A shotgun van conversion

Travel, Van info

Our lazy guide to the cheapest / fastest possible van conversion

We’ve all seen #vanlife on Instagram and been blown away by the amazing vans/homes people have built.

But maybe you don’t have bucket loads of time, a big budget, or the skills required?

Yeah, neither did we. Our mission was: get on the damn road as fast as possible.

So we did a super basic, super fast, and super cheap van conversion. 

Bedroom / living room / office / place to hide from street dogs

Is it perfect? Of course not. Is it just like those dreamy vans on Instagram? Nope. Should you take any advice from us? Probably not. 

But our set up does the trick. We have somewhere to eat and sleep. And more importantly, we’re out on the road and exploring which was our #1 priority. 

The lowdown

Vehicle: 1998 Mitsubishi Delica DX Time taken: about a week Connversion cost: about $230

Not the biggest, but Vanito gets the job done


You know all those vans with inside kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, attics, cellars, and sun rooms? Forget those. There is no space for that.
Our layout includes a bed, storage, ‘kitchen’, and outside tables and chairs. 

Insulation: $30

Hate spending hours on the net researching insulation options? Us too!

There’s about 183719 materials options and about double the opinions. We were mainly aiming to keep warm. We didn’t have many materials available (we did this in Lima, Peru). So we chose the easiest thing: sun protectors (those foil looking bubble wrap looking things for your windscreen). 

We pulled up the plastic floor cover thing and taped a bunch of these bad boys down with electrical tape

We ‘installed’ these into the ceiling of the van, the floor, and stuck two on the rear passenger windows. 

Hot tip! Shove these guys into your roof! (Ours always had carpet stuff, so we slid them in under that)

Bam! Some level of insulation! We’ve been in warm (30+ and cold (-5) and we have always been comfortable. 

Bed: $100 (50 on the frame 50 on the mattress)

You know those fancy folding beds that convert into seats during the day. Forget those.

We really like our sleep. Like, really like our sleep. We decided folding our bed up and down every day would be annoying. You don’t mess around when you want to rest. 

Our bed feat. Mao’s lovely sister. We made this up as we went, and for stability added wooden braces at the end of the legs.

We built a 1.5 person bed frame from solid wood, built high enough to fit plastic storage containers underneath. The wood we got cut at the hardware store when we bought it (they offered 3 cuts free per piece). We drilled it together with the cheapest screws we could find (using a borrowed drill). It took us a few hours.

We did not attach the bed to the van floor. It’s pretty heavy, and so far, and with everything stacked around, it hasn’t moved. 

We got a normal 1.5 person mattress for it. It’s super comfy. We weren’t about to mess around with sleep comfort.

Kitchen’: $50

You know those amazing tiled sinks, and fold out cook tops people have in their vans? Forget those. 

We use the term kitchen loosely here, cause you know, you wash up with buckets. 

Straight up my brother told us cooking inside with gas was a death wish and basically threatened us with death if we tried.

The chef serves breakfast

So we opted for a nice double burner stove, and we carry a 5kg gas bottle. Open the back of the van up, and bam, you have a place to cook.  

We store a plastic table and camp chairs down the side of the van. Takes a couple of minutes to set up, but it’s easy, and we don’t mind the camp kitchen vibe.

A Virgo’s nightmare / back door kitchen

For washing up we use basins, and when we drive all our pots / pans / utensils are stored there. We use a couple of cheap plastic containers and a polystyrene box to store our food. Which means restocking fresh stuff every other day, but hey, we like markets!

Storage: $30

You know those pretty hand made wooden cupboards people have that fit perfectly above their beds but don’t hit them in the head? Forget those.

Plastic storage containers with wheels is where it’s at. All our possessions (clothes) fit under our bed. They’re super easy to access by just pulling out the container.

Curtains: $20

You know those beautifully pleated curtains people have that block all light yet can be easily adjusted for the day? Forget those.

Curtains get their own heading because they were the hardest part, but on the road have definitely been of the most important features.
We chose thick black fabric, which is good for light blocking, but makes the van surprisingly dark during the day. A positive is that it’s really hard to see anything inside of the van at all (sup thieves).

Back door curtain shoved into roof gap, and side curtains stuck on with tape, when we drive we roll up the back and peg it.

For the curtains I measured the windows, cut the fabric to size, and hand sewed (!) the rope into the hems. That takes for freaking ever. And in the end, it was even needed (this made me question my own existence).
Turns out, you can just use a screw driver to shove the material into the roof join. And it stays up! 

