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Van Life: Steps on How to Convert a Minivan for Camping

January 10 2020

minivan camper in field

It is one of the Americana dreams to ditch everything, jump in a van, and hit the road. With over sixty national parks in the United States, it can be tempting to not stay put and convert your lifestyle to the road, if only for a short time. Learning how to convert your minivan for camping is not only an awesome way to see the US park system, but an easy and economical DIY project.

Things to Consider

Contrary to appearances, minivan camping has little in common with RVs, but more in common with tent camping. There is no set manual to build out your van into the perfect traveler’s abode and determining a few factors will guide you efficiently and economically. Before you ask how to convert your minivan into a camper, you need to ask yourself these questions:

  1. Number of company: Who are you traveling with? Is it just you? Going with partner? A dog? Most people put full-sized beds in, but sometimes a twin will do.
  2. Days on the road: How long are you going for? A weekend trip? A month? A lifestyle overhaul? If you’re going for longer, you may want to opt into more comfort and a slightly larger budget.
  3. What you cannot leave behind: What are your must-have amenities? Sometimes we cannot leave all our guilty pleasures in the city.

camper van trunk


Steps to Basic Minivan Conversion

1. One of the most necessary things you need to do is measure out your van. All makes and models are different, even the models of the next year, so take thorough measurements of the interior cab to plan what you can fit inside.
2. Set a budget appropriate for your adventure. Remember to take into account how long you’ll be out there camping in a minivan and how often you’ll be going, if you’re doing the weekend warrior thing.
3. Start the actual process by taking your seats out of your van and laying out a large back area from the trunk all the way up to your front seats.
4. Figure out where the mattress is going. Many people place their mattress on the floor for a quick weekend trip, but elevating the mattress on a simple, raised plywood bed frame allows for storage space below the DIY bed frame, as shown below.


5. Can a full-size bed fit in a minivan? It sure can. If your dimensions are tight, try to go for a foam mattress that will mold to your van. For me, sleep is the most important factor regarding anything camping related (and probably life related), so finding the right mattress is essential. If you’re trying to cut costs, don’t be afraid to get a mattress from a friend or garage sale.
6. Minivan curtains are an actual product for a little privacy, but if you’re trying to save some money, get some dark fabric and Velcro Sticky Back for Fabrics for a homemade barrier between you and the outside world.
7. Build your kitchen into the trunk so that you are outside your car when you are cooking but still have quick access to your kitchen storage. Knowing where to cook while camping in a minivan will keep your upholstery clean and odor-free. We really don’t recommend cooking inside, unless it’s simpler dishes that don’t put grease and oils into the air.



8. Create storage space for your clothes and food. Under a bedframe is ideal, but using stacked milk crates at the foot of the bed can help save space too.

9. Unfortunately, we can’t escape all of our electronics on the road. Buying extra batteries is not only a luxury, but it’s important to opt for this instead of draining your car battery. There are a range of power banks that you can buy, optimizing storage space or charging hours.

10. Get fancy. Here you can implement your guilty pleasures in the DIY project and be creative. A great idea for a living room space is to build a foldable bedframe with a futon. Or if you’re trying to jazz up the bedroom, a simple varnish or coat of polyurethane on the bed frame can add a professional touch to your van life. If you come up with a great one, let us know!



Stay Economical

There are many ways to stay on budget and not take out a mortgage on your house for a minivan camper. There are always ways to save ,from buying reclaimed wood to working DoorDash or Uber Eats on the road. Take some tips from the video below on how to convert your van into a camper on the cheap.


The National Highway System has 150,000 miles, which is a lot of road calling. By converting your minivan into a camper you can tour the U.S. and its parks and sleep well in your DIY project, knowing that you haven’t put too much of a dent in your wallet.