Tour Red Delicious

Red Delicious is our Kia Sedona minivan-turned-camper, and our home when en route between destinations. We read countless other blogs for ideas and advice on how to outfit her.

Video Tour

 

Why We Chose a Minivan Over an RV

The Pros

  • Better fuel efficiency
  • Easier to maneuver
  • Less conspicuous
  • Cheaper overall
  • Functions as a car when not traveling
The Cons

  • Not as spacious
  • No built-in storage
  • Requires storage breakdown to legally seat additional passengers

Conversion Supplies and Costs

It was important to us to make a comfy, functional camper, but not make any permanent modifications to the van. We also wanted to keep the back-row bench seats so we can legally seat more people. Lastly, we didn’t want to create heavy storage units or bed platforms, since those affect fuel efficiency. Here’s what we used:

  • Bed: Full-size foam mattress topper ($20), full-size memory foam mattress topper ($50)
  • Storage: Dairy crates (8 @ $9), zip ties (free from a friend), elastic cord ($2)
  • Divider: Shower curtain rods (2 @ $10), rubber furniture cups ($5)
  • Curtains: Felt ($15), safety pins ($3), Velcro ($20)
  • Sunshade: Tarp ($8), wood dowels ($3), screws ($1), cord (already had it), stakes (already had them)
  • Bike Rack: Hitch and installation ($215), Thule bike rack ($260)

Total conversion cost: $694

The hitch and bike rack tripled our conversion costs. We had to think really hard about whether it was worth it. But Chris and I enjoy cycling, especially to get around small towns, and need ways to stay fit while traveling.

 

Red Delicious Bike Rack

 

Complete Gear List

Sleeping

  • Sheet and pillowcases
  • Sleeping bags
  • Pillows
  • Tent (for backpacking and/or warm weather)

Work & Play

  • Laptops with chargers
  • 12-volt power inverter
  • Tennis racquets + balls
  • Golf clubs
  • Chess set
  • Card games
  • Bananagrams
  • Yoga mat

Cooking

  • Stove, fuel, lighters
  • Coolers with plastic egg carton
  • Mess kit and utensils
  • Pot, pan, cooking utensils
  • Cutting boards and knife
  • French press
  • Can and bottle openers

Personal

  • Clothes and pajamas
  • Socks and underwear
  • Shoes
  • Jackets
  • Toiletries
  • Camping towels

Other

  • Headlamps and lantern
  • Portable table
  • Camp chairs
  • Notebook and pen
  • Soap and sponge
  • Dish towels
  • Parachute cord
  • Knife/screwdriver multi-tool
  • Bike rack wrenches
  • Bikes

 

  108 comments for “Tour Red Delicious

  1. Lindsay
    2014-12-17 at 10:25 pm

    So impressed by Red Delicious! You guys did a great job! I have that same Coleman table (it’s awesome). Curious as to where the golf clubs are? Guessing you didn’t bring the whole set. I think the only thing missing is….shag carpeting! 😉

    • Tamara & Chris
      2014-12-18 at 9:11 am

      Thanks! That’s actually my full set of clubs minus the driver which is too tall to stand up so it lays on the floor at the foot of the bed. I ditched my normal bag which was too big and used a “Sunday” bag instead. It’s a lot smaller but has room for all my clubs and sweet accessories. – Chris

      • Byron & Cooper
        2016-08-28 at 11:24 pm

        I think you guys are absolutely AMAZING!! I just bought a mini van and am in the process of converting it myself. Your videos are excellent!! I have some great ideas now for curtains now! Kudos to you! And thanks for the advice 😇 God Bless~~

        • Tamara & Chris
          2016-09-06 at 12:12 pm

          Thanks so much and CONGRATS on getting a van and getting ready to hit the road! 🙂

  2. Narissa
    2014-12-18 at 9:17 am

    This is AMAZING!! Dave and I were watching your video last night and both kept commenting on how great it was and jealous we were. Also – quick suggestion I got once for backpacking trips – bring a pen with duct tape wrapped around it. You’d be surprised by how helpful it can come in emergencies.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2014-12-18 at 10:45 am

      Good tip! We’ve got a first-aid kit that we’re bringing too — we brought it on our hike — with ibuprofen, antibiotic ointment, bandaids, and, of course, duct tape! – Tamara

  3. Dana
    2014-12-18 at 10:24 am

    Making minivan owners everywhere look cooler than we really are! Did you consider a rooftop cargo carrier? You can get soft-sided ones fairly inexpensively.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2014-12-18 at 10:46 am

      Thanks, Dana! Interesting idea about the soft-sided rooftop carrier — we will look into this! – Tamara

    • Van
      2016-04-09 at 6:40 pm

      Those create aerodynamic drag, which means reduced fuel efficiency.

  4. 2015-02-09 at 4:07 pm

    This is great! I drive a small car now and was thinking about switching it out for something that could be good for lengthy road trips. I’ve watched a lot of videos with cargo vans, so this was a nice change. Something to think about. I can’t wait to hear what works and what doesn’t as the trip progresses!

    • Tamara & Chris
      2015-02-10 at 7:21 am

      Thanks! Yes, we too mostly saw large vans. A minivan definitely as its cons, but overall it’s going well. The big thing is actually related to where to park the van that’s affordable but also near internet. Looking forward to following your adventures too!

  5. 2015-07-20 at 8:36 am

    This is very cool! We’ve been planning on buying a seven seater and converting it, mainly due to budget constraints, campervans are just so pricey! We haven’t yet decided on what to get though, would you mind answering a couple of questions for me? 1: Why did you pick a Sedona, and 2: Do you find you have enough room sleeping two people? Thank you in advance!! 🙂

    • Tamara & Chris
      2015-07-21 at 10:36 am

      Hi there! Thanks so much for the great questions and congrats on your van plan. 🙂 In looking at the minivan market, one thing we found was that minivans are expeeeeeensive. The best ones are the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna for both cargo space and reliability, but even used they are more expensive than a brand-new compact car. We were also looking at Dodge Grand Caravans and Kia Sedonas. And we wanted only a lightly used van because it was our plan to put a lot of miles on it and didn’t want to sink tons of money into repairs. We went with the Sedona because it was what we found nearby that met our criteria: affordable, but still new enough, with enough interior space and good gas mileage. With our setup, we have room for both Chris and I to sleep in the van, and Chris is 6′ tall. Hope this helps! Good luck!

