• Randy Reek

How To Camp In A Minivan - Part Five


More ideas to increase the versatility of your GoneCamper minivan camper

The first step in setting up a comfortable campsite for your GoneCamper minivan is finding a level parking spot. We like the bed to be level from side to side and front to back. With the short, narrow minivan this is usually easy. But sometimes the only parking spot is slanted, or one wheel may be too low. In this case, a helpful accessory is a set of RV leveling blocks. We use a set that has interlocking bumps that allow us to stack them and create a slight ramp. The set we bought includes 10 blocks, but we only carry six with us. The six blocks nest inside the provided case and store behind the center console of the van. We use these first to level the GoneCamper before the bed gets made.

Boondocking with a GoneCamper requires efficiency. You will carry enough propane and water to cook and clean for several days. Then you will need to refill and refuel. One-pound propane bottles are inexpensive and found wherever camping supplies are sold, including Walmart, sporting goods, and many convenience stores. If you have the space, you can carry a larger 5-pound (1.2 gallon) propane tank. Note that these small tanks are refillable and have the same hose connections as the more common 20-pound tanks – so you may need an adapter hose for your stove.

GoneCamper minivan camper

Your five-gallon water jug can be refilled anywhere there is running water. This includes public parks, convenience stores, truck stops, and fast food restaurants. All soda dispensers also have drinking water taps. Many food sections have sinks and faucets. You can also carry a hose with a “Water Bandit” faucet adapter and refill from the faucet in the restroom. As a last resort, PAY to refill your water jug at the drinking water vending machine found in Walmart and grocery stores. As a backup, get a plastic 4-gallon milk crate and four gallons of drinking water.

Boondocking with a GoneCamper also requires some practical camping skills. You won’t have a bathroom so you need to know (or learn) how to take care of “business” in the woods. There are too many toilet options to discuss here. Check out a few videos on YouTube. But the basic choices are dig a latrine, use a bucket, or find room to carry a porta-pottie. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. I have spent too many years in the forests of North America to even care about not having a bathroom – but you and my Wife may have another opinion...

Our compromise is to carry a folding toilet seat, scented trash bags, and a small bag of kitty litter from the Dollar Store. The trash bags go over the toilet seat. A handful of kitty litter is added to the bag after each use. When it is time to leave, the trash bag is sealed and placed inside a second bag. The trash is disposed when we find a dumpster – and this is not gross, polluting or illegal. Just ask anyone who has a baby and uses disposable diapers.

GoneCamper minivan camper

If we are far out in the boonies, our toilet has a scenic 360-degree panoramic view. If there is the slightest chance we might be seen by someone, I rig a tarp as a three-sided lean-to. Again, some woodcraft may be required here. I carry a lightweight nylon 10-foot by 10-foot tarp with about 5-feet of paracord attached to each corner, plus another 25-foot length of paracord. I tie one corner as high as I can reach to a tree – or use a collapsible tent pole to support this corner. I stake the lower opposite corner to the ground after pulling the tarp tight. Then I stake out the two sides in opposite directions to form wings out from the toilet. If the ground is too rocky, I tie the lower corners to heavy rocks or logs. By aiming the open side of the lean-to away from any neighbors, we can use the toilet in complete privacy.

GoneCamper minivan camper

The same lean-to can also be used for our portable shower. I have adapted a two-gallon pump sprayer into a camping shower. Just cut off the spray wand and splice in a kitchen sink spray nozzle and hose. (See also the numerous how-to videos on YouTube.) Pour in a pot of near boiling water and top off with cool water. Even better, paint the tank black and fill it half full of water, then set it in the sun during the day. Add just enough hot water to bring it up to shower temperature. Give the bottle about 20 pumps to pressurize. You will be amazed that you can wash and rinse with just two gallons of water.

For both the toilet and shower, you can also buy a pop-up enclosure. I have even seen these used in campgrounds where the restroom was a block or two away from the tent sites. These enclosures insure privacy for your porta-pottie. They also have a floor mat or mesh that allows water to drain if you want to use it as a shower room.

