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Reader DIY: Bike trailer to caravan

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In December 2015, my wife and I went camping with her brother and the family at Trekoskraal, between Vredenburg and Paternoster. My brother-inlaw had two fold-out caravans (both 1974 models) that he had restored. Right there and then, my wife decided that we should also get an old caravan and restore it.

The thought stayed in the back of my mind until around May 2016, when a friend of mine wanted to get rid of his old motorbike trailer. I bought it from him, with the intention of building an American-style teardrop mini caravan. But, after watching a lot of YouTube videos, it seemed to me that you lose too much space with that type of design. So, in June 2016, I started on my own plan, and worked only on weekends. By April 2017, the caravan was finished.

I started by lengthening the van by 60 centimetres: if I want to sleep soundly, the bed needs to be at least 2 metres long. The first step was making a frame from square tubing.

The outside of the caravan was covered with 0.6mm plating, since aluminium is way too expensive; plus, since nobody here in Kimberley supplies it, I would have had to pay courier costs as well.

Between the inside and outside walls, I insulated the caravan with 25mm foam. The inside of the van had been constructed with Masonite, which I covered with carpet.

For packing space inside, I installed two small bedside cupboards. There’s is a fan for me and a TV for my wife.

All the lighting in the caravan is 12V LED. The unit has one battery, a charger, and an inverter for when 220V is not available.

I did not work off any plan: just lay awake at night making plans about what I should do. Maybe that is why I took so long to complete the project.

At the back is my kitchen, with everything that I need to have an enjoyable camping experience… including a 1.5L universal windscreen-washer bottle below the basin, which I fill with brandy. I just have to press the red button, and the juice starts flowing.

I can’t honestly say that I struggled with any part of the project; my biggest headache was to get the correct silicone. I used the silicone to attach the plate to the frame, as well as for waterproofing. The plate is, of course, also attached with pop rivets.

Sure, I have some scrapes and bruises on my body from the wagon fighting with me during the building process.

Completed, the van weighs 420kg, excluding all the camping gear that is not permanently attached.

With the caravan fully loaded, she still tows like a dream. I tested it on the way to Sandgat, and the caravan runs great around 100, 110 and 120km/h.

The caravan’s maiden voyage was on 21 June, when the wife and I headed to Sandgat near Vanderkloof for the weekend.

It was cold, but the adventure and the silence next to the river made it all worth it.

There was a large group of pensioners camping at Sandgat for the weekend, and I received a lot of compliments on my van. Oom Kobus Kolver from Kimberley begged to join their club.

When the caravan was done, my wife asked me what I would do if we went camping and the guys with the expensive caravans and off-roaders laughed at my home-made caravan. My answer was: “Then we have a few drinks, and laugh with them.”

I didn’t want to admit it, but as we were driving into Sandgat that weekend, I was a bit nervous when I saw all the big, beautiful caravans standing there.

But, after all the compliments I received, I will now park next to the biggest and most expensive caravan with a smile on my face.

In fact, since my wife had such a good time at Sandgat, I now have to think of excuses to go camping at least twice a month!

There is a saying that is very dear to me: “Why buy it, when you can build it?”

I did not spend more than R25 000 on building my own van. I think if I’d had to pay someone to build the caravan the way I wanted it, it would have cost me R45 000.

So, I just want to tell everyone: if you have the time to build yourself a caravan the way you want it, just do it!

For me, there might be another unit in the pipeline, but that is still a dream.

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