We apologize but this post ended up being so long that we had to break it down into 2 separate posts. If you are seeing this when it first comes out then the second part will be up in about 4 days. Thanks.
After months of watching YouTube videos about people who travel around living the nomadic lifestyle and camping for free on public lands, I finally broke down and bought a van. I was thinking of buying a Dodge Promaster, but decided to go the minivan route instead. It made more sense for me, more practical for daily driving and I’m only planning on using it as a camper for weekend getaways or if we travel. It’s not completely finished still have to paint all of the pieces and get a cover mad for the mattress, but it’s useable and have took it on several trips into the mountains over the summer.
I was originally going to buy a used van, but I figured I’d end up owning it for at least 8 to 10 years so I bought new instead. New meaning last year’s model. I picked up a 2017 Dodge Grand Caravan (Canada Value Package), or it was supposed to be. They ended up giving me an upgraded model with lots of bells and whistles for the same price because that was the one they could find fairly close to town. I also bought new because I really didn’t want to end up with someone else’s problems or just breakdowns because of the age of the vehicle. Plus, I get roadside assistance and bought the tire replacement plan with it (know I’ll be going on some pretty dicey roads with it so if I get a blowout they will replace them for me).
Before the Buildout
With the van, just being a factory model, I figured I’d give it a few upgrades before I started the build. First thing I did was to go and get the widows tinted. I got limousine tint done on all of the back windows. Then I went and purchased a Rooftop Cargo Box (wanted to keep as much of the bigger items that I wouldn’t use as often out of the van). Then I went and bought a couple of storage containers and a safe (figured I’d build the bed platform around those items). Then took the middle seats out so that I could have the extra storage in the stow and go compartments. Left the rear seats in, just folded them down.
The original van just after purchase
The van a few weeks later after getting the windows tinted and the Rooftop Cargo Box
I decided to start the build with the kitchen area and make the bed fit into the area I had left. I got lucky and found an armoire at the JYSK store (kind of like IKEA), which was on clearance and figured I could tear it apart and rebuild it as a kitchen, with premade drawers (saved a lot of time). It worked out just perfect, it sits just below the back windshield so I still get a full view out the back. The only failure to it was using part of the door as the shelf for the stove (it was pine so ended up splitting when I put some screws in it). Ended up using a piece of plywood as a replacement.
The original armoire, sorry I'd already taken the doors off, so I had to lay it down to take the picture.
The finished product after cutting it down.
The Bed build
I wanted the bed to be removable and higher up off of the floor to be able to put my storage containers and the safe. I ended up building it in 3 sections, 1 for the safe, 1 to hold the 2 storage bins (1 for dry food and 1 for clothes) and a storage box at the front, which can be removed easily so that you can put the passenger seat back if you have a passenger. When it’s just me then I just leave the seat forward and leave everything set up. I ended up building the frame out of 2x4’s and ½ inch plywood for the top and the box out of some pine boards. I know some people are going to say that weighs too much, but I weighed the vehicle when it was new and then when I had it fully loaded and it was only around 400 lbs (the weight of having 2 passengers in the vehicle). The only difficult part was getting the bed level, the Dodge Caravan changes heights near the back of it (luckily, I built it in sections and only had to adjust the back piece), and getting some bolts welded into the floor to keep my safe secure. Get a safe, it’s well worth the piece of money and peace of mind. I ended up storing my laptop, camera and action cameras in there when I wanted to get away from the van for any extended periods of time. For the mattress, I ended up finding one at JYSK, it was a queen size but it was 8” thick (6 ½ high density foam and 1 ½ inches of memory foam), just cut it to width with a bread knife and I will tell you I have never slept so good while being out on a camping trip, it is so comfortable, another thing I would say to invest the money in.
Some extra conveniences
When I camp, or go travelling I like to take lots of pictures and videos, so I figured I’d need some place to download pictures at night or check emails and such, so I built a little removable desktop out of the leftover plywood and 2x4’s, it slides between the wall of the van and the ledge of the bed and locks right in. I leave it up most of the time for extra space to store stuff.
The stool stool
Yes, a play on words, I built the stool out of the extra pine I had left over and Shelly finished off the top with some foam and material. Not the prettiest looking stool I’ve built but it’s actually comfortable and I can sit up in the van and I’m 6 feet tall. The other part of the stool is that the lid is removable and I bought a small toilet seat, so it can be used as an emergency toilet if ever needed (haven’t had to use it yet because most of the free sites I’ve gone to have vault toilets that are well kept up here in Alberta).
This will be the end of Part 1 so that it doesn’t end up being the world’s longest post. In Part2 we will discuss other parts of the van such as window coverings, storage, some great finds that you should get if you have a van, some things that I wish I wouldn’t have bought because they just take up space and a breakdown of how much it cost to do the build out.
If you are new to this site you should check out some of our previous blog posts on minimalism, including some from our guest writers. You can see them below. We have made a new site for our health articles and will be just showing our Minimalism and Travel post on this site in the future.
Here is a link to Part 2 of Our Minivan Camper Buildout. Just click the picture below.
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