Our Ford Transit Connect conversion cost us less than $2500, about 30 hours of labor, and a whole lot of planning to get us there. Living on the road has been a huge challenge and an amazing experience all the same. It’s amazing how far we’ve come and before we ever left town on our digital nomad we had one first, simple goal: we needed to get a van.
We had considered driving one of our cars but the whole fantasy of #vanlife was on our mind. We wanted it all– our version of a “home base” during travel but something light enough to take (and park) almost anywhere. We were looking for a van that had:
- Space to sleep 2 adults
- Storage room inside for daily essentials like snacks/water, first aid kit, books, electronics, shoes, etc.
- Power for 2 laptops, phones, and accessories that could last a few days between charges
- Seating space for two when the back hatch is open
- Enough extra storage to fit a guitar and extra seasonal clothing
- Accessories and items to sleep comfortably in relatively temperate weather (32-75 degrees F)
- Good gas mileage
We planned to do a combination of camping, staying with friends and family, and AirBnBing, all while working remotely.
Selecting the Right Van For Our Needs
It’s an exciting time to embark on the van life, considering there are so many great vehicle options out there. One of our favorite things to do now while camping is to walk around and see everyone’s rigs. During our campground stays, we’ve observed quite a few RVers having trouble pulling into spots because their vehicles were too large for the site or, in some cases, just too tough to maneuver. We’ve also seen our fair share of Sprinters that look amazing on the inside but were later circling busy streets in cities and towns looking for a suitable place to park.
For our needs, a micro-camper setup was ideal– it gives us adequate sleeping/storage space while still granting us the flexibility to park in any standard spaces. The Ford Transit Connect was a perfect choice for us in terms of price point, gas mileage, and space.
Once we settled on the make and model, it was time to choose between the pre-2013 model (extra height of about 6-8″) or the 2014+ version (shorter but with an option for a long wheelbase LWB). The Transit Connects come in two separate models: 1) passenger (wagon) version with two rows of removable seating and standard car interior finish and 2) a commercial (van) version which has minimal cabin hardware, no seats, and typically comes in white.
We had our eye out on used car lots and found a 2015 passenger LWB wagon in a tan color that was discounted since it was missing the last row of seats. Perfect for us since we were taking ’em out anyway!
Our Ford Transit Connect Conversion
Being a chemist by trade and an all-around obsessive “details” guy, I couldn’t resist adding some structure to our camper conversion plan. These were the major phases of the project:
- Brainstorming – Considering different camper conversion guides to get ideas to incorporate into our design. Some of my favorite resources are the great work at Cheap RV Living – A nice, detailed 2013 Ford Transit connect conversion. Build a Green RV – Lots of guides for small camper conversions. Defying Normal – Inspiring build of a Chevy van from the ground up with lots of helpful pictures.
- Design – Sketching out designs and crafting a cardboard mockup
- Build – Completing the final van build construction
- Road Test – Taking it out and making any modifications as needed
VAN DESIGN ELEMENTS
- Layout – There are really only two major layouts possible in this small space: 1) a lay flat bed design with storage underneath or 2) a design with a bed on one side and small kitchen setup on the other. We chose the lay flat design to maximize the sleeping area.
- Floor/Ceiling/Windows – We used the existing van ceiling, flooring, and windows with no further modifications.
- Insulation – Keeping the standard passenger van insulation was fine for our needs since we planned to follow temperate weather at all times.
- Storage – We wanted storage underneath the bed with access from the two sliding side doors, back of the van, bed area, and the front.
- Bed – We planned to use a futon mattress for sleeping cut to fit the space and have a headboard that included storage and electrical hookups.
- Electrical – We decided on a GoalZero Yeti 400 system for our battery which can charge a laptop 4-5 times and phones about 20 times from a single charge. The single charge also powers two small fans we installed for airflow– we can keep them going for up to 100 hours!
- Curtains and Shades – We planned to install a curtain to separate the main cab from the front cab, get a visor for the front windshield, and cut Reflectix window inserts for all of the back windows
- Internet – The Verizon unlimited plan was just announced when we started and proved to be perfect for our needs. We received a wireless hotspot upon signup that worked well for the times when we didn’t want to drain our phone batteries.
