- Millie Struthers renovated her van in 2021 while studying remotely.
- After driving around Europe, she tried to sell it on Facebook Marketplace but couldn’t find a buyer.
- She made a TikTok that got a huge response and ended up selling a van to the person who saw it.
I bought my beloved van in April 2021, just as Covid-19 restrictions were finally starting to lift in the UK.
Since I was still an undergraduate student, I had always wanted to travel once I got my degree. However, I never imagined that I would be traveling around the UK and Europe in a van that I had modified myself.
At the time of purchase, I had no experience in remodeling, let alone a mechanic. But since I’ve always been an avid fan of other people’s vanlife stories, I was thinking, “How hard could that be?”
I flew back from Brighton on the south coast of England to Dorset in the south west, where my mother lives, close to where the van would pick me up. The price was 3,000 pounds, or about $3,800. Fortunately, the previous owner had already partially converted it, so I had a shell layout to work with.
We spent around £2,700 renovating it. I worked full-time in retail and part-time as a waitress and was putting aside £400 a month for that.
Renovation work was carried out over nights and weekends from April to June. I watched YouTube tutorials to figure out how to install and wire the piping. Sometimes we used video guides that were sent with parts we ordered, such as electric pump sinks.
For carpentry, I called my grandfather, who was always happy to help. His uncle helped him put up new flooring. By the time it was completed, a new kitchen area, toilets, flooring and insulation had been installed, as well as a more comfortable home decor.
I set out on my first trip to Cornwall at the end of July 2021. His first year of travel involved long weekends traveling around the UK, and his final year of undergraduate studies continued with remote study.
In the summer of 2022, I went on a two-month trip with my best friend, traveling 4,000 miles through northern France, Switzerland, Italy, and back through southern France.
I returned the van to my mother’s house and returned to Brighton to complete my master’s degree in journalism.
My van, which had been sitting in my driveway during a wet and miserable winter, developed a number of expensive mechanical problems by the time I got home. As a cash-strapped student, I knew it was time to sell.
I bought it on Facebook Marketplace, so I tried selling it there first. I also listed it on various van life Facebook groups.
They also started promoting the van on Instagram and Gumtree, with asking prices starting at £6,000. I wanted to get back what I paid for the van, plus at least the money I put into renovating it.
After months of updating ads and lowering prices, I was starting to think this car would be sitting in my driveway for another winter.
One day, while scrolling through TikTok, I saw a viral post with a photo of someone’s van that had thousands of likes and comments. He created a new account on TikTok to document his travels, but had no idea it was a place he could sell things.
I started researching what kind of music makes TikToks viral and what hashtags to use, like #vanlifeconversion and #vanlifetravel.
I told them where the van was and listed the asking price of £5,700 or the nearest asking price and all the key features that came with it. He used 11 photos of many features he wanted people to see, from a fully equipped kitchen to two beds.
The last photo was of the van in the driveway with a note asking people to comment or message us if they had any questions.
I had no idea how this was going to turn out. But I believed that Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer” and Van’s beauty would increase views.
I was in awe as I watched the views increase by hundreds within minutes of posting.
Many comments were complimentary about the van, with people saying they would love to live in a van someday. The post was so popular that she decided to give it a try on his personal TikTok account, even though she only had 25 followers and they were all close friends and family.
I used the same format as my van-life account’s TikTok. But this time, I wrote a caption for each photo using fun emojis. This post garnered him over 118,000 views, far surpassing his 20,000 views for the first post. The second post received over 6,000 likes from him and 250 comments from her. Hundreds of thousands of people saw my van.
To maintain engagement, I respond to individual comments. People were eager to be the first to see it in person. I watched it multiple times every day for two weeks, and people came from hours away to see it. A woman from France wanted to come see it, but it was sold out before we could schedule a date.
Despite the Post Office’s international reach, the final buyer lived 15 minutes away and paid £5,300.
I was very happy. I didn’t want to drive the van over the winter anymore and was planning to move back to Brighton. I was also hoping to receive an offer that was below the asking price for the used van. It also beat his highest offer on Facebook Marketplace, which was £4,500.
The experience surprised and moved me. I never thought you could use TikTok to sell something like this. Around the same time, my partner’s family rented out their house. We all joked that if we had trouble finding someone, we could just post on TikTok.
But after selling my van on TikTok, I started missing the van life. Ultimately, this helped convince me to move to New Zealand and take up van life.
My visa has been approved and I plan to buy a new van by next September and drive there for two years.
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