At just 11 years old, Lauren Nelson embarked on a DIY renovation journey. After converting a camper van into a hang-out space for her and her friends, she amazed spectators everywhere. Here's her story.
We’ve all heard the stories of couples and families purchasing old school buses and vans to convert into their dream homes. But this next story, of one dedicated 11-year-old and her old camper, is truly inspiring.
While other kids were playing at the beach and going to the mall, Lauren Nelson spent all of her summer break working on this impressive DIY project. This middle school dynamo is living proof that with hard work and determination, one can achieve anything they want, no matter what age they are!
A True Go-Getter
Despite her young age, Lauren was well aware of the current trend of buying vehicles for cheap and converting them to turn a profit. Many adults dream of doing the same thing, but this youngster had no intention to sit down and wait for an opportunity.
She got to work finding the perfect used camper van, spending weeks and months slowly converting it into her new hang-out pad, where she and her friends could have fun and relax. She continuously shared her progress online, which quickly caught the attention of people across the globe.
The Start Of Her Journey
It all began in 2020, back when much of the world was plunged into lockdowns. Lauren and all of her schoolmates had to continue their schooling from their homes in Attica, New York. The young girl soon found herself spending much of her time indoors, studying and reading.
She was powering through many different books, but one, in particular, stood out. It was the novel My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, which heavily featured the wonders of the outdoors - ironic given that Lauren was spending most of her time inside her family home.
An Inspirational Story
My Side of the Mountain tells the story of a young boy stuck in the wilds of the Catskill Mountains in New York. He spends the book fighting to survive in the great outdoors, eventually thriving and finding independence. Lauren found the 1959 story deeply inspiring.
She couldn’t help but feel drawn to the bravery and independent spirit of the protagonist, and it gave her a brilliant idea. She wanted to recreate the feeling (and even some of the scenes) from the story by building her own forts in the backyard of her home.
A Space Of Her Own
Soon enough, Lauren had managed to build a small fort on their 50-acre property, just like her new favorite protagonist. But she wasn’t ready to stop there - her success only gave her bigger and better ideas. For example, she decided she wanted to build a tiered treehouse next.
In an interview with Insider, she admitted that she "kind of just wanted my own space." But after a trip to the local hardware store, it became clear that her dream project was going to be much more expensive than she thought. It was a disappointing realization - but she wasn't ready to give up just yet.
An Idea Is Born
Lauren did put her construction plans on the back burner temporarily, as she had something else on her agenda. She wanted to buy a Volkswagen toy bus as part of her American Girl doll collection. So she asked her parents if she could get the expensive collectible, with no idea that it was going to lead to her next exciting project.
It was safe to say that Lauren's parents weren't impressed by their daughter's request. Her mom Aimee told WKBW, "She showed us a $650 little VW bus that they sell. My husband was like, 'That's ridiculous - you could buy your own camper for that price.'" And with one throwaway sentence, Lauren had a new idea.
Figuring It Out
What her dad said made perfect sense. Why would she spend all that money on a toy car when she could just buy her own? After all, she had decided that she wanted her own space, and a full-size camper van would be the perfect way to make that happen. Right?
But where would a middle school like Lauren find the cash to buy a camper van? As luck would have it, the 11-year-old had a cache of cash saved up from various birthday and Christmas gifts that she kept stowed away in envelopes in her bedroom. But would it be enough?
Raising The Money
Lauren had a grand total of three envelopes that separated all of her savings. It was her parent's idea, as they followed Dave Ramsey's strategy for saving, which dictated that savings should be split into three categories - one for spending, one for saving, and one for giving.
So Lauren began flipping through the “save” and “spend” envelopes to see how much was available to her. Together, both envelopes held a grand total of $400 dollars. If she looked in the right places, it might be just enough to buy a secondhand camper. And as the young girl was about to discover, the odds were in her favor.
Just Next Door
Because as it turned out, Lauren didn’t have to look far to find the vehicle of her dreams. She noticed that one of their neighbors had an old van parked outside of their home, so she made plans to ask if it was for sale. Unfortunately, the tenants moved away before she had the chance.
Luckily for her, the van stayed behind, left to the new owners who had just purchased the property. Lauren still planned to ask about the van, and this time she had even more confidence. She told her mom, "I doubt they're going to want the camper. They're probably going to sell it."
The Perfect Opportunity
The youngster was right on the money! Within a few days of moving in, the new owners stuck a “For Sale” sign right on the windscreen of the van. And Lauren would have been incredibly excited - if she even knew it was there. Her mother tried hard to distract her from seeing it every time they went past.
But it wasn't that she didn't want Lauren to buy it. As Aimee told Girl Camper, "I wasn't against her having it. I just didn't want her to be disappointed if she didn't get it." But it wasn't going to be a secret forever, and once her daughter saw it, she couldn't contain her excitement. "She squealed all the way home," Aimee laughed.
