Travel in a GoneCamper
Camping In Comfort, Traveling Efficiently, Living Frugally
Why Choose the Dodge Caravan GoneCamper?
My Wife, Laurie, and I travel and camp in a Dodge Caravan “minivan” outfitted by GoneCamper. We would like to offer our experience and advice to others that are interested in efficient travel and comfortable camping.
While we like to travel, we are not RVers. We just can’t justify the purchase and ownership costs. And we don’t like to pay high prices for terrible rooms at shady motels. In fact, the areas we like to explore often don’t have motels nearby! Instead, we want to be nimble and efficient. So the GoneCamper is a real problem solver for us. We can travel comfortably while spending less, which means we can travel MORE and go FARTHER.
Here is why we feel that the GoneCamper (based on the Dodge Caravan and the 2106 and prior Chrysler Town & Country) makes an ideal traveling and camping vehicle:
1. We wanted a vehicle that was easy for both of us to drive. The Dodge Caravan is as easy to drive as any car; you don’t need special skills like many RV’s. It’s smaller than many SUV’s and full-size cars. Unlike motor homes, you can easily find parking spots on the street or parking ramps. You don’t need to worry about overhangs at gas stations or trees in campsites. And you don’t need to worry about high winds on the open road like boxy RV’s. Because of the standard size, we can drive through restaurants and take advantage of automatic car washes after trips down muddy or dusty roads. Since we take turns driving, we go farther and neither gets worn out.
2. We didn’t want another vehicle that would require storage. Parking an RV in our yard is not an option. You can spend over $100 per month for RV storage! The Caravan fits easily in our standard garage. Unlike a motor home that only gets used occasionally, the Caravan is our second vehicle. Saving over $1,000 per year in storage fees pays for a lot of travel! And the Caravan is not considered a commercial vehicle so any neighborhood zoning restrictions are also avoided.
3. We insisted on an economical vehicle. Our trips involve thousands of miles crossing the U.S. and Canada, even venturing to the limits of Alaska. You would go broke buying fuel for a big RV that gets less than 10 mpg! And if it is too expensive to drive it isn’t going to get used as often. This is especially true if you are considering any travel in Canada where gas costs double what it does in the U.S. The Caravan gets over 25 mpg – not an economy car but very good in comparison to larger vehicles. It even runs on E85 gas, if you choose. We also like not having to search for diesel pumps. Since it is a passenger vehicle the Caravan doesn’t require special insurance. In fact, it is actually cheaper to insure than many other vehicles we have owned due to the extremely good crash rating. Finally, the Caravan has been around for a long time and you will find Dodge dealers as well as independent service stations everywhere to help with maintenance or necessary repairs.
4. We wanted the maximum versatility. We drive the Caravan to the store, drive to church, go out to eat, or go to a ball game in the same vehicle.
We take the Caravan on day trips in addition to camping trips and this would not be feasible with a “mini” motor home – or a four-door pickup truck and truck camper, either. We can seat two or four people without removing the GoneCamper package because the second row of seats fold flat into the floor of the van. Yet in less than ten minutes we can remove the entire camping package and seat seven people by flipping up the third row of seats. If we need to carry more stuff, it is easy to add a car top carrier for bulky cargo or racks for mountain bikes, kayaks or a canoe.
5. The V6 engine can tow a small trailer so we can take a motorcycle or all-terrain vehicle or boat with us on trips if we desire. The trailer hitch receiver is also adaptable for rear bike racks or cargo carriers.
6.. But most importantly, we aren’t forced to tow a trailer to go camping. There are dozens of different camper trailer choices, but obviously all require a tow vehicle. The big trailers require a big, expensive truck. Even modest trailers require more than a small tow car (despite what the manufacture lists as the tow rating.) Towing a trailer often cuts the base fuel mileage in HALF and adds to drive train wear and tear. The Caravan is front-wheel drive, not four-wheel drive, but we can still go almost anywhere you can go with a pickup and a travel trailer. Towing a trailer is just not safe or fun in high winds on the plains or in the mountains. And towing a trailer is a disaster in summer road construction zones – some of which extend for over one hundred cumulative miles in Alaska and Canada! The trailer style we considered to be the closest match to our needs was the teardrop because, like our GoneCamper, teardrops are basically a bed and a rear galley. But unlike the dependable Caravan, most teardrops are constructed of soft pine 2x2’s and plywood and I worry about leaks and delamination on rough roads. Of course, there are “expedition” models, but we didn’t want to spend over $20,000 for a tin shell around a mattress. And, again, we didn’t want to buy a trailer only to license and insure it and then pay to store it somewhere else.
