This is the 4th post in a series on how to build your own van camper. We’ve already covered:
This topic is probably the most important of all, because without a comfortable bed, you won’t last a single night on the road.
You can install light-blocking curtains or wear ear plugs to keep the noise down, but if you have to change your sleeping position every few minutes, there’s no way you’ll get a good night’s sleep.
I went through three versions of a bed in my camper van.
And I’m going to walk you through each design so you can choose the one that fits your needs and desires.
Bed #1: The Tiny
The best way to save space in your camper van is to install your bed in the back of the van, running side to side.
You’ll have most of the floor space for other uses, like storage or a seating area.
The problem with this approach is that the maximum space between the walls will be about 5’6 to 5’9”.
I sleep stretched out, and at 5’10” there was no way this setup would work for me.
Add a travel companion to mix and you’ll quickly realize you need a better sleeping solution.
I didn’t use this setup for very long. But if you’re on the shorter side, this choice will save you a lot of space.
Bed #2: The Skinny Sidebar
My second attempt was to build a narrower bunk down one side giving me plenty of room to stretch out. I also built a kitchen of sorts down the opposite wall.
This setup sounded good in theory, but the narrow space between the two sides made for uncomfortable maneuvering, especially at night. Using the kitchen counter top was next to impossible as well.
The bed was so narrow that turning over became a lesson in physics, I had to sort of spin in place to avoid falling off the platform.
I used homemade dense foam for the mattresses in these first two setups. The foam was too thin and didn’t hold it’s shape. I’d correct that problem in design #3.
Bed #3: The Big Sidebar
Realizing that a good night’s sleep made me happy, I gave up on anything less than a standard store-bought mattress and invested in an upgraded twin-sized pillow-top mattress for $150.
It was the best money I ever spent.
I constructed a regular twin sized bed down the long side of the van and just made do with what room was left for storage.
Now I could finally sleep in complete comfort, stretching out with my feet over the end of the bed and my arms above my head.
When it comes to revisions on your van, it’s all trial and error.
The third arrangement of having a regulation twin side mattress down the long wall of the van is by far the most satisfactory placement.
Ditch the Kitchen
There’s one thing I would have done differently though, and that’s get rid of the indoor kitchen.
In a later article I’ll show you how I moved the cooking area to the back of the van for a chuck-wagon style setup.
Where to Store All Your Stuff
When I built the first bed across the back, I used transparent plastic totes that would slide under the front edge of the bed, hidden from view by a neat cloth curtain and held in place with Velcro. Since the totes were transparent, I could tell what items were inside each storage container.
The back doors allowed access to larger tools, BBQ items, and outdoor supplies that were stored under the bed as well. This left the main area of the floor clean and clutter-free.
When I switched to a bed down the side, I went with a box like construction that allowed me to lift up the mattress and trap door to gain access to the storage under the bed.
This was handy because things could be loose and more bulky in nature. There are pros and cons to both styles of construction.
Where to Place the Kitchen
The idea of a kitchen within your van may sound good, but in reality having a chuck wagon style kitchen that’s only available when you open the rear doors is a lot more practical.
With a rear-facing kitchen, you can store all your kitchen items in one area and not in a jumbled mess in a box under the bed.
If you choose to carry a microwave oven in your van, something I highly recommend, it would be best to locate it near the side door.
The weather won’t always be perfect, and being able to heat up your Hot Pocket sandwich or a cup of ramen noodles on a rainy day without having to open up the chuck wagon kitchen is a big plus.
When it comes to construction materials, don’t go overboard.
Remember, you only weigh a few hundred pounds at most.
You don’t need ¾” plywood and 2″ x 6″ framing to support your weight. Make it strong, but don’t make it massive.
In the next segment, I’ll discuss which amenities to bring with you and talk about some ideas for installing luxury items.
If you want a hot shower every morning in your van – you can have it.