As soon as she had an opportunity, Lauren headed straight to the camper with her mother in tow. It was a 1988 Sunline Sunray camper, and she fell in love almost immediately. Sure, it was a little beat up, but she knew she could turn it into something special. "I'm going to live in this forever," she exclaimed.
So she knocked on her new neighbor's door and enquired about the campervan. They were selling it for $500 dollars, $100 more than she had at her disposal. So she took a shot at a negotiation. "It wasn't very hard," she admitted. "He said '$500,' and I said '$400,' because that was the money I had. And he said, 'Sold.'"
The Work Begins
And that was that - 11-year-old Lauren was officially the owner of her very own camper van! But of course, it wasn’t even close to being liveable just yet. The inside of the van was a mess, full of old broken camping gear and even housing a family of mice!
But instead of being upset, Lauren and her mom were sympathetic. “I thought the mice were adorable,” she told Insider. “I was very sad that we possibly brought home a camper without their parents, as they were not doing very well when we found them.”
Wheels In Motion
Once they had ushered the rodents out of the van, it was time to get to work. “We brought home a family of mice,” Aimee told WKBW. “So, there was a lot of deep cleaning.” Another neighbor came over to help Lauren and Aimee clear out the camper because there was too much to do on their own.
Everything was looking great, and it was time for Lauren to start planning. "I got to design it, and I got to pick whatever I wanted for it," she exclaimed. Her mother told the New York Post, "She builds the furniture for her dolls and will make her own couches out of cardboard. We always just let her run with it."
Finding The Vibe
Designing the interior was one of the things Lauren had been looking forward to the most. She spent hours trawling through Pinterest and other places until she came across the boho aesthetic. It was exactly what she wanted! Laidback, beachy, hippy vibes were right up her alley.
She also wanted to add plants and a pastel color pallete. By mixing these things together, she could envision the look of the camper perfectly. Now, she just needed the funds to bring her ideas to life. Fortunately, Aimee put aside a nest egg for Laurens's summer camp, which was canceled during the pandemic. She had her money!
Aimee’s contribution added an extra $400 to Lauren’s decoration fund. So over the next two months, she began slowly searching for the perfect pieces to decorate the camper. This included several visits to Home Depot to purchase flooring, paint, backsplash, and upholstery.
By the end of those two months, she had everything she needed, and it was time to begin moving in. Aimee was surprised and proud of how much her daughter managed to find with just $400. “She was very frugal,” her mother told Insider. “She didn’t buy much.”
It Just Felt Right
Laying down the flooring and fitting the backsplash for Lauren’s small kitchen were some of the more difficult parts of designing the interior. Once that was all done, it was time for the fun part: adding pretty pillows, indoor plants, and personal tokens such as framed photos of her friends and family.
She used rugs and sheets from the main house to make the space more comfortable. And by now, she could truly feel the space coming together. "I feel more grown-up now," she told Insider. "We do not have a large house, so the camper gives me a small space of my own to draw, read, and create."
Tiny Camper Kitchen
We previously mentioned the tiny kitchen in the camper van, and that's because the vehicle came with a fridge, oven, and sink! As amazing as these extras were, Lauren wasn't able to connect them to their house's electricity. So she had to find an alternative, in the form of solar panels!
The kitchen was fully equipped. “I love the kitchen the most,” she told the New York Post. “It’s so beautiful, light, and airy. I can just sit in it and feel very relaxed. Once we get the solar panels up, we can actually get them up and running. That’s what I’m saving up for next. I love cooking, especially lasagna.”
Becoming Camp Hygge
But of course, her heavenly little hideaway wouldn’t be complete without a name. Lauren dubbed her new camper “Camp Hygge” after the Scandinavian term “Hygge,” which means “cozy.” Above all, coziness was the most important thing that she wanted the camper to convey. But what were her plans now it was done?
Originally the entrepreneur planned to sell the finished camper. But instead, she had the ingenious idea of hosting tea parties! Each guest paid $25 to spend the day drinking tea and enjoying snacks in the adorable, aesthetic camper van. “She has a lot of plans,” Aimee told Insider. “She even has a business plan written up.”
Tiny House, Tiny Businesswoman
Above all, Lauren wanted to share the feeling of relaxation she felt in Camp Hygge with other girls her age. According to her mom Aimee, “She would like to host up to four girls and make it into an American Girl doll playhouse where they can come with their dolls.”
“She will braid the dolls’ hair to match the girls’ while the moms sit on the back deck and relax,” Aimee continued. At just 11 years old, Lauren was eyeing up her business opportunities. In her spare time, she was also babysitting, so incorporating Camp Hygge into her business model just made sense.
Big Money Moves
The campervan babysitting experience was a hit! But Lauren wasn't ready to stop there. There was a whole "tiny home nation" that she wanted to share her beloved camper with. "I will be renting out the camper!" she exclaimed in a post on her mother's Facebook. "You can come hike trails and pet the animals!"
