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2nd November 2023

Couple’s year-long European road trip in a self-build campervan

Toying with the idea of converting a van into a luxury camper? Find out how one couple did just that and now they are on a year-long European tour with their pet cat Lola.

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A couple who met while studying at Bath University are now living the dream on a once-in-a-lifetime year-long road trip of Europe in their exquisite self-build campervan.

During the trip Meera Bhardwaj-Patel and Will Brown will enjoy all the comforts of home, including the company of Lola the camper-trained cat which they have taken along for the ride.

Their van is a 2014 Mercedes Sprinter LWB which cost just £7,100 from a private seller on AutoTrader. 

Will explained: “We knew we wanted a Sprinter and spent a long time scouring online for the perfect combination of age, mileage and price. 

“We took the van for a test drive. Everything worked and any aesthetic issues were minor and could be easily fixed. That being said, it had been owned by a carpet fitter and the amount of carpet fibres and glue we had to clean from the inside of the van was crazy!”

A year later the basic van has been totally transformed into a bespoke and luxurious camper with a bijou cottage feel courtesy of a profusion of pastel shades and reclaimed timber features such as the ceiling and cleverly constructed kitchen cabinetry.

self-build camper

This little mobile home is brimful with luxury

Creature comforts lovingly built into this wonderful home on wheels include:

  • A bathroom with a hot water shower and slide-out composting toilet
  • A kitchen with an oven, gas hob, fridge, larder, upper and lower cabinets and an extendable tap which can swivel to become an outdoor shower
  • A bedroom with fixed bed, projector and projector screen, skylight, underbed clothes drawers and laptop storage
  • The living space has a sofa which changes into a workspace with a pull up pedestal table, rattan games cupboard and plant shelves, shutter into cab, under seat storage and full domestic control panel
  • They have also built an under bed ‘garage’ which contains the freshwater tank, access to gas, electrics and water systems, stores adult bikes, a tool drawer and lots of extra storage. Read our useful blog for help to spark your own innovative campervan storage ideas.

Will said: “We did all the work and in total it took us about a year. Meera was working nine-to-five during the build so had less time than me. She did a lot of the interior design aspects like colour schemes and furnishings. 

“She also spent a good two months working on the reclaimed wood ceiling, which included sourcing free pallets, cutting, sanding and staining.”

However, Will was unemployed at the time and worked on the van continuously. He did everything from framing, to electrics, and building Shaker-style kitchen cabinetry to Meera’s specifications. 

self-build camper

Preparation was key for a self-build camper refit

The refit didn’t come together by accident: 

“One of the first things we did before buying the van was write down exactly what we wanted to use it for, and this helped determine our initial layout,” he said 

“For example, we knew we wanted to stay off-grid for long-periods of time, but still enjoy our home comforts, such as a full kitchen and bathroom. 

“This helped determine the size of van we needed. We also spent a lot of time looking at other van conversions online and researching the best configurations in terms of weight distribution, ventilation, storage and economy of space. 

“By the time we bought the van we had a couple of rough layout sketches and, once we had the exact space dimensions, spent a while creating a 3D model using Google Sketchup and then Autodesk Fusion 360.

“Even after doing all this planning, we didn’t fully stick to the model and made plenty of adjustments throughout the conversion.”

self-build camper

Powering your campervan: the technical stuff

The camper’s home comforts are powered by a 300Ah AGM battery bank, capable of providing energy for a week without recharging. This is supported by a 320W solar panel on the roof, which allows them to extend their off-grid time. 

They also have a combination inverter/battery charger which allows them to use 230v when off-grid, with 2,000W capacity. This is connected via a consumer unit to a hook-up inlet, which allows them to top up the batteries as and when is necessary. 

Many people also opt for a battery-to-battery charger, which allows you to trickle charge via the van’s alternator. They decided against this, partly due to cost and also because they have a portable LiFePO4 powerbank which is handy during winter months when solar effectiveness declines. They can charge the powerbank through the cigarette lighter when they are driving.

The camper also has a 20-litre underslung LPG tank which supplies the oven, hobs, heater and boiler. 