For the passenger windows (that open) we use a bunch if thumb tacs, double sided tape, and safety pins. For the other passenger windows we put a layer of foul stuff and then attached the string to plastic suction caps (which didn’t stay so we taped them on).

Making it feel like home 

Little things can make a tin can with a bed feel like home. Obviously maps.

BEST TIP?! Buy a bunch of lovely cushion covers, then stuff them with your coats and spare blankets!! Seriously, this saved us a bunch of room and helped make us comfy for Netflix times! Also, I cut up all our receipts and stuck them to the roof ’cause I thought it was ugly.

Hang stuff! This handbag is my random crap shelf, the little bag is the first aid.

Home is where your hat is? Dunno but we put a bunch of hooks up to hang stuff… dry towels etc.


So by now, you can see we tricked you!! We didn’t really convert a van. We just put a bunch of stuff in it. Which means anyone can do it. 

Really this unhelpful guide is more about just getting out there and doing what you want instead of getting everything perfect up front. There are a lot of perfect van set ups. If you have the time and money, do that! But if you just want a simple set up so that you can go out and adventure, you’ll be surprised at how little you need to be comfortable. 

If all that’s stopping you is a place to eat and sleep, then just get going and think later.

So your morning view can look something like this.

Smuggling a friend to Macchu Picchu

Travel, Van info

Three amigos.

It’s 6.55am. Our friend was supposed to meet us at the van at 6.15am to start the drive to Macchu Picchu. We are worried about her because she doesn’t have a SIM card and we can’t call her. She’s in a taxi. We try not to jump to the worst conclusions. Maybe we should of just braved the steep Cusco alleyways to pick her up, I think. What if…

After a while, she makes it. Our address was entered wrong in the GPS. We’re all super relieved.

We don’t have a spare seat in the front of the van. We don’t have any seats in the back either, but Calli is happy to sit in the floor on a little cushion facing the rear. I slide the door shut and can just see the top of our prisoner’s head.

Mao and I don’t feel well, we both have stomach problems. But Mao wants to power ahead. Our destination is Santa Theresa, a small village a few hours hike away from the infamous Macchu Picchu.

We have a rule in Peru. Ask at least 3 people the same question (how far is Santa Theresa), then depending on the variation of the answer, ask 3 more. We are told the drive from Cusco is tranquilo no más, and will only take a couple of hours. One taxi driver told us 7 hours. We imagine the truth is about 4, with a little bit of winding.

Our first, ignorant, glimpse of what lies ahead.

The first challenge is getting out of Cusco. Instead of taking us on the main road out of the city, the GPS decides to take us up streets that were probably only designed for goats. Streets so steep that we became acutely aware of the power of gravity, and weren’t convinced acelerating full throttle was enough to stop us rolling backwards.

Just before we reach the top, at the steepest bit of the goat road, we realise the train is coming and is going to pass right in front of us. Of course. We don’t trust the breaks. Or the hand break. But using both together we manage to avoid crashing into the cars waiting just centimetres behind us.

After stalling and a tricky hill start, we somehow get to the end of the goat road, and onto the highway. At least the worst is behind us, I think.

Our destination is less than 200kms away. Easy, I think. But I start zooming in on our route. It’s a total mess. Just tangled, twisting lines on the map. We’re coming from 3400m altitude, and our destination is only 1500m, so I assume it’s just a winding downhill drive through the Sacred Valley.

Our prisoner’s view from the back.

All of us sudden, we are at the foot of an immense mountain the one we admired from afar at the start of the drive. We realise the road just keeps winding up, up, into the clouds. “Do you get car sick?”, I ask our friend, who is seeing the back end of every trucky turn. “No, lucky I don’t”, says our prisoner/friend.
Altitude is not our van’s greatest ally. Her 1998 engine starts blowing white smoke, and we need to try and keep her warmth up. Outside, the temperature is dropping, rapidly. It’s raining. We realise we’re over 4300m. Mao needs to drive fast enough to keep the engine warm, and slow enough not to drive off the narrow road and into the abyss below. Each curve is about as tight as you can get, and can only be taken at a few kilometres per hour.

Before the fog got real.

The higher we go, the more fog there is. The road is full of potholes. It’s wet and slippery. You can’t see more than a few metres ahead. Every now and then the fog parts to reveal the abyss below us, just a metre away. In the opposite directions Inka Cola trucks and minivans speed past, oblivious to the fog or cliff abyss below.

None of us are talking. The usual jokes and banter have been replaced with total silence. Mao is squinting with concentration. The way down looks like a bunch of snakes coiled on the map and I don’t have the heart to tell Mao it gets worse. The coils on the map manifest as a series of hectic steep corners that last for hours.

