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Introducing you to Sadie, my unique off-grid Sprinter van conversion!


 I'm Kate, and Sadie and I first met in October 2020. It was love (on my part for sure) at first sight.

I want to tell you the story of my journey into Vanlife UK, having come back from years living in the Philippines.

Come along for the ride! 🚐💨

 

White Mercedes Benz Sprinter campervan in carpark

‘Sadie’ (short for Mer’CEDE’s – geddit??) is a white Mercedes Benz medium wheel base Sprinter van conversion, born in 2012, converted in 2017.

Buying a campervan

Buying a campervan was completely new to me and I couldn’t believe my luck when I found Sadie, she was the second Sprinter van conversion I’d seen after a year of research and dreaming from Asia.

This was one adventure I never imagined would happen!

New adventures are what I do and buying a campervan in the UK was something daunting, yet exciting.

The first Mercedes campervan I went to see was nothing more than a dusty shed on wheels. Terrifying. And the damn pictures looked so good!

Despondent was not the word after that seven-hour round trip to god-knows-where, to see that first Sprinter van conversion.

It seemed like there’d be a long search ahead, as I was fully aware at the time of the FAST-growing ‘trend’ of Vanlife occurring due to the Pandemic. 

As someone returning from Asia and needing a temporary home, there was a major need to get in there, ASAP… the pressure was on.

Then, thanking my lucky stars, my dream Sprinter van conversion came along.

Sadie’s story

Before becoming a Sprinter van conversion, Sadie began life as a motorway vehicle before being snapped up in 2017 by a talented Vanlife enthusiast.

He and his partner then spent 18 months painstakingly converting her from motorway majesty to campervan queen, and began to kit her out with a full rig of ALL the home comforts.

So I bought her as she was, Oct 2020 all decked out and ready to go.

One of the best things about Sadie is her ability to let you enjoy off-grid Vanlife

Living off-grid in a campervan is a truly wonderful feeling of freedom and independence, just drive and charge, drive and charge! 


How to convert a Sprinter van

If you’re wondering how to convert a Sprinter van, here’s what her previous owners did to make her an awesome Sprinter campervan. 

Let’s get our Vanlife geek on, here are the specs for Sadie, the Sprinter van conversion!

(Tip: you might want to grab a cup of tea or a beer for this...):

Interior of Mercedes Benz Sprinter van conversion with kitchen

Gas

  • Gas IT: underslung gas (LPG) tank with electrical indicator

Sprinter van interior

  • Flooring is solid engineered wood
  • Professionally-built, Grade B Ply units and cupboards, sanded and oiled, invisible screws
  • Passenger swivel seat, to face fold-down table/desk
  • Made-to-measure convertible sofa/bed, top-grade foam (measurements of bed approx 1.9x1.7m)
  • Webasto 2000 STC Airtop diesel heater
  • Webasto Isotherm 49-litre fridge/freezer
  • Gas oven: Thetford Duplex gas oven/grill, 700 series
  • Thetford C200CS cassette toilet
  • Farrow & Ball paintwork throughout
  • Nine-inch Android 8.0 Sat Nav multimedia system (in cab), with GPS, 4G, DAB and more
  • Vision Plus 570 digital TV aerial
  • Reimo internal thermal window screens for cab privacy
  • Thetford toilet shower tray
  • Mosquito net
  • Kitchen sink from Manomano, tap Ebay
  • Bauhn 21” freeview HD TV/DVD
  • Air conditioning
  • Hidden Bluetooth speakers
  • Reading lights

Water

  • Propex Malaga 5E water heater: gas/electric (perfect for off-grid vanlife), fitted by qualified gas engineer
  • 70l Fiamma fresh water storage tank (with electrical level indicator)
  • 55l underslung waste (grey) water storage tank (with electrical level indicator)
  • Shurflo Trail King 7 pump, 30psi, 12v
  • Whale filling hose

Power/electrics

  • EP solar PWM solar charge controller
  • 2 x 100w Baird Monocrystalline solar PV panels
  • Top-spec electrics, installed by professional electrical engineer
  • 240v mains electrical hook-up with 20amp smart battery charger for when on campsites
  • 25m power cord
  • Merlin Smart Bank Pro Advanced split charge
  • 2000w inverter

Exterior

  • Thule Omnistor 6200 3.25m awning (inc Thule Storm kit)
  • Thule Sport G2 compact bike rack
  • Reversing camera and sensors
  • Genuine Mercedes wind deflectors

Security

  • Armaplate Armacat catalytic converter cage
  • Autowatch Cat2 695CAN vehicle alarm 
  • Deadlocks
  • Interior central locking

So that’s the nitty gritty of the actual build. Pretty impressive I’d say, she’s more intelligent than I, I’m sure of it!


How to decorate your campervan

Despite having traveled Europe more extensively than I, Sadie still had a reasonably low mileage. 