GoneCamper minivan camper

As far as lights, we both carry a flashlight. My wife has a small LED flashlight and I have an LED headlight. Batteries last for a year of camping. We also have an LED lantern that we can use to light up the table area if we need to cook after dark. The LED lantern is rechargeable during the day when we are driving. The bedroom is lit by the LED “Luminoodle” which is strung between the coat hooks on either side of the GoneCamper minivan. I installed an extra 12-volt plug with USB outlets in the rear of the Caravan and have no worries about drawing a few microvolts from the vehicle battery. But we have also used the Luminoodle for several days just by plugging it into a portable USB battery charger that also is a backup for our cell phones. Of course, the GoneCamper Dodge Caravan also has overhead dome lights, but we usually turn these off and prefer the softer light of the LED’s. We do not carry gas or propane lanterns because we don’t need the larger “yard lights” and we don’t want the hassles of carrying more stuff, spare fuel, mantles, etc.

GoneCamper minivan camper

Many people are intrigued by solar collectors. Frankly, for our short-term camping trips, they are just not worth the cost and the space they require. Obviously, this would be different if we were LIVING in our minivan for months on end. You will be surprised to find that many appliances are available in 12-volt versions – check out any truck stop. The only things we have that require 120-volts are our laptops. We can recharge the batteries while we drive with an inexpensive 12-volt inverter.

If you feel like you must run your electric accessories 24/7, then adding a solar system with battery storage is going to get complicated and expensive. You will need to consider adding a roof top rack for the solar panels, plus at least two large deep cycle batteries. These batteries won’t fit in your engine compartment, so you will need to give up interior storage. We can customize your GoneCamper bed to allow for more space underneath for battery storage. (You will also want the more expensive AGM sealed batteries to prevent outgassing.) This added bed height will subtract from your head room. The required solar power regulator and battery inverter can also be installed on a panel that fits under the bed. Wiring for additional twelve-volt power outlets can also be hidden under the bed platform.

Finally, you may find tent campsites that include water and electricity in the overnight fee. Some campgrounds have sites that are suitable for small trailers and/or tents and ALL have water spigots and outlets. If that is the case, get your money’s worth. (I wouldn’t bother carrying a water hose for this occasional possibility.) With access to power you can operate your laptop, charge all your devices and convert your 12-volt cooler to 120-volt AC overnight! To take advantage of this opportunity, carry a 25-foot extension cord, a small multi-outlet strip, and a 120-volt adapter for the 12-volt Coleman cooler. These items will take up little space in your miscellaneous tote.

I would also like to answer a question that is asked about “Tent-only” campsites and camp grounds: “What if the campground host asks why you don’t have a tent?” Just be honest, smile and say that you grew up and traded sleeping on the ground in a tent for a comfortable bed in the minivan. Everyone will understand! And if they insist that you must have a tent to use these campsites you can ask if a pop-up dining shelter qualifies. Or ask if a tent for the grand kids qualifies? (Just ask, no matter if you have kids or a tent.) Either question will probably be Yes, and at that point you can bet you will be ignored.

This list of equipment and optional camping “niceties” then results in another question: “Where do you store and carry this extra stuff?” There are only a few options. The first is to pull a tiny utility trailer, but we don’t like that option for the same reasons we aren’t towing a camping trailer to begin with.

Second, there are several sources that supply storage racks that attach to the rear receiver hitch on your minivan. If you don’t already have a two-inch receiver hitch, you can have one installed or easily bolt one in place yourself. These racks are great for bulky items like the porta-pottie, and especially anything that is waterproof or maybe wet like your dining shelter. Some baskets have optional enclosed containers, but you can also use sturdy totes. Just be sure to securely attach everything to the carrier because it will be below your rear-view sight and you will not know anything is missing until you stop miles down the road. Also remember that these racks extend back from the bumper and severely increase the chance of dragging as you drive through dips.

GoneCamper minivan camper

Third, and probably the best option is to add a car top carrier. Today several manufacturers supply streamlined, waterproof, and lockable enclosed carriers. We prefer the carriers that open to the side and not the rear of the van. You can also choose open basket carriers. Either design must attach to a roof rack. Most minivans already have light-duty roof racks that are attached to the roof with a few small screws. A better option is the Yakima or Thule roof racks that clamp onto the edges of the roof like a vise. Heavier roof racks can support a car top carrier and are also useful for transporting lumber, canoes, kayaks, and bikes.

GoneCamper minivan camper
GoneCamper minivan camper

Please look for us in campgrounds anywhere in North America! Ready to join us on the road? Ten contact us to schedule the design, construction, and delivery of your GoneCamper conversion.

“Traveling Efficiently, Camping Comfortably, Living Frugally”

GoneCamper minivan camper

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