- Roof Rack – Our passenger van did not come with the Ford factory-installed roof rack and it can’t easily be added after. So, we purchased a Rhino-Rack package with tracks, mounts (RTL600), and crossbars (VA137B) with installation from Rack Outfitters in Austin. You can see a video of our van here. We added a Rhino 550L Cargo Box up top which was perfect for storing a guitar and additional items, like seasonal clothing.
There was other stuff to consider like kitchen space inside, solar, plumbing/sink, etc., but we decided to focus on cooking on fires or an electric griddle outside the van or use the kitchen facilities where we were staying. At the end of the day, it ended up being a light and streamlined setup.
Creating a Mockup of the Design
Joshua Thiede, a woodworker, graphic designer, and good friend of mine, created a design concept illustration in Google Sketch-Up using the published van storage dimensions from Ford. We talked through how each part of the design would be accessed and used, making small tweaks along the way.
Our goal was to make sure the dimensions were right, so Josh flew out to visit me in Austin and we took exact measurements of the van interior. A cardboard mock-up helped us ensure what we designed would work.
This was an extremely valuable step (I got the idea for it here) as having the cardboard inside to see how it would feel in-person led to numerous tweaks and a much stronger final design.
Our final Ford Transit Connect conversion design included a fold-down headboard near the front seats and a fold-up bench in the rear.
Time To Start Building
With final design in-hand, we drove our Ford Transit Connect from Austin to Indiana to complete the conversion there. We had only evenings and weekends over a timespan of two weeks to finish it, so we ended up allotting about 25-30 hours of total labor. For the van’s interior, we chose ½” Birch plywood for a good balance of price/durability and used basic 1-1½” wood screws and hardware.
Ready to start making some cuts! We kicked it all off by framing the base of the front section under the headboard using short 4×4 posts.
Then we built the entire front base section, deviating slightly from our drawings to make the cuts a little simpler. That said, the basic function remained unchanged.
This photo above is showing the front section to the left with the main bed area detached to the right. We built the bed area by setting up vertical slats braced by 2x4s for added support, as shown below.
Followed by installing a single large wood board to make the top.
Next, we built the headboard and attached it with hinges to the base, followed by a second top layer that would act as a folding bench for the back seat. We used a piano hinge for the main bend (it is under the wood in the picture below so it can bend upwards) and two standard hinges of smaller size for the other bend closer to the headboard. This picture shows how it looked after install.
From there we built the two drawers for the back storage area.
And we were done! We did varnish the wood to seal it and then added our futon. I had a lot of great help from Shari King who led this construction–couldn’t have done it without her. We finished our Ford Transit Connect conversion on time and within our budget.
We’ve been making some improvements on the way after some time on the road and we’re always trying to adjust our setup.
Let us know what you think! And post any questions about the Ford Transit Connect conversion below and I’d be happy to answer them.
When you fold up the bench seat, do you have access to your storage in the back? Also, can you simultaneously fold up the bench and fold down the head board without the mattress interfering?
Hi Lance, With the bench seat folded up there is still access to the rear storage as the seat folds above the drawers themselves. The mattress does have to be folded back in half toward the front cab when raising the rear bench and it can be done while the headboard is up or folded down. So you do have to get the mattress a bit out of the way to raise the bench. Once it’s up it’s quite sturdy.
Hi Mike, I am really interested in your design. Is it possible you have another picture of the google sketchup which shows the measurements for the base? Or maybe you are willing to share the sketchup model itself?
Hi Matt, sure thing. I did have to do some changes to the original measurements from the sketchup design when I did the actual build. I think I have that file in my archive and I’ll put together an email to you in the next day or two with some details.
I just bought a 2013 connect as well and very interested in more details with your design plan if you’d be so willing. I’m new to carpentry so I’ll be doing the bed and foldable couch myself.
Anyway love your rig! Mine is bare bones right now but I love how maneuverable it is in the city and great on gas!
