Charlie the Adventure Van - A Dream Van Conversion

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

Have you ever wanted to just unroot your everyday normal, pack up your essentials and fur babies, and just #vanlife to your heart’s content? Boston couple Victoria and Adam are doing just that. Currently knee deep in their van conversions (a 2004 Ford E-150), Victoria and Adam are ready to take on adventure the moment they complete Charlie… the adventure van.

FTC: Hello Victoria and Adam! Can you tell us a little about yourselves and Charlie?

CTAV: "We are Victoria and Adam. We currently live in Boston, MA but are originally from Denver, CO. We have two rescue cats, Tilly and Bear, who add a lot of love and adventure to our lives. We are working on leash training them so that we can feel comfortable taking them all over the country with us on our adventures. Charlie, our van, is a 2004 Ford E-150 (econoline) with a 24” topper that we added ourselves. Adam used to work in a woodshop that made custom furniture and before Charlie was ours, she was called Chester and was used by the shop to transport furniture all over Mass.”

FTC: What made you decide van life was for you?

CTAV: “Adam and I are really adventurous people. Coming from CO we love hiking, skiing/snowboarding, camping, etc. Together (and separately) we have also traveled all over the world. It was only a matter of time before we took on a project like this and van life seemed like the most logical place to start. It also helps that I (Victoria) am an interior architect and Adam is an engineer/all around good with his hands so we have that creative background.

“However, I did not think we would be getting the van so early. When Adam called me during work one day last year to tell me that he could buy ‘Chester’ from its previous owners, I was hesitant. We live in a small apartment with only one parking spot and we already had an SUV and a motorcycle. We were also new to the area, didn't have a garage and were both working crazy hours.

“I didn’t say no but I said maybe we should wait for a little bit. That night I pulled into the driveway to find Charlie sitting outside our house and the rest is history. I’m so glad Adam took the leap that day and I want to encourage anyone who wants to pursue this lifestyle that there will always be reasons to say no but there are so many more reasons to say yes. If you want it, you can make it happen!”

FTC: How long did it take to decide on the Ford?

CTAV: “It was more happenstance than anything. Initially, Adam was looking for an E-450 airport shuttle bus, thinking it would be our best option. He researched for months and looked at everything (Sprinters, Pro Masters, Skoolies, and even odd options like party buses and raised-roof limos) but it all came down to size and cost. As I mentioned, living in a city we had very minimal space so anything long was unreasonable. We are also young and still paying off debt so we didn’t have a lot of money to put into the van.

“When the opportunity popped up to buy Charlie from a reliable source and they were only asking $2,300, it seemed like it was destiny. I will say that although Adam spent months researching options, we did not do a lot of research into the actual build process until we started. We don’t regret buying the Ford for a second but there are almost no resources for this type of build because almost no one does them. This has made the process so much harder and we hope that all we have learned can be helpful to someone in the future who would also like to build out a Ford van.” 

FTC: Do you have a timeline for the project? Are you currently on schedule and budget?

CTAV: “Being in a climate with pretty harsh seasons, we didn’t give ourselves a schedule because we are so often dictated by the weather (this is why you don’t see that many builds in the North East). We bought Charlie at the beginning of 2019 and outside of gutting her interior, didn’t touch her at all for 4-5 months. That winter was brutal and without having a garage to work in, being outside for longer than an hour was really uncomfortable. When spring rolled around we drove down to RI to pick up her top and once that was installed, our project really started.

“We also do not work on her full time. We both have demanding jobs that do not give us much time during the week and some weekends we choose to hang out with friends or explore the city. The same goes for budget. We had initial assumptions but were not tied down by the number so much as by what we wanted out of the finished product. We bought her for $2,300 and were hoping not to exceed 10K in build costs (which got bumped up to 13K when we decided to add electrical). We haven’t been perfect in keeping track of expenses but we will end up pretty close to the 15K mark for our total build and buy cost.”

FTC: What advice would you give someone wanting to make the same life changes?

