El Nido - our Van

We'd hired motorhomes in the past, the idea being to 'try before we buy'.  It also helped us to decide what size and layout of vehicle we wanted.  We found the larger overcab and coach built motorhomes were comfortable, but too large to get to some of the places we wanted to visit.  They also stick out like the proverbial 'dog's danglies'!  So we decided that a panel van conversion (PVC) would work for us.  A PVC is essentially a 'delivery van' (Fiat Ducato, Citroen Relay, Ford Transit etc) fitted out as a campervan.  They come in various sizes, the most popular being the LWB (6m long) and the ELWB (6.4m).  After a whole bunch of research, visits to shows and some financial juggling, we were finally in a position to have our van built.

We wanted to have a say in the design, fixtures and fittings, but needed a company to complete the conversion.  Again, we researched quite a few, but the conversion was eventually completed by A&E Leisure, a company that was conveniently in the next village and just a short walk away.  A&E are a motorhome and caravan maintenance and repair company and they now have a large accessories shop.  They don't do conversions, but we'd got to know them well from our work with a motorhome hire company in the unit opposite them.  So we had a chat with them and they agreed to take it on.

Plenty of research showed that PVCs that are not completed by the well-known companies don't hold their value as well.  But our plan is to keep this one and look after it; we have no plans to replace it in future years, we simply won't have the funds to do so.  We'd already purchased a new Citroen Relay Enterprise commercial van.  This came with a number of features, including stolen vehicle tracker, satnav, bluetooth, aircon and reversing sensors, but essentially was an empty van with a sliding door and large rear doors.  It only had delivery mileage when we took possession so, although a large expense, we were happy to have the peace of mind of a new vehicle.

We put together a detailed specification and design, based around the Adria Twin PVC.  We started with the idea of a 3-berth campervan, with one forward facing seat with seatbelt (in addition to the two in the cab), but over time and following discussions with A&E, we changed this to a two-berth with a sideways bench, facing the sliding door.  We had a good idea of the fixtures and fittings we wanted, but A&E were great in advising us, offering alternatives and throwing in ideas we hadn't even thought about.

We had a number of 'must have' requirements, plus some optional ones that would be good but we could do without.  The must-haves included:
  • Cab seats that swivel to face the rear of the van
  • A fixed, transverse double bed at the rear of the van - so we could leave the bed made up 
  • A wet room with toilet, hand basin and shower
  • A gas hob and sink - we didn't need an oven, grill or microwave
  • A large fridge that could work on 12V, 240V and LPG gas
  • Hot water and heating
  • Onboard fresh water and waste water tanks
  • LED lighting throughout to reduce the draw from the leisure battery
  • Sufficient insulation to allow us to use the van all the year
In addition we had some looser requirements and were happy to take advice on how best to achieve these, such as:
  • Plenty of storage for kitchen items, food, clothes/bedding/towels, tech gear and the various items needed for travelling (EHU cables, outside seats, levelling blocks etc)
  • A 'dining' table that could be moved or removed (as space inside would be tight)
  • A solar panel to allow us to charge up the batteries when off EHU
  • Refillable LPG tanks, so we could top them up at fuel stations throughout UK and Europe
  • An external gas point we could use for a gas BBQ
  • A roll-out awning permanently attached to the top of the van
  • A two-bike carrier on the rear
We sat down with the team at A&E and went through all of our requirements and spent quite a bit of time discussing these.  None of this time was wasted as it meant we made a number of key design and technical decisions before they started, saving both time and money.  Once the conversion started, they were very good at keeping us informed of progress and also getting in touch if they needed any information from us.  We were also welcome to pop down any time to take a look around. Although the conversion took longer than expected (mainly because they'd never done this before so wanted to take the time to get it right), it came in on budget and we now have an excellent campervan, designed exactly for our needs and at a cost that was far less than buying a van off the peg.  A further advantage is that because A&E built it from the bottom up, they know it extremely well for future servicing and maintenance.

Handover day was a bit of a dream really - we were finally there!  And the A&E team made it extra special by setting the table, putting out the awning and opening a bottle of bubbly!  We had a few additional jobs like getting DVLA to re-categorise the van's V5(C) as a 'motor-caravan'; that was relatively painless - a letter from A&E and a few photos and within a few weeks that was done.  We also arranged for Regal Furnishings in Ilkeston to make all the covers and soft furnishings - highly recommended.  Our friend of ours - Ray - also helped by fitting shelves in the overhead lockers and cupboard, which hugely increased our storage capacity.

We're very pleased with 'El Nido' (Spanish for 'The Nest') and plan to make the most of our weekends and holidays as we plan for longer-term travelling when we no longer have to work full time.  There are a few photos below showing some of the key features.

Handover Day!

First long trip away in France

Toilet and drop-down sink

Excellent shower

Smev two-burner hob and sink

Swivel cab seats
Side bench with fixing for removable table

Fixed double bed