The idea of rolling up to a remote spot on the coast in a kitsch VW Bus and opening the rear door to sea views from your bed in the morning is a dream few can deny having. For many, that’s all they think it can ever be. A dream. As one of the most revered classic cars in history, the VW Bus is not cheap to buy, convert, or maintain. The financial responsibility combined with time commitment can make buying a VW Bus unfeasible for aspiring wanderers.
However, that doesn’t mean your Buslife dreams can’t come true! Just because you’re not in a position to commit to your very own VW Bus, doesn’t mean you can’t experience the wonders of Buslife. VW Bus rental services are now cropping up all over the world so that anyone can get their slice of the pie. By renting instead of buying, you can put the pedal to the metal on your dreams without long-term responsibilities parking up beside you.
Peter Pan Camper Van is one of the companies leading the way in short-term VW Bus rental services so we decided to talk to its founders to find out all about their inspiring business and vanlife in their home country, Northern Ireland, and beyond.
Peter Pan Camper Van: How It All Began
Peter Pan Camper Van was founded during a wave of inspiration between baking bread and going for socially distanced walks while in lockdown in 2020 by couple Katie and Simon from Belfast, Northern Ireland. The inspiration was fused by the explosion of interest in the vanlife movement and the Covid-19 travel restrictions that forced people to find new ways to travel and find adventure.
As they had converted boats, buses, and vans for their personal use for quite some time, Katie and Simon felt that they were “in a sound position to know what worked and what didn’t when traveling on wheels”. Now, they were keen to direct this valuable knowledge into a business that made Buslife accessible to all.
Having been life partners for eight years, the couple realized they would be excellent business partners too. Katie says “I would define Simon as the ‘expansive thinker’ and me as the ‘anchor’…he innovates and I ground those innovations”. So, with Simon’s creativity and building skills, and Katie’s organization and attention to detail, they were ready to make this business concept a reality.
Building Peter Pan the Camper Van
Although they already had two children, Ollie who is 13, and Sophie who is 11, Katie and Simon got a new addition to their family: Peter the VW Camper Van. Born in 1970s West Germany as a support fire engine, Peter was their first rentable VW Bus conversion. When they first got him, Peter needed lots of TLC and a full interior conversion. But before they got started, Katie and Simon sat down and carefully considered their needs, expectations, and desires for this new build to ensure it ticked all their boxes. This time, they had to consider how this VW Bus could work for everybody, rather than just their own family.
When the couple had decided upon a set of criteria for Peter, it was time for Simon’s moment of glory: the build. Since he has converted so many vehicles before Peter, he was able to conceive and execute every part of its design without any measurements or drawings — it was all in his head. Katie says “watching the metamorphosis is fascinating. A real chrysalis to butterfly process”. But credit where credit is due: it was Katie that held the operation together by passing him screws and recovering his missing pencils!
Introducing Peter Pan the Camper Van
Painted white and fire-engine-red, Peter’s eye-catching color scheme is a nod to his routes as a support fire engine. Inside, he features a bed that comfortably sleeps two people, a fold-out table, and a kitchenette complete with a sink, mini fridge, and portable gas cooker. Each of these functional elements comes together to provide a very convenient and liveable space where guests can cook, eat, sleep, and hang out in maximum comfort.
While the thoughtfully designed layout and fixtures make Peter a functional house, it’s the smaller details that make him feel like home to every guest that rents him. His warm wooden cladding, repurposed fruit bowl sink, plants, framed pictures, candles, cushions, and fairy lights give Peter a whimsical rustic interior that reflects the scenery that surrounds him on trips around the Emerald and British Isles.
The first-ever sunken fireplace
There is one significant detail in the bus’ design that has yet to be mentioned — the ‘pièce de résistance’. Rather than a diesel heater or log burner, Peter is fitted with a sexy sunken fireplace. Fuelled with bioethanol (renewable energy), the fireplace is built beneath Peter’s counter and its flames rise in a sleek thin line from a letterbox-shaped metal plate on the countertop. Katie and Simon decided on a sunken fireplace because “practically it offers warmth from the unpredictable Irish weather, but aside from this, it creates the most delicious ambiance!”. This type of heat source has yet to be seen in any other VW Bus conversion, making it a completely unique feature.