      • 2015-07-22 at 5:54 am

        Thanks guys! 🙂 Love your blog by the way, we are going to use ours to go around the coast of England in Cornwall, so we’ll be using our van for a very similar purpose. Take care guys, Best wishes, G.

  6. Darren C
    2015-09-23 at 1:20 pm

    Wow – what a pleasant and inspiring couple of hours just spent reading your blog to date. After decades of tent camping/canoeing weekends being the only vacations available to us as parents of four, my wife and I are on the precipice of empty-nest bliss with the time to start thinking about some lengthier road trips. Big fans of simple and small living, I have often lusted after the RoadTrek campervans built here in Ontario but had given up even dreaming about anything close due to the expense. As the best available compromise I thought I had settled on building a teardrop trailer over the winter as our “home to go”. As fate would have it, I came upon your site and this video in particular days after being assigned a Grand Caravan as a work vehicle. I just came back in after removing the seats and I am ASTOUNDED at the room I have to work with. How could the thought never have occurred to me?

    All the best on your adventure. Obligations will keep me a working stiff at least until the university years are over, but I will continue to enjoy living vicariously through your stories and those from others like you.

    Many Thanks,

    Darren C
    Napanee, ON
    Canada

    • Tamara & Chris
      2015-09-23 at 2:12 pm

      Darren: Thank you for the thoughtful comment and we are so glad you’re inspired to consider van living! We hear you; even minimalist trailers can be cost prohibitive. Minivans have a surprising amount of space and do double duty as car and camper! Thanks for sharing your story and best of luck with your upcoming adventures. 🙂

  7. Frank weir
    2015-11-07 at 3:37 pm

    Tamara and Chris…just discovered you. Loved seeing your solution to window coverings. I bought a used Toyota Sienna and want to use it to go to music festivals and wasn’t sure how to deal with windows. Many use the silver plastic material but it looks like it takes work to cut to fit, put it up, take it down. Love your solution to pin up and unroll it. I just used self-inflate mats and bag at a festival in September and it was sooo much more comfortable than previous tent outings at the same fest. Much quieter too. Need to get a bed up so I have storage underneath tho…I have to squeeze in an upright bass…quite a sizeable bed partner! There are inexpensive tent rooms you can put on to the back if a mini van so I may get one of those if only for ventilation. I always fantasize about a used RV but it just doesn’t make sense: horrible gas mileage, maintenance costs, insurance, storage. Love the mini van. Joy to drive and mileage in the mid 20s on the freeway. I signed up for your emails so excited for more tips! You are such nice people…glad I found you and so sorry you lost Holly…I’m a big animal lover.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2015-11-07 at 4:09 pm

      Hi Frank: What a kind comment! So glad you found the curtain tips helpful. We felt the exact same way about the silver material. How cool that you’re traveling with your bass — probably does need a good amount of sleeping space. 🙂 Do you have a pet that you travel with?

      • Frank weir
        2015-11-09 at 5:02 am

        Thanks for responding Tamara! No pet, two cats at home…wife and cats not interested in van camping! Motel only for wife…the festival I mentioned is out house only and a single shower trailer with long lines for three days. That and the 15,000 people, many of whom partying virtually all night, discourage her! Safe travels to you both!

  8. Bob DeVous
    2016-03-28 at 10:08 pm

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading all of this. I am ancient in years but still have but still have the desire to hit the road. I have a 1999 Ford Windstar van that is in fair shape so with all of these good tips on converting it, I am anxious to get started. Thank you so much for your blog here and I certainly will look forward to more of your adventure stories. Also, it was good to heat that a six footer had room in the van. God Bless and thanks again, Bob DeVous.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2016-03-28 at 10:20 pm

      Have a great time converting your van and hitting the road, Bob! Let us know if you have any questions or ideas to share.

  9. Ray
    2016-06-01 at 12:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I think you’ve hit the right spot with the minivan – hotels / motels are too expensive and you lose lots of freedom. RVs are too big, too expensive and probably no fun to drive. Minivan is really just right. I’ll be sure to visit your site when my free time expands and I’m able to hit the open road. Your hints combined with careful review of Consumer Reports car reliability help can get people set up properly without breaking the bank.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2016-06-01 at 1:03 pm

      Thanks so much, Ray! We think a minivan really hits the sweet spot too. Let us know if there’s anything we can be helpful with as you prepare to hit the road. Happy travels.

  10. Frank weir
    2016-06-01 at 3:03 pm

    Hi again guys! I used the Sienna this past weekend and the first day was very hot and humid. Found the van to be a bit too warm and wondered if a tent would have been better. But it rained at times and friends in tents had water in their tents at bedtime. Awful. Any ideas to get the van cooled down at bed time? By the middle of the night, it got cool and went from sticky to clammy! I’ll have to review your material. I’m considering a 12-volt marine battery so I can run a sizeable fan. Wonder if a tent add-on to the van might work. But even with a rain fly, I wonder if I’d get a lot of water in it. I also wonder if a canopy type mosquito netting over my sleeping area makes more sense than the hassle of trying to cut and attach window netting for every window for ventilation and cooling the van down.Thanks for the great site.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2016-06-01 at 3:38 pm

      Hi Frank! Congrats on getting the Sienna up and running as a camper. Yes, heat and humidity can be a challenge. That’s why we installed screens on our windows — so we could sleep with the windows down. However, rain can really spoil that plan!

      A few ideas:
      – They make these rain guards that you can install over your windows so you can keep windows open and rain out. It only allows you to roll your window down a few inches, but that might help.
      – We do keep a tent with us for when it’s really hot, or when it’s just so nice out that we want to sleep under the stars. If you have a good tent and rain fly, it should keep the water out.
      – You could look into a small battery-powered fan. Sometimes just having some air flow is all you need. It was really hot and humid when we camped outside New Orleans — having just a slight breeze made all the difference, but we still slept outside our sleeping bags.
      – A mosquito net over your sleeping area could certainly work if you don’t want to cut and install screens. Maybe one that you can hang using hooks in a few key spots?
      – If there’s not too much rain and it’s doable, you could try parking under a tree. You might get a little water in the van, but it should hopefully help.

