Converted camper vans have been around for many years. Remember the old VW "hippie" vans that once graced the 1960s and '70s? Well, the concept hasn't died.
An Easy Mini Van Conversion
As you can see in the picture above, I successfully converted our van into a temporary camper. My husband and I have gone back and forth on what would be the most economical and comfortable way to camp, and this idea won out.
If you love to camp but are sick of putting up a tent, sleeping on the ground, or not being able to sleep because you worry too much about wildlife, this could be the answer you've been looking for.
Other types of specialized rigs are costly and aren't always necessary. If there are only two of you, a van is all you need. In fact, the only size rig my husband and I would need is that of a traditional teardrop camper. This is the main floor plan we followed for our design.
In this tutorial, I will explain how I converted my minivan into a camper and how you can too.
What You'll Need
We all need basic amenities, right? Below I have listed everything we purchased and brought with us to make our camping experience more enjoyable.
A Small "Bathroom"
To make a bathroom with a toilet, we brought:
- a toilet with batteries
- a homemade shower and
- a utility tent
The utility tent contains everything and keeps our feet clean. It also offers some privacy—you never know what company you keep in the brush!
Don't forget towels, a shower loofa, toilet paper, and a small trash can with a trash bag in it.
In order to construct a kitchen, we brought:
- a makeshift sink,
- a propane camping stove,
- other filled propane canisters,
- a dry food storage bin,
- three 5-gallon water jugs filled with water to use for showering and dishes,
- a nice big ice chest to use as a fridge,
- kitchen utensils for both cooking and eating,
- a pan or pot to cook in,
- plates to wash or throw away,
- trash bags,
- dish soap and scrubbers for washing all dishes,
- dish towels,
- paper towels,
- fold-out tables and chairs,
- a tea kettle for heating water for showers,
- dishes and morning coffee,
- and anything else you can think of that you can't live without in a normal kitchen.
Of course, if you are bringing canned food, bring a manual can opener and ALWAYS have a traditional camping item list to use before every camping trip.
Note: It is wise to use metal or "odor-free" boxes to keep your food. This will decrease your likelihood of attracting wildlife.
A Bed Set Up
I purchased all the wood I would need to make a bed frame to put a mattress on. To make the frame, you first need to know how many inches across the most narrow part of your van's interior is. From sliding door to sliding door, my van's interior measures 55" across. The most narrow part of my interior is in the back and measures 47" across. I made sure to have the 3/4" ply-board I would be laying my mattress on, cut to exactly 46" wide so that the edges wouldn't be rubbing against my van's inside paneling. Then I had them cut the board lengthwise right down the center. This also helps make the bed frame less heavy when taken in and out. Also, the bed length is 5'8". (This is long enough for my husband and me, and it leaves more than enough room in the back hatch for our kitchen.) The legs that hold up the frame are typical 2x4s. I had all 12 legs cut to be 12" tall. Make sure to have metal L-shaped brackets to help hold each leg steady. Under the bed is where we kept all of our camping equipment, clothing, and other miscellaneous items when not in use or when traveling.
Dual Interior and Exterior Lighting
As with all other camping needs, you will want to have plenty of lanterns, flashlights, and battery-operated lamps.
An Extra Outdoor Room
You may want an extra tent for a "living room" space if you prefer not to sit outside when it's windy, rainy or you need some shade. I recommend getting a tent you can stand up in, preferably something that can hold 6–12 people. We have a three-room Ozark Trail that we love and use every time.
You will also want to bring as many fold-out chairs as you think you will need. We have a couple of those zero gravity lounge chairs, and I wouldn't be without them.
There is nothing worse than opening your eyes to find someone peering in your van's window when they think no one is around. This is an invasion of privacy and super creepy to boot! So, we purchased Refectix insulation, which is basically just bubble wrap covered in aluminum. It's easy to cut and fit into your windows at night. In most minivans, unless you are willing to screw in brackets for curtain rods and make holes in your paneling, the Refectix is probably your best solution. Either way, you want something that blacks out your windows and makes it impossible for people to see in (and easier for you to sleep).
