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How I Turned My Van Into a Campervan With Solar Panels

Sidharth Varman, the founder of Roadhouse Campervan, narrates how he turned a van into a campervan for road trips, complete with a solar panel to make travelling eco-friendlier than ever.

An uncomfortable road trip drove Sidharth Varman, a professional in the automotive industry, to think of ways with which he could make travelling a better experience for not just himself, but also others like him with a sense of adventure.

This thought was the precursor for him converting his van into a campervan and eventually launching Roadhouse Campervan, a rental service, in 2020.

Off the beaten track

“I’ve been into off‐roading for around 15 years now. I’d join my group for drives into the jungle in our jeeps and we’d navigate obstacles and rocky terrain. We would also take part in the tiger census, wherein we’d go into the jungle with a forest official and they would count the number of these wild cats in a certain area,” Sidharth recalls in conversation with The Better India.

On these off-road trips, the lack of accommodation was a problem. They would put up makeshift tents which, all in all, did not make for a very comfortable experience.

“When people are into offroading, or for that matter when they take a van for a trip, at the end of the day, they want to come back to a place that has a shower and some amenities,” he says, adding that this was the moment the idea of building a campervan struck him.

This, however, did not materialise until the COVID-19 lockdown, when Sidharth started to take a keen interest in European campervan culture. He liked the aesthetic that the campervans overseas displayed, and consulted an architect on what interiors would make for a good campervan experience, as well as what materials he should procure.

By this time, he was 30 years old and had quit his job in the automotive industry to go headlong into his plan of having a campervan rental service. He purchased a van and got started with the process of turning it into a campervan, but the idea was met with obstacles.

“There weren’t many builders in Chennai around that time,” he recalls.

So he went with his next best option — fabricators. “When factories in Chennai are being relocated, there are fabricators who set up makeshift offices,” says Sidharth. “I wanted a similar setup inside the van and so decided to go ahead with these contractors.”

Dissatisfied with the amount of time the process was taking, Sidharth rolled up his sleeves and decided that if he couldn’t find a carpenter who could translate his ideas into reality, he would turn into one himself.

“It was difficult to learn the trade, electrical work, plumbing, etc. Every day that I saw the van in my garage was a wakeup reminder for me that I needed to get it on the road as soon as possible. I knew I had to work well and work fast.”

After a gruelling period of a year, which extended from August 2020 to July 2021, the fruit of his efforts was on wheels, ready to make trips.

Roadhouse Campervan takes you into the heart of nature
Roadhouse Campervan takes you into the heart of nature

Speaking of his thought process while designing the van, Sidharth says it was to give it a homely yet outdoorsy feel. “I wanted to stray away from the lush interiors of vanity vans and go for a wooden cabin vibe,” he says.

As you enter the van you will see the kitchenette on the right, with a gas and a burner stove along with cooking utensils. The bathroom lies opposite it with an overhead tank with a capacity of 250 litres.

At the far end of the campervan are the bed and the lounging area, while the skylight above the van provides guests with a beautiful view of the heavens at night.

“Keeping the bed and lounging area at the end of the van gives people the chance to open out the back and watch the beautiful scenery in the area where they are parked,” he says when we asked him the reason behind the specific arrangement. “They can have a 180-degree view of the surroundings.”

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The van also has plenty of charging points so that people can comfortably work, and charge their laptops, cameras, phones, etc.

There is a small place behind the bathroom that doubles as a working space when it isn’t being used to keep the ice box.

There is also plenty of storage space — beneath the bed and on top of the lounging area — where people can store their luggage.

While on his way to building this unique vehicle, Sidharth wanted to have it keep in tune with sustainability.

The campervan is an off-grid one that can run regardless of power and water availability. “There are two ways of generating power without connecting to the grid,” Sidharth explains. “One is through the generator, which isn’t eco-friendly. The second is solar power.”

Having opted for the latter, there is a 150 A battery in the campervan, powered by two 100 W solar panels. During the day, the panels are charged and excess power is stored in the battery, which is then used at night or when it rains.

Sidharth says the solar panels are a very practical installation and useful for all sorts of applications. A crucial step, he says, is to calculate the energy required and purchase suitable panels accordingly.

Having a battery backup is also wise according to him. “It took two days to finish setting up the system, including making brackets for the panels to sit on the top of the camper,” says Sidharth.

His advice to people who are looking to turn their vans into solar-powered ones is, “Figure out your consumption properly and go for appropriate wattage panels.” He adds that if the required consumption is 100 W, go for 150 W panels. “Make sure the panel size is well within the boundaries of your vehicle and always angle panels to about 15 degrees for max efficiency,” he notes.

“The electronics inside the van — a light and fan — are those that the battery can accommodate,” says Sidharth, explaining that the needs of the appliances and the storage capacity of the battery were both decided in sync so that guests wouldn’t be inconvenienced.

From the time he started giving out the van for rent, the van has been taken on trips by approximately 40 families.

We spoke to one of Sidharth’s guests, Ranjali Roy, who couldn’t stop gushing about her campervan experience. Travelling with her friend from Chennai to Kodaikanal, Ranjali says it was an amazing trip. “It was the perfect spot because of the scenery and Sidharth was very accomodating in terms of bookings and making our journey comfortable. I’ve always been wanting to have a campervan experience and I had no idea that these existed in Chennai,” says Ranjali, going on to vouch for the interiors and adding that the van is very cosy. “We even opened the roof and did some stargazing, and that just added to the magic of the trip.”

Currently, Sidharth rents out one campervan. Roadhouse aims to have two to three vans by the end of this year. You can rent the van from morning 10 am to the next day 10 am for a charge of Rs 6,999 and a driver’s fee of Rs 500.

To have a memorable camp trip, click here or call 9884446456.

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