How this couple went from traveling the US in a camper van to selling camper van conversions on Instagram for up to $90,000

Louis the Van
Louis the Van’s Louis build.

  • Two months after Seth and Scarlett Eskelund began #VanLife full-time, the US shut down.
  • The couple headed back home and started their own camper van conversion company aided by social media.
  • This business affords them the flexibility needed to go back into van life once the pandemic is over.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Many of us remember exactly where we were when we first realized COVID-19 was about to jarringly disrupt our lives.

For Seth and Scarlett Eskelund, the realization hit when they were in Sedona, Arizona, a 29-hour drive from home on the East Coast. The couple had just begun their full-time #VanLife journey two months prior, a goal they had been working towards since early 2019 when they first purchased a used van to turn into their own tiny home on wheels.

“It was pretty devastating for both of us,” Seth Eskelund told Insider in an interview. “It was a long time in the [car ride back home] to sit and think about it and go down Interstate 40 essentially the wrong way for what we had prepared for.”

levii the van 1
Louis the Van’s Levii build.

However, a glimmer of hope came out of this disappointment. Along the drive back home, the couple decided to pursue their plans of buying another used van to convert into a camper, an idea they had already been toying around with.

“We wanted something that would keep us connected to the van life community,” Scarlett Eskelund told Insider in an interview. “We knew we wanted this in the long run. We figured we’d do something that kept us connected to the community as a whole.”

This decision then turned into Roah (pictured below), the couple’s first camper van conversion after returning home during COVID-19. The moment they completed and sold the van, the duo returned to the road and began heading up to Canada for the summer.

Louis the Van's Roah build camper van
Louis the Van’s Roah build.

But as we all know now, the Canadian border closed, and the couple was again forced to return home. That was when they decided to convert another van, this time out of leased warehouse space. And as the cliche goes, the rest is history, and the couple has now built five vans, including the personal camper that’s been with them since the start of their van life journey.

“We joke that we’re just continually forced into this in the best way possible,” Scarlett Eskelund said.

Converting and selling vans is a necessity

QUIN the van 1
Louis the Van’s Quin build.

“If we don’t sell these vans, it’s over, not just for the business, but … we would have no money to get back out on the road and travel,” Scarlett Eskelund said. “Luckily I don’t think either of us harped on that too much, because I think if we did, we definitely wouldn’t have gotten into this.”

The pair’s 12 to 18-hour workdays grant them a rapid turnaround time. The first van they built in the warehouse, pictured below, was completed in 20 days – partially because the couple needed the financial support – and sold in three weeks.

QUIN 2
Louis the Van’s Quin build.

Ironically, that van was the longest it has ever taken the couple to sell a finished van. Their “list-to-sell” time normally sits at around two to three weeks, which Seth Eskelund says is “pretty quick.”

Relying on public interest after a van has been completed – instead of doing custom builds – may seem risky. But so far, this business decision has paid off with the help of the couple’s YouTube and Instagram presence, which have almost 70,000 subscribers and 21,000 followers, respectively. All of the couple’s buyers have found their vans through Instagram, where the Eskelund’s will do daily check-ins on their in-progress vans.

Within two to three weeks after a camper van sells, the pair will have another used van in the garage, ready to convert again.

Their pricing methods aren’t an industry-standard, but that’s the point

levii the van 2
Louis the Van’s Levii build.

The Eskelund’s camper vans have been a hit with customers because of their prices, according to the couple. Their tiny homes on wheels can range from a weekend warrior van to a built-out unit with a shower and toilet. But no matter the amenities, the couple aims to price “very fairly” and below the current market rate, which can often run high.

Camper van conversion companies and RV makers have seen a boom in sales as more people have turned to road travel during COVID-19. But as a result, the camper van market has been price gouging, sometimes to the tune of an additional $60,000 to $70,000 compared to 2019 prices, according to Seth Eskelund. But when pricing their own vans, the couple doesn’t want to take this route, and instead opts for a price tag that’s less than the general market.

From the start, the couple’s goal was to convert vans to give them something to focus on during the coronavirus pandemic. The point was never to become wealthy from the business: instead, they wanted to break even or just make a small income.

“It’s a lot more than just a business and money for us,” Seth Eskelund said. “I would say we are as personally invested in the vans as we are in the business, and maybe that’s not smart from a business perspective on us, but that is who we are.”