      In the end, it will likely be dry more days than it will be raining though. So unless you plan on van camping in a lot of rainy areas, I wouldn’t stress about getting equipment and/or making too many modifications just for a few hot-yet-rainy nights. Hope this helps. 🙂

  11. Frank weir
    2016-06-01 at 4:29 pm

    Thank you for your speedy reply! Yes I have a couple small d-battery fans and that allowed me to sleep eventually…bottom line: by definition it isn’t gonna be like sleeping in a bedroom with air conditioning! I’m just about to read your tutorial on showering, another major stumbling block for me! A shower can make all the difference even if hot….getting the dried sweat off!! Safe Travels You Two!!

  12. Frank weir
    2016-06-01 at 7:54 pm

    Tamara…help!! I can’t find your old post on your curtains! SO sorry to bug you again but I tried cut up window reflectors and it didn’t turn out well. Is your curtain tutorial archived somewhere??? Thanks!!!!!

    • Tamara & Chris
      2016-06-01 at 8:14 pm

      No worries! We never did a tutorial — probably should though. It’s just discussed in our van tour video.

  13. frank weir
    2016-06-01 at 8:57 pm

    Whew! Thought I was losing my mind. Will run the video again and THANKS!

  14. Bob Washam
    2016-06-09 at 7:44 am

    We are getting ready for a 3.5 month trip from Florida to Alaska and back. We got some great ideas from your site, and I especially liked the video. We are taking a tent, bikes, a surfboard and a coleman stove, so we have a packed van. We have the inside set up for sleeping for when we are in cooler climates during the trip.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2016-06-09 at 7:47 am

      Hey, that sounds like an awesome trip! Glad this could be of help. We really want to drive up to Alaska and back but every year we miss the window of good weather because we’re someplace else. Have you decided on your route? Happy travels!

      • Bob Washam
        2016-06-09 at 8:07 am

        We are heading up the east coast to Boston for the 4th of July, west through Niagara falls and the Michigan lakes, then across the northern states to South Dakota, then up thru the Canadian rockies, up to Alaska, then down the Pacific coast, across to the Grand Canyon and other national parks in the southwest, and then finally across the Gulf states to Southeast Florida. Sounds like a lot when typing it all! One goal is to see as many national parks as we can.

        • Frank weir
          2016-06-09 at 8:40 am

          Room in the van for me and my cat???

        • Frank weir
          2016-06-09 at 8:41 am

          We both get car sick…hope that’s ok!!

        • Tamara & Chris
          2016-06-09 at 9:38 am

          This sounds like an incredible trip!!! Have a great time. And, forgive me if I’m stating the obvious, but make sure to buy an America the Beautiful national parks pass since you’ll be hitting up so many. Cheers!

  15. Frank weir
    2016-06-09 at 10:04 am

    If you are older, you MUST get the lifetime senior national park pass! No brainier…

  16. Colette
    2016-06-19 at 5:27 pm

    Yours is the first site I’ve happened upon, just after I’ve sold my house and am heading into retirement. I do know a longer van is more space than I need (there’s just me, and no pets), so ideally I’d like a minivan that has been set up with a roof high enough for me to stand up in, but haven’t seen anything yet (just started looking). But your arrangement looks great: efficient, intelligent, economical. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Tamara & Chris
      2016-06-19 at 6:03 pm

      Congrats on the exciting life changes, Colette! And thanks for the compliments on our setup. It might be hard to find a minivan you can stand in — that’s why we have the bed on the ground so we have more head room and space to sit up without bumping our heads. We’re able to kneel comfortably and have enough head space. If you want something you can stand in, you might have to look into vans (not minivans). But, think about how important standing up is. If it’s a must-have that’s one thing, but it does take a minivan out of the running so if it’s not essential maybe that’s the thing you compromise on in exchange for other benefits. Best of luck on your adventures!!

  17. Colette
    2016-06-19 at 6:11 pm

    Yes, it is a bit tricky. I know that the bigger vans can have a raised roof added, but have not seen a mini-length van with this. Will look into it. But I really don’t need the extra horizontal space of a larger van, and I do want to keep gas cost (and use) to a minimum, so you may be right: I might have to forego the “high ceiling”.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2016-06-19 at 6:13 pm

      I hear you. You might check out the Jucy minivan campers and see how they set them up.

    • Bob DeVous
      2016-06-19 at 8:02 pm

      Colette, try checking out a VW. They have vans that have a partial pop top. I think Volkswagon refers to it as a Vanagon. Happy Trails, Bob D

  18. Sue Highland
    2016-06-24 at 9:07 am

    How can I follow you?

  19. Bob G
    2016-08-17 at 7:46 pm

    I was thinking of putting the bed on a low platform for storage underneath, maybe 8 inches up or so. It sounds like this would make it too low to sit on. Is this what you found? It would be nice to slide suitcases, chairs, storage bins or such under. I’ve seen some ideas where the platform is hinged so it can make room. What are your thoughts? Any ideas on how to lounge against the side of the van comfortably while in the bed area? Fantastic site, Thanks SO much for sharing.

    • Colette
      2016-08-18 at 12:49 pm

      Hi there,

      I am still shopping for my vehicle, but my plan, like yours, is to raise the bed so there’s storage underneath. I think 8″ may be a little too short for storage – you’d need a pretty thin suitcase to fit under that. I also agree that it might be low for sitting.

      In my case the vehicle is probably going to be a Ford Transit Connect, and the top of the wheel well is actually about a foot above the floor of the van, so that will determine the height of the platform. Add a 4″ mattress to that and my feeling is the height would be okay for sitting – not too “crouch-y” and with a decent amount of headroom above. Of course it also depends on the height of your vehicle; the Transit Connect is pretty good in that regard. I guess the trick is to balance storage under the bed with headroom over it.