CTAV: “Go for it! If you are scared of the cost, don’t be because we have seen vans built out for as little at $2,000. If you are scared of the build, so were we! That being said, this community is amazing and filled with resources and people willing to help. There are so many tutorials all over the internet and friends who will help you problem solve if you can’t figure it out. Plus, you don’t have to do it full time. We plan to use Charlie as a means to travel while also keeping ‘normal’ jobs and living in an apartment. This community is worth taking the risk!”

FTC: What was your first camping experience like?

CTAV: “Growing up with outdoorsy families, both Adam and I have been camping since we were babies. Adam’s family also goes boat camping on the lake every year and we both went to yearly summer camps where we did week long backpacking trips that included mountain biking and white water rafting. In CO, It’s pretty much a rite of passage to climb a 14er (mountains in CO that are higher than 14,000 ft) with your friends and spend a summer weekend camping in the mountains with a big bonfire and coolers full of cheap beer. We love this lifestyle and can’t wait to experience it even more with Charlie!”

FTC: What has been your most epic adventure/travel destination?

CTAV: “It is too hard to choose just one! Our top two favorites include a summer trip to Peru that we took together in college and a month long trip to Malaysia/Indonesia that we did right before we started working on Charlie. If you get a chance to visit The Gili Islands in Indonesia, do it and thank us later. Adam and I both also loved traveling around the UK, although we took these trips separately. There isn’t anything like seeing the world. The history and culture alone is enough to make you wish you could touch even the farthest points. We hope to visit all 50 states in Charlie (or a future build!) and we have many plans for more overseas adventures.”

FTC: If you could go anywhere in the world, and that be your last adventure place, where would you go?

CTAV: (Victoria) “There is a small village in the south of France called Lacoste that is built into the side of a mountain. It holds so many amazing memories for me. Although it is nowhere new, if it had to be my last adventure, I would want to go back there with my friends and spend another night watching the brilliant sunset over the fields of lavender and poppy while sitting at Cafe de France and getting wine drunk with my friends off pitchers of 12 euro rose.”

(Adam) “So hard to choose! However, I love Iceland and Victoria has never been so it would be amazing to take her. It is probably one of the most naturally beautiful places I have ever been. We have traveled to a lot of locations that are beautiful because of man-made elements such as bridges, architecture, and ancient ruins. However Iceland is beautiful because of its lack of overdevelopment. It feels like a completely different planet: glaciers, oceans, volcanoes, meteor sites, crazy wildlife. Plus, the food is great even though it is expensive!” 

FTC: What’s your top travel tip?

CTAV: “Try not to get bogged down with plans. There is always going to be something you didn’t expect and if you dwell on that one element, you will forget to enjoy the rest. If you miss a train, go eat dinner at a new cafe while you wait. If the place you wanted to stay at is booked, find the next best option and think about all the amazing people you will meet. When we travel, we almost never plan anything outside of a few places we want to see and our flights.

“The best adventures we have been on have been places that other travelers have told us about while sitting at a bar one night making new friends. I believe the same will go for us when it comes to van life. Since we won’t have to worry about where we will sleep, we never have to worry about where the path will take us. There needs to be a balance between planning enough and planning too much.”

FTC: What’s next for you and Charlie?

CTAV: “Finishing Charlie and taking trips with her will be amazing! Everyone wants to know where our first camping spot will be but we haven’t gotten that far yet. If the pandemic slows down, we are hoping to make it up to Montreal, which is a favorite of mine. We will also be moving out of Boston next year and hope to buy a house that needs some upgrades wherever we land. When we have more space then we also want to buy a bus and turn that into an actual home that we would live in full time in the future. We love the idea of living small and would even love to build a home one day out of shipping containers on a piece of land. We are dreamers and for us, the sky is the limit. Stay tuned!”

Follow Charlie on Instagram @charlietheadventurevan

All photos courtesy of Charlie the Adventure Van

All writing Copyrighted to Fern the Camper

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