Diversifying Peter Pan Camper Van
Peter proved so popular among travelers keen to road trip around Ireland and the British Isles that it inspired Katie and Simon to diversify Peter Pan Camper Van and offer more unique and exciting road trip experiences. Pretty soon, they added a feisty 4×4 called Jane to their family too — fully converted by Simon, of course. As an offroad vehicle, Jane allows her guests to explore the Emerald and British Isles further and wider than a VW Bus like Peter can. Katie and Simon believe “its distinctive silhouette and gallant spirit has always been symbolic of exploration in the great outdoors”.
Although Jane has less living space than Peter, her genius design has made sure she is fully functional. She features an L-shaped sofa bed, a live-edge countertop with storage space beneath, and a fold-out table on her rear door where you can cook food on the portable cooker. Overall, she provides a level of comfort and functionality that few 4x4s can match.
P.S. Keep an eye out for more Land Rover Defenders being added to Peter Pan Camper Van soon on their Instagram.
Exploring Ireland with Peter Pan Camper Van
While Katie and Peter were largely motivated to create their business to make the Buslife experience more accessible, they were also impassioned by their desire to share the wonders of their home island. Since there isn’t a cheap or frequent ferry connection from mainland Europe to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, it is one of the least explored places on the continent by campervan. Yet, it has some of the most scenic driving routes there is. By providing rentable campers for short and long trips around the Emerald Isles, Peter Pan Camper Van proudly bridge this gap.
When speaking to Katie and Simon, the love of their island, its culture, and heritage is clear, particularly by the comical way Katie refers to her partner as ‘yer wan’ meaning him/her in Irish! But their passion for the Emerald Isles is also clear by the way they speak so fondly of it. Katie explains: “Ireland is a land rich in culture, myth, and magic. Name a county on this island and I’d be able to direct you to a wonder of nature within it. While well-known sights the Ring of Kerry, the Wild Atlantic way, and the Cliffs of Moher get the most air time, there’s phenomenal beauty to be found beyond them too”.
Peter Pan Camper Van also provides campers with insurance cover for the British Isles. This means that while campers can drive around Northern Ireland (where the business is based) or cross the land border into Ireland, they also have the freedom to ferry across to England, Wales, and Scotland and see what Buslife has in store over there.
When we asked Katie and Simon about what part of Buslife most appealed to them, their answer showed us just how passionate they are about it and why it has always been such a big part of their lives, and now their business.
They exclaimed Buslife “ is about turning down life’s external chatter and embracing living more, with less. It’s about experiences, not stuff. It’s about spotting a breathtaking landscape and deciding that this is the first thing you want to see when you open your eyes in the morning and being able to make it a reality. It’s about driving past a lake, turning the van around, and going for a skinny dip. It’s about freedom, adventure, and infinite possibility”.
The Peter Pan Camper Van Experience
It’s clear that Katie and Simon don’t just want their guests to experience Buslife, they want their guests to experience the epitome of Buslife. They do this partly by offering tempting ‘hirable extras’ to make their adventures that bit more special. In fact, it might be the only rental company in the world where you can add a bbq, outdoor cinema and picnic, a paddle board, and a s’more-making kit with your VW Bus!
However, after getting to know Katie and Simon, we have come to believe that the experiences gained by renting from Peter Pan Camper Van go far beyond the big moments like like a film screening at your private outdoor cinema and s’mores around the campfire. The best part of the Peter Pan Camper Van experience is in the little things. The thoughtful, livable design, the homey details, and the help, support, advice, and laughs you get from speaking to Katie and Simon when renting from them. Together, these factors make Peter and Jane such a joy to call your temporary home when discovering the Emerald Isles’ incredible beauty on the road.
What Can You Expect of Buslife with Peter Pan Camper Van?
“A trip in Peter is a tonic for the soul! Experience the ultimate sense of freedom being able to hit the road and park up wherever you fancy in your home on wheels…” – Helen, Holywood
“I had two amazing trips with loved ones. Such a unique and freeing experience and I was so happy to tick this off my bucket list. Katie and yer wan couldn’t have been more efficient, kind and helpful…I’d definitely recommend.” – Seadhna, Longford
“Peter Pan Camper Van was an absolute dream from start to finish! Katie’s communication was excellent – she had the best recommendations and she was always on hand for any of our daft questions.” – Hana McCurdy, Belfast
“Peter offered you not only a trip away but an experience of a lifetime… It was good to step out of our comfort zone, pack light, live life back to the basics, and take in the world around us. Thank you guys for sharing a slice of your heaven with us!” – Kirby Cullen, Belfast