QUIN the van
Louis the Van’s Quin build.

The pair factors in several aspects when pricing the van, including its mileage, the cost of purchasing the initial used van, and build specifications. This then leads to a price range of anywhere between $30,000 to $90,000, which is far cheaper than builds from companies that have an almost $300,000 tag.

There’s also the added bonus of ad revenue from their YouTube videos, which allows the couple to subsidize their prices while educating the public about how to DIY a camper van.

“Obviously there is demand and a lot of supply as well, but I think that’s been a factor in why we sell quickly because we really do try to price as fairly as we can,” Seth Eskelund said.

As Scarlett Eskelund describes it, this is both a lifestyle and a business, giving the couple fluid “accessibility.” When the COVID-19 pandemic is over, the pair will continue their business for as many months out of the year as they would like. For all the other months, they’ll resume their #VanLife dreams.

“It’s a means to an end,” Scarlett Eskelund said. “It allows us the ability to do what we really want to do.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

I rented a camper van through Outdoorsy, the Airbnb for RVs, and it’s the perfect platform for first-time RVers

frank olito camper van
I rented this camper using Outdoorsy.

  • I booked a camper van for a weekend road trip through Outdoorsy, the Airbnb for RVs. 
  • I had trouble with my van and with customer service, but it was a largely positive experience. 
  • Although the van was expensive, Outdoorsy provided me with the necessary tools for a first-timer. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

When I decided to rent a camper van for a short road trip in January, I admittedly didn’t know where to start. 

Quickly, I learned there are three main sites for RV rentals: Outdoorsy, RV Share, and Cruise America. After doing some research and reading multiple RV blogs, I found most people agreed that Outdoorsy was the best of the three

Outdoorsy is a peer-to-peer rental service (much like Airbnb) that started in 2015. Over the years, the platform has expanded and today there are over 200,000 vehicles listed for rent in over 4,800 cities and 14 countries. Jen Young, CMO and co-founder of Outdoorsy, told Insider in December 2020 that the number of RV rentals made on the site skyrocketed during the pandemic. 

I, too, decided to rent a camper van during the pandemic after years of wondering if life on the road was for me. Ultimately, I booked a 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van through Outdoorsy for a weekend trip from New York City to Philadelphia.

From booking to talking with customer service, here’s what planning a road trip through Outdoorsy is like.

First, Outdoorsy’s landing page prompted me to search for an area in the US and plug in my travel dates.

Outdoorsy's landing page.
Outdoorsy’s landing page.

I typed in New York City and then the dates I was looking to rent the van. I was surprised it didn’t ask me any other information, like how many people were traveling or what type of vehicle I was looking for. 

After I entered this basic information, the available vehicles were listed in a grid on the left and laid out on a map on the right.

outdoorsy review
The available vehicles.

There were two things that stood out on this page. First, Outdoorsy’s business model is largely the same as Airbnb, where people rent out their homes for travelers. Essentially, all the vehicles listed on this page are owned by people in the New York area who want to rent out their RVs when they aren’t using them. The resemblance doesn’t end there: This page is even laid out like Airbnb’s website. 

The second aspect that stood out to me was the variety of vehicles that were listed. There were over 500 options when I searched, and some were traditional RVs, towable trailers, and camper vans. 

At the top, there were filters, which helped narrow down my search significantly.

outdoorsy review
The filters.

There were six tabs at the top of the screen that helped narrow the search. In those tabs, I was able to specify that I wanted a camper van — I figured taking a larger, more traditional RV would be too difficult for a novice. I also specified that I wanted to pay less than $500 per night and wanted the camper van to be delivered to my home on the day of my departure. 

Only a few camper van owners allowed for delivery — as most renters pick up the vehicles themselves — so my options quickly became limited.

After narrowing my search, there were only two camper vans that suited my needs, so I began chatting with the owners directly.

outdoorsy review
The messages.

The first van I liked was a 2014 Dodge Sprinter that was located in Connecticut for $200 per night, while the second one was a more luxurious 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and located in New Jersey for $400 per night. While their prices varied greatly, each had plenty of bright, large pictures that showed off every inch of the vehicle. 

Like Airbnb, I had to message and confirm with the owners before actually booking the camper van. The messaging system is built directly into the website, and I received a text message and an email each time an owner sent me a response. 

