Van Conversion

In the beginning it was just a Honda Odyssey mini-van. Now is it a CAMPER VAN!

For the last year we have spent hours discussing and daydreaming about extended trips where we could stay several days or a week before moving on to a new place but also have more ease with set up and take down. We began by looking into both pull behind tear drop campers and in bed truck campers. We even discussed small RV’s. Many, many conversations and outings to look at different models occurred as we narrowed down what would be needed along side what is desired and affordable.

What we discovered is that most importantly we want to be able to travel now, not spend the next four years saving up to buy a vehicle to travel in. We are currently debt free (not including our house) and we intend to stay that way. So our options and priorities had to be evaluated,again.

Buying now meant this new vehicle had to be a vehicle we could also drive on a daily basis. With four licensed drivers and four vehicles in our driveway there is no other parking space available at our suburban home. We also did not want to pay to insure another vehicle (teenagers are expensive!). This narrowed the field much more. A van conversion was the best way to go. More specifically a conversion we, as limited experienced DIY-ers, could accomplish. Michael had a list of features he wanted our new vehicle to have. He narrowed down the options to Honda Odyssey, Toyota Seinna, or Chrysler Pacifica. Of these mini-vans the Honda Odyssey had the widest cargo(living space) and the passenger chairs are completely removable rather than stowed in the floor. Having the chairs removable meant not only that they’d be easier to remove but not stowing them would mean less weight. We did want them in now because we currently still have two children at home and sometimes we travel together. Then suddenly, on a small side trip from hiking to see a van he found on Facebook Market Place, we were bringing home Blu. Blu also had a GPS navigation system and backup camera along with an upgraded suspension system from the previous owner. As a plus the Honda Odyssey has a built in entertainment system that uses a SD card allowing us to watch the many movies we have on digits.

So after finding and buying the van, construction plans began. Again many discussions around comfort and practicality. Roughly 1,927 youtube videos later we knew what we wanted. Then 234 more youtube videos and we have built it. By “we” I mean Michael. I participated in design discussions but the actual planning and building was all him. My contribution will be curtains and bedding. I’d love to add a few narrated “how to ” clips on van builds but we are largely learn as you go folks. It would be more of a lesson in what not to do. I will be happy to share those tidbits with you though.

Among the list of things we will be getting in the future there is:

  • Rock pals 100 watt foldable solar panel

The foldable solar panel will serve us best right for two reasons.  We need the roof space for storage.  Also we will have the option to park the van in the shade but place the panel in sun, making our van temperature a little cooler.

  • Rock pals 300 watt portable power station

This will charge our solar/panels, van AC , and has “share power”

  • Anyoo Camping Tarp Shelter
  • Small battery-operated car vacuum
  • 4 inch memory foam mattress
  • super strut system for organizing and storage on top of van (kayak holder will come off & we will just take our inflatable paddle boards)

The important features to me were:

  1. Able to have a comfortable mattress
    1. The sleeping bags and chair cushions shown here are just props I promise you. We are looking for a memory foam mattress.
  2. Able to carry several days worth of supplies
    1. There are four (xxx Liter) boxes that can hold clothes and supplies
    2. The “trunk” space will have the dry pantry box and cooler
  3. Able to get to supplies easily
    1. The boxes are set on a rail system under the bed platform. They can move forward or back allowing access to the “trunk” space which will hold the dry pantry food box and coolers.
  4. Able to have a place to cook in the rain
    1. We have a gazebo which can be set up to overlap the back of van. The back hatch can still raise and doors still open. No I won’t be able to cook in storm, but when ever possible I’d like to be able to have good food and most importantly good coffee!

For windows I decided to make inserts of foam poster board, covered in duct tape, with grey felt on the outer side and printed fabric on the inside. I wanted something to block out as much light as possible but also look nice on the inside. Originally I really wanted to have curtains because I didn’t want to deal with taking out the inserts and packing them up. Trying to figure out how to attach curtains in a mini van made me give in to the window inserts. Behind the cab I used an expansion rod to hang a large panel with the same grey felt on the outer side and fabric on the inside.

Lessons Learned:

  • Measure the size of the cooler you plan to put into the “trunk” storage area under the bed and adjust the bed design accordingly. The cooler in the photos above is just a cooler we already have, that won’t fit. We did find a good deal on two small coolers which will allow us to separate drinks and food but it is a work around you could avoid.
  • Figure out exactly what kind of window coverings you are going to do, then cut the really pretty fabric you found and bought the last bit the store had. You can see how doing things otherwise would cause problems right? It may even lead to screaming frustration and a trip back to fabric store.

There will be many, many adjustments and changes as we travel and find what works best in general and just what is best just for us. Any advice, tips, and tricks are appreciated. Remember, this is a journey, a wonderful adventure, and I’m so happy you are with us!

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