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  • Writer's pictureRandy Reek

FIVE Reasons Why a Minivan Is Perfect for Van Life: Part Three

Updated: Jul 14, 2021

Look at the ADVANTAGES of choosing a minivan for the “#vanlife”.

GoneCamper is creating a new trending hashtag: #MiniVanLife"! (Is the minivan camper the new “Vanagon”?)

There are many characteristics which make the generic minivan perfect for the “#vanlife”. So far, we have looked at FOUR of the Top Five Reasons Why a Minivan Is Perfect for Van Life:

1. Minivans are everywhere. Minivans are easy to find and cheap to buy.

2. Minivans are everywhere. Few vehicles are more “stealthy” and less threatening in any setting.

3. Minivans have a high load capacity, making them ideal as versatile camping vehicles.

4. Minivans are economical to own and operate.

Now we will spend some time discussing Reason Number 5: Minivans are very roomy.

Reason Number 5. For their size, minivans have the most room and, therefore, are the most versatile small vehicles. As noted previously, the basic floor plan of a minivan includes an open four-foot by eight-foot cargo area. This doesn’t sound like much, but a minivan is longer, wider, and taller than many alternatives. Many nomads are living – intentionally – in smaller vehicles, including compact sedans and SUV’s like the Prius, Honda Element and Kia Soul. By comparison, a minivan is spacious and accessible. In contrast, all minivans have a relatively unobstructed floor, larger side doors and rear hatch. Plus, the minivan is well-equipped with cup holders, 12-volt outlets, storage cubbies, and penty of windows for ventilation.

​It is an American shortcoming that we often automatically and reflexively look for the most elaborate solution to any problem. In terms of vans, many people believe the place to START is with an expensive, large, new van and then add a permanent, custom-built interior. Some people/couples literally sell their homes and put all their equity into a van. Others – mistakenly – take out loans to finance their new van and camper conversion. They have only traded the stress of being a homeowner with the new stress of being a houseless van owner – both with the same lack of savings and monthly expenses.

If you are tired of working at a fixed location to finance your house payments, DON’T make the mistake of overspending to enter the #vanlife. You will have most of the same expenses for daily necessities, but now you must scramble with temporary jobs and/or online freelance gigs to pay for the van and travel expenses. Your financial stress many actually be WORSE – unless you start out with an affordable vehicle.

The humble minivan gives you the most space for your dollar. Success as a vandweller requires the right mindset. Starting out small and cheap is a way of forced minimalism. A year later, you may be ready to upgrade to a larger van or RV. Or – you may have mastered #vanlife and can’t imagine buying and maintaining a larger vehicle.

Side note: many of the most satisfied and committed vandwellers have extensive camping experience. Compared to the comforts you can pack on your back (or haul on a bike or motorcycle), the creature comforts and accessories you can include in a minivan are substantial. BUT – the key to a successful van life is not replacing every household appliance with a smaller, 12-volt version. The “secret” is rejecting MOST of what others consider “necessities”.

To maximize your space, the first step is removing the third row of seats in the minivan. The third row of seats usually fold into the floor. Dodge and Chrysler minivans also have “Stow-N-Go” seats where the second row of seats also fold into deep storage wells. Other brands must unbolt or unlatch the middle seats to remove them, leaving tracks or mounting brackets behind.

The well that the third-row seats fold into provides about 15 to 20 cubic feet of storage. This space is ideal for a spare tire, deep-cycle battery, solar charge controller, and seldom used emergency tools. If you choose the Dodge Grand Caravan or Chrysler Pacifica, the storage wells for the second row seats will provide an additional 12 cubic feet of hidden storage space, which is ideal for storing seasonal clothes, spare propane bottles, and more.

Removing all the seats is a necessity to maximize storage capacity for the full-time minivan-dweller. Some minivan owners even remove the front passenger seat!

The majority of “vandwellers” are single travelers. There are a few exceptions of couples making lengthy journeys around the country or across the continents. But most people are drawn to the “van life” for the independence and freedom that it provides the solo nomad. This is doubly true for vandwellers who are also working remotely from their vehicles and need space for both possessions and work-related computers or tools and equipment.

Consequently, most full-time minivan dwellers save floor space by only having a single bed. GoneCamper now offers several single bed options for vandwelling. These beds can be combined with a “galley kitchen” that is accessible under the rear hatch. Or the kitchen and refrigerator/cooler can be housed in the rear storage well, with the bed sliding over it. Beds can be fixed length, or retractable to convert into a useful chair for relaxing or computer work. The raised bed provides tons of storage underneath. Here is a video of the single bed, paired with a kitchen under the rear hatch:

The single bed leaves open floor space for storage shelves, a dog bed, or your bike. You also have better access to the center storage bins in the floor. If you prefer, your kitchen can be relocated to the side door instead of the rear hatch. Custom designs can be fabricated. If you can dream it, I can build it!

If you have previously rejected a minivan as a possible vandwelling option because it was too small, consider one more alternative. We know that a minivan is easier and more economical to drive than any larger vehicle. As a vandweller, a minivan may be the perfect choice for your “bedroom”, “den”, and “office” on the road – especially in urban settings. Then you can add a tent to serve as your “kitchen”, “bathroom”, and “living room” when you need more room while boondocking.