In my conversations with both of the owners, I confirmed the price and asked if they would be able to drop off and pick up the van on my travel dates. 

Unfortunately, one of the owners decided I was too far away, so I went with the 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. 

Before booking the more luxurious van, I double-checked the list of amenities to ensure it had everything I needed.

outdoorsy review
All the features listed.

These visual icons clearly helped confirm that the van had everything I would need on my short road trip, including enough room for two people, a bathroom, and fresh water.

When double-checking the page, I became concerned about one aspect of the van: There was a 75-mile limit each day, and I would be charged for every mile that I went over. This would mean I couldn’t travel that far outside of New York City if I wanted to keep the price low. When I looked at the other vehicles on the platform, most didn’t have this requirement. I chatted with the owner again, and he explained that he put the limit on the van because he didn’t want people traveling too far.

In the end, I decided to proceed with the booking anyway because this camper van was a perfect match for my needs. 

Once the owner confirmed the price and dates, the booking process was simple and fast.

outdoorsy review
The Mercedes Benz page.

The camper van cost $400 per night plus $200 for delivery and pick up. An additional $180 was added to the bill for insurance, which included up to $1 million in property damage protection and a $2,000 deductible. 

In the end, the grand total for a three-night rental came to $1,700. I was also notified that Outdoorsy would take a $3,500 security hold that would be refunded when the van was returned. 

I was surprised by how expensive the camper van was for just a short weekend road trip. For $1,700, I could fly to Europe and back again. According to Outdoorsy, the price of a rental on the site can vary greatly depending on the type, style, and size of the vehicle, but in 2020, the average price for a rental was $161 per night.

While the van I rented was priced a bit higher than most of the other vehicles on Outdoorsy, it was more luxurious, so I was paying for the high-end features. 

Leading up to the arrival of my van, I turned to Outdoorsy for some much-needed guidance.

outdoorsy review
RV travel tips.

Since I had never traveled in an RV or a camper van before, I knew I had a lot to learn. Luckily, Outdoorsy provided teaching tools that were built into the site. On the camper van’s page, there was a section titled “RV Travel Tips,” which had detailed videos explaining delivery, propane tanks, and WiFi. 

Additionally, I was having trouble finding an open campground that was located within driving distance from New York City in the middle of the winter. I turned to Outdoorsy again, which had a section on its website that lists campgrounds near certain points of interest across the US.

When the camper van finally arrived outside my apartment in Brooklyn, we instantly ran into some issues.

camper van frank olito
The camper van in Brooklyn.

During the walk-through of the van with the owner, he discovered a leak from the bathroom that was pouring into the living space at the back of the van. After investigating further, he decided he needed to cancel my booking and bring the van back to his shop. 

The co-founder of Outdoorsy, Jen Young, told me that vehicles listed on Outdoorsy must be inspected every 90 days, but these issues do arise. 

Although it was very frustrating to have my trip canceled just seconds before it was to begin, the owner assured me I could rent the van the following weekend. 

The problem was that Outdoorsy was not aware of the new booking we agreed to. Nervous that I was going to be charged for a trip that never happened, I jumped on a call with customer service. 

The customer service rep I spoke to gave me conflicting information when compared with what the owner was told to do. I decided to reach out to customer service again via email. Unfortunately, every time I received an email back from them, it was from a different person who was more confused than the last. 

Ultimately, we were successfully able to rebook the camper van for the following weekend, but customer service did not offer any discounts for my troubles, which was frustrating. 

Young said Outdoorsy is working on a new product feature that will clear up the confusion among the customer support team in the future. 

“On the customer support front, we also learned a lot this past year after our busiest year on record, and we’re hard at work to address the areas we know we need to improve on in order to provide both our owners and renters with the best support possible,” Young said.

The following weekend, I was finally able to take the camper van out on the road – with Outdoorsy by my side the whole way.

Frank Olito camper van
The interior of the camper van.

When the owner dropped the van off the second time, he walked me through a quick tutorial of all the van’s systems. As a first-timer, I didn’t understand some of what he was saying, but I hoped for the best. During my journey, I did run into some issues with the heater and electricity, but I contacted the owner directly via his phone number instead of Outdoorsy. 

Owners should upload a manual of their vehicles to the Outdoorsy site so that renters can access it throughout their stay when issues arise. 

