Recently we’ve been following the adventures of the Rosenes as the family of four hits the open road in their 2017 Mercedes Sprinter 3500. Husband and wife Travis and Lexi gave us the nitty gritty details on what it took to convert their van into a comfortable, livable 86-square-foot home for their brood.
The do-it-yourself transformation came in just under $27,000, and includes a large kitchen with high-end appliances, IKEA cabinetry, and butcher-block countertops; a small enclosed bathroom with a compost toilet; outside storage for gear; a hot water heater for their outdoor shower; and plenty of indoor storage for all of their possessions.
Travis created two private sleeping areas (one for mom and dad and the other for the two kids) that are tucked away during the day and can fold out at night. “Creating a comfy area for kids was a challenge,” says Travis of the 4- by 6-foot platform bed that folds down and rests on the back seat. “That was last part and we redid that twice.”
Since this was Travis’ first time converting a van, there was a large learning curve. And the project, which the couple imagined would take around four months, in reality took eight.
Although they stuck with their first design concept, several facets changed during the transformation. “There was lots of trial and error,” says Travis. “What you think in your head is going to work, doesn’t. Making it into a space like that to live is an engineering challenge for sure.”
With a large custom project of this nature, naturally there is no manual. For future nomads, the couple says that handy folks can take on a project of this nature as first-timers. “If you put your mind to it and take your time, anybody can do it,” Travis says. “We watched hours and hours worth of YouTube videos.”
The couple also found a lot of guidance online from other van dwellers. “The community we found was so friendly, and we’ve made a lot of new friends,” says Lexi. Without online resources, the couple says they wouldn’t have been able to complete the project. “And now, we pay it forward and help people out and they ask us a lot of questions,” she adds. Families who want to hit the road regularly reach out to the Rosenes to inquire about specific projects or sharing their enthusiasm.
As the couple made mistakes during their trial-and-error transformation, Travis says that around $2,000 to $3,000 accounted for incidentals. “We put up walls and took down walls,” he says. “We did things two or three times. We bought things and returned things. If we did this again, we now know absolutely what not to do.”
Projects that Travis estimated would take around an hour would sometimes take five hours. “We had a lot of frustrating days,” he says. “Sometimes I just wanted to give up on it. Other times, you finish a project and it’s so satisfying.” For future van converters, Travis recommends testing concepts before executing to make sure that what you have in mind is going to work out in real life.
- Kitchen (including appliances): $5,050.52
- Exterior Accessories (side windows, roof rack, bumpers): $13,374.63
- Interior Accessories (flooring, speakers, toilet): $1,574.98
- Insulation + Lumber: $2,600.86
- Seating/Bed: $386.62
- Miscellaneous Parts: $687.66
- Solar: $1,055
- Electrical + Plumbing System: $1,910
One of the largest misconceptions with van conversions is the amount of time and money it takes. While some folks can do the project on a dime and do it quickly, the Rosene family’s van was meticulously designed for comfort, style, and full-time life for four, which many vans aren’t.
“We wanted to build something that would last and that we would get our value back out of,” says Travis. “For us, we wanted it to be comfortable. And if we were gonna do it, we wanted to commit to it and spend the money.”
The van was DIYed from top to bottom. Most of the work was done by Travis and Lexi, and the things they didn’t know how to do—for example, electrical—they bartered for. In exchange for electrical installation, Travis traded his knowledge in construction.
When planning the electrical system, the couple had to make sure they had enough power in the van so they could use appliances and live comfortably. “We can run whatever appliance we want and have fresh water,” says Travis.
With solar panels, the van is self-sustained so they can go off the grid. While they usually crash on friend’s driveways, public lands, and RV parks, the van’s solar power allows them to exist away from civilization without a worry.
“One thing too is we really try not to glamorize what we do, because it’s not — it is like zero percent glamour,” he says with a laugh.
Learn more about van life and follow the family of four’s adventures on the road at rosenesontheroad.com.