Photos by Erin McGrady and Caroline Whatley
After lots of research on the topic of vanlife as well as trial and error (my wife and I have traveled in a 1976 Toyota Sunline, a 1978 Toyota Chinook and a 1994 Toyota 4Runner) we finally caved and bought a new Ram ProMaster City cargo van.
The stress of older vehicles, and the mounting costs of regular breakdowns, was why we decided to go with the Ram rather than find another vintage vehicle.
We also chose the Ram ProMaster because it could be converted to a camper van. We toyed with the idea of doing the conversion ourselves but we didn't have the time or skills to do so. There are numerous companies across the country doing van conversions but only a couple of them are working on our specific van. One such company called Cascade Campers is based in Seattle and the other is Wayfarer which is based in Colorado Springs. After several discussions, we finally decided on the Wayfarer Van kit and pointed our van west.
Why the Wayfarer Kit?
Part of the reason we chose Wayfarer was because of its price. For $4,696 you will get the floor, camper boxes, a table and panels. (Shipping costs are a flat $500 fee but we didn't have to pay for that since we drove to Colorado.)
The other reason we chose Wayfarer was time. They promised us that our kit would be ready for installation in about two weeks from the time that we ordered it. In addition, they said it could be installed in about an hour. This is in stark contrast to some of the conversions we have read about online which take people sometimes weeks to complete. It was basically the perfect fit for us as far as our budget and time were concerned. (To learn more about why we chose this kit, head on over here.)
The morning of our conversion, the thermometer read 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily the space for the build-out was indoors. Ian, the owner of Wayfarer Vans greeted us upon arrival a little before nine. After we unloaded all of our belongings, we watched as he and his guys gradually transformed our van from empty shell to adventuremobile.
Step 1: Installing the floor
The first step in a Wayfarer Van conversion is the installation of the floor. The floor itself comes in two sections. Both sections are made of plywood with a layer of vinyl flooring on top and foil insulation underneath. The materials make it water resistant, and it’s attached to the base of the van with threaded bolts. We love how neatly it goes around the wheel wells.
Step 2: Attaching the fabric panels
The second step is installing the fabric panels. These panels use magnets to keep them in place and provide not only insulation but sound dampening. They cover a good bit of the surface area inside the van (walls and ceiling) and since they're attached using magnets, can be easily removed.
Step 3: Adding the boxes
Next in the installation process is putting the storage and kitchen boxes in place. There are two storage boxes, each with a divider and one kitchen box, also with a divider. (For those of you who are interested in the Wayfarer kit but don't want all of the components, you can actually purchase just what you need with his a la carte pricing. The floor is $1199, the panels are $1699, the table is $249 and the camper boxes with cushions are $1549.)
Each kitchen box is 14 inches deep, 12.5 inches tall and 18.5 inches wide, and the design is really clever. You can open them from the top as well as from the front. The top works great as a table-top for cooking, and the best part is that when your stove is up there and you've got food going, you can still access the lower compartment through the front.
The storage boxes are deceivingly spacious. We can fit a lot more into them than we expected, which is a really good thing when your vehicle also doubles as your house.
When we want to fit our bikes in the back of the van, we can remove the side storage box and kitchen box. This modular system is one of the biggest benefits of our conversion kit; it's flexible, semi-permanent and easy to re-configure based on your adventure needs.
We were so impressed with not only how quickly the guys worked but how careful they were during the process. They also swept the interior several times and washed down the surfaces - we really appreciated their attention to cleanliness and detail.
Step 4: Installing the table
Last but not least was the installation of the table, which is mounted to the van via a couple of metal bolts that go through a metal bracket. The whole thing is on a hinge so that it can be raised or lowered. The thin piece of red line attaches to the table to keep it upright, and works in tandem with a leg that can be attached for added stability.
Step 5: Load your stuff back in and go!
Once the table was installed, our conversion was complete. We packed all our gear back into the van and were back out on the road! Our first stop was for work in Flagstaff, Arizona. We drove our van on iconic Route 66, into Austin, Texas and back across the country to our homebase in Asheville, North Carolina. I'm currently writing from Delaware and we are just about to embark on a trip through the south. Destination? The Florida Keys!
Although we've only had our Wayfarer kit for a couple of months, it has already made a huge impact on our ability to live out of our van. Some things we can already appreciate is that the panels make good on their promise of reducing road noise both while driving and when parked. We're also super psyched on the way the storage boxes have optimized our organization and storage.
Everything has a place rather than it being just “somewhere in the back.” We also can't underestimate how well we're sleeping in our vehicle. It's a huge step up from the cramped quarters of our 4Runner – we can actually extend our legs all the way!
There is a lot of value in having a space that is functional and also feels good. After all, it is our home on wheels and feeling good about our living situation means we're more likely to keep adventuring.
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