      I just need sleeping space for one person, so my thought is to make a kind of split platform: one part 20″ wide and the other 10″. The smaller section would slide over or under the larger one. Then I’d have two pieces of foam for a mattress, also roughly 10 and 20″. The wider piece would sit on the platform and the narrower piece would make a “back” for a kind of sofa (think futons here) and then, for sleeping, the 10″ platform section would slide out and the foam would fit in place. (I think for this I will need a platform with an edge to hold the 2 mattress pieces together.)

      Not sure yet, since I don’t have the vehicle and will fiddle with materials once I do. I hope I’m better at fiddling than I am at explaining!

    • Tamara & Chris
      2016-08-24 at 8:47 am

      Great comments from Colette. A lot of people put platforms in their van with storage underneath. Chris and I decided not to because we had plenty of space at the back of the van and because we prefer to have the headroom. It’s already small in a minivan and we wanted it to feel as spacious as possible. Also, we are trying to keep it light so it doesn’t affect fuel economy. Honestly, it depends on how tall you are and what your preferences are. We find it comfortable to lounge around in the bed area, leaning against the side wall or front seats, because we kept it spacious. But if you need the storage space that much, you might be willing to sacrifice that. Maybe try a prototype with some cardboard box just to see how it affects your space before you go all the way. Good luck and happy travels!!

  20. Jack
    2016-08-21 at 9:28 pm

    Hey guys, thank you for your inspiration on camping around the country in a van. Curious on what you did to the 2nd row captain seats in your conversion?

    Thanks,
    Jack

    • Tamara & Chris
      2016-08-22 at 6:24 am

      Hey Jack: Thanks for reading! We took the second row seats out and put them in our basement. (We have a small corner of a basement where we keep stuff like that, including stuff like our kitchen pots and pans that would have been expensive to replace should we decide to stay put again one day). You could put the seats in a friend or family member’s garage. Or, if you decide to rent a very small storage unit, that could be a place for it.

  21. Ant
    2016-09-10 at 1:24 pm

    We are thinking of using a Toyota Sienna but concerned that a 48″ wide bed may be tight. What is your width and if narrow has that been an issue

    • Tamara & Chris
      2016-09-11 at 1:07 am

      Our bed is the size of a full/double: 54″ wide and 75″ long. However, it’s narrower at the bottom because of the shape of the van — probably closer to 48″ at the bottom. Either way, it’s still wider than a twin bed which is only 39″ wide. If it’s just two of you, you should be fine unless you’re the kind of people who just can’t survive with anything smaller than a king bed. 🙂 But if you were, you wouldn’t be considering van travel! We haven’t had any issues with the size of the bed. We even shared it with a small dog with no problems. What’s important I think is having headroom in the sleeping area — and being OK in close quarters with your travel partner.

      • Ant
        2016-09-11 at 6:39 am

        Thanks. I didn’t realize the Kia was that wide. Or did u have to pull out some side material. And for the narrowed width did u have to get a customized mattress or you simply squeezed it in there?

        • Ant
          2016-09-11 at 7:27 am

          I just watched your video and think I have my answer. We were thinking of using an actual mattress!

  22. Tory
    2016-09-16 at 3:41 pm

    Love love love your simple minivan camper conversion! Will you please make a video specifically about how you set up the storage in back with the shower curtain rods and crates? Thank you!

    • Tamara & Chris
      2016-09-17 at 8:43 am

      Thank you, Tory! We want to make a more detailed van tour/conversion how-to. Will work on it soon… 🙂

  23. Edward Wunder
    2017-01-04 at 6:16 am

    Tamara, Chris, and others…

    Thank you for sharing and moderating. One day I’d like to modify our 2000 Oddessy. Main purpose, to stretch out in air conditioned comfort at county fairs and nap between our comedy hypnosis shows. County fairs can be hot. I figure a roof mounted AC unit run of an external generator with the usual screening of the windows and drop down curtaining.

    Feel free to correct any of those ideas, but here are the questions.

    Is the standard roof high enough, or is there a benefit in having a body shop raise the roof for an after market AC unit? Best position for the unit, front, center or back?

    Should we add insulation? Recommendations for brand, adhesive? Every surface possible, or ceiling, doors, and sides, but leave the floor alone?

    Thanks,

    Edward Wunder
    That Hypnotist

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-01-05 at 7:05 am

      Wow! Sounds like an exciting idea, Edward. We really don’t know much about aftermarket AC units and powering them, but something that insulates the windows/blocks the sun isn’t a bad idea. Minivans are pretty much metal boxes that get crazy hot in the summer sun, so if you have AC it will work a lot better if you use something like reflectix on the windows. And try to park in the shade! We also found that having a battery powered fan worked fine too. Lastly, do some Googling to find out what people do to keep their vans cool while they’re at Burning Man. It’s crazy hot there and they have to bring their own power sources, so someone may have some creative ideas. Good luck!

  24. Penny
    2017-01-10 at 5:37 pm

    Hello T&C,
    I love this,, We rent a mini van every time we drive from upstate NY to Florida to visit my Uncle, My biggest expense is the
    Rental so I am always looking for new ideas to sleeping in the van when the tent is not an option (& I hate to spend the money to sleep in a hotel) , we do travel with our dog and try and leave 1 back seat up for him 🙂
    Have u slept in the cold traveling? (35 degrees?) Do u travel with a heater?
    Love the milk crate idea !!!!
    We leave February 25th for 20 days to Florida!!!!!

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-01-10 at 5:42 pm

      Hi Penny! So glad you found this helpful. Yes, we’ve actually been sleeping in the cold the past 10 days!! When it got into the 20s we found a hostel and Airbnb. 🙂 But honestly the van stays fairly warm so long as it doesn’t dip below the 30s. BUT, you must have a warm sleeping bag. That makes a huge difference. And snuggling with your doggy friend. We don’t have a heater, although if you’re parking at campsites with electricity you could try an electric blanket. Most heaters are propane powered which makes us nervous. Have a great time in Florida!!!! – Tamara

      • Penny
        2017-01-10 at 8:08 pm

        Wow,, thanks for the FAST reply 🙂
        Electric blanket 🙂 next purchase for sure,,,

  25. Mike and Pat
    2017-01-26 at 9:54 am

    HI, love your blog! Have been thinking about much the same setup for a while now. I am curious what year your Kia is? We have a 2015 and I just found out how to remove the 2nd and 3rd row seats as they are not made to be easily removed. My wife is curious how you handle showers and bathroom trips. I know you can use mostly public bathrooms and shower at campgrounds or truck stops but are you comfortable showering there. We can also take an emergency toilet with us if nowhere else is available. Also, at campgrounds, are the showers private or group showers? Do you keep an auxiliary battery inside your van for the fan and other power needs?

