat in the back of the T3, but instead integrated a slightly raised wooden frame on which we could place a comfortable mattress under which we could create further storage space for boxes and our equipment. Since the floor space in the vehicle is limited, you eventually have to use every available space. Therefore, we also attached a luggage net under the high roof, which gives us additional storage space. To make it a bit more homelike we used small spice racks to place some belongings on the walls. We also added a hook rail for our jackets. After the rough work was done, I could - or rather was allowed to - devote myself to the beautiful part of decorating and color-coordinate all accessories. In color to the outer facade of our favorite now prevails inside a blue to pale pink color mix. ;-) Now everything fits together, from the matching toilet seat to the wall hooks.
We are now insanely proud of our T3 and all the effort we put into it. Of course, we also used a lot of help, but that does not diminish our pride in the slightest, because we can say with good feeling that everything works as well. Now we have a mobile home, a toilet in the kitchen, a kitchen in the bathroom, a bed in the hallway, the closet under the bed, a shower in the trunk, the vehicle in the house.
And with that, we are overjoyed and no longer have to turn back at the places where there is still so much for us to discover.