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How To Build Out A Cheap Minivan Camper

minivan camper in Utah
A minivan camper in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. Photo by editor

How To Build Out A Cheap Minivan Camper

Anyone who is interested in converting a non-camping vehicle into a camping vehicle for cheap should look no further than the humble minivan.

This plain vehicle is not only available in a variety of models (both new and pre-owned), but it has plenty of interior space for inexpensively building out a sleeping and cooking space.

A minivan camper will fit just about everything you need for simple living on the road. In addition, a minivan can easily blend into a parking lot and is more maneuverable and fuel efficient than a larger RV, van, or travel trailer.

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The best minivan camper options

Minivans come from many different manufacturers. Toyota has the popular Sienna minivan, Honda makes the classic Odyssey, and Kia manufactures the roomy Sedona. There are even hybrid versions available for the Sienna, as well as the Chrysler (now Stellantis) Pacifica. Other popular options include the Dodge Grand Caravan and the Chrysler Town & Country.

Minivans are meant to seat at least six to eight people in three to four rows of seats. Taking these seats out or tucking them into the floor (known as Stow-N-Go seating) is key to making a minivan into a simple, yet easy campervan.

Some larger minivans, such as the Ford Transit Connect, come in either a passenger or cargo version. The cargo version is less expensive than the passenger version and is easier to convert into a tiny campervan.

Dee of Lady Bugout turned a Ford Connect into a cute, inexpensive campervan:

While many campervan conversions can cost up to tens of thousands of dollars, converting a minivan into a camper for a single, couple, or even a small family can cost maybe only a few hundred dollars to around $1,000. Here are several ways to do it using tips and tricks from other minivan to campervan converters.

Planning your van conversion

The cargo area of a minivan is typically around 28 to 30 square feet, so you really don’t have a ton of space to work with. However, if you keep your layout simple and only install what you really need, you can create a comfortable space for sleeping, cooking and maybe even working or bathing. 

Before doing any purchasing of supplies or any building, draw out a life-size footprint of the back of your minivan on a driveway or floor with painter’s tape. Be sure to accommodate for any armrests, seating and seatbelts, or consoles that need to remain in place. In addition, place your layout next to a wall or garage so you can measure out the height of the space and accommodate for headroom.

To build or not to build?

Once you have your painter’s tape layout, this is the time to figure out if you want to build out the van or just use items you already have. Some minivan campers will contain simple sleeping cots, fold-out mattresses, pre-made dressers and tables, or just some storage boxes as furniture. For example, Rootless Wanderer on YouTube sourced primarily IKEA furniture for her cozy minivan build.

If you are more confident in your building skills and can find plywood or lumber that has escaped the lumber price increase, take a crack at building out your own bed, kitchen, storage, or tables.

If you do decide to build, make a template with large pieces of cardboard first. These templates will give you a good idea about how much material you will need and how much space they will take up.

Van flooring

Some minivans already have nice, flat floor. Others may have cargo hooks, seatbelt mechanisms, or really awful carpet. No matter what the condition of the floor, this is a good place to either save some money or make the biggest investment. 

Some floors will be just fine covered with an inexpensive rug. Some may need another layer of plywood and flooring for leveling and aesthetics. This will increase your budget, but that can maybe be remedied by looking for leftover supplies on sites such as Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist.

Less built-ins, more modules

Another way to save money (and time) on a minivan build is to keep items as modular as possible. The more built-in pieces you have, the more materials you need and the more complicated and time-consuming the project becomes.

This also includes the “systems” of a campervan such as water or power. There are so many modular type of washing systems and sink alternatives available. There is no need to build an overcomplicated system in such a small space.

The same goes for power. Portable chargers and generators from companies such as Jackery or Rockpals are inexpensive and easy to tote around. In addition, rather than cutting holes in your minivan for a rooftop fan, use a USBpowered fan that can be moved around the vehicle.

Accommodate for alternative storage

No matter what you do, a minivan is still going to be a tiny camping space. Planning out and accommodating for more storage from the beginning of a project will save time and money down the proverbial road.

It’s typical to have storage under a bed or in a kitchen cabinet, but look beyond those locations. Can you store more items on the ceiling or under the floor? Can you hang shoe racks or hooks on the walls or behind the seats? How about installing an inexpensive rooftop cargo rack? Looking beyond the typical idea of storage such as cabinets will help you to find those little extra spaces to make your minivan the ideal camper.

Learn more about van life

For more tips on building out your minivan camper, check out the articles on Vanlifers.com and join the #Vanlife community by following Vanlifers on Instagram.

See also: 5 Amazing DIY Minivan Conversions



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