Budget DIY Campervan Renovation: Step by Step Guide

As most of you already know, we recently bought a campervan which we decided to call Benny. Despite its great condition, we wanted to add to it our personal touch to be able to call Benny our home for the next couple of months on our road trip through Europe. So, there we are doing our very own campervan renovation!

Benny - our campervan and travel companion

Considering we both have very limited DIY knowledge and we also don’t know much about campervans, the challenge ahead was quite scary! We must admit that in the beginning we were overwhelmed with the number of things that we needed to learn so we could feel comfortable taking Benny on the road. Truth is, now that we have pretty much finished the whole process, we understand that it is more about hard work and some creativity rather than complex tasks.

Because Benny had most of its features working properly and in good condition, and also because of the time pressure (we wanted to start our trip as soon as possible), we decided not to do any major alterations of layout or the electric or water system. But to feel comfortable during the next months, we wanted to do a simple and budget refresh to turn our Benny into a fresh cool looking van with all the comfort we need.

We created this simple step by step guide to describe how we did our campervan renovation without spending much time and money. Hopefully, this post will be helpful if you are starting the “campervan journey” and, like us, are feeling overwhelmed. 

Follow these simple steps and in a couple of weeks your campervan renovation is finished and you may hit the road in great style!

Step #1: Remove Everything

If like us, you are buying a used campervan, you will find a lot of stuff inside that will need revision. It’s very important to remove every single item from the van to make it easier to work. 

It’s also good to know what do you have and what is it used for before you start “packing” your van. As a first step, we had to give or throw away a lot of stuff that we knew we wouldn’t need.

Benny before the renovation
Benny before the renovation

Step #2: Clean it All

This step is critical for the success of your transformation and also for hygienic reasons. Sometimes vans stay a long time without moving from the parking lot so, naturally, you may find some humidity or strange smells inside.

Cleaning our campervan

The secret is simple, find the most powerful and appropriate cleaning products you can find for each purpose (make sure to apply the right products on the right surfaces not to damage the materials), roll your sleeves up and start cleaning it as professional as possible.

Step #3: Create Your Project

Once cleaned, it’s time to clearly define how do you want your van to look like and what exactly will you change. As far as our time was limited, we chose the most important points to focus on during our campervan renovation. For us, these were:

Originally our Benny had several big pieces of furniture in brown color, which looked “heavy”. So, in terms of colors, we wanted something brighter to get an impression of more light and space. We also wanted to install a few pieces of vinyl to promote our blog and our social media accounts. So, we decided we wanted to have Benny with the same colors of our blog to be consistent, so white, blue with details of grey was the color mix we chose.

Step #4: Think of an Action Plan

This was actually a step that we could have done better. We didn’t define a clear path for our project, so we were kind of “shooting to every direction” working on things according to what we thought was the natural course of the work. Our advice is: make a list of all the tasks you want to execute and prioritize them from top to bottom. Also, remember the natural workflow, for example, you shouldn’t paint furniture first and then the ceiling because the probability of ruining your furniture work is high. 

If you are tight in terms of the time, we also recommend clearly define when each task should be accomplished so you keep track of your progress and which tasks are getting delayed. After this step, it’s time to take measurements, buy all materials that will be used in your DIY works, and crack on with your campervan renovation plan!

Step #5: Take Measurements

In our case, we wanted to start with painting the Bennys’ interiors. We also knew that we would make a new mattress for our bed. So, first, we took all the necessary measurements (basically, of everything we could) and it helped us further on in choosing the correct size for some pieces of decoration, like a blanket, bed sheets, and some storage boxes.

Step #6: Buy All You Need

At this stage we already had a more or less clear idea of the volume of the works, so we put on paper all we needed to buy to start. We will list in detail all materials we used in every step of our campervan renovation.

Our tip at this point is to use the measurements you took to calculate how much of every product do you need. Read carefully on every package what surface it will cover. For example, we underestimated the number of paint cans we needed and we had to come back shopping several times.

Step #7: Do All the Small Fixes

When all the needed tools and products were bought, we started preparing our Benny for painting. 

When cleaning our van, we found numerous hooks hung all over the place, that we knew we would not need in our day-by-day #vanlife. So, we decided to remove most of them. The hooks were gone, but the holes stayed… But thanks to our friend YouTube, we found a pretty simple tutorial on how to solve this problem. All we needed was to apply a special wood filler, let it dry and then sand well the surface around. In a couple of hours or so, Pedro managed to plug all the holes we didn’t need, so our Benny was almost ready for painting!

