S’pore Couple Plans Budget Camper Van Road Trip Across US, Canada & Mexico

A Singaporean couple recently undertook an ambitious road trip from Singapore to Portugal, leaving their jobs behind for a once-in-a-lifetime experience as they hit their 30s.

If you read the story and thought,

Wah I also want, but where got time or money to go?

We have seriously awesome news for you.

This pair of lovebirds from Singapore have compiled a list of pro-tips for you to plan your very own 6-month camper van expedition across North America.

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Meet fearless power couple, Zhang Quan and Ziyan, who have documented their entire journey on @vanrovers, an Insta-account dedicated to their adventures with a van named Berry.

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The couple shares with MS News that they would encourage Singaporeans to embark on a similar journey as it’s actually very doable, on a S$10,000/pax budget.

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Here’s a rundown of the entire process, and how to even begin engineering your very own road trip across America, Canada & Mexico.

Unexpected DIY challenge for camper van

26-year-old Singaporeans, ZQ and Yan didn’t exactly plan to DIY their own camper van for their ambitious 6-month sojourn across North America.

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Somebody had ‘KS-ed’ their ideal van – complete with solar panels – just a week before they could make an offer.

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This threw a spanner in their plans as they hoped to depart from Singapore back in Feb 2019.

They ended up forking out S$6,944 (US$5,000) to purchase a Ford Econoline E-350 with nothing but empty space in its trunk in San Jose, California.

Embarked on grand adventure after 8 years of dating

We’re all familiar with the hassle of booking accommodation on our travels, but the plan for ZQ and Yan was to live out of this van, to save on hostel expenses.

So began the challenge to design, build and customise the back of the van entirely from scratch.

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With nothing but the chemistry they’d built up over an 8-year relationship, the couple conducted research on solar panels, and even sketched multiple builds to maximise the space, comfort & utility.

Multiple trial-and-error attempts later, the couple got to work on their project in San Francisco, dedicating up to 17 hours daily to customising their camper van.

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This meant that they worked within a gruelling schedule from 6am to 11pm, setting up shop in their friends’ garages.

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At one point, the creative couple parked outside a Home Depot store to speed up the exchange process, if the parts they bought weren’t suitable.

Built solar-powered lights, flooring, sink & bed frame

Finally, after a 2-week-long slog, the fruits of their labour began to show. The result was truly phenomenal.

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A fully-equipped camper van with all of these functions:

  • Mood lighting
  • Insulated walls
  • DIY-flooring & ceiling
  • Functioning bed frame
  • Working sink
  • Extra storage space
  • Handmade curtains for privacy
  • Solar-powered lights
  • Charging dock for electronics

You can catch a tour of their van here in this 5-min video.

All of these cost a total of $3,500 with frugal budgeting on Zhang Quan’s part.

He’d done the math based on 3 months of dedicated research on solar panels, and calculating the energy required to charge these amenities:

  • Laptops
  • 2 Smartphones
  • Cameras
  • Fridge
  • LED lamps

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With all these checked off the bucket list, the couple embarked on their road trip with the van 90% done — deciding to add cabinet doors & handles at a later stage.

A life-changing road trip begins in earnest

They kept the design low-key and nondescript on purpose, for security reasons. Spending nights at parking lots across the country, would help the “white working van” blend in with other vehicles.

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Berry was the name they christened their van, in honour of a mechanic who sold them the vehicle, so they would remember to take care of it well.

The young couple quickly checked off 42 of 50 American states, making time to visit the gorgeous Montreal and Toronto in Canada over 6 months.

Stuck to budget of S$10,000/pax over 6 months

You may be wondering if such an itinerary would be costly, but the money-savvy couple kept within a close budget of S$20,000 (US$14,500) in total.

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From experiencing the kind hospitality of a Boston family, to admiring the lush natural landscapes of Maine’s Acadia National Park, ZQ and Yan share that they loved the freedom and flexibility of roaming around the country.

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Homesickness was also mitigated by meeting fellow Singaporeans along the way — a local lady who married an American ship captain extended an invitation to the couple to stay on her farm.

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They ended up spending 10 days in Wyoming to try their hands at fossil-hunting, horse-riding and fishing.

In his own words,

Fellow Singaporeans make us feel at home. They are Singaporeans at heart.

Living in close quarters was like ‘couples therapy’

To future couples planning their own getaway, ZQ and Yan have some words of advice. The stress of living out of a van can sometimes be overwhelming.

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Based on their experience, they found themselves stranded in a muddy forest area near the Grand Canyon after their tires got stuck in a rut.

Outdoor temperatures were dropping quickly to a chilly -6°C, so the couple huddled together overnight in the van before receiving help from kind passersby the next morning to tow their vehicles out.

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Spending time in close proximity to each other also helped build stronger foundations for their relationship — they felt compelled to work things out as a couple.

Quarrels did ensue over chores and ensuring the van’s cleanliness but Yan expressed her thoughts eloquently,

When you are living in a small space, you cannot get angry with each other for more than a day because you have nowhere else to go.

Eventually, the couple worked through their differences and were mostly in sync to solve every obstacle in their way as a team.

Pro-tips for camper van roadtrippers

ZQ and Yan have shared 4 pro-tips with MS News for millennial couples who also wish to embark on their own road trips.

1. Ration your water supply

25 litres is the standard capacity for a tank of potable water. This should be fairly allocated among travellers, for cooking, drinking and washing up.

By rationing water, a tank can last from 4 to 5 days before a refill is required.

2. Join gyms for shower facilities

To ensure that they had showering facilities settled, ZQ and Yan signed up for Planet Fitness, a gym brand that has a footprint across America.

Both of them enjoyed the gym and showering facilities for just S$29.17 (US$21) per month, in total.

Planning alternate shower days also helped with planning a smooth itinerary.

3. Park safely & do your research to avoid trouble

If you’re planning a road trip in the US, do take note of differing state rules on parking.

Not reading signs carefully and parking in the wrong slots could result in your vehicle getting towed away or incurring a fine.

4. Use apps to find camping locations

Apps are available to make locating an ideal camping and parking lot much easier.

ZQ and Yan recommend iOverlander, which you can download on Apple’s App Store and Google Play.

Priceless memories to last a lifetime

Planning a once-in-a-lifetime road trip isn’t exactly a walk in a park, as evidenced by the sheer amount of hardwork that went into this couple’s meaningful endeavour.

Yan hilariously quips,

I’ve never seen ZQ study so hard before, not even for his exams.

South America and Africa is on the cards next for the happy couple, hopefully with an entire family in tow.

Now, they’re S$10,000 poorer, but have priceless memories & experiences to last a lifetime.

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Here’s hoping you’ll find your soulmate soon, that special someone who will be able to tough it out with you, and also share the vast wonders our world has to offer.

ZQ & Yan hope that like-minded couples in Singapore will be willing to take the plunge, and have the courage to embark on life-changing adventures just like them.

Featured image adapted from VanRovers on Instagram and Instagram.