So, common sense is your friend in this situation. Don't take what you don't need, but if you aren't sure, it's better to have it than not to. In any rig, you only have so much room, so make sure what you take has a dual purpose and doesn't create more work for you in the long run.
Now, we need to put it all together!
Putting It All Together!!
So now you have everything you need. Make sure you have the right tools too.
We went with the Tear Drop Camper look for our van conversion. This made the most sense because of the amount of space we had available and the fact that there would be two people and a small dog sleeping in the space. It's smart to draw up a design before you throw it all together.
I will guide you through our design and the process we took to get the final results.
- First, we took the seats out. Our back seat is a stowaway, so we were able to leave it in and stow it, creating a flat surface. Now we had all the room we needed in the back.
- Once the seats were out, I hated the fact that the seat locks on the floor were exposed. Not only did they look ugly, but I kept tripping on them. So, to remedy this problem, we went out and purchased an outdoor carpet that I was easily able to cut to fit the entire floor. I'm sure you could find something like this used and clean it.
- Once the carpet was in, we put in a new bed frame. We pushed it down so it was touching the front seats. This way we would leave the hatch area available for our kitchenette.
- In the kitchenette, we placed the ice chest, our dry food storage bin which is made up of plastic drawers, and a five-gallon water jug with a screw-on pump for easy water access. These things would stay where they were during our travels and even during the time we were using our kitchenette. This was basically all we needed to get that teardrop functionality.
- We then went through our list to make sure we had everything we needed for our trip. Clothing bags, extra water jugs, tents in their bags, and all miscellaneous items were stored under the bed. The porta-potty was placed on top of the bed but was fully emptied and cleaned out beforehand. In fact, all things that didn't fit under the bed traveled on top.
So as you can see, this process is quite easy and doesn't cost much.
Now For Our Camp Set Up!
As you can see in the picture above, we dry camped out on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land here in Lake Havasu, Arizona for four days with just the list I gave you above! Here is how we set up our campsite.
The Utility Tent (Toilet and Shower!)
The Utility tent was put up first. Inside we had our toilet, our homemade shower, toiletries, toilet paper, a small trash can with a bag in it, shower loofa, and our bath towels. (FYI: It's important when buying a utility tent to get the kind with a floor and mesh sides like we have. It keeps the bugs out, allows the water from your shower to drain out, and keeps your feet from getting muddy).
Putting this up first helps get a lot of things out of the way in order to continue setting up the rest of your site. When you're packing up, it's super important to dry the tent. The last thing you want is a moldy tent in your living/camping space.
Building the Kitchenette
Next, we put our kitchenette together. The pictures above don't show it, but we didn't like the setup we had originally, so we put up two fold-out tables, galley style in the hatch area, giving us access to the dry food, water, and ice chest with a table on either side, one for the sink and dishes and the other for the stove and prep. This setup gave us a U-shaped kitchen while the hatch door was up.
After we took care of the bathroom and kitchen areas, we made our bed. Since we were sleeping inside, it wouldn't have been that cold at night in November here in AZ. But we erred on the side of caution and brought our two sleeping bags (each for 50-degree weather), and a couple of blankets as well as our favorite pillows.
After the bed was made up, we took out the three-room tent and got that set up with our lounge seats, our dog's bed, and lap blankets. This setup was super comfy, and I think this is the way we will always camp out.
You Too Can Camp Without a Tent!
In conclusion, I want to encourage any of you that love to camp but hate tent camping (or I should say tent sleeping), to try this out if you have a minivan. This also works for cargo vans, sprinters, and the like. There are many van sizes and several ways to convert them. While my blog helps those convert smaller vans, I encourage those that are interested in the larger versions to check it out online. Youtube has many videos on this topic, as does Pinterest, Instagram, Google, and other areas of the web.
Happy camping everyone!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.