7. The GoneCamper Caravan is also economical to purchase. Our GoneCamper and Dodge Caravan – fully equipped – costs less than many camping trailers ALONE (or truck campers), not including the necessary tow vehicle. We bought our Caravan new and took advantage of incentives from the manufacturer as well as deep discounts and financing and service contract incentives from the dealer. You can also save thousands by purchasing a used Dodge Caravan or Chrysler Town & Country. Since their introduction, literally MILLIONS have been sold and you will have plenty to choose from anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. When we are done with our GoneCamper, we can remove the camping package and sell the passenger van in perfect condition. We could back up to a new Caravan and transfer the entire GoneCamper package in a few minutes. Our GoneCamper package will also fit in minivans from Honda, Kia, Nissan or Toyota that have a 4 x 8 cargo area – you just need to remove and store the seats.
Obviously, you may have different requirements. As a couple, Laurie and I can fit everything we need for a weekend or a trip lasting several months in our GoneCamper. If you can’t pack light, insist on satellite TV and an on-board shower - or have a family of six then the GoneCamper is probably not the right choice for you. (Although, many families use a small tent for the kiddies and reserve the comfy bed in the GoneCamper for Mom and Dad!)
The GoneCamper is right for us because we are primarily travelers. This means we camp as a part of the journey, as opposed to camping as the goal itself. The GoneCamper provides the bedroom after other activities during the day, like hiking or sightseeing.
This is not how most RV’s are used. Most owners never take their RV’s anywhere but a local campground, and some are permanently parked at “campsites”. Now we applaud anyone who gets out of town and enjoys the great outdoors. Yet many “campers” are actually small mobile homes complete with forced air conditioning, flat screen TV’s, and even electric “fireplaces”. And we are also not criticizing you “Snow Birds” who use your deluxe RV’s as a home away from home for the winter months.
But our camping destinations are not big resorts with swimming pools, cable TV, and electricity and water provided. These “campsites” can cost as much as $75.00 or more per night! We like National Forest campgrounds with 20 or fewer sites. Here we don’t get many amenities, but we enjoy the peace and quiet and pay only $10 or $20 dollars per night for a fire ring, picnic table and outhouse.
We sometimes will pay more to camp at a small private campground or state park to take advantage of shower and laundry facilities, or plug into 120-volt power to charge batteries and access the Internet. (Of course, Internet access is available at many restaurants and coffee shops for free. You can also use your phone as a mobile “hot spot”.)
Most often we will be sightseeing until later in the day and then just find a quiet spot out of sight of the road to camp for the night in the forest or desert. Our GoneCamper is very “stealthy”. Minivans are so generic that they are practically invisible when parked in residential areas, recreation areas or commercial lots. It takes only a few minutes to get set up for the night, and only a few minutes to break down the bed and drive away in the morning. If we want to or need to we can even camp right on the street or in safe public spaces like large rest areas, truck stops or Walmart parking lots. But often we choose to camp in the middle of nowhere, “boondocking” to take advantage of the beauty and privacy found only far away from the crowds.
In summary, we find that the GoneCamper suits us perfectly. We love to travel. We can drive almost anywhere economically. We can then choose from a wide range of camping options. Our GoneCamper has all the creature comforts we require, but no room to weigh us down with extra junk that we don’t need and would rarely use. If this sounds like you, too – read on!
Side note: we consider the GoneCamper to be the perfect solution for OUR traveling and camping needs. We designed the GoneCamper specifically for the Dodge Caravan after also considering smaller and larger options. We ruled out the smaller Dodge Promaster City and Ford Transit mini – minivans because they were TOO small. At best, you can only squeeze in a twin-size bed in these tiny vans. Plus, the 4-cylinder engine just didn’t have enough power to haul or tow what we needed as well as travel over the mountains.
These tiny vans were designed for tradesmen and deliveries, with passengers being considered as an afterthought. The van is an empty box with two front seats. The base vans have no inner walls, rear seats or operable rear windows. If you can find a work van upgraded to a passenger model you will spend as much as a Dodge Caravan. But the second row of seats must be unbolted from the floor and stored somewhere and there is no option for a third row of seats. We really prefer the rear hatch of the Caravan to the doors of the box vans. This rear hatch creates an awning in the rain and even has a light.
All three windows on each side of the Caravan open for ventilation. Plus, the Dodge Caravan has standard front and rear air conditioning and heat, a full headliner with lights, side panels with storage areas and cup holders as well as carpeting from front to rear. Finally, used versions of the tiny tradesman/delivery vans have usually seen rough service and may have sketchy service records. In contrast, there are thousands of used Caravans that have been lightly used as the second vehicles for families and often have very low miles. You may also find used Caravans less than one year old that have less than 15,000 miles that have been used as rentals and are for sale at a huge discount over new.
