Turning a VW T5 into an Adventure Sports Camper Part 1 – Choosing a Van

When I began Live2Flow it became clear I would need a strong four wheeled companion to support me.  It needed to have the capacity to shift a stack of multisport gear, carry me and a number of clients in comfort and ideally also act as my mobile home.  Oh, and I also wanted car like performance, decent fuel economy, good reliability levels and, in a perfect world, something that I would be proud to be seen at the wheel of.  In short, I needed a custom VW T5.

I’m now on the second iteration of the vehicle I affectionately refer to as ‘The Dub’ and wherever I travel people express an interest in how I have adapted the van to my purposes.  Each van was bought as a straightforward VW T5 Panel Van and each custom converted, but now that I am on MkII I have been able to make a few adjustments to the set up based on lessons learnt from MkI and feel that I now have a truly versatile Adventure Sports Camper almost perfect for my needs.

I’ve written three blogs laying out my thoughts on first choosing the right van, then making internal modifications and finally looking at the exterior changes.


Clearly, there are a whole bunch of things that one should consider every time a vehicle is purchased, especially if buying used.  I am not a used van expert but what I want to do is look at a few specification choices that, made at the point of purchase, will have an impact on how well a van can be converted into an Adventure Sports Camper.

Age & Mileage – When looking at used VW T5s you need to reframe your approach to mileage numbers.  The VW T5 has a long life and many people run the vans reliably up to 300k.  I personally bought Dub MkI at 109k and sold it 4 years later at 201k to buy Dub MkII at 103k with a plan to take it through to at least 250k.   Oh, and they hold their value, which is a bad thing when you are looking to buy initially but later becomes a bonus; I lost only about £5k in depreciation during a four year period whilst putting almost 100k miles on Dub MkI.

Tailgate – I would never advocate buying barn doors over a tailgate for a camper van conversion as I think the tailgate offers so much more for an adventure van.  It is a rain shelter, a hanging area, a perfect surface for a bike rack to mount and allows quick and easy access to the full aperture of the rear of the van.

I think the tailgate offers so much more for an adventure van…

Engine – Pick the engine for economy not power as even the most basic engine on a modern T5 is plenty powerful enough to cruise at European motorway speeds.

Body Type – My first van started life as a basic panel van with a factory fitted window in the tailgate, the latest van was a combi with side windows in the back but no window in the tailgate.  Both were easily and cheaply converted to have tinted windows in the tailgate, side door and opposite which I think is the perfect arrangement (full side windows is too much light, in my opinion).  That said, I would choose to have factory fitted tinted windows in the tailgate, side door and opposite if possible.  Tinting is very important for privacy and security and the factory fitted windows are superior to retro fitted as they have partial opening features and the tailgate has a heated rear window function.

Aircon – A must in my view and very expensive to retro fit.  Everything from clearing condensation on windows to making the van bearable to be in when it has been parked in the sun in the south of France.  I have my aircon on all year.

Aircon is a must in my view and very expensive to retro fit…

Cruise Control – If you want to cover distance in the van and aspire to explore long motorway miles in Europe, even to and from Scotland, it saves fatigue when driving.  I had mine retrofitted in Dub MkII for less than £200.

Daylight Running Lamps – It is a legal requirement to have your headlights on in some countries and not always obvious which.  Daylight running lamps prevent you from being caught out and stopped.

Factory Fitted Electric Windows – Firstly, I’d advise getting electric windows, especially for euro travel where so often you need to reach across to the passenger side for toll paying etc.  These can cheaply be retrofitted, which is what I did on Dub MkI, but one neat feature of Dub MkII with its factory fitted windows is the ability to raise and lower both windows using the key.  Simple thing, but it is handy to be able to open both windows as you approach the van on a hot day or wake after a night in the van and open both windows to let in fresh air with the push of one button from the comfort of your bed…

Bluetooth – I don’t know what I’d do without being able to seamlessly link my phone to the stereo system! Audiobooks, music streaming, internet radio, podcasts, all on my phone and all keeping me entertained through otherwise mind numbing hours on the motorways.

My subsequent blogs will cover the conversion aspects that can only be addressed after you have your van.

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