A personal trainer from Northern Ireland used lockdown to accomplish a tiny home project, transforming an old van into a luxury mobile home with a small budget, using YouTube tutorials to guide her.
The conversion, which took Jennifer McKechnie 100 days to complete, has since become the most popular home on property search engine Zoopla.
“I bought the minibus in 2019 from CH Car Sales in Bangor for £2,300 [approx. US$3,200] but never had the time to focus on it,” Jennifer, 31, who hails from Dundonald, told Belfast Live.
Yet when Jennifer’s place of work closed on March 21, 2020, she started work on the conversion the very next day, earmarking 2,500 pounds (approx. US$3,450) for the budget, while selling the van’s seats to make a little money back.
DIY-savvy but with no professional experience, Jennifer stripped the van with help from her father, and sourced materials from eBay and Amazon when her local building supply store closed for lockdown.
The personal trainer, who snowboards in the French Alps every year, had long dreamt of taking her two huskies, Jake and Zack, along for the trip. With this ultimate goal in mind, the design for the van—including a full bed, functional kitchen, retractable deck, and husky house—took shape.
Jennifer even built an awning, allowing her to keep the van doors open when it rains. Rainy days, she reflected, provide a “good opportunity to make a coffee and read a book.”
Jennifer cited her dad as the main inspiration for taking on the project herself. “I got most of my DIY knowledge from him. I can count on him for any mechanical issues I might encounter,” she explained. “Everything else I learnt from watching van conversion videos on YouTube.”
While UK borders remain closed, Jennifer is making the most of the relative freedom her new tiny home affords her. “There are so many beautiful places to explore in Northern Ireland and the south that I could see them all for cost of petrol,” she explained.
Renovating her van has introduced Jennifer to an entire tiny home community of like-minded folk with whom to swap tips, stories, and experiences. She has also learned about a parking app, Park4Night, which helps her pitch up legally and affordably at desired locations, beaches being her favorite.
Inspired to fly the flag for “van life,” Jennifer shared a video of her van’s epic transformation on TikTok, garnering over 2.5 million likes. While her 10-year-old husky, Zack, sadly passed away in February, Jennifer continues to chronicle life as a tiny home owner on Instagram.
Adopting van life has brought Jennifer myriad joys, including saving money on accommodations and eating out while traveling. Coupled with the immense freedom it brings, the personal trainer is now an advocate for others who want to try the liberating lifestyle.
“Especially in this time when travel isn’t the way it used to be, being able to travel locally and explore is very much worth it,” she told the news outlet. “It’s been amazing just to be able to pack up the van for a couple of days, take off, and see where I end up.”
Jennifer has even set up a van conversion firm Custom Conversions NI to help others achieve their tiny home dreams.