Similarly, we never really considered the larger Ford or Dodge commercial vans. Sometimes I (Randy) travel alone and anything larger than the GoneCamper is really overkill. In the GoneCamper I still have plenty of room for hunting or shooting gear, for example. But the main reason is that we really didn’t need more space and didn’t want to spend twice the price – or more – to outfit a bigger van. Indeed, some RV companies are now producing fully-equipped “Class B” camper vans that cost from $100,000 to over $250,000! Plus, the bigger commercial vans aren’t good as daily drivers, are too tall to fit in our garage and cost way more to operate, insure and store. Still. If you are planning to LIVE in your van, they may be a viable option for you.
Outfitting the GoneCamper
So where do you start to equip a Dodge Caravan for camping? All we needed was a comfortable bed and a rear galley. Minivans are perfect because you have a blank “canvas” to work with. Most minivans now have a rear floor area sized to accommodate 4’ x 8’ sheets of plywood. This is your maximum dimension. (The actual inside width of the van is just over five-feet above the rear wheel wells.) If you want a full-size bed that is just over 6-feet long, you have about 16-inches of space remaining for the rear kitchen galley.
I have seen many variations of minivans set-up for camping. The range of home-built campers includes everything from camping mattresses on the floor to stacks of milk crates to 2 x 4’s bolted to the side walls. Truthfully, these attempts were frugal but lacked design quality and construction expertise, plus they failed to take advantage of the versatility of the Dodge Caravan.
So the GoneCamper was born! Necessity being the “Mother of invention”, I relied on my years of design and woodworking experience to build the GoneCamper.
The rear galley I designed and built is 48-inches wide and 18-inches high. The rear is angled slightly to allow for the slope of the rear hatch. The right lower compartment is sized to fit a 12-volt Coleman cooler, but standard ice-chest coolers can also be substituted. (This 12-volt cooler will hold ice, but also plugs into the rear 12-volt plug near the left passenger door to operate the internal cooling fan. This outlet is only operable when the vehicle is running so it cannot drain the battery.) The left side of the galley is divided into two deep drawers that hold all the cooking utensils, pots, coffee pot, spare butane canisters, and dry goods.
The galley and the bed platform are constructed of high-grade birch solid core plywood. All edges are routed, sanded smooth, stained and varnished. The best possible components and joinery methods are utilized. The GoneCamper will last a lifetime and will become a family keepsake.
The top of the rear galley has a tray that is divided into two compartments. The left side holds a 5-gallon camping water container. Five gallons is enough for several days of camping! The right side holds our camp stove. We chose a 2-burner model that operates on propane. (We have also used butane but found that it doesn't work well close to freezing temperatures. We also had trouble finding butane canisters in Canada.) Propane is as easy as turning a knob to light and control – just like your home cook top. The small propane canisters are sold everywhere camping supplies are found. Our stove can also operate on larger propane bottles if we are camping for longer times.
The total GoneCamper rear galley package doesn’t block the rear-view mirror. The cooler is protected from the sun. Everything is instantly accessible for a picnic lunch at noon as well as breakfast and supper at the campsite.
Note: as you can see in the photo, I chose to keep the stove in the plastic carrying case. You could just place the bare stove in the top tray and even cook with it there. Obviously, I must take the stove out of the storage case before cooking, but that’s OK because I prefer to place the stove on the picnic table or the small folding table that we carry so to not add any food odors or moisture to our sleeping area. Plus, when the stove is packed up and the case is closed, the flat top provides a “night stand” for the bed area. PLEASE use extreme caution if you choose to do any cooking with the stove in the rear compartment and I NEVER recommend cooking with the doors closed!!!
The GoneCamper sleeping area is divided into two sections. The rear section of the bed platform extends to the back of the second row of seats, bucket seats in our case. This rear platform is about 3-feet deep and holds the folding mattress. The flat platform is raised about 8-inches and provides storage underneath for two camping chairs, a folding table, a folding toilet, and a tool box for the road.
This is an exclusive feature of the GoneCamper design. Combined with the Stow-N-Go seats that are standard in the Dodge Caravan, you have the flexibility to carry two, three, or four people without removing the camping package!
To make the bed you first slide the front seats forward. Then you attach the three legs that support the front sections of the bed platform. Each leg attaches to the fixed rear section with a simple steel pin.
The platform is completed by laying the two front bed sections over the frame legs.
Then the mattress folds forward. We use conventional full-size sheets, mattress pad and blankets to make the bed, but sleeping bags would also work just as well.
The front bed platform is raised eight inches for storage underneath. We have found this to be the optimal dimension, allowing for storage without compromising headroom above the bed. There is room for four storage totes that measure about 25” x 18” each. We each use one tote for clothes, and one for extras like shoes, rain gear, toiletries and other gear like cameras. (Obviously, we pack only what we need and we plan to do laundry every 4 – 5 days.)
We each have a personal bag with a laptop or tablet and reading materials. We place these bags and our clothes for the next day on the front seats. We also each have a small “astro turf” door mat for the two sliding side doors. We knock off the trail dust, kick off our shoes and tuck them under the bed. There is just enough room to untie your shoes alongside the bed frame with the sliding side doors closed. In the morning, we get dressed, slip on our shoes, and then slide open the side doors.