GoneCamper minivan camper

Jason Odom, in his book “Vanabode”, reminds us that the primary function of the van is a warm, dry, safe place to sleep. He coined the term “vanabode” to best describe the people and process of “happily abiding in a four wheeled box-shaped vehicle providing transportation and housing.” He tallies the typical day of someone living in a house or apartment:

9 hours at work and lunch

2 hours commuting and running errands

8 hours sleeping

1 hour in the bathroom per day

20 hours total

This leaves 4 hours per day, on average, for “living” – meaning that the average person doesn’t “live” in a home or apartment. They might spend 4 hours watching TV, playing on the computer, or doing household chores. The actual number is less when you deduct appointments and outside activities. With luck, they spend zero hours at home on weekends.

Jason’s conclusion is that we “live” in a body. It’s your choice what your body is doing, when and where. “Van living” is not about spending 24 hours per day in a van but about all the external activities – the things that homeowners save their vacation time to do!

This is a helpful concept to internalize when considering the #vanlife. You need to carefully consider your priorities. What is most important? The minivan offers plenty of room for a very comfortable bed and an efficient digital office. If you start adding additional “rooms”, you will soon find yourself in an RV – or back in an apartment. It’s your choice, so no option is “wrong” – just don’t expect to live the life of a suburbanite in a van.

When we made our road trip to Alaska, we were amazed by the number of people traveling in HUGE motorhomes (many pulling tow-vehicles) and trucks with fifth-wheel campers. These people were taking a driving vacation to Alaska – NOT moving there. But they were taking a vacation in a rolling house, complete with forced-air heat and air conditioning, satellite TV, central vacuum systems. Most cannot stop for lunch without extending their slide-outs. Many, many had replacement tires after blowouts on the countless frost heaves on the highways.

Daily, none of these “campers” spent any more time in bed than we did in our GoneCamper minivan. They traveled slower, at a much greater cost per mile, were excluded from numerous destinations by the sheer size and length. Many had TEN times as much invested in their choice of travel vehicle. Keep this in mind when considering the right vehicle for you. Regardless of what you spend, we ALL have the same access to the most important free things in life, like sunrises, sunsets.

A pop-up tent or screen room can provide the floor space and headroom for cooking, a shower, toilet, lawn chairs, and other luxuries. Spacious tents are both inexpensive and easy to erect. A tent helps you avoid pesky bugs and crawling critters. A tent reserves your campsite if you drive the minivan into town. But the tent folds or rolls into a package that fits in the minivan easily or straps to the roof top rack when not needed.

This same strategy has also been used for decades by teardrop camper owners. (Remember, the GoneCamper floor plan is tailored after these tiny campers with a bed up front and a kitchen at the rear.) Using a tent gives you the added space you need, but at a much lower price in terms of purchase cost and operation cost than a bigger van or RV. Use it when you need it. Store it when you don’t and enjoy the drivability and economy of the minivan. The tent can also serve as a “guest room” for friends or family.

We have used two different tents in different camping settings. The first is a full size, stand-alone tent. This 10-foot by 10-foot tent has over seven feet of headroom. While some campers use pop-up canopies or screen tents, we use a Eureka tent with full walls, but with windows that nearly completely open the tent. The advantages are many. We have complete protection from nasty winds and driving rain. Since we never cook inside our minivan, there have been times when it was only possible to cook food and eat inside the tent in heavy rain or without being peppered with wind-blown sand on the beach. With all the windows and the door fully open we can use the tent as a shaded sunscreen out in the desert. We also use the enclosed tent for privacy when it serves as the toilet and shower tent if we are boondocking. (I cut the floor out of the tent, leaving a one-foot margin around the perimeter, then I overlap a cheap plastic tarp to complete the floor. This also allows us to position the tent over a picnic table.) Here is another article on our multi-purpose tent.

For better mobility, we enclose the rear of the GoneCamper minivan with a “TailVeil”. This is an enclosure that uses the rear hatch for support, then extends outward to complete a roomy screen tent. Not only is the TailVeil wonderful for fresh air and ventilation on hot nights in the van, but the screen tent is plenty roomy for cooking and relaxing at the campsite. One person can attach the TailVeil in less than five minutes.

Note: the TailVeil is available as an option from GoneCamper! The current price is $199.95 plus $19.00 shipping in the U.S. Contact GoneCamper for a PayPal invoice to order!

For extended road trips and “MiniVanLife” we recommend carrying BOTH a full-size stand-alone tent and the TailVeil. You may use one or the other, depending on the camping location. You won’t use either when “stealth” camping. But you might use both when you plan on staying in one remote location for a week or more and want the maximum space and comfort. Throw in a hammock and a few folding chairs and you are equipped for a restful outdoor lifestyle.

​We have discussed how a minivan can be a viable alternative to both larger vans, RV’s, and trailers. For the solo Vandweller, a minivan is the least expensive and most versatile option. Contact GoneCamper to discuss the many design options for your minivan. The minivan most completely defines our motto:

Traveling Efficiently, Camping Comfortably, Living Frugally

GoneCamper minivan camper
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