The scenery looks like something out of the Nordic noir murder shows we watch at home. Majestic mountains, ravines, incredibly tall waterfalls, mist. Only the Inca ruins and alpacas give our location away.

The road behind us, well before we reached the top of the mountain.

At some point, the police stop us. Calli can’t see out, but they can see in. We’re not 100% sure if having a friend sitting on the floor in the back next to our bed is ok. A woman is hanging through my window screaming “granadias 2 soles, granadias 2 soles”. I’m trying to get our papers out before the cop starts noticing our prisoner. The cop definitely sees Calli, but doesn’t blink. Clearly he’s not worried about the lack of seat or seatbelt. We get back on our way.

Eventually, after a bunch of winding, the scenery turns into jungle, and we make it to Santa Maria the last town before our final destination. At least the worst is behind us, I think. 

From snow capped mountains, to the jungle.

We have a terrible lunch and discuss life and death before hitting the dirt road to Santa Theresa.

A kilometre after we enter, it’s just mud. Mao has no control of the van as the road curves down. Somehow we get through. 

It’s a one way dirt road, busy with minivans driven by locals who either know the road like the back of their hand, or don’t care about death at all (/a bit of both). We’re driving along the narrow road, and I see Mao look down. We’re very high up, and just next to us, the road drops away and into the river below.

Again, we’ve been told the road is totally fine and wouldn’t take us long at all. Mao is secretly fuming. It would of cost him next to nothing to take the train. We narrowly avoid other vans, and by some miracle arrive at the camp ground. We all hug, we barely have words. It has taken us 6 hours. The taxi driver was right.

Vanito chilling at the campsite.

The thermal baths are relatively close by so we go straight there to relax. One of us mentions the drive back. Mao jokes that he’d rather sell the van and take the train back than do the drive again. We all try to ignore the impending journey back to Cusco.

The next morning is another early start. We have to take a taxi to the train station, then start the walk along the rail tracks to Macchu Picchu. It is mind blowing how remote this place is. The mountains just rise into the clouds. None of us understand how the Incas even got there, let alone built a city on a mountain. I mean just driving was hard enough.

The walk to Macchu Picchu town.

It’s a beautiful walk, but we’re tired and it’s raining. Along the way, we stop at a local restaurant to pee. Calli and I are walking toward the toilet when a dog runs out of nowhere, jumping on us, barking, snarling and trying to bite us. Lucky it has a muzzle. We scream and the owners yell for it to stop. Calli and have fallen into their garden, are covered in dirt and pretty shaken up.

We keep on going. When we arrive in the super touristy – only exists for Macchu Picchu – town of Aguas Calientes I worry that the site is going to disappoint and won’t be worth the effort of getting there.

Thankfully, I am very wrong. When we finally arrive, Macchu Picchu dazzles. It is so much bigger than we thought. It’s set in the most incredible location, surrounded by steep mountains, with rivers below. It’s mere location is a wonder. 

Inca agricultural terraces, each supposedly had a different climate.

We’re all a bit over the top and feel like we’ve all escaped death just to see this marvel. We had all made peace with dropping off the edge of the mountain, so the sight of the incredible ruins felt all the sweeter.

So we do what all people who feel like they’ve narrowly avoided death do… 

Took stupid selfies.

36 hours to make the drop

Van info

So you want to buy a van in Lima Peru?

After months of searching, we found the one. A 1998 Mitsubishi Delica 4×4 Turbo in good condition. We check her out on a Saturday, she’s perfect and we want her. Badly.

The seller is an older guy, and wants the payment in cash (completely normal in Peru). We agree, not thinking about how we will access our money from our Australian bank accounts. He wants to make the sale on Monday. Great, we think.


When you find the one

On Sunday we realise it’s Easter in Australia and bank transactions are delayed. We call the guy to reschedule our meeting. He freaks, and says he has other buyers. We freak and say ok, ok, Tuesday morning 9am. 100% we will make the payment.

We now have 36 hours to make the drop.
Total balance needed: $5800*

6pm: $0
We call our bank to confirm we can take out the $5,800 we need for the van at a bank in Lima. They said it should’t be a problem if we do a cash advance on our credit card.

Great (but expensive), we think. We will head to the bank first thing in the morning.

We research international money transfer services just in case. One promises same day bank transfers. But we don’t have a Peruvian bank account, and the family’s accounts are with the wrong banks.

9:00am: $0
Bank 1 discusses it for a while. Finally they concede we could take the full amount as a cash advance, but they only accept Visa.  We have Mastercard. We curse Mastercard. The ATM limit is $200 per day. We curse the ATM limit.