    Keep up the great job with the blog and stay safe, warm and healthy and enjoy your time on the road.

    Mike and Pat

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-01-26 at 12:47 pm

      Hi Mike and Pat! So glad you’re enjoying the blog — thanks so much for reading and commenting. Our Kia is a 2012, so we are able to remove the second row without any issues. The third row, while removable I’m sure, folds flat into the floor so we just leave it that way.

      We have never used truck stop showers, but be sure to check out our guide on showering because other folks have left helpful comments on that topic. Campground showers are really varied, to be honest. Some are impeccably clean with hot water and great pressure. Others are disgusting. Most are somewhere in between. I have never felt uncomfortable showering in a campground though. Sometimes they’re individual rooms, sometimes they are stalls in a larger bathroom.

      And no, we don’t keep an auxiliary battery in our van. We’ve actually ditched the fan now that Holly doesn’t travel with us, which only leaves needing to keep our laptops charged. (We have an external charger for our phones.) Our headlamps and lantern run on batteries, and our stove is propane. So we’re in good shape!

      Wishing you two the best of luck outfitting your van. Let us know if we can help with anything else. 🙂

      • Mike & Pat
        2017-01-26 at 6:13 pm

        Thanks for the quick reply. I figured your van was in that date range. It always helps to know exactly what year is involved so we know exactly what people are working with. After I left that message I was thinking about the showers and remembered that others mentioned showering at gym clubs when they are available.

        My big question after thinking it over is about the campgrounds and RV parks. What kind of site do you ask for when checking in or calling in advance. Do you ask for an actual RV site or tent site or do you mention you will be sleeping in the van if you aren’t putting up the tent? I may be wrong but I think I saw where someone said they were turned away from a campground or RV park because they were going to sleep in their van. That info would be a big help to me. We may be trying out the van in late April into May so trying to work out all the details in advance.

        Thanks again for being so helpful.

        Mike

        • Tamara & Chris
          2017-01-26 at 7:22 pm

          Good question re: tent vs. RV sites. The short answer is that it depends. Public park campgrounds (county, state, national) don’t care for the most part — it’s just about whether you’re paying for a primitive or RV site. Primitive or tent sites are usually drive-in and will have water, a fire pit and a table. RV sites usually have electricity. Honestly, every park is different. We were at a state park a few weeks ago that had sites with tent pads but also parking spaces and we just slept in the space. No big deal. What you want to avoid are sites where you have to walk in an 1/8 of a mile or something.

          RV parks are another story. What you want to find are KOAs or RV parks that accept tents. If they don’t, it’s unlikely they’d be OK with vans because they want RVs for RV sites, although you could ask. But RV sites are more expensive, so just ask if they have primitive sites. We use AllStays Camp and Tent: AllStays.com They only list campgrounds that accept tents. Good luck!

          • phil cox
            2017-02-04 at 9:00 am

            I use a 2013dodge mini van …take out the stow and go seats and the rear one,lots of extra storage….I am retired 68 yrs old Canadian… travel with similar setup 2 months a year do 6 to 7ooo miles each trip …now on trip number 8…Been to burning man and just about every where else….this van is the best for gas, that is my biggest expense….stay at walmarts mostly or in the wilderness off road areas…I used to sleep on the floor but realized that it was not comfortable and by elevating 12inches get huge storage simple…my windows are all deep tinted so really drapery is not that big of a deal…so much more I could add…P.s. I paid 20,000 new .(basic dodge caravan bench style seat.)..no need for fancy because my trips were to punish the vehicle some what…and boy have I….replaced tires and brakes so far….(only buy best brakes and tires)…..If I get 20 trips at 7ooo miles, and sure I will, money well spent…and use van for every day use when I am not on the road..nothing better for the money..Best thing I ever did….I have Hundreds of stories and tips ( photographer and hiker)When I put back the seats for normal driving you would never know that is was convered…all.my stuff comes apart…I was a carpenter in past ..so was easy for me but trial and error each trip I learned and adjusted you can con tact me if need more scoop……

          • Tamara & Chris
            2017-02-04 at 10:20 am

            Thanks for sharing, Phil!

          • Adrian
            2017-07-15 at 7:43 pm

            We have been mini van camping for two years now: all over the southeast, in the midwest, and northern tier states. We were told by the camp host at a national park that van campers are considered Rv’s by the federal government. We have also been able to camp at a very nice, membership RV resort. We were so, so tiny compared to our next-door neighbors! All the RV’ers were so curious about our set up – lots of Looky-Loos there! Since we were fully in our van, there was no problem. At KOA’s we are usually given the choice of tent site or RV site. We cook with electricity exclusively, so we always want an electric site. Sometimes a tent site is better, and sometimes an RV site is better. It’s best to take a look and see which you prefer.
            We find that the showers at KOA are generally clean and well-maintained. However, we ALWAYS wear flip flops in any public shower. The showers are private stalls within the restrooms, men and women separate. But some KOA’s have now added a row of shower rooms with real, full size doors that lock. You can go in alone, or with a family member. My husband and I prefer that type of shower “hall” b/c we can shower together and save time.
            Love your blog and all the info you have.

          • Tamara & Chris
            2017-07-16 at 10:13 am

            Thanks for the advice you’ve shared!! Happy travels 😀

      • Frank weir
        2017-02-05 at 7:22 am

        Tamara…do you mean you are ok with showers at “private” campgrounds? Said some are disgusting but never felt uncomfortable?? I have found private campground showers to be generally reliable, municipal, public, less so.

        • Tamara & Chris
          2017-02-05 at 4:15 pm

          Shower quality varies, honestly. It depends on how well funded a public or private campground is. We’ve experienced a range and find that it really just depends on how well maintained a place is.