Outdoorsy did, however, send a text message early in my trip, explaining that I had free roadside assistance in case of “an unexpected emergency.” The text message included the phone number I would need if such a situation arose. Thankfully, it didn’t.

I also downloaded the Outdoorsy app just in case I needed it during the trip.

Outdoorsy review
The live chat function on the app.

I downloaded the app so that I could access my messages quickly. I also wanted the app because Outdoorsy has a 24/7 live chat function. Since I was a new RVer, I wanted to make sure I had every support system at my disposal. 

Although I ran into problems along my journey, I didn’t end up using the app at all, but it was reassuring to know it was there as an option. 

When I returned to Brooklyn, the owner came to pick up the vehicle in another easy process.

camper van frank olito
The camper van back in Brooklyn.

When the owner arrived, he inspected every inch of the vehicle to ensure I didn’t break or hit anything while traveling. Even though I went over the 75-mile-per-day limit, he decided to not charge me because of electricity and heater issues I had experienced.

After I signed a few papers, my first experience with Outdoorsy came to a close. 

I received an email to write a review of my journey a couple of days later.

outdoorsy review
The review screen.

Just like most reviews, Outdoorsy asked me to rate my experience on a five-star scale, to describe my overall experience, and to upload any photos from my trip.

According to the platform’s site, over 5,000 people have rated their experience with Outdoorsy a 4.87, which is 92% of customers.

Although there were a few mishaps along the way, in my experience, Outdoorsy is the perfect platform for first-time RVers.

Frank Olito camper van
The camper van and me.

From the beginning, it was clear that Outdoorsy’s main mission is to help acclimate new RVers to the world of road tripping. That fact is evident in their easy booking process and in the tools they provide both on their site and on their app. 

I believe the growing number of people who feel inspired to get out on the road for the first time because of the pandemic will feel reassured and confident getting behind one of these rigs thanks to Outdoorsy. I know I did. 

Even though I had trouble with my van, customer service was a bit confusing, and there are a few features that the company should improve upon, I always felt like I had a support system to help along the way — whether that be the owner himself or the support service via Outdoorsy. 

If I take another road trip in the future, I would probably use the platform again — but I’d choose a less expensive vehicle.  

Read the original article on Business Insider

A camper van maker just unveiled its first ‘box’ RV based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and it costs more than $300,000

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

  • Advanced RV has revealed a prototype of its “B Box” camper van built on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cab chassis.
  • The B Box fits a full bathroom, kitchen, and dual living room and bedroom inside of the highly insulated box.
  • Advanced RV’s president Mike Neundorfer estimates that the price will be similar to the company’s other vans, which have recently ranged between $310,000 to about $490,000 with a median price of about $380,000.
  • Advanced RV has begun manufacturing custom B Box vans for its customers and has hired new staff members to accommodate this increase in production.
  • The unveiling of the B Box comes at a fortuitous time for the RV industry, with RV sales going through the roof with no sign of slowing down.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Advanced RV has revealed a prototype of its “B Box” camper van built on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cab chassis.

Unlike most camper vans – including ones that Advanced RV has built in the past – the B Box doesn’t take the classic look of a tiny home on wheels. Instead, the camper cabin sits inside of an insulated fiberglass composite and foam box that’s both off-grid and four-seasons capable.

“Advanced RV’s mission is to listen to and understand our clients’ travel objectives so that we can collaborate with them to bring their vision to life,” Advanced RV’s president Mike Neundorfer said in an email interview with Business Insider. “When we discovered a box that would allow us to meet our clients’ objectives on a cab chassis, we pursued building a prototype because we knew of the spatial, insulation, and off-grid advancements a box would provide.”

The unveiling of the B Box comes at a fortuitous time for the RV industry. Last month, RV shipments increased 31.2% year-over-year with a total of 41,509 shipped in September 2020 compared to 31,639 shipped the same time last year, according to a September survey of RV manufacturers by the RV Industry Association trade group.

Despite this upwards trend, Class A and C RV shipments dipped year-over-year last month by 12.7% and 5.2%, respectively. month. However, Class B RVs remained resilient: last month, Class B shipments increased by 57.9% compared to September 2019, according to the same survey.