Campervan renovation: fixing old holes
Campervan renovation: fixing old holes, wood filler

One more thing we had to fix before started painting was 1 shelf that had a bit of mold on it. There are no miracles, a 25-years-old car had to have some defects, even such a cool one as Benny. So first, we sanded well the affected surface and then applied a special anti-mold liquid.

We also found out that 2 drawers were a bit unstuck, but it was easy to fix with some glue and patience.

Campervan renovation: fixing wooden drawers
Campervan renovation: fixing wooden drawers

Step #8: Start from Interior Painting

After all the small fixes were done, we were ready to start the most sweaty part of our campervan renovation – painting. Truth is, none of us have previously had significant painting experience except Pedro sometimes helping friends painting their houses. Other than that we were complete noobies in this field.

First, it’s important to disassemble all the small parts of furniture to make the process easier (like drawers and drawer doors, etc.) Then, had to isolate all the rest very well with tape to ensure we wouldn’t mess up everything around while painting. If you want a top tip about painting interiors of a van, here it is: put your best effort in isolation! It will help you to keep things tight and will save you time, money, and some nerves to reach so awaited final result 🙂

Campervan renovation: interior painting, water-based enamel

We started painting Benny’s interiors from the ceiling and walls. We chose a light grey color to feel brighter inside and at the same time not to get dirty pretty fast. Our walls are covered with a thin material that looks like styrofoam, so we chose a non-abrasive water-based paint from Titanlux with satin finishing. It is eco-friendly and does not have almost any smell, it was pretty easy to work with it and didn’t need any special preparation. To cover all the walls and ceiling we used just 1 can (750 ml), for us just 1 layer was enough.

When walls and ceiling were done, we removed the isolation tape and applied it to the other side. Then we started painting the furniture. We already had very clear in our heads the effect we wanted to get. We found a special paint from Rust-Oleum that could be applied directly to the furniture without sanding. It has a chalky finish and creates this “old furniture” effect. The color we liked the most was “old white” and it looked just right after the application! The only problem was that this product has a thicker texture and to cover all the furniture we had to use 2 cans. We found cool the final result, but if you prefer a more uniform color, you should apply the 2nd layer.

Campervan renovation: chalky paint for furniture
Campervan renovation: furniture painting

When all was done, we still needed to wax all the furniture to protect the paint, make it smoother, and brighten up a little bit. If you decide to do the same, we have a small little secret for you: the most comfy way to apply the wax is with an old cotton sock on your hand 🙂

All the process took a lot of effort from both of us, but it was worth it because in a couple of days we managed to finish the job.

Step #9: Do Exterior Painting

Speaking of Benny’s exterior, we wanted to fix 2 problems: some small areas with rust (sanding and painting with a small can of paint we got from a previous owner) and changing the color of a decorative pattern outside. Originally, Benny was converted by a specialized company that applied some branding elements outside. We decided to cover the logos with our own small vinyls and just change the color of 1 line from red to blue. The problem was this line is applied all around the van and some of its parts have pretty difficult access. 

For us, it was kind of a challenge! It wasn’t difficult to paint, but isolation and sanding were like going to the gym. The weather also was not perfect for these works, because most of the time Pedro was painting in front of our building where the sun was hitting all afternoon (around 25º C).

Campervan renovation: exterior painting
Campervan renovation: exterior painting
Campervan renovation: exterior painting

After a lot of sweat and tears, all the exterior parts were painted and we just needed to apply the exterior vinyl with our blog information. Angelina designed it herself in Canva and ordered the printing online, so it was delivered in some days at our home. The vinyl was a big challenge and we messed up during the application. We recommend if you want to do it right, ask a person that is familiar with the process. Ours is far from perfect but we are happy with it anyway!

Step #10: Make Your DIY Mattress

If you travel for more than 2 weeks in a van, eventually you will end up feeling the need for that extra comfort. It was important for us, especially considering that we have quite a short bed. We knew we needed a good mattress for our bed, so we decided to do remove the old one and do ours from scratch. 

Our old bed

Angelina took this task very seriously and got her hands on it. She took all the measurements and bought all the materials from foam and fabric to velcros and zippers. Unfortunately, we didn’t know anybody who could do the sewing part of cushions covers, so we opted for seamstress services. We now have a brand new bed which transforms in 2 sofas… not to mention the patterns that look very cozy!

Campervan remodel: grey foam for the new bed
Campervan remodel: fabric for new bed
Campervan remodel: new bed, final result

Step #11: Make New Curtains

We asked the lady that made our cushions to make us also some curtains. Here our advice is to think about the purpose of each piece. Your curtains should protect you from light and also give you some privacy.