          • Frank weir
            2017-02-05 at 5:07 pm

            Thanks…my biggest campground gripe overall is NOISE…people talking loudly, laughing, shouting at all hours. One bunch up till 4 am, another bunch talking loudly st 7 am… Amazing how that works. Ear plugs are ESSENTIAL…

  26. ysabellaw
    2017-02-06 at 10:40 pm

    Lucky to come across your site as I’m a digital nomad that comes in off the road to house and pet sit several times a year. Thanks for the tour of Red Delicious and I’m looking forward to following your escapes this year.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-02-07 at 6:43 am

      Thanks for reading, fellow nomad! 🙂

  27. Anna
    2017-02-21 at 5:33 pm

    Thanks for inspiring me to convert my Minivan into a camper. I really appreciate you posting the video on how you did this, and I just might follow suit. I have a Toyota Sienna and it looks similar in space. I love your tips on what has and has not worked, very helpful.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-02-21 at 5:40 pm

      Good luck with the conversion, Anna! 🙂 Let us know if there’s anything that would be helpful.

  28. 2017-02-22 at 1:39 pm

    Oh thank you for the curtain idea! I’ve been searching for just the right idea, and this is it. Safety pins! Can you remember about how many yards of felt you used?

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-02-22 at 4:35 pm

      Glad to help! Don’t remember how many yards of felt exactly…maybe 7? I measured the width of each window first, then rounded up and added some extra just in case.

    • Rose
      2017-03-04 at 9:42 pm

      If you can get to a Walmart, Joanns, or a quilt shop, they sell a kind of safety pin which has bend in the working part. It is meant to pin the fabrics together on a flat surface ie;; a table. Ask for quitting safety pins. Lack a specific store, google them. Good luck with your minivan. I’m looking to travel this way also.

      • Tamara & Chris
        2017-03-05 at 4:01 am

        What a great tip! I had no idea these existed. Thanks and good luck, Rose. 🙂

  29. Frank weir
    2017-02-23 at 5:43 am

    Tamara…as to curtains, I settled on bungee cords stretched the length of each side of my 2003 Toyota Sienna. I hook two together, from visor or hand rail above front door back to handle that opens rear window latches. Then I just cut a flannel sheet in half lengthwise that I bought for a dollar at a yard sale. I hang several inches of the sheet over the cord and clip with small binder clips used to hold papers together. Very easy, not any measuring and cutting felt or having to use lots of safety pins. Works very well but then I go somewhere and stay several days, not putting them up and down. But would be easy to just unhook the cords and keep sheet, clips intact until the next stop.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-02-23 at 5:48 am

      Nice! Great idea: cheap, easy to install, easy to remove.

      • Frank weir
        2017-02-23 at 7:12 am

        I’m going to use your approach for back window though. Gray reflector stuff is fiddly and the suction cups holding it come off on their own. How about OTHER READERS sharing their CURTAIN ideas? After seat removal, curtains are the next most important step!! Thx for your FUN blog!! Next for me is to figure out a BED. I sleep on a self-filling air mattress but I need storage space. The one cot I tried was wobbly, uncomfortable. Tried a board over milk crates but was very ungainly, uncomfortable, too high for getting on and off, took up too much space since I usually have an upright bass with me, tho not always.

        • Adrian
          2017-07-15 at 7:59 pm

          We have a 2002 Chrysler Town and Country. For our rear window, we bought two oval pop-up sun screens meant for the windshield. We overlap them a bit and then use the binder clip method: jam one prong of the binder clip between the headliner and the plastic window trim. Clip the sun screen to the clip part. Four or five of binder clips across the top of the window hold the screens up all night. Our crates in the back of the van keep the screens pushed against the hatch instead of dangling straight down and wasting space.
          For our side windows, we also use the bungee cord method. We happened to have a big stack of beige/gray drop cloths already, so we use one for each side of the van, folded over the bungee cord. Then another drop cloth draped over the two front seats, and pulled tightly so it doesn’t sag in the middle. We have all the privacy we need.
          Our bed is a full-size futon mattress that we already had. It sits directly on the carpeted floor so we have plenty of head room. It bends upward a little where we squeeze it between the wheel bumps, but our feet are at that end, so it doesn’t bother us. We use REAL sheets and a duvet with a removable cover (Ikea), plus an extra blanket if it gets cold. I hate sleeping bags.

  30. Ant
    2017-03-08 at 8:25 am

    We just bought and did a light conversion and are on our first road trip. When I say light conversion l mean we ordered one of those custom mattresses and just took out the seats. We have just enough room at end of mattress for supplies but we are eating out a bit too.

    • Ant
      2017-03-08 at 8:27 am

      I meant to say we bought a sienna!

      • Tamara & Chris
        2017-03-08 at 11:41 am

        Hey that’s great! Hope you’re having fun. It’s always a good idea to do some test camps to see what you like/don’t like before investing a ton into the setup.

  31. Chags
    2017-04-06 at 7:57 am

    I’ve really liked your conversation ideas. Utilized a few of them. Thanks! I love camping on my van. However, I’ve run across a few problems on California… No camping without an RV no camping without a tent no camping in Walmart parking lots. I haven’t found BLM area near anything I’ve wanted to drive through, etc. Have you ever run into this… If so, what have been your solutions?

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-04-06 at 8:57 am

      Great questions. Yes, anytime you’re someplace more populated, like California, you start to run into a lot more rules and a lot less free camping. Especially as you get closer to cities.

      Our solutions:
      – When we’re getting close to populous areas, we know we either need to find alternative accommodation, like an Airbnb, or camp in the outskirts. We use AllStays Camp & Tent to find campgrounds, including BLM and Forest Service land.

      – Walmarts are subject to local laws, so if the local law/signs say no overnight parking, it’s definitely not allowed.

      – While expensive, KOAs are usually located near major metropolitan areas. There are sometimes county parks near towns with camping too. Again, use something like AllStays to find campgrounds.

      – We keep a small tent with us that we can use as needed, especially if the weather is crazy hot.

      Hope this helps!