Mike, this great. I’m really excited to see this. We rented a campervan based on a Transit Connect a couple years ago, and we’ve been planning to build our own ever since. There are a lot of great conversions online, but very few (that I’ve found) with a full-width bed, which is an essential design element for us. We don’t want cabinets and kitchens–just a basic tent-on-wheels, with good storage and electricals capable of running a fan and some reading lamps. So it was great to see what you’ve done here, and I appreciate the links to resources. Happy micro-camping!
Best of luck with your conversion and that all sounds amazing! Share some pics or a post when you get things set up. I’m always looking for tweaks and new ideas and they can be hard to find.
Mike, I am trying to figure out how the rear bench folds up – do you have a photo of the bench?
Hi Jens, I do have a couple pictures of the schematic that shows the bench. I’ll send them over to you now. Thanks for checking out the post!
Hey Mike! How difficult do you think it would be to set rails on the bottom and split the legs in half and offset them on either side of the rail so they can slide? My idea was to split it in to 4 slats so that I can slide it up and create kind of a bench seat and instead of a headboard, I was going to get a big enough board to mount a TV on to.
Hi Caleb, I think that could work. Do you have a drawing of your design? If you do, send me an email… I’d love to see it so I can fully understand your concept. I think it would be really neat to have a large board with a TV mount inside as well. That sounds awesome.
This was great – we are considering a similar conversion. But we are a family of four. Our plan would be to put a roof top tent on the top for two to sleep up there and then two can sleep inside the van. But the issue would then be where do two passengers sit while travelling. What does this setup look like when you flip up two seats in the back? There seems to be some comments about this in this thread that refer to the rear bench, but it’s not clear how this would play out.
Hi Brian, a rooftop tent will be a great addition for this size van. I did research some in my early designs and they look amazing. The seats (bench) in our van is for the back and can only be used when the back hatch is opened up and we sit in it facing out the back with our feet dangling out. It’s super comfortable for sitting when we are parked somewhere but not useful while driving, so we can only fit two passengers total. One idea that you might want to consider is to leave the first row of passenger seats inside and build the bed structure as two parts so that you could fold the seats down when parked and lay a bed on top when you want to sleep. Are you planning to travel for weekend/short trips with minimal supplies/luggage? If that is the case, it could work. Let me know if you’d like to discuss further, happy to toss around some ideas. Enjoy your build!
Hi. This is a great design and I’m seriously considering this route. One question, how much leeway do you have on the height of the bed? I see that the vertical supports you used were 11″ but I need a little taller storage space under the bed. Could that be increased to 18″? Or would that make it impossible to sit up in bed? I’m a traveling musician, thinking of getting a camper van to save on motel rooms, but I need to be able to slide my guitar amp and PA speakers in under the bed.
Hi Tom. I think the height of about 11″ is just tall enough so that we can sit up in bed without hitting our heads. It worked out to be quite comfortable but I would definitely not go any higher (for comforts sake). I had originally designed the right storage compartment to house my acoustic guitar and some small gear (I’m a very amateur singer-songwriter) but it turned out to be too narrow by a few inches to fit. I would recommend possibly widening a compartment to fit more gear and if the height is truly an issue to consider getting a rooftop container. We got one and I stored a ton of gear in there and it was great to have. I could also envision a modified front section near the headboard that would let you store much more gear there. If you want some ideas send over an email and we can follow up. Let me know how it turns out!
Hi. This is awesome. I’ll hopefully be getting my van this week (same one). I’m just curious as to how the base is secured to the van. It looks like you ripped up some of the flooring for access points where the second row seats would be. I’m very curious about this aspect. How did you know where reliable secure points would be beneath the flooring? Also, is it secured to the van in any other areas?
Hi Cole, all I did was simply remove the two rows of seats and build the structure on top of it. I didn’t have to rip out any flooring as the area under the second row of seats does have some exposed parts. When I built the main structure it fit perfectly to the contours of the floor so it is very secure horizontally and heavy enough not to move at all vertically. If you want added hold you could easily secure it to the hooks used by the seat clamps or the exposed metal near the second-row seat area. Lots of options and best of luck with your build!
I love this. If you are sharing your sketch up file, I would love to see that. We are looking at buying at connect to do something close to this. Great job on the build!
