A couple who were backpacking across the world on a three-year trip have revealed how they renovated a van for £24,300 to save money on hotels.
Lewis Sullivan, 29, and Liv Montgomerie, 28, started the massive project during the pandemic as their three-year trip was stopped by restrictions.
They had been living in London for around four years but quit their jobs and set off on their backpacking adventure in November 2019.
When the pandemic stopped their plans just a few months later, they returned home and were working remotely.
In a bid to get them back to their travels, they spent seven months transforming a 2014 Mercedes Sprinter van into a mini home on wheels.
Now, they can use it to travel where they need to, but at times park it up to continue backpacking.
“We originally were set to get to Australia at some stage on our three-year trip around the world and planned to do van life whilst there at least for a bit after seeing others on Instagram,” Lewis told Jam Press.
“Then with travel so uncertain because of Covid, we knew that building a van to travel Europe was likely to be our best bet at being able to travel.
“Covid changed our plans massively and was the main driver behind our decision.
“We left for our trip in November 2019. We spent five months travelling India, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines. We got stuck in the Philippines when covid hit and eventually got a flight home around April 2020
“We were then in the UK until October 2021 working remotely and building the van for the final seven months of our time in the UK
“In February 2021, with covid not looking any more favourable for international travel, we decided to build the van knowing it gave us our best hope. That turned out correct towards the back end of 2021.”
They bought the van for £11,000 and spent another £13,300 on the transformation.
Lewis said: “We designed everything from scratch and built everything – new windows, roof light, gas, plumbing, electrics and insulation.
“We even built all the seats, bed and kitchen units.”
It took them seven months to complete the work, as they were trying to do it around their jobs, with Lewis working as a financial consultant and Liv as an event producer.
Lewis said: “From February to June, we were working on it at weekends and some evening when possible but it was slow progress.
“From June to September, I was working on it full time, seven days a week most weeks, and in the evenings too.
“The final two months, Liv was working on the renovation full time.
“There were some mechanical fixes that were required for the renovation too.”
The most costly part of the renovation was the solar and electrics fitting which cost over £2,000 in total.
Lewis had some previous DIY experience as he helped his dad and grandad build his parents’ house while he was on a gap year in 2010.
Lewis added: “This wasn’t too extensive and none of the experience helped much with the van build.”
Lewis’ grandad did however help the pair with the mammoth task of building the van so that it was fit to live in.
Lewis said: “My grandad got involved once all the exterior work, window fitting and insulation was completed. He was a carpenter/joiner before retiring so he then helped me work on it day in day out to get it all done.
“He left me alone to sort the electrics but everything else he played a part in helping me with.”
Now, four months on, they have travelled to France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland.
Earlier this month, they parked up the van at Lewis’ parents’ house and they went backpacking again.
They are currently volunteering in South Africa on a conservation reserve but plan to be back in the van again later this year.
Lewis said: “The best things about van life are that you’re able to drive and set up camp on any particular day.
“Also being able to live in a space you designed and built yourself as well as save a lot of money travelling as we don’t need hotels and can cook our own food.”
Another big benefit is that it has allowed them to cut down on costs.
Lewis said: “We spend £0 on council tax, £0 on the internet — we use our phones.
“Water and electricity are covered in any campsite fees at around £150 a month whilst on the road as we don’t stay in camps each night.
“Gas is £20 to refill our bottle and that’s lasted us over three months.”
Lewis and Liv admit it might not be for everyone and there have been some downsides.
Lewis said: “It’s an adjustment learning to live in a small space such as a van but once you settle in it’s great.
“Secondly, with the van being of such value and the sentimental attachment to it, means it can be nerve-racking if you’ve got any difficult driving conditions.
“Thirdly, when visiting large cities you often can’t park in the centre so you find yourself on campsites quite far out meaning long commute times in. The benefits of flexibility, your own space, home comforts, cheap travel costs come at a price at times if you’re not able to park in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the place you want to visit
“Finally, it can sometimes be very difficult in Europe to find spots to wild camp.”
They plan to continue splitting their time between backpacking and living in the van to allow them to complete as much of their trip as possible.
Lewis added: “Some people think we should have stopped travelling by now but the majority are backing us to continue until we feel the time is right.
“We hope to travel for another couple of years I’d say with some periods of work.
“We’ve recently started turning our social media accounts into a content creation business, partnering with brands and hotels.
“The longevity of our travel life may hinge on the success of that.”
Fan & Sunroof – £673
Windows – £570
Solar & electrics – £2031
Insulation – £633
Wood – £1200
Appliances – £710
Water system – £372
Tax – £234
Oven & hob – £530
Gas – £400
Outside table – £200
Interior decor – £500
Garage maintenance – £1175
Cushions & headboard foam / fabric- £200
Mattress – £260
Gas install & check – £300
Fixings, tools, decor & other – £1821
Miscellaneous costs – £791
TOTAL – £12,509.00