Benny already had metalized curtains protecting us from the sun, and we opted for keeping them. But we wanted to add some extra ones to feel more comfy inside and also to protect us from the others’ eyes when the doors are open. So, now we have 2 long curtains covering the rear door, 4 small ones on the 2 windows as a decorative element, and 1 long one to cover the sleeping area from the rest if needed.

Campervan remodel: new curtains
Campervan update: new curtains

Step #12: Ensure Storage Space

In terms of storage space, our Benny doesn’t have the best layout in the world, however, there are several drawers and even wardrobe inside. Anyway, we felt that we can improve it a little bit, at least in 2 points.

The tip that we have for you, is to try to put all your small belongings in boxes or containers. That’s what we noticed right after the first ride – all the small jars and bottles started to move inside the drawers and falling down after we open them. So, we bought 1 container for spices to keep them organized and 2 containers for cosmetics and cleaning stuff in the bathroom.

The other thing we felt was it was difficult to arrange space for our shoes, so we decided to use the vertical space we had behind Pedro’s seat and got a hanging shoe organizer.

Step #13: Adjust the Energy Supply

This is when things started to look really scary for us. It’s crucial to understand how the electric system of the van works so you can manage well your energy use. We know nothing about electronics, so the challenge was to understand first what we needed to use that consumes energy.

Benny has 2 batteries, one for the automotive side and another for the camper side. After analyzing what were our needs, we decided to buy 2 gadgets. A 12V USB charger for our phones that we can connect to the cigarette plug of the van in the back part (close to the bed) and also a car inverter from 12V to 220V that we can connect to the same cigarette plug and use our 220V appliances, like a hairdryer or our laptops.

In general, Benny was already very well prepared in terms of its energy supply, but if we could, we would like to install a solar panel. It is a bit expensive and it takes time to install, so we decided to postpone this alteration.

We have a good gas system and space to store 2 gas bottles and we can always connect Benny to the camping sites’ 220V plugs. For small “emergencies” we also bought a mighty power bank from Anker that allows us up to 6-7 mobile charges. At the moment it’s enough for us and we should be covered for our road trip.

It’s important to understand that if you stay a long time in the wild and especially if you are not driving long distances, your energy resources might end and that might not be the best thing to happen when you are on a road trip. So, make sure you understand how much energy you need and that you have the right way to get it.

Step #14: Think of Lightning

Our Benny has several lamps inside, but they are quite strong. To create a cozy atmosphere, we bought some fairy lights with batteries and they work just perfectly for us!

To light up our outdoor dinners, we also bought the solar lights for exterior. They charge during the day on the front panel and at night they last up to 6 hours. These lights are not very strong, but definitely make our nights outside more pleasant.

Outdoor solar lights
Indoor fairy lights

Step #15: Get Cool Decoration to Make It "Homey"

Of course, it totally depends on your taste and preferences. For this final touch, we bought a few cheap but cool props, like candles, a hanging frame with inspiring words, a bed blanket, and other bits and pieces.

We also wanted to do something about the front seats, because the fabric didn’t match well with the rest of the decoration, so we ordered new seat covers online. Here the tricky part was to find a solution for arm supports. We didn’t manage to find covers for these parts (we have 2 of them on the passenger seat). After some brainstorming, we came up with… covering them with 2 long socks in matching grey color! Well, DIY works require some creativity 🙂

In the end, we felt that with these small touches we could call Benny home already.

Step #16: Finalize Small Missing Bits and Pieces

This is the last but not the least important point of this step by step guide. When your campervan renovation is almost done, you will be missing miscellaneous things that you need to sort out before depart. Remember about ensuring all the legal aspects are compliant, buying the cleaning products and some food for the first days, packing your clothes and personal belongings, etc. This point can be huge, but try not to lose focus and be practical. Finish your unfinished business and sail away to a happy adventure! After all the work it feels very good 🙂

And that’s it, dear friends! A campervan renovation doesn’t have to be fancy and expensive, there are always ways to update your old van on a shorter budget (we finished ours in 3 weeks and for less than 800 EUR in total). Now it’s time to find your dream campervan, do a small update and embrace #vanlife without fears! If you have any questions or doubts, fill free to get in touch with us. We will be thrilled to hear from you! 

We hope, you liked our Benny’s transformation. If you find our example useful, share it with the world!  🙂 And if you are curious about our journey, make sure you subscribe to our newsletter and follow our social media accounts.

Remember: “Don’t call it a dream… call it a plan!”

See you Around the World!

You may find our other #vanlife tips here.

Check our travel resources section and start planning your next trip! 

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Budget DIY Campervan Renovation - Step by Step Guideur affordable campervan renovation. If you are up to try #vanlife, check it out!
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