Hi! This is great! My husband and I are buying this same model this weekend, found a sweet deal on a used 2014 one. We went back and forth on the Wagon vs. the Cargo, and after we saw this post, we decided the wagon was totally doable and easier than building out the whole interior. Working on a budget. 🙂 Thanks for the inspo! We are thinking about leaving the middle row of seats in for future kiddos, and just building a two piece version of this that slides or folds onto itself in the back. Have you come across any build outs that keep the middle row of seats in? Or do you have any pictures of the bench folded up? I’m curious if i can use that as design inspo for folding the platform/bed in half for times when we want to have the middle row of seats up…
Hi Jess, I haven’t seen one like that yet with the middle row of seats intact but I do think that could work well. I had considered it during an early version of my design. My van is a mess at the moment and in storage for a bit so I don’t have a handy picture of the bench up to show you. Good luck with your build and let me know how it turns out!
Awesome design. Is the transit reliable ? Im considering this route for cheap travel. Is the mattress short so you can move it to put the headboard down? Do you know if ford offers a second battery for the transit ? Could you please send me some pics and the build design?
Hi Mike, here’s a few answers to your questions… Reliability – The Transit Connect gets great gas mileage and does well on roads and highways. It does quite poor on inclines (weak) and very poor on any secondary roads. Its suspension is not the greatest and the brakes can be squeaky on this model. So it’s not built for too rugged of travel but great otherwise. Mattress – The mattress I had custom made to fit the entire area, so we lift the mattress up and fold the headboard below it for storage. I’m 5’9″ and I have only a couple inches of length left after lying down so I needed to extend it that whole length for sleeping. Battery – not sure about Ford offering a second battery, I use a secondary battery from GoalZero to power laptops, fans etc. Pics/Design – the pictures I have are all in the post already. Let me know if there is a particular aspect you want to know more about.
Hi Mike… others here have asked if you would be willing to share your sketchup files; may I also have a copy? I have owned my Transit Connect for a few years now and I’ve been thinking of doing something like you’ve done, except with the middle bucket seats still in place for daily use… kind of modular / convertible. Once I’ve modified yours as a starting place, I’d be happy to re-share.
Hi Keelan, unfortunately, I no longer have the sketchup files from this project or I would definitely share it! Have you been able to come up with something workable with the other seats in place? That sounds awesome.
I’ve bought the same vehicle for the same reason 2 yrs. ago. I recently retired and have the time to explore
different builds inside the van. Your completed plan looks great. I am planning to build mine this winter, to be
ready to go this spring. Do you have the material list & dimensions for the lumber? Thanks for reviving the dream.
Hi Dave, I no longer have the list unfortunately as the friend that helped me design it lost his original files. If you have any other questions as you put it together let me know. Sorry I don’t have more specifics but I’m happy to help where I can. Good luck with your build!
This is a fantastic design. I am curious though, how long are your drawers? Are they pretty sturdy when pulled out? I am thinking about using this design with a top on the drawers so they could be used to set a camping cook top and table. Do you think they would hold that weight when out, or would it be beneficial to incorporate a kind of kickstand type piece that could go down to the ground and add extra support?
Hi Zachary, thanks for the comments. The drawers are about two feet deep and are pretty sturdy when pulled out but I have had some issues with the drawer brackets due to the items inside being quite heavy. So I have had to rearrange some items in the van to make the drawers a bit lighter. Works great now. You could definitely set a cooktop and small table on there and I think it would hold just fine. I have used mine with a small electric burner and some meal prep and it was ok. I really don’t think you would need a kickstand unless you really put some heavy items on there. Have fun with it!
Thanks so much for sharing this. I am gearing up to get my own build going soon. Where did you get the custom futon pad to fit the width? Looks like a standard futon is 54” while the width of the transit is only ~48”. Thanks for the help!
Hi Matt, I was able to request a custom size from a futon company and they took a few inches off it for me. Hope you have great success getting your build put together!
Excellent design! If you have the sketch design I would love if you could email it over,..please.
Thank you for sharing your experience! We have been researching a quite similar project including a full size bed. I plan to use some of your design ideas. My plan calls for a three piece bed that converts to a bench.