Will said: “It’s a really efficient medium for heating and cooking, and we’d definitely recommend it rather than relying on electrical heat generation, which would massively increase the cost of an electrical system. A full tank of LPG lasts for more than a month and is quite cheap.”

The 100L freshwater tank usually lasts about a week if they don’t shower in the van. Whenever they can they try to use public facilities. They use the app Park4Night to find water points which are usually abundant and free to use (although this varies from country to country – Germany and Denmark, for example, don’t allow ‘wild camping’ so there are very few fill-up stops). 

self-build camper

These are a few of our favourite things

Both Will and Meera have their favourite parts of the camper. 

Meera said: “My favourite thing would have to be the kitchen. It took a long time to design and construct. We played with the idea of getting pre-made parts like doors and drawer fronts but the dimensions we had to work with didn’t fit standard kitchens. 

“The Shaker-style door that I like would also have been expensive. In the end everything was hand crafted. It started as just a frame and seeing it evolve into what it is now was so satisfying. 

“It’s practical and looks exactly how I envisioned it. I also love the little drawers down the back of the kitchen which can be seen when the sliding door is open. They’re a little quirky but they were an impulse design decision. They are decorated in paint samples that we didn’t use.”

Will’s favourite features are the Rattan games cupboard, the pull up table and the electrical board.

“I think the Rattan cupboard is a really nice design feature and works well with all the wood,” he said.

“The pull up table allows us to use the living space to relax and work in and I love the fact that such a small space can be used in so many different ways.

“I like the way the electrical board looks and it enables us to monitor our whole system from one place. I also think it was nice to see the result of a lot of hard work on my first bespoke electrical system.”

self-build camper

What could possibly go wrong during a self-build camper refit?

Will, who was born and raised in Southport in the North West of England, has always been passionate about designing and building things, and studied mechanical engineering at university with no idea of what to do afterwards. 

Despite having that good knowledge and practical skills, the refit wasn’t all plain sailing. 

“Within the first month of us buying the van, Will accidentally sawed off some very important door bolts,” said Meera 

“We both stood there as our door just slid straight off. It’s safe to say, neither off us were very happy and honestly at that moment we both regretted ever buying a van.”

There was another mishap as the couple and the cat travelled down to Toulouse. Meera needed the loo but forgot that the pee bucket had to be opened before being used. Needless to say the consequences took quite a bit of cleaning up!

self-build camper

The camper conversion was Meera’s dream project

Will explained: “It was Meera’s dream to convert a van into a camper and I was easily convinced. Fearing she had no little or no practical skills of her own, I was happy to take some time to do the brunt of the construction. 

“Now that the van is finished and we’re on the road, I’m working remotely as an engineer for an off-grid electrical system design company called Nomadic Energy

“We put together systems for people all over the UK who are converting their own vans. 

“I’m also working on the van-converting side of our TikTok page, and am in the process of planning the ‘Converting a Van in 60 Seconds’ video series, which aims to teach people the basics in short, easy-to-digest chunks.”

self-build camper

‘He probably thought I was crazy!”

Meera, 25, was born in the UK but spent most of her life in the South of France where she moved with her family when she was six. 

She said: “I have always loved travelling and took two years off between school and uni to do some volunteering and backpacking abroad.”

In 2018 she started studying psychology at Bath and she met Will at a neighbour’s house party.  

She said: “I told him how much I wanted to convert a van. I’m pretty sure I had saved a load of van videos on YouTube and was scrolling through them. He probably thought I was crazy.”

Crazy or not, he was quickly won over by her camper dream. 

Meera takes up the story again: “After finishing Uni in 2021, I spent two years working as an assistant psychologist in neurodevelopmental conditions. 

“I was lucky enough to do this mostly online which allowed me to live with Will while we were doing the van conversion.

“I decided to leave my position just before we headed off and I’m currently volunteering in mental health while completing clinical psychology course applications. 

“When we started the van conversion we started making TikTok videos to document the process, and people seemed to actually like them! We are still making the videos 

“I also work on running our social media accounts and the TikTok series Converting a Van in 60 Seconds. 

self-build camper

Campervan is couple’s home from home on wheels

The finished camper has a very homely feel, which is exactly what Meera was hoping for: 

She said: “We noticed a lot of traditional, company-built campervans use lightweight materials which, for us, felt very impersonal and a little bit clinical.