According to Advanced RV’s YouTube tour of the B Box, the van was designed to not appear like a motorhome.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

Source: YouTube

The prototype of the B Box camper took around 10 to 11 months to complete and has similar dimensions to a traditional 170-inch Sprinter van, although the B Box has a higher ground clearance with at least 9.5 inches.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype compared to a traditional Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

B Box’s interior is about 6.67 feet tall and has an extra nine inches of width despite having a similar exterior width as a traditional Sprinter.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype compared to a traditional Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

The cabin box is about three inches wider than the widest part of the van.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

According to a statement from Neundorfer, the name of the van is derived from its Class B RV classification, which the company specializes in.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

Like many camper van and RV makers, Advanced RV has seen an increase in Class B RV interest from the public since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

“Even if interested parties aren’t looking to build a van, we are receiving more calls, inquiries, and interest in our YouTube channel,” Advanced RV president Mike Neundorfer said in an email interview with Business Insider.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

Advanced RV created the B Box out of partial necessity, not because of the coronavirus pandemic, but because of chassis manufacturing changes.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

In 2018 and 2019, Advanced RV began struggling to meet client demands due to delays in Sprinter chassis deliveries in 2018 when Mercedes-Benz opened a new Sprinter manufacturing plant in South Carolina, according to Neundorfer.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

In order to prevent employee layoffs, Advanced RV started building its own box on wheels.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

“The creation of the B Box turned a difficult Sprinter supply problem into an opportunity to meet client objectives with a design using cab chassis which are readily available,” Neundorfer wrote.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

The company has now begun hiring new staff members to accommodate the ramped up production of custom B Box vans for its clients.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

This includes a B Box with a washer, dryer, and pop-up roof camper for a family with children.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

Neundorfer estimates the price will be similar to its other vans, which have recently ranged between $310,000 to about $490,000 with a median price of about $380,000.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

The van’s air suspension system is electronically controlled and comes with custom shock absorbers. And for improved efficiency, the exterior of the van is lined with airtabs.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

The exterior also has sidelights and a 360-degree camera system.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

For extra security, Advanced RV included a keypad by the entry door to password lock and protect the van.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

Stepping stairs automatically drop down when the entry door is opened for increased accessibility.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

The cabin can be easily accessed from the van’s cab, and the passenger seat can swivel to face the interior, therefore serving as an extra seating spot.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

Behind the cab is a microwave, refrigerator and freezer, and the kitchen unit, which includes cabinets, a sink, and a large counter space.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

The camper has shoe storage shelves integrated into the side of the kitchen unit and cabinets that line most of the van’s ceiling.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

The color of the lights that brighten up the interior can be changed.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

To clean off after a day in the outdoors, the B Box’s bathroom has a shower that can filter and sterilize used shower water, allowing the water to be recycled and reused. This repurposed shower water can also be used for the toilet.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

The bathroom is also equipped with a toilet, mirrors, a shower curtain extension, a medicine cabinet, and a sink.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

The bathroom and kitchen’s water is sourced from the van’s 50-gallon freshwater tank. Used water is then deposited into the two 27.5-gallon grey and black water tanks.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

Advanced RV’s latest van also has openable dual pane windows with screens and shades by the sofa bed. The back hatch can also open, bringing in more fresh air and rear access.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

There’s also room to store outdoor toys like bicycles in front of the rear hatch and behind the sofa bed.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

The sofa bed can seat three people with seatbelts and sits on a steel frame for extra support and security.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

The interior also has a Sonos sound system and a TV for extra entertainment inside the tiny home on wheels.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

B Box’s strong insulation allows the interior to be warmed and cooled with only approximately 20% of the energy that it takes to maintain the temperature of a normal camper van, according to Advanced RV.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

The van is so tightly sealed, the interior’s carbon dioxide levels will increase if people stay and breathe inside the van for too long, according to Advanced RV’s YouTube video. To combat this, its makers included an air heat exchanger and a carbon dioxide monitor.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

Source: YouTube

To make the tiny home on wheels more four seasons capable, Advanced RV included on-demand heated water and floors, and air conditioning and auxiliary heating systems.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

All of these amenities are powered by the van’s 48-volt, 15.2-kilowatt-hour lithium battery pack that can be charged with the alternator. These power systems can then be monitored with the van’s touchscreen control center.

Advanced RV's B Box prototype.
Advanced RV’s B Box prototype.

Read the original article on Business Insider