Many of us dream of buying a motorhome, quitting the day job and heading off on a long road trip, but how many of us can afford it? On a mission to find out how other people manage to explore more of the world, I met up with Sussex-based Pete and Sue Fraser, who were counting down to early retirement and the unlimited freedom of full-time motorhome living.
They turned up in a shiny new Transit self-build, which Pete had just completed himself. I asked him to tell me more about it.
"I bought a brand new Ford Transit high-top van on a long wheelbase and told the dealer that I was going to convert it to a motorhome. They were really helpful. They installed a cold-start pack, with two large batteries and split-charging. We also paid for them to put in two more batteries to run the fridge and internal electrics off-grid.
"The auxiliary fuse box cost £75 from Ford, ordered with the new van, instead of around £500 if I’d had it retro-fitted later. I also ordered the Transit with front-wheel drive, a four-inch lower floor and side windows at £100 each. The side windows would have cost me at least £700 to retrofit.
The ’van has a 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine, and now that it’s been converted the MTPLM is 3500kg."
Tips for other self-builders
If any other readers are thinking of converting their own van to a motorhome, Pete's experiences are encouraging. He said, "I bought all my own fittings. I got the water tanks from CAK Tanks in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, the kitchen units from Magnet, and items such as the fridge, the furniture boards, worktops and rooflights from Rainbow Conversions and Grasshopper Leisure accessories store, both of which are in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.
"I cut the roof using jigsaws. It was scary to start cutting into the roof of my van!
"I bought carpets in DIY shops. The mattresses and infill cushions came from Whalin Upholstery, who were very helpful. They are based in Pinxton, Nottinghamshire but they offered to meet me halfway, so I collected the mattresses from them at Luton, paying a very modest £4 carriage fee.
"For the twin beds I ordered two sprung memory-foam mattresses: one firm (for me) and one soft (for Sue). We like having the sliding van door, because if it’s sunny you can dangle your legs outside when you’re in bed! We also had a substantial awning fitted because we wanted to be able to sit and eat outside whenever possible.
"I fitted a swivel seat on the passenger side to obtain a wider kitchen area and add to the lounging possibilities. Now we want to add solar panels – we keep on tweaking the van, so it will never be entirely finished!"
Experience paid off
Pete seemed so confident that I asked if this was his first motorhome?
"No, we’re quite experienced motorcaravanners," said Pete. "Our previous 'van was a Kentucky Royal 5, nicknamed 'Go-large'. We used to tow a car on the back, which we called 'Go-light'. We put armchairs and footstools in the old 'van – I was born awkward!"
Looking at the length of the long-wheelbase Transit, I asked if he planned to drive the motorhome everywhere?
"Not exactly," said Pete. Once we arrive at a destination we like to use bikes to explore it, and Sue now has an electric bicycle. We used to have a Moto Guzzi motorbike.”
So, what plans had the couple made?
Sue said, "We’ve just retired early, and we’re never working again! We’ve sold up and we’re all set to escape the rat race.
"We want to visit New Zealand, Turkey, Croatia, Portugal, the Dutch islands, and buy a ferry pass to visit the Western Isles of Scotland. First, we’re going somewhere hot. We fancy spending the winter in the Algarve and Southern Spain. We’ll be back to Britain regularly – not least to keep our NHS entitlement!
"First, we’re planning to head down through France and on to Portugal. A number of the major roads in Portugal use electronic tolls. This is a quick and efficient way of collecting a toll, but when we were there we couldn’t find anywhere to buy a pass tag. Finally a garage sold us a three-day one, which cost €20 – not unreasonable.”
Pete added, "I used to set up golf days in France, so I’m looking forward to travelling more."
"I find reading a map much easier than using a sat-nav," said Sue, "so we just set the sat-nav to take us from town to town, then refer to the map for the fine detail."
Looking forward to full-time touring
Sue added, "Until now we’ve both worked, and our days and weekends have been full up. I’ve never had any time off work in my life: it’s going to be weird. We can’t wait!"
If DIY self-build motorhomes inspire you, read Build your own motorhome for £8000 to see another project 'van.