“We wanted to create a warm, homely space, which was both practical and cosy. We felt that the use of wood and warm tones helped create that atmosphere. 

“Good quality wood is also durable and long-lasting which is great for high usage spaces and if we ever want to sell the van at a later date. A lot of the wood we used was repurposed which helped keep costs down.”

self-build camper

What’s cooking in the campervan kitchen?

Meera explained: “We both love cooking, although whether or not we are good is another question because we’ve both made some shockers! 

“I think our best meal so far has to be homemade ravioli. We made about six different types, we had everything from caramelised onion and goats cheese, to veggie beef and tomato. It was definitely overkill, and I think we were cooking for about half a day, but it was so worth it. I’m so glad we ended up bringing the pasta maker.

“Our go to meal? We love Pad thai. It’s cheap, easy and so good. We bought a wok for the camper kitchen before we bought anything else. In fact, it’s now used for pretty much everything because we never got a pan.”

If you need further inspiration, you can read this useful blog we produced on how to get the most out of your campervan kitchen

self-build camper

Getting used to life on the road

As for the road trip, the couple and their cat have already clocked up 6,000 miles.

“So far, we’ve travelled from Meera’s parents’ house in Toulouse up through Belgium and Germany to Scandinavia,” said Will.

“We left at the end of August and decided we wanted to head straight up to Sweden and Norway so we were able to spend some time touring before it got too cold and snowy.

“We’ve spent the last two months travelling up the west coast of Sweden and Norway and it’s been incredible! We’ve been able to stay in some amazing off-grid locations, the middle of forests, tops of mountains, and even directly on several fjords! 

“Our adventure cat, Lola, is also loving the great outdoors and has even come with us on a couple of big hikes. The camper is her home and she always returns to it if she does go out to explore on her own. 

self-build camper

Touring and living the highlife

“We recently spent a night on a mountain in Norway,” he continued. 

This was the farthest north we’d been yet, and the cold set in quickly. In the morning, our gearstick and underslung water tank were frozen! 

“When we were eventually able to move, we carried on down the road and found an incredible wintery scene, with snowy hillocks and semi-frozen lakes. 

“Further down the road, the snow gave way to a forested area with birds emerging from the trees as we drove past, and a surging river below us. This was on a small road called Bjørgavegan, which we both agreed was one of the best drives we’ve had so far.

“Our plan for the next couple of months is to travel south and properly stop in Denmark, Germany and Belgium. We hope to be in the Balkans around springtime. We don’t really have any solid plans though, but we’ve blocked out a year to travel all around Europe.

“In an ideal world, we would love to eventually take the van over to North America and do a big road trip around Canada, the US and some of South America.”

You can follow Meera, Will and Lola’s European road trip adventures on TikTok and Instagram

The couple each summed up their camper experience with a few words of affection and appreciation.

Meera said: “She’s our cosy mountain lodge, warm winter ski chalet, breezy Mediterranean beach hut, and safe city break. She’s our tiny home on wheels.”

Will added: “The months of hard work on our campervan will allow us to make great memories for years to come.”

self-build camper

Less exciting stuff to consider on a campervan road trip of Europe

Meera said: “We have fully comprehensive cover with Sterling.. This covers us now during our travels, and also throughout our year-long conversion. This was especially important for us, and for anyone else doing a conversion, because, although we didn’t have a fully kitted out van at this stage, we were spending so much time on it and slowly adding in quite expensive bits of kit. 

“Our policy also includes cover on everything inside the van (personal and camper-related items), which, as mentioned before, is great for those pricier components such as inverters, batteries and water heaters. 

“We have cover for a full year in Europe, which most insurers don’t offer, with EU breakdown and legal support.”

If you are planning an overseas road trip read our useful blog containing top tips for driving in Europe

Insurance for your overseas campervan adventure

Whether you take your campervan on short breaks, holidays or extended trips further afield like Will and Meera, Sterling will have the perfect campervan insurance deal to match your needs. Call 0344 381 9990 for a quote today.

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