    • Mike & Pat
      2017-04-06 at 5:02 pm

      You can also try freecampsites.net and might find some good ones listed there. You can also take a small tent and set it up but not sleep in it. I don’t think there are many campgrounds that will actually check to see if you are in the tent. Just get a simple, easy to set up tent like a popup. Just so it looks like you are tent camping. You have to be able to play their game and beat them at it. HA!

  32. Ant
    2017-04-08 at 8:28 am

    We just went through Northern California down to Santa Barbara in our mini-van Sienna. We had no problem staying at “tent sites” in state parks and in RV parks. No one seemed to care when we did not set up a tent; how could they. We did get thrown out of one parking lot of a restaurant in an area where the campgrounds were full, but quickly found a place on a quiet residential street. It was a little unnerving but no-one gave us a second glance. We stayed in the parking lots of motels for four nights. All good, but lights in the parking area were a little bright.

    • Frank weir
      2017-04-08 at 11:10 am

      Never thought of motel lots! But motels usually request license and car description at check-in so I would have thought they would keep track of unregistered parked cars. No problems though?

  33. Ant
    2017-04-09 at 8:36 am

    Not really, but it was a worry. I have noticed over the years how few people know their license numbers, and then when they fess up about that, the hotel clerk says “oh don’t worry about that”. So I figured no one is really going to check that. It was also slightly disturbing when someone would people come and get stuff from their cars right next door to us. So they weren’t the most restful nights. However we felt “safe” If you know what I mean.

    • frank weir
      2017-04-09 at 9:15 am

      This is really good to know if in a real bind. Not a first choice, I understand. Many thanks. I would still be concerned, even without the license plate worry. But I reckon most places have more to worry about than if they have ONE more Toyota van that what is on a master list of registered vehicles in the lot. AND if a restaurant or bar is nearby, often the case, how would they know what vehicle belonged to where. Come to think of it, most motels seem to have a skeleton crew on the overnight shift, mostly ONE desk clerk, typically a college kid, just to check in late arriving guests. Doubt budget motels would pay someone to march around the parking lot at 2 a.m. checking car makes and license plates against a master list LOL! I would prefer state rest areas so you would have access to a bathroom. No problem here in Michigan which allows semi’s to spend the night.

  34. Beverly
    2017-05-23 at 5:22 am

    Kudos to you two…your van/home is amazing…thank you for sharing your experience…I’m a 63 year old Young Lady, 😉, and in a few months I will be in a position to do just this….this has been a dream for years…But, there is a little fear involved, is this normal? I will be traveling with my best friend Charlie, my 94 lb yellow lab…

    Beverly

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-05-23 at 5:40 am

      Hi Beverly: Congratulations on following your dream! And of course it is normal to have some fear — we certainly did. I remember when we were about to buy our van, I looked at Chris and said, “Let’s go get lunch. Can we get lunch? I need to think about this over lunch. Yes, lunch.” And we ate hamburgers outside while I stared at the ground thinking, “What are we DOING?” But then we talked it through and reminded ourselves why we wanted to do it. And, honestly, we also knew that if it didn’t work out, we could just sell the van and try something else. A lot of people write that a helpful way to think about fear and anxiety is as excitement. You’re just so excited about it that it’s giving you that feeling in your stomach. I’m sure you and Charlie will have a lovely, unforgettable adventure together no matter where it takes you. Happy travels!

      • colette granger
        2017-05-23 at 6:41 am

        Hi Beverly, I certainly second the idea that we can think about a particular feeling as either fear or excitement. Physiologically they are very close. Also, depending on your circumstances of course, if it turns out you don’t like it, you can make changes. So, in that sense there is minimal risk – although naturally there may be other risks, financial or otherwise.

        As for me I’m 61 now and this will be my second year with a van-I-use-for-traveling. I fitted it out in a temporary way last year so as to (a) give it a try before spending too much money (you really don’t have to spend a lot) and (b) be sure the arrangement of bed, cooking etc was what I wanted for the long term.

        I was somewhat apprehensive for about the first 2 nights, but after that I was fine (though I am still not comfortable camping in random places or parking lots – but I just don’t do that). And I don’t have a dog – but I think that will be nice for you for both company and the appearance of protection, should that become an issue, and whether or not Charlie is actually a defender or just a giant puppy!

        All good wishes to you. It is just so liberating to take on a dream and find out what it, and you, are made of!

  35. Annabel Declercq
    2017-06-08 at 12:38 pm

    This is AMAZING! We are planning on coming to the us next fall to visit west america and the national parks. Since we are tourist, we will probably rent a vehicle and this just seems amazing. A budget friendly way to travel! You think all these alterations can be done to a rented minivan? I noticed you did’t really do any actual harm to the car?

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-06-08 at 7:59 pm

      Hi Annabel! We didn’t do any permanent harm to the car, but we did remove the middle seats to make more space. I don’t know what you’d do with the seats if you’re renting. A couple ideas:

      – You could also just rent a regular car but buy/bring a tent and sleeping bags. It’s cheaper to rent a car than a van.

      – Or you could find a van that’s already outfitted, like EscapeCampervans.com. They’re more expensive but they have everything you need.

      Have fun!! 🙂

    • Mike & Pat
      2017-06-09 at 3:01 pm

      You could try asking the rental company if they would take out the middle seats before renting it to you,not sure if they would do it but it is worth a try. You could also store the seats in a cheap storage unit for a few months while you rent the van. You might get a small storage unit for like 35.00 dollars a month or so.

      • Jaye
        2017-07-06 at 6:10 am

        Hi, Tamara and Chris.

        Great blog, nice conversion, and really excellent attention to comments. All admirable. I hope your travels are delivering everything you’d hoped for and more.

        My comment is regarding – well – a “bathroom” in a minivan. This is the single greatest issue (for some of us – not for you young folks)! But for anyone with health issues or even age issues, a carry-along “bathroom” is essential. This is the only thing that has stopped me from using our minivan as a camper/mini-rv. Consequently, I’ve spent literally YEARS searching for a Class B RV that I could afford that would also not nickel and dime me to death considering the fact that the only thing I could afford would be a very old one. What has happened in those years? We haven’t found a van we can afford to travel in, AND we haven’t converted our minivan, so we haven’t traveled! And that is the really sad part.

