How We Found Big Red

Choosing the right van

Out of nowhere, it seemed that all we could think and talk about was getting away, ditching our lives and starting out on the road. Daydreaming about all the possible set-ups of our perfect camper became a really addictive pastime for both of us. Lunch hours and tea breaks meant hastily pulling up hidden browser tabs featuring auction sites, classified ads and forums. Refreshing and rewording searches, and watching for any new van listings was both frustrating and fascinating.


Neither of us had ever bought a second hand vehicle, nor owned a van, so we both tried to educate ourselves about the myriad of options available. One thing became quickly apparent: the choice of van brand and size is an incredibly important and subjective thing. The internet is full of enthusiastic hobbyists who love to talk about their self-built camper vans…and as with so many subjects, everybody believes their way is the best way. After trawling through online discussions and heated debates,  we had come to the following conclusions:

1: We wanted a van with a relatively small footprint. i.e, short wheel base and mid/low roof height. Whilst this option sacrifices some living space inside the van, it allows the camper to be pretty inconspicuous, which both of us were keen to be. A low roof would allow us access to many car parks with height barriers in place. As we will be doing this on a budget, free overnight parking will be an important part of the trip.

2: We know *absolutely nothing* about DIY, nor did we have the budget or the time to buy materials, tools and tuition to convert a panel van from scratch. So, we needed a van already converted into a camper.

3:  We were not interested in expensive vintage base vehicles. (Yes, I mean Volkswagen T25 splitscreens) We were only looking for value for money, reliability and performance. Retro vans are awesome to look at, but we were looking for as modern a van as possible. 

We had a budget in mind and were keen to get cracking, but most suitable vans were being listed online with astronomical asking prices. After months of searching, we began to worry that we’d grossly underestimated the cash we would need for the right van. Perhaps we should work and save for another 6 months, maybe lower our goals a bit, we thought. We sadly resigned ourselves to stop searching, for now. But one day, I couldn’t help myself and ended up, once again, trawling through Gumtree’s latest offerings. Listed less than an hour earlier was a little red Transit, which looked far too good to be true….fully converted, short wheel base, within our budget and only about 30 miles away.

After really not much discussion, we decided we had to go and see it for ourselves. Up to Clapham we went, where we met the owners – a lovely young Australian couple who took us out for a test drive, then a coffee. As we chatted with them about their travels with the van, (who they named “Clarabelle”), our plans and everything, we realised how similar to us they seemed. Obviously the vehicle was the most important aspect in making our choice, but the fact that the sellers seemed like such genuine, lovely people really did help. The van really was as it had been described in the ad, and we decided we had to jump on it. We made our offer and the deal was done.

We might have changed the name from Clarabelle to Big Red, but we have kept a little memento from the lovely Aussies: this little koala gripping the passenger sun visor. Just feels like good luck.