A woman converted a $21,000 van into a chic oasis with a composting toilet and solar panels

Converted van
The view inside looking from the driver’s seat to the back of the van before (left) and after (right) renovating. Courtesy of Sarah Hall
  • A TikToker went viral after she showed off her converted cargo van.
  • Sarah Hall is a harpist who travels in her transformed vehicle. 
  • She said she bought the $21,000 van with the intention of turning it into a “home away from home.”

In March 2021, Sarah Hall purchased a van for around $21,000 with plans to turn it into her dream mobile oasis.
Sarah Hall van conversion
Sarah Hall in her converted van. Courtesy of Sarah Hall
The 21-year-old harpist and student said she began work on her 2015 Ram ProMaster 3500 the same day she took it home — the roughly 78-square-foot van had an eco-diesel engine and 92,000 miles (148,060km) already on it.

“I’ve had a Pinterest board filled with DIY camper vans since high school,” Hall told Insider. “So it’s always been on my mind.”

Once it was clear to her that COVID-19 wasn’t going away quickly, and with most of her work and school making the shift to virtual, she decided she’d be able to invest the time needed for this “huge project.”

Hall shared her finished fan with followers on TikTok, and one of her videos has since gone viral with 15.4 million views at the time of writing. 

She told Insider it cost around $25,000 and took a little more than five months to complete the renovation, which she did almost entirely herself.
Sarah Hall renovated van
The view inside from the sliding door before (left) and after (right) renovating. Courtesy of Sarah Hall
“My research was basically many YouTube videos, blogs from other van lifers, reviews of products, and figuring out how to fit everything I wanted in my layout by going over the specs from all the different manufacturer’s components,” Hall said. 

The only time she enlisted the help of family and friends was for heavy-lift tasks like installing the windows or getting solar panels onto the roof. 

There were certain features Hall prioritized, like in her bathroom.
Sarah Hall converted van
She knew she wanted a shower and a toilet inside. Courtesy of Sarah Hall
“I knew I wanted a permanent shower, for sure!” Hall told Insider. “Some vans have pop-up showers, outdoor showers, and all kinds of creative ways to bathe, but I knew I wanted a permanent built-in shower.”

She bought a self-drying and self-cleaning shower door that retracts into a vertical box, which makes it look like a pocket door. Hall said there’s a squeegee along the height of it that removes water as it retracts to limit mold production.

She felt the same about a toilet, saying that she “didn’t want to be pulling out a plastic toilet from under my kitchen sink.”

Hall told Insider she installed a C-Head composting toilet, which uses a fiber medium like coconut husks or sawdust to mask the odor of solid waste. Liquids are typically separated into a bottle or jug, but Hall modified the system to have it drain directly into the waste water tank she installed on the bottom of her van. 

“There, it’s mixed with all the used shower and sink water,” she said. “Liquid waste is basically sterile, and when diluted actually makes a great fertilizer! So you can dump the tank pretty much anywhere responsibly, as long as you are using biodegradable soaps and shampoos.” 

Hall said the most challenging part of the entire project was the shower.
Sarah hall van conversion
She built the entire interior from scratch. Courtesy of Sarah Hall
“Waterproofing it was a pain, and there were points where it seemed like it wouldn’t work out and made me really want to give up,” she said. “I cried in that half-built shower so many times.”

Hall takes her followers through the process of how she built the shower in one of her TikTok videos. In the video, she shows off her bathroom at each stage of building, and explained that the subway tiles on the walls are actually sticker sheets. 

Hall also knew she wanted a built-in stovetop.
Sarah hall converted van
Hall prioritized a permanent stovetop. Courtesy of Sarah Hall
Rather than the camping stoves or gas burners she’s seen in other DIYers’ vans, Hall made sure to build a more permanent-looking stovetop by fitting the two-burner electric model into her kitchen counter. 
She went into the project with a clear plan and wanted it to feel like a “‘home away from home’ as much as possible,” she said.
Sarah hall van conversion
Plants, aesthetically pleasing finishes, and painted walls make this van feel like a home. Courtesy of Sarah Hall
Now that it’s finished, she said the thing she loves most is how spacious and bright it feels. 

“When I first stepped into the empty van when I bought it I completely panicked,” Hall told Insider. “It didn’t look like anything would fit! But now that I’m done it feels like the inside of the van grew a few square feet!”

While it was helpful to start the process with a clear path, Hall was also open-minded enough to throw in some last-minute additions.
Sarah hall van conversion
Hall fit a full-sized bed in her van. Courtesy of Sarah Hall
“I spontaneously added a little laundry hatch in the bed area while I was building the frame,” she said, “and it’s been really useful to get dirty clothes out of the way!”

She built it into the base of her full-sized bed that is lofted above the tanks and electrical boxes in the back of the van. 

Surprisingly, she said, doing electrical work was easy — once she understood how it worked.
Sarah hall van conversion
Hall said installing electricity wasn’t as difficult as she expected it to be. Courtesy of Sarah Hall
“It was the one thing I was really scared of doing,” Hall said. “I was convinced I’d electrocute myself.”

While it was an intimidating task, she said that once she did her research and learned how everything worked, it wasn’t that difficult to put together.

Hall says one of the most important components of her van is that she built it to be “self-contained” so she can sustain herself for weeks.
Sarah hall van conversion
She thought of every detail before even purchasing the van. Courtesy of Sarah Hall
“I have a bunch of solar panels on the roof with a huge battery bank, and a combined 45 gallons (170l) of fresh water storage on board,” she said. “I could sit in the middle of nowhere for a couple weeks and be fine.”

Hall pointed to the composting toilet as a big factor in this as well, adding “I also don’t have any sewage, so I’m not tied down to finding authorized dump spots whenever the waste tank is full.”

She said that since her van doesn’t require any hookups for electrical or water, it’s relatively easy for her to find places to park.

For now, Hall plans to travel around “as much of North America as possible.”

“Eventually,” she said, “I would like to ship it to Europe.”

Her key to staying safe while traveling is to always be aware of her surroundings, Hall told Insider.
Sarah hall van conversion
Safety is always top of mind for Hall when traveling. Courtesy of Sarah Hall
“I arrive wherever I’m planning to stay the night early enough to scope it out,” she said, “and if it feels uncomfortable at all I’ll leave and find another place.”

Hall said that there are lots of free parking and camping sites for travelers who don’t need any electrical or water hookups. She said she’s found some through the Bureau of Land Management, and others through online networks. 

“I’m also a member of a site called Harvest Hosts, where there’s a lot of tourist spots/businesses offering one-night stays for campers and RVs,” she said. 

But the added component of being a female solo traveler is something Hall is acutely aware of. 

“As with most women solo travelers (which is sad that it’s something we have to worry about, but solo men don’t) I don’t post where I am on social media until after I’ve left, and never say where I’m going,” she said.

Hall has installed several security features in and on her van including alarms and video cameras, extra retrofitted locks, and items for her own personal protection.