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Our New Van: GMC Savana Van Conversion

We bought a new van! Specifically, a 2005 GMC Savana. It’s hard to describe just how excited we are, but we are practically bouncing off the walls. Purchasing this van has given us a new lease of energy and enthusiasm for travel and we can’t wait to convert it to a camper!

just purchased gmc savana van

For those not in the know, this van will be our third conversion together, after our tiny Toyota Lucida (that we bought for an epic road trip from the UK to Turkey and back) and beloved Chevrolet Astro. Here’s everything you need to know about our new GMC Savana van conversion. 

Goodbye Astro Van

We have loved Big Blue, our Astro van conversion. Over the last five years, we have spent over 250 nights and many days driving in Big Blue, reaching as far as the Arctic Circle.

Purchased in 2002 for only $1k, she has done us very well, driving over 100k with relatively few problems. The main issues that have caused us to come to the decision of selling our Astro are:


At 22 years old and over 360,000 kilometres, the Astro is still relatively well for its age. The problem is that it now need a new suspension, possible new transmission and some other major repairs. It’s hard to justify this on a vehicle of this age and mileage.


The Astro was great for our five-month road trip back in 2014, but we need something a little bigger for long-term travel. The main issue is that we have too many hobbies.

If you are travelling Canada with two backpacks of stuff and just plan to see the main sights, an Astro van makes for a great conversion. If you paddle, climb, backpack, dive and snowboard like us, it’s more of a struggle to live in long-term.

We will both be really sad to see our Astro go. Big Blue had brought us on many amazing adventures over the years. 

Astro van with canoe on top
astro van conversion at the arctic circle dempster highway

Choosing a new van conversion

Buying a new van has been a long time coming. We’ve actually been passively searching for the last year and a half. I say passively because we’ve dipped in and out of looking online but did not visit any dealerships or seen any vans in person at any point.

One reason why didn’t go too full-on with the search was that we knew pretty exactly what we wanted – either a Chevrolet Express or GMC Savana.

Why these two vehicles? It’s pretty simple.

  • A little bigger than the Astro, but not too much. We wanted it to be easy to park and drive.
  • Fairly stealthy and inconspicuous. High top vans (that you can stand up in) are more obvious campers so more limitations of places to park.
  • Travelling with a canoe (and now two kayaks!) is also more difficult with a high vehicle.
  • Easy to buy parts for in Canada and relatively straightforward to fix
  • 10-year-old versions of these vehicles are relatively affordable (around $6-10k)
  • Usually used as work vans so the interior would already be stripped
GMC Savana van interior with contractor shelving

Finding our new GMC Savana conversion van

I think we got pretty lucky with finding our van. While there may be lots of Express and Savana vans driving around Penticton, there just doesn’t seem to be many people selling second-hand ones.

We believe this is because most of them are leased to companies and hence not sold privately very often. There are however a few dealers in Abbotsford (BC) that always seem to have some but this is still a 700km return journey for us.

Our van was part of a fleet of vehicles used by a plumbing company in North Vancouver. It was used to drive very short distances between work sites in the city.

The business was recently sold and now the owner lives in the southern Okanagan. With five ex-work vans to sell, he was able to show us a few different options.

The Savana we ended up with had the lowest kilometres, good side access (two doors instead of a sliding one) and had the least rust.

gmc savana van before conversion

The long-term plan

This Savana van conversion is one that we intend to live and travel in for a long time. We may not continuously live it for years but we fully expect to travel for months at a time and use it as our home base.

The where to and when factors of this we haven’t quite worked out yet. Travelling more of Canada is obviously an aim and maybe a trip to Mexico….we’ll let you know when we know!

GMC Savana van conversion

Just the same with our Astro van conversion, we will be documenting the transformation of the Savana here on Off Track Travel.

The plan so far is to complete some kind of temporary conversion and then travel to New Brunswick to fully kit the van out. JR’s dad has a lumber mill, plenty of tools and lots of enthusiasm so would be a great person to have around during this project.

gmc savana van before conversion

Want a sneak peak of our finished van conversion?

If you’ve stumbled across this post via Google or elsewhere on our site, you may be curious how our van conversion went. Check out a sneak peek below of the (almost*) finished van and click the links beneath the photo to read each progress post!

*Speak to anyone with a van conversion and most people will say that their project isn’t quite finished. There’s always something to do on DIY projects like this!

Interior view of our GMC Savana van conversion, with laminate flooring, fridge, fitted storage, panelled ceiling and more.
Thinking about converting a van and trying out #vanlife for yourself? Check out our step by step blog series detailing the building of our own DIY van conversion!

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Thursday 22nd of June 2017

Good luck and happy travels in you conversion!


Monday 26th of June 2017

Thanks Jayson! I hope you will follow our journey :)