9.30am: $0
Bank 2 and 3 both say the maximum we can take out per day is $200. Because our card is foreign. We curse Bank 2 and 3.

10:00am: $0
Banks 4, 5, 6 & 7 all say the same thing. We curse all the banks. Dodgy bank 8 says they can do a cash advance from one of my cards up to $1,000. We have a small amount of hope.

11am: $0
We realise our only option is for Mao to open a bank account with Bank 3 so we can make an international transfer through World Remit**. Mao opens a bank account.
(**Not an endorsement for World Remit, I don’t recommend them).

1pm: $0
We call World Remit several times. Each time we are told it will only take a matter of minutes to transfer the full amount from our Australian bank account to Mao’s local bank account with Bank 3.

3:00pm: $0
We have spent over 2 hours trying to make the transfer. It’s not working. I am forced to make 5 transactions to make up the full balance. It does not take minutes for the funds to arrive.

5:00pm: $0
We call World Remit about 5 times. We are told they don’t actually know when the money will arrive because the local bank needs to review the transactions. We are running out of time.

5.30pm: $1800
At 5.30pm one of the transactions comes through into Mao’s bank account. The bank closes at 6pm. We sprint there. We take out the $1800.

We need another $4,000 to make the drop by 9am. We realise there is no way this is going to happen.

7:00pm: $1800
We call the seller to ask if he can come a bit later than 9am. He is suspicious. We reassure him everything is fine. He says he will come no later than 10am. We agree. We have to find a way to get the rest of the cash.

6.30am: $1800
World Remit can’t tell us when our money will arrive. Our only option is to try and take it out at ATMs. I tell our banks what I am trying to do so they don’t block our cards.

9:00am: $4800
We have tried every ATM we have seen, and used every card we own. Somehow we have managed to get $3000 out over the past 2.5 hours. We have now been blocked by most of the ATMs. I go into a toilet and shove the massive wads of cash down my pants. It’s all in 20s.

In a city where Mao’s been robbed of his shoes, I’m freaking out carrying so much cash. I feel like everyone can see it, and like everyone is following us.

9.15am: $4800
We realise our last chance is dodgy bank 8. Of course they only open at 9.15am. The guy tells us no way we can withdraw the money. The max withdraw they allow from the ATM is $150. We curse dodgy bank 8.

9:30am: $4800
We are exhausted, paranoid, and shaky. We need the last $1000. We have come this far. We return to the ATM where we’ve been blocked. I try every card we own, over, and over again, in every machine. The security guard is starting to look at me funny. By some miracle, I get the remaining $1000.

9.45am: $5800!!!

We sprint home with the cash stashed down my pants. We can’t trust a taxi, we might get mugged. My heart is beating so fast.

The guy calls and is waiting for us at Mao’s house. Again, we assure him we are good for it, and we’re on our way. It crosses our minds that he could potentially mug us. He knows how much cash we are holding.

10.05am: $5800
I run upstairs to quickly count the cash. We drive with the guy to the Notario to do the paperwork.

11.30am: $5800
The paperwork states the vehicle is only $4800. I go to the bathroom and count out $1000 on the toilet floor, and stash it down my pants. 

We get a message from World Remit. Our money has finally arrived in Mao’s account. We curse World Remit for not getting it to us earlier, before we had paid $300 + in transaction fees.

12.00pm: $5800
Mao has to pay a fine before we can make the transaction. We have to go to a bank about 1.5kms away. We are in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. I’m still carrying all the money. I am freaking out.

1:00pm: $5700
The bank won’t accept our card to pay the fine. We don’t have enough Peruvian Soles. I have to pull out $100 from my pants. It’s fine, we think. We’re getting the van for $1000 less.

2.30pm: $5700
We finally finish the paperwork. The guy asks if we can drive around the corner to pay him. We give him the cash. He’s pretty annoyed that it’s in 20s. All of us are looking around to make sure no one can see out.

He counts out the $4700 asks why it’s not $5800. We realise we’re not getting a discount, the price in the paperwork was just for tax. We give him the rest of our money. There’s still the $100 missing.

After trying to work out what to do, I stay with the guy, who now has both the money and the van and keys. Mao jumps out to get the remaining $100. I pray the guy doesn’t just take off.

3:00pm: $0
All’s well that ends well. We get home. We have the van. We have no money. It’s now spread across multiple accounts and across two countries.

But we have the van. We made the drop. We cry with relief.

If you need anymore info on taking money out in Peru, or the process / paperwork for buying a car, please get in touch with us. I’d be happy to share what we learned.

(*Actual price changed because my inner concerned uncle told me not to write about this.)