DIY Guide for a Dirt-Cheap Minivan Camper Conversion

Honda Odyssey camper fear of camping alone

This guide should save you some time in putting together your minivan camper, on a budget.  It is a collection of the articles on this website in a step-by-step format.  Each step has links to one or more articles.

    1.  Step One–Get a Minivan. Of course, I’m a fan of the Honda Odyssey.  I wrote a buyer’s guide to the 2nd generation Odyssey, that you can read here.   If you aren’t a fan of the Odyssey, then the Dodge Caravan C/V has a great advantage with its flat floor.  Check out the C/V (aka the Ram C/V Tradesman) here.

    1. Step Two–Bed.  We are talking about cheap and fast here so for my first minivan camper conversion, I used a Coleman ComfortSmart Deluxe Cot which generally runs around $60-$80.  There are two variants of the Coleman, an 80″x30″ model which holds 300 lbs and is the one I use.  If you are shorter of stature, you might be able to get away with the 69″ x 25″ cot, which holds up to 275 lbs.  The links go to Amazon, because that’s the cheapest source I found.  If you plan to leave the third row seat in place and you have a split seat, measure the space after folding down the half of the seat you aren’t using.  The 30″ wide cot should work in most minvans.

    1. Step Three–Privacy.  Unless you are going to be someplace very secluded, you’ll probably want to put some privacy curtains and/or privacy panels in your minivan camper.  For $20 or so, you can make some curtains like these, to provide privacy in the back of the minivan.  You’ll also want something to cover the side windows of your van for privacy.  You can make some very inexpensive privacy panels with felt and Reflectix like I show here.

    1. Step Four–Power.  Having a way to recharge phones or run small appliances and lights is something that you’ll want for boondocking (camping without hook ups).  I have a lot of videos and how-tos for this subject, but I’ll list the core ones here.  If you don’t have a lot of money or limited skills, a battery jump pack will give you up to 400 Watts of power and it can be recharged when you have external power available.  Jump packs can also be converted to a “solar generator” like the Yeti Goal Zero, for a lot less than you’d pay for the Yeti.

    1. Step Five–Food and Water.  You know what you like, so I won’t tell you what to eat.  I use fresh fruit and carrots, along with foods you can make with hot water, like soup and oatmeal.  That lets me prepare meals while camping, using an immersion heater and I don’t need refrigeration.  For water storage in a van, you can make these 5-gallon tanks for $15.

    1. Step Six–Screens.  If you are van camping in anything other than cold weather, you’ll want all the ventilation you can get.  Scissors, a roll of screen, and magnets make for easy, custom minivan window screens.  You can see them in the photo at the top of this post, covering the front windows.

    1. Step Seven–Find a Free Campsite.  There are a LOT of free camping spots out there, especially if you are near BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land.  Don’t pay for an app because I’ve used a number of them and the best free app for finding camping spots is “RV Parks & Campgrounds, by ParkAdvisor.  It lists free and paid campgrounds and the app works as well as any of the others.  You get user reviews of each spot and can even find Walmarts that allow overnight parking.  It also comes in Android and Apple versions.

    1. Step Eight–Camping Discount Programs.  I try to boondock on public land whenever possible, but every so often I stay at a paid campground to get a hot shower, dump trash, and do the laundry.  I wrote a review of the discount camping programs I’ve used.  They can pay themselves back in a couple uses and are well worth the money if you will be living on the road for any length of time.

    1. Step Nine–Get out There!  Take a short trip to test out your set up.  Then, go see the National Parks, meet new people, and have a great time!  If you poke around this site, you’ll see articles about the places I go, like this article about visiting Mount Rushmore with kids.  I try to give tips and take photos you won’t see elsewhere, so you have a better idea of what to expect.

    1. Step Ten–Get My Updates.  If you’d like to get more DIY camper conversion tips and see where I go next, put your email in the box at the bottom of this page.  I won’t share your email, spam you, or do anything else but send you an email whenever I post something new!

See how it all comes together in this video.  I traveled through the Black Hills, Badlands National Park, the U.P. of Michigan, and other places with this van.  I’m now on my second minivan RV.

Thanks for reading!  For a complete list of my DIY minivan camper conversion projects, click on the menu item at the top.

–Odyssey Camper

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