#Vanlife – Converting a GMC Safari Camper Van

10 years ago when I was living in pickup trucks and odd vehicles while working seasonal jobs, I couldn’t have dreamed up the van life movement. Who knew being homeless would catch on one day? I developed dream of buying a van after spending too many nights in the bed of a cold pickup truck. That dream has finally been fulfilled with a 1994 GMC Safari van that I found for 1k in an alley.

It’s an old wheelchair van that had been sitting for a few years. I happened to be between places and made quick work of converting it into a cheap camper for the summer. I found a pretty worn sheet of plywood behind a dumpster, grabbed some scrap wood and threw everything together for no costs outside of the cabinet I purchased for 15 dollars.

I stripped the interior first but did leave the original floor insulation. Pulling the bench seat and hardware was actually pretty simple and easy.


Then I built a bed using scrap wood and nails. Only took a few minutes to get setup. I did the entire build in about 2 hours. I’ll definitely upgrade materials on the new one though.

Installing the bed. Pretty shoddy work but it’s actually really comfortable.

I covered the floor with cheap stick-on tiles. Surprisingly they have held up and are easy to clean.

Last step was the addition of a cabinet, a 4 inch foam topper and plenty of blankets and pillows. The cabinet was selling for 20 bucks and I haggled down to 15. probably worth less but I’m attached to it for some reason.

I’m thrilled with the cheap Safari camper van build as it gave me time to test the van and decide if I want to keep it or move on to a truck with a cabover. After 10 days of road tripping through Alberta, hunting in cold climates and driving off-road, I’ve decided to keep the van and do a few upgrades. While a cabover would be great, I’m getting good gas mileage and love having the cab and camper connected. It allows my dog to hang on the bed during long road trips and it’s nice knowing I can jump from the bed to the driver’s seat in an instant. If I had a higher top or pop top it’d be perfect but I’ll like stick with the current roof to keep it economical.

Here’s the list of the new build I’m planning:

  • 2-4 inch lift and upgrade on the tires and suspension. Clearance isn’t incredible right now but traction and driving through snow and mud is great with the AWD. This will make this a great rig for mountain roads and snow.
  • Delete the rear heat and remove all the parts and plastic to add room for cabinets.
  • Strip the interior and do a full build, similar to a VW camper with the couch/pullout bed, cabinets, stove and sink. Also a furnace for the winter and a ceiling vent for the summer.
  • Awning with extra room option.
  • Solar roof panel and Goal Zero power system.
  • Front Swivel Seat.

I’ll do a full video and photo documentation of the new build. Hopefully it will be ready for a serous trek to Patagonia and back in the next year. Here’s a few more from the current setup for now.