        I get porta-potties – I know those are an option. But when traveling with two people in a minivan, does anyone have any ideas at all for how to create a little separate “bathroom” space/ toilet area that could be used daily by two people? I don’t need advice on the porta-potty itself. We have one and know how to use it. 😉 What I’m asking for is advice/ideas on the creation of a SPACE – a small private SPACE in the minivan for the location of the porta-potty for regular use.
        We have a 2006 Honda Odyssey. For day trips we have a porta-potty in the very back, behind the bench seat. (We’ve removed the second row of seats.) But if we were to use the minivan as a camper, we would need to lay down the bench seat at night for sleeping. The mattress/sleeping pads would take up all of the space, so then where would the porta potty (and other storage) go? Well – thank you, Tamara and Chris, for the forum and the wonderful blog. Thanks also to those with experience traveling in a minivan who might have some guidance/ideas to offer.

        • Tamara & Chris
          2017-07-06 at 7:19 am

          Hi Jaye: Thanks so much for your question. I totally get the bathroom issue — it’s why a minivan camper, while a neat idea, isn’t sustainable for a lot of people in the longer term. That’s why we tend to camp in campgrounds — it’s hard to go off-grid when you’re not totally self contained.

          I wish I had a better answer, but there are just two solutions I’ve been able to come up with and neither are great.

          The first is that I once saw a minivan camper layout with a little chemical toilet inside, but the van was for one person only. On one side of the van was a narrow bed that doubled as a seat/couch and on the other side was storage, a little workspace and a little portapotty. With just one occupant, space and privacy weren’t issues.

          The other option is to consider a slightly larger van, like a cargo van. It’s still smaller than most RVs and you could convert it with minimal expense, but it gives you more space to set up a bathroom area and put a curtain or plywood divider around it.

          If anyone has other ideas, I hope they’ll chime in!

          Happy travels and hope you’re able to figure this out so you can hit the road soon. 🙂

          Oh! Also, one other thought — you could look into having a pop-top installed in your van. That way you could sleep on top, leaving the “downstairs” for storage and a bathroom. It’s not a perfect solution and I don’t know all the logistics, but something to look into.

          • Jaye
            2017-07-06 at 9:39 am

            Thank you!

            You are very generous and gracious with your comments to everyone in this forum. Keep being you!

            Hope your travels are safe and fabulous.

            Jaye

        • Mike & Pat
          2017-07-06 at 1:36 pm

          Hi Jaye, In regards to storage, you could build a platform about 12 or 15 inches above the van floor. This way you can store items underneath the platform but still have space for sleeping on top of the platform. You would not have as much headroom then but it would take care of storage and sleeping if you don’t mind being closer to the top of the van. Another idea would be to make a platform over only half of the floor area. This way you could store stuff on top of the platform and then sleep with your legs and feet under the platform and not feel like you are so close to the top of the van. This way you would also have more headroom when not sleeping.

          Privacy in a van is hard to come by. However, I did see one video on Youtube where the people had a curtain hanging from the roof in the back of their van, not the curtain they used to block the windows. When using the portapotty they pulled the curtain across the front of them and clipped it to the side of the van somewhere to give them some privacy. Don’t remember which video it was as I watched a ton of them Another option is just for the other person to leave the van if possible so you have some privacy.

        • Mike & Pat
          2017-07-06 at 1:38 pm

          Another option for privacy is to get a cheap pop up tent type space for about 30.00 U.S. funds or less and put the portapotty in there. This would not work for all occasions but might work sometime for you. You could also try getting something they call a Boot Tent I believe it is. It attaches to the hatch area and you can leave the hatch up while you sleep. You could then put the portapotty there but it might be difficult getting to it. A side tent that attaches to the side door of the van might work much better for you purpose. Or you could just get a cheap pop up tent that you put the portapotty in near the side door. They go up in a few minutes so it isn’t a big hassle having to deal with it and they are small enough to fit in the van.

          It also depends on where you plan on camping. If in campgrounds most of the time they usually have bathrooms. But if dispersed camping type areas then the small pop up tents might work great as you don’t have to worry to often about other people being around.

          • Jaye
            2017-07-06 at 1:42 pm

            Thanks, Mike and Pat for your excellent ideas. We do have a pop-up privacy tent, but of course these are only useful when camping, and not when pulling over for the night at Walmarts, truck stops, hospitals, etc.

            Your ideas are all great, though. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and expertise. We really appreciate you taking the time.

            Jaye

        • Mike & Pat
          2017-07-06 at 2:36 pm

          Jaye, another advantage of having a pop up tent is that it can also serve as a changing room so you aren’t trying to get dressed while bending over or bumping each other. Plus I just saw on another video that you should always have a tent with you just in case you have to park in a campground that requires you to have a tent. You don’t often have to sleep in it but they often do want to see you have one set up.

          In a rare case where your vehicle breaks down they said you could also stay in your tent nearby while it is being fixed in case you don’t have money for a hotel. Often the garage or repair shop will give you a ride so they might be willing to take you to a campground or free camp site if one if nearby. Or even an Uber would work to get you to a site. Again, just a long shot but might be well worth having the tent for the little space it takes up. Most people find that being on the road in a van is a learning experience and you will learn what works best for you by doing it. Everyone says just do it and you will work things out as you go. Happy Vaning

          • Jaye
            2017-07-06 at 6:32 pm

            Wow.

            Mike and Pat, I can’t thank you enough for all of the excellent guidance you have given to us today. You have taken so much time to spell out some terrific ideas, all of which are very thoughtful and helpful.

            Thank you so much for lending hand.

            Jaye

  36. Jim and Janice
    2017-07-24 at 8:02 pm

    Thanks, Tamara and Chris, for your wonderful tips on turning a minivan into a camper. We own a Kia Sedona also and have used it to camp with some success. But thanks to you we will be able to do a better job next time. I like your milk carton storage idea and the ideas I read about curtains from you and others on your blog. We plan to go from Iowa to Maine and back this fall. Occasinally we will use a motel or B&B. But for state and national parks, we will use the minivan. I may tie some things to the roof even though that adds a little more gas.

    • Tamara & Chris
      2017-07-24 at 10:39 pm

      Glad to help! The minivan is a great home when staying in parks. Happy travels 😀

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