However, at this point, she needed the makeover she deserved. 

Campervan interior plywood decor cupboards

Now, I neither had the time, nor skills to do my own build (the passion is there, but I fear that’s not sufficient), but what I could do was the van interior design.

The above image is of Sadie as I bought her, a beautifully-crafted blank canvas, just ready for my van decor.

So I Instagrammed #vandecor #vaninteriordesign – you get it.

And boy did I have fun doing that, it was the perfect lockdown project, a beautifully-crafted van conversion with all the ‘prettying’ ready for sorting!

Slowly, I started to get an idea of what I wanted from my van decor.

When I originally thought about my dream van interior design, I pictured a beach shack vibe, with scruffy, ‘sunburnt’ (not likely here in the UK) paintwork, beach-sea blues, sandy golds and a couple of sunset vibes.

Kind of a nod to my home-from-home, Boracay Island in the Philippines.

However, as I got to know Sadie, the vibe that I was getting was a really sunny, warm feeling – with no blues whatsoever – feelings that sort of harked back to the 70s: vibrant yellows, set against dusky pink linens, rattan materials, gold touches, and quirky mood lighting. 

It was at that point I realised you can’t just have your decor in mind and buy a van, the van will actually speak to you if you let it! Mad I know, but the space I’ve created in Sadie feels like MORE than home. A haven, sanctuary, a nest.

Of course there was also the fun of the lockdown online decor shop:

  • Macrame slings to hang across doors
  • Sustainable linens for bedding
  • The ubiquitous ivy (yes, it’s featured so heavily in the Insta-van of today – but just looks and feels so good!)
  • A few tinkly, dangly bits picked up from my travels in Asia…

...And bang! Good to go! 

Mercedes Sprinter van interior looking from the outside in

Sprinter van interior plywood

Campervan interior


Eco-friendly van decor

A major ‘thing’ for me is an eco-friendly approach to life and all I consume/try not to consume, so I made sure that I selected, where possible, eco-friendly van decor; plastic and chemical-free items, products etc, to ensure an eco-friendly Vanlife situation. 

So I got to work. Bathroom was already spot on, so no need to re-do that.

Began with three coats of non-toxic Farrow & Ball white paint in the main body of the interior – no horrible lingering paint smell and it dries super fast with a lovely matte finish. 

I wanted a green vintage country rustic vibe to offset the warmth of the 70s theme, so painted the kitchen units in a non-toxic Farrow & Ball green. Loved the color so much, I took it to a few detailed areas, like the door panels.

Campervan conversion interior double bed and windows

Next, I re-varnished the kitchen work surface with some simple sample pots and fitted some subtle lighting around the perimeter of the interior. 

N.B. I’ve seen on many-a-Vanlife posts, questions on how to get fairy lights to not sag. Answer: get wired lights! Problem solved. 


Campervan problems

Next: Had to get a few tecchy niggles sorted, Thetford toilet light was broken so had to deal with baptism of shit fire regarding overflowing poop tank… not fun, but learning curve Number 1.

Let the inevitable Vanlife problems commence!

New tyres, flat new tyre, leaking toilet pipe, leaking water tank pipe, passenger captain chair had to be rearranged to make a comfortable digital nomad’s Vanlife office; very expensive fuel delivery pump had to be sorted after a traumatic breakdown on the motorway etc. Amongst other things. 

Week after week of pain-in-the-ass BS, but hey! That’s Vanlife! And I LOVE IT.

No matter how pretty someone’s van looks, there’s a LOT of hard graft and problems behind the scenes, (that MANY Instagrammers are guilty of not sharing) trust me! But it’s worth it ;) 


And that brings me to today. Sitting comfortably (for now!) in Sadie, warm as toast while a storm rages, happily writing this like a proud mother. 

This Mercedes Sprinter van conversion project has been a dream come true, a labour of love, an AMAZING lockdown project, a sanity-saver.

Most of all, my tiny home. 

If anyone had told me 10 years ago, that at the age of 39 I’d find unequivocal freedom in living in a Mercedes Sprinter van conversion (on my wonderful parents’ drive for now!) – and by choice I might add – I’d have been gobsmacked.

Sadie, my Mercedes Sprinter campervan, has been a focus elsewhere from work, walks and family, a – sometimes frustrating – yet character-building project.

Expensive but an investment, not only in the project, but in my current and future happiness.

And WAY better than paying someone else’s mortgage or rent.

We’ve only managed one road trip so far due to UK lockdowns, but that served up a few lessons and I’ve already come to realise that, with Vanlife, you never stop learning. 

Your campervan conversion will never be ‘done’ and if it is, where’s the fun in that! 

Happy trails folks! 


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Author: Kate Hammaren, Independent Writer & Editor

Get to know Kate here

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