These Companies Will Help You Build Out Your Camper Van
At 24, I checked all of the boxes. College? Check. Internship? Check. Another internship? Check. Full-time salaried job? Yep, check. But I wasn’t satisfied. I met all the benchmarks, but I was going through the motions rather than living my life intentionally. A recent breakup also helped fuel my “I need change” mentality.
So there I was, sitting in an air-conditioned cubicle plotting my next step. I had been thinking about building a camper van for a while, and whenever I brought it up to family or friends, it was met with one of two reactions: “Do it while you can!” or “Where will you go to the bathroom?” These reactions quickly spiraled into concern when I mentioned I was thinking about building it out myself―despite not knowing how to use a power drill.
I’m glad I didn’t listen to the cynics because I did it. I built myself a van. And though it wasn’t perfect, it was my own personal ticket to freedom. I hit the road and set out to explore the southwest for a year and a half.
My story isn’t special. In fact, it’s a broken record for many millennials seeking an alternative way of living. When asked about the rise of the industry and where it is headed, Vance Brand, owner of Venture Van Outfitters, explains: “It has to do with society and where we are economically. Let’s look back to the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo. There were a lot of custom vans in the 70s but that disappeared. I think it will be something that comes and goes. A lot of it also has to do with millennials not wanting things but wanting experiences.
Exploring Utah in my van ultimately led to me to Salt Lake City, where it’s fairly obvious that the van life craze is especially prevalent. Transplants nationwide are Sprinter-speeding to all the crags, trails, and streams that Utah offers. Because of this, retrofit companies across Utah are meeting the demand head-on, offering professional conversion services to turn vans and Airstreams into personalized “homes on wheels.”
In many ways, I wish that I had turned to professionals such as ACME Overland to help with the build of my van. I was inexperienced, and because of this, I spent unnecessary time and money correcting my mistakes. As Mr. Brand says, “The Utah DIY crowd is huge. You have to be skilled at all trades and not everybody has those skill sets. People don’t understand the cost involved… they see things on Pinterest [and think] it’s going to be easy.”
Social media channels such as Instagram paint this fantastical picture of nomadic life, and it’s easy to get lost in it. The truth is that it’s not so glamorous. Don’t get me wrong, there were times when I felt the freedom of waking up on a desolate beach―and it was incredible. But there were also times I found myself broken down, crying on the side of an LA freeway at midnight, or trying to muffle the sound of me puking from food poisoning in a parking lot.
My build was basic, and much of the discomfort I experienced would have been eliminated with additions such as a toilet or shower. After talking with some of the retro-fit companies in Utah, it’s easy to understand why they have the build process dialed. Jason Sager, owner of Van Life Designs in Ogden, Utah provides great service because he understands his clients on a deeper level―and having family members with an auto shop, woodworking knowledge, and interior design expertise also helps.
These companies understand that each build is unique to the lifestyle of the client. “Consultation is based on how they are going to use it. Haul gear? Leasure? Both? I ask questions like, are you going to use a blender? Because that changes things. I like to have them come in and we will start a sketch to talk out their layout and how it will work for them,” Mr.Sager explains.
Whether or not this “trend” is fleeting, it certainly seems like life on the road is going to stick around, especially in Utah. And that means the market for van customization will only increase.