In August of this year, we became proud owners of a Fiat Ducato. Owning a campervan has been on the bucket list for a decade. In more recent years the plan was always to convert a Mercedes Sprinter campervan. We even hired a Sprinter in the summer of 2019 as a trial run.
A couple of years ago, my husband Dave even converted part of his Sprinter work van into a sleeping area, which has saved him $1,000’s on hotels when he’s had to work away (most weeks of the year for at least two nights as his jobs are nationwide). It comes complete with a raised single bed he can store some of his tools and equipment underneath, TV and clad interior for starters.
Campervan Conversions (Already Done)
But then Dave came home from work one day back in June and asked what I thought about converted campervans (and not Sprinters). He had only seen it from the outside but would like a proper look around for curiosity’s sake. So we called the customer and asked if we could come and have a look around it. Despite a very thorough tour of the van, the owner (Graham) made it very clear that he wasn’t even sure he wanted to sell the Ducato and the only reason he was even considering it was because he’d got really bored during lockdown (he’s in his 70’s) and bought another van to convert.
If he decided to sell at all it would have to be for the right price. But this was difficult to gauge without knowing what he’d spent purchasing and then converting the van. Let alone what sort of profit he was seeking from selling it. But he did agree that he would give us a week to come back to him with an offer and not advertise it online until then.
I couldn’t imagine myself in it at first
It wasn’t laid out or designed to my taste and it didn’t seem at first glance as if we could put much of a stamp on it. I think because the décor was so far removed from what we would choose. But it’s the same as buying a house I guess. You live in it for a bit and then you make the changes you want to see.
But then I put my sensible hat on as it had a lot of positive things going for it. Heating, air conditioning ample storage space, a dedicated space for the dog’s bed, front seats which spun round plus two extra seats and a table, gas oven and hob and a good-sized fridge with separate freezer. As well as a shower/sink/toilet, wardrobe, TV/DVD player and in-built sat-nav for starters.
A few days and many conversations passed
…and we decided we really did want it after all and were prepared to put in an offer. The rationale being that we could use a campervan now and then convert a Sprinter a few years down the line. And, with the way that vanlife has taken off this year in particular, it will always be sellable. Plus we would be starting with only 63,000 miles on the clock.
Graham considered our offer, but then changed his mind and decided he was keeping the van. But he did say he would give us first refusal if anything changed. So our plan to buy another Sprinter to convert was back on. And we allowed ourselves to get all excited about it again as we have been for the last two years.
Five weeks passed, during which time we concentrated on the finishing touches to our self-built tiny home, sorting out the garden and getting the house ready to rent out again at the end of August. Then reality hit. We would struggle to find the time to do all of this, let alone convert a Sprinter. Whilst we could afford to buy one, realistically it would be two summers before we were out and about in it, due to Dave’s working away and so on.
But then fate stepped in
We were visiting Dave’s parents for the weekend and Dave had a text message from Graham. Their plan to drive the van over to Portugal where he has a villa had fallen through. The ferry companies had ramped up their prices to at least double the pre-pandemic cost. So they’d decided to fly over instead and he was open to offers on the van again.
We knew in our hearts that we still wanted the van and what it can give us now, come rain or shine. So we nervously waited for the weekend to come around and a second viewing of the van (third in Dave’s case). And in our heads we’d already bought it and travelled to Scotland and back.
Friday finally came and on the drive over we talked about the fact that we hadn’t actually agreed on a ceiling price between us. Nor did we know if we’d even be able to afford it. But as we discussed it in the car, it turned out we both had the same figure in our heads. Which was a few thousand dollars more than Graham’s spend on the van. So we had another look round and even more of its benefits presented themselves. When we got back from the test run Marion told Graham that she just seen her neighbor who’d buried his 16-year-old grandson that day. Yet again, the futility of life was at the forefront of my mind. As was doing things now because you never know what’s around the corner or when indeed your time’s up.
Crunch point: talking numbers
Graham and Marion are such lovely people and he likes to talk so we ended up being there quite some time. He’s also a stickler for detail and presented an itemized breakdown of his entire spend on the van. But when it came to the crunch point and we sat down in Marion’s garden to discuss money, still everybody skirted around the subject for a least 20 minutes. But it was a useful 20-minutes as I made a mental note of loads of tips from Graham and Marion about traveling in Portugal. We’d like to buy some land in Spain in the next few years, so Portugal is a country at the top of our list for traveling around a campervan in.
Eventually we had to say something and I could tell Dave was a bit nervous about raising the subject. But I wasn’t expecting him to offer $2,000 less than the ceiling figure we’d agreed. Nor that instead of rejecting the offer outright, Graham said yes immediately. We couldn’t believe it. So we paid the $2,500 cash deposit we’d brought with us and managed to stay composed until we got back in the car. Oh my God, we couldn’t believe it, we were so excited!
Having now spent a few weeks in Irene and fallen in love with her, we’re not sure if we want to go through the pain of converting a van in a few years’ time. We’re just enjoying what a campervan is bringing us right now. The lifestyle, the geographic freedom, the ability to work from the van if we need to. The list goes on.
We totally appreciate what we have
And that not everybody can afford to do what we’ve done, especially in the current climate. And it cost us way less than what we would have had to pay for a van plus conversion costs. Especially as Graham only got back what he spent on it. He’s even put in writing that he’s happy to be available for any technical questions about the van for the next six months.
We managed to scrape together enough to pay for it without a loan or credit card. Half from our hard-earned savings, some from Dave’s business and some from some belongings we’d already sold. But however hard up we get (and we may well do in the next six months), as long as we can afford to put fuel in the van, we’re good to go. And we can use it year-round as it has an oven and heating. But if losing Irene has taught us anything, it’s not to put life on hold, to do it now if you can.
The Universe Was Speaking
This all happened the week that we scattered my aunt’s ashes, having already decided that we were going to call the van Irene before we bought it, so I like to think of it as the universe speaking. I even visualised it happening and wrote about it in my Ideal Day blog post.
What’s on your bucket list? Whatever it is, start doing what you can now, don’t wait for some abstract date in the future.