Or, you may think you have to spend months planning out and building your perfect DIY camper.
That doesn’t have to be the case at all.
You can create a simple, affordable campervan in no time at all, with just a few slats of plywood and some camping gear.
In this post, I’m going to tell you about how one couple created a Nissan NV200 camper on the cheap.
Why a NV200 camper?
The Nissan NV200 has quickly become a top contender for the best vans to live in. This small van gets great gas mileage and is affordable, ringing in between $23,000-$26,000 new. You can also buy a more affordable used NV200.
The NV200 campervan is cheapest of the small cargo vans on the market, but only has a maximum payload of 1,480 pounds. It runs on a 4-cylinder, 2.0 liter engine.
Lauren and Steven Keys decided on an NV200 camper while planning an epic van life trip to every national park in the United States.
They thought an RV or larger van would be too expensive and cumbersome, so started looking at smaller vans.
“We’ve always had good luck with foreign-made cars, and the gas mileage really sold us on the Nissan NV200,” said Lauren. “It handled really well and we liked the back window and rear backup cams.”
In fact, their NV200 camper ended up getting 26 miles per gallon on the highway, averaged out over tens of thousands of traveled miles.
Lauren and Steven bought their used Nissan NV200 from a private seller on Craigslist for just $12,300. It only had 51,000 miles on it, but it was more than twice what they’d ever paid for any car.
“We figured it was important to have a super new and reliable vehicle since we were planning on driving all the way to Alaska and back, with about a million stops along the way”, Lauren wrote on their website, Trip of a Lifestyle.
Pros and Cons of an NV200 camper
With any type of campervan you choose, there will be pros and cons. We wanted to break it down a little so you can see the main differences between the NV200 campervan and a high-top campervan.
Building a cheap NV200 camper
Lauren and Steven didn’t want to spend gobs of money on their campervan conversion, especially because they planned on selling the van after their national parks tour.
Their NV200 is incredibly simple and affordable.
“We built a platform bed with storage, put a mattress on top and that was the gist of our build,” said Lauren. “We added some lights in the storage compartments, too.”
Lauren and her stepdad bought all the materials at Lowe’s for just $100. The platform bed ended up measuring 48” (122 cm) wide, 71.5” (182 cm) long, and 11 ¾” (30 cm) tall — a perfect fit.
They bought a mattress online from Allswell, called the Allswell Hybrid in Full Size.
“It has both coils and foam and is really low profile,” said Lauren. “It is only 10″ tall, which is really important for the space we had inside the NV200 camper.”
The couple didn’t want to add anything else to their NV200 camper.
“We weren’t sure about the resale value if we went all out and put in solar panels, wiring, insulation and a ventilation fan,” said Lauren. “If we take out the platform and mattress its a cargo van again. We could sell with the platform or just as a cargo van for someone’s business.”
Living the van life in their NV200 camper
The Keys’ traveled for eight months with their minimalist NV200 camper, and loved the comfortable bed, storage, and the van’s gas mileage and performance.
“We were surprised at how comfortable we were in the van,” said Lauren. “There was a period of getting used to sleeping in the van and hearing noises you don’t usually hear, but that didn’t last long.”
They didn’t carry a van life cooler, choosing only to carry shelf-stable items like soups and canned veggies.
“We could make a simple chili with cans of beans and our propane burner,” said Lauren. “We would also cook in gas station stores that had microwaves.”
During cooler months, Lauren and Steven bought fresh foods, which would last for a few days. Or, they’d eat out.
As for their showers?
“We had a Planet Fitness membership for $23 per month, and two people can go for that price. It has one of the largest footprints in the country, even in Canada and Hawaii,” said Lauren. “We weren’t far from a Planet Fitness everywhere we went, and we could shower and brush our teeth.”
The couple planned two to three days ahead on their nationwide trip, and otherwise, winged it.
“The Nissan NV200 camper was our bedroom, but we lived outside the van for everything else,” said Lauren. “If we needed an office, we went to a coffee shop. If we needed a kitchen, we stopped somewhere with a microwave. A lot of grocery stores have microwaves!”
Why you should consider a cheap van conversion like an NV200 for van life
Lauren and Steven loved their trip to all the national parks, and said it can be done really affordably if you stick to the lower 48.
The two worked remotely on their journey in their NV200 camper, Lauren doing marketing and social media, Steven as a tutor. The couple also does side hustles like photography.
You may also like: 40+ van life jobs you can do from anywhere
Lauren said you don’t need an “Instagram van” to get out there and start camping.
“Those vans are amazing and impressive, but if you don’t have the skillset its going to be difficult and costly to pay for,” said Lauren. “I have friends that did a full build and it took them so long. For us, just throwing a bed in the back and hitting the road meant freedom.”
Do you want to get started on your own campervan conversion?
Learn how to build your own van with this detailed van build sourcebook. While the title reflects Sprinter vans, the concepts can be used on any DIY campervan conversion. You'll learn design considerations, how to plumb your van, choosing solar panels, installing water tanks and electrical and wiring systems. A great resource!
Getting out and living the van life is more than building out a fancy van.
All you need is a place to sleep, a way to store stuff, a way to cook and a way to charge your devices.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- A Jackery 500 or another solar generator to charge devices. You can also use an inverter plugged into your cigarette lighter when driving
- A single burner camping stove
- A van life cooler or 12-volt fridge
- A small camping table like this GCI folding table we use
- Enough bedding to keep you warm and cozy
Lauren and Steven prove you can have a wonderful adventure in a cheap conversion like their NV200 camper.
Just pack up your stuff, hit the road, and start living a life of freedom.
You learn more about Lauren and Steven’s national park adventures on their website: https://www.tripofalifestyle.com/
Other blog posts you’ll love:
- 28 campervan essentials for an amazing van life journey
- How to get wifi in your campervan
- 13 best vans to live in
Kristin Hanes is a journalist who founded The Wayward Home as a place to learn about alternative living. She currently lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van, and has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire and SF Gate. Read more about Kristin here.