"Text my mom if you want to! It's twenty dollars a night!" the young hustler continued. She told the Post about her future plans, saying, "My big plans are to sell this camper to someone who really loves it and get an RV to renovate. I might try a bit more modern style with it, though."
Adventures With The Family
That’s right - the middle schooler was already prepared to take on a new renovation project. But it wasn’t going to happen just yet. Before she sold it, Lauren and her family wanted to try taking Camp Hygge for a drive, something they hadn’t yet managed to do.
“For this year, it is only a playhouse,” the ambitious girl shared. “But it is road-ready, so we shall see!” It made sense to take the campervan for a whirl, or even a family road trip before they said goodbye for good. After all, Camp Hygge was fully kitted out with a kitchen, dining table, and a full closet!
Though Lauren's DIY journey sounds like a picturesque way to spend summer break, it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. Her mother Aimee had been given some sad news. "I was diagnosed with cancer last summer, so I was going through radiation and to doctor's appointments," she told the Post.
"We were really thinking this was going to be our summer since we didn't get one last year," she added. Her diagnosis, paired with the rollout of lockdowns and quarantine restrictions, had made summer seem like a dire prospect. But that all changed with Lauren's brilliant idea.
A Summer To Remember
The Nelson family could never have expected that their 11-year-old daughter's ambitious idea would fill their summer vacation with fun, excitement, and invaluable bonding time. And when they shared the stunning results of her DIY journey online, it took everything to the next level.
Aimee couldn't have been prouder of her daughter or more thankful for the experience of renovating the camper. "This camper gave us all something to do and really made a great summer," she told the Post. It wasn't just Camp Hygge that people loved - they were drawn to the Nelson family's heartwarming story too.
It helped that Aimee was happy to be involved in her daughter's dream from the very beginning. She let Lauren take charge of the process, but she was always by her side to help her with anything she needed. She wanted nothing more than to help bring her daughter's ideas to life.
She couldn't be prouder of Lauren, but Aimee genuinely enjoyed the experience too. "This was always something she wanted. It was a lot of fun to work with her on the space and to follow her lead," she said. "She had great ideas and a vision right from the beginning, and we were just there to help her achieve her dream."
Inspiring Kids Everywhere
Lauren’s drive, ambition, and big ideas had turned into something wonderful. And Aimee knew that her story could do more than just inspire potential DIYers - it could also encourage other children around the world to pursue their own big ideas. So she took to social media to encourage their parents to support them.
"I really hope that kids want to do this and follow their dreams," she said. "They should start saving their money and have fun doing it." Camp Hygge was a perfect example of how much an ambitious child could do with the right resources. After all, the camper van renovation hadn't cost that much to renovate.
Fast Forward One Year
And the DIY camper van project had done more than just encourage Lauren and give her a beautiful place to relax - it became a genuine way to make money and even turned into a career opportunity! Once the 11-year old's story went viral, a modeling agency reached out to her mother.
Within a year of finishing Camp Hygge, Lauren was signed to a modeling agency and now had the option to embark on a whole new adventure! With just one big idea, many opportunities had opened up to her. Her camper van had been such a good luck charm that in the end, she chose to keep it.
Camp Hygge Goes Public
And today she even has an Instagram dedicated to the aesthetic campervan, though it’s run by her mom and dad. There are plenty of people who want to follow Lauren and her adventures renovating and updating Camp Hygge. Lauren even wrote the caption for the first post.
"Last summer, a couple of months before I turned 11, I bought a camper for $400," she said. "It was a mess — see before pics on my first ever IG post! This summer, the outside was painted, my dad helped my sister build a deck — I stained it — and I planted flowers and made a garden."
It must be wonderful to see the countless comments posted on Instagram praising Camp Hygge, Lauren, and all of her hard work. Ever since documenting her journey in converting the rundown camper van into something beautiful, she and her family have garnered plenty of supporters.
Their followers eagerly track their progress and even congratulate Lauren for her personal achievements, including her foray into the modeling industry. Occasionally Aimee will share the various articles about Camp Hygge that are regularly published, including the ones in different languages!
"This Is So Surreal"
In fact, Lauren’s DIY story was so captivating that many followers couldn’t help but share their appreciation. When their social media account went viral, the Nelson family found themselves inundated with love from people who adored watching their summer adventures.
Julie Mancuso wrote, "Aimee — this is so surreal, and it could not be happening to a sweeter child — and family," and another follower named Tracie Baker Cooley added, "Since the moment I met you and your family, I knew how incredibly special you all are!! You are truly blessed!"
It's safe to say Nelson's idea had spiraled into something bigger than she could have expected. Instead of letting it go to her head, the young girl remained as humble as she had been prior to her viral story. "This just blows my mind! I love the way she is handling it too. Lauren is such a sweet girl," one follower commented.
"Just wow. The internet can be an amazingly good thing," Jan Nelson commented. With her brains, ambition, and entrepreneurial spirit, it seems clear that Camp Hygge is just the beginning of a successful career for the girl. "So exciting!" one commenter said. And we're inclined to agree!