When the two of us are travelling in our GoneCamper, we leave the second row of seats stored in the floor compartments. We “unmake” the bed by folding the mattress back into the rear section, then slipping the front sections of the bed platform under it. The three front bed legs detach and store under the rear platform. The totes simply stack on the carpeted floor. The break-down process takes less than 5 minutes with us working together from the two open side doors – WAY less time than packing a tent, sleeping bags and foam pads. Been there, done that and not doing it anymore!
The mattress that is included with the GoneCamper bed folds into thirds. For traveling we stack all three layers flat on the rear platform with the front bed platform sections underneath. But this folding mattress also gives us the option to make the rear bed section into a couch – another exclusive design feature of the GoneCamper.
Just stand two mattress sections vertically against the rear galley and sit on the flat third section. You now have a spacious “living room”. We can place our folding table (available separately) in front of the couch and enjoy a nice picnic lunch or wile away the evening before bed time if it is raining outside.
The Caravan has two dome lights that we can use if needed for setting up in the dark. After we get settled we prefer to turn off the dome lights so that we aren’t blinded if one of us gets up during the night and opens the door. Most of the time we use a “Luminoodle” which is a long strip of LED’s enclosed in a flat tube. The Luminoodle is stretched between the two clothes hanging loops at the sides of the van. We can plug this into a portable USB battery that lasts for days and can be recharged while we drive. The LED’s provide a softer, more indirect light to the van interior.
For privacy, we cover all the windows in the GoneCamper. We use a windshield cover (available separately) cut exactly to the dimensions of the large glass of the Caravan.
The six side windows and the rear hatch window are covered with lightweight panels cut from Reflectix, which is two layers of reflective foil over a center layer of insulating bubble wrap. The GoneCamper package includes seven panels that are cut to fit each window and labeled accordingly. The panels simply press into place and are held only by tension against the window frames. There is no alteration of the windows and no other hardware attached.
I have installed exterior window shades on the front and center windows of the Caravan. With the dark tinted exterior shades, we can open the windows a few inches and yet prevent rain from entering. The dark vents also keep light from escaping from inside the van. I recommend the AVS brand and specifically the external mount versions (available separately.) I have used these on several vehicles and been very satisfied.
With the four windows cracked open, we can regulate the interior temperature by raising or lowering hinged flaps along the top two inches of the Reflectix side panels. We can start with the flaps fully open and then close them during the night as the temperature drops, all without touching the window controls.
Finally, when we leave bug-free Arizona for the wilds of Alaska we also carry four pieces of nylon window screen. This screen has a cloth taped edge which presses into the glass channel along the upper window frame. The screen hangs down inside the open windows and is sandwiched in place by the Reflectix panels inside. The ventilation opening is covered by the screen and pesky mosquitoes are denied access to the GoneCamper bedroom! The screens for the center windows are full-length and we can tuck the edges around the door frame if we need maximum ventilation by removing the solid Reflectix panels. The screens do not block all interior light so we save this option for the side of the vehicle facing away from any campground neighbors. These screens are available as an extra cost option from GoneCamper.
Finally, we also have a tiny USB fan (available separately) that provides air movement for still, humid nights.
Basically, we don’t camp in extreme temperatures. I do have a small 120-volt ceramic heater that I can use in cold weather – but I would need to be in a campground with electricity. I could also break out my winter camping sleeping bag. But, for the most part, we have out-grown winter camping (I used to race sled dogs!) and have nothing to prove. Since we need to do laundry every few days anyway, extreme weather or severe storms give us an excuse to find a motel for a night.
Other Van Modifications to the GoneCamper
The Caravan is equipped with tons of cup holders. So many, in fact that we can sacrifice one in the dash for a multi-outlet 12-volt charger. This unit is designed to fit in the cup holder and has two 12-volt lighter outlets and two USB outlets. Below the cup holder along the floor is a 12-volt outlet that is always “hot” and we plug the multi-charger in here. This means we can plug our GPS and cell phones into the cup holder outlets and the charging or GPS operation isn’t interrupted every time we turn off the van. These items draw too little amperage to drain the battery when the vehicle is not running.
The only other accessory that I added to the Caravan is an indoor-outdoor thermometer. I don’t know why our van didn’t include one, but we missed not having this information. Rather than using a cheap auto version, I bought a nice Taylor residential model with a wired remote temperature probe. Then I used a magnetic cell phone holder to attach it to the dash near the driver’s side windshield column. I ran the external probe wire under the door weather stripping and into the engine compartment where I placed the probe and excess wire in the insulated blanket that surrounds the vehicle battery. The indoor temperature isn’t always accurate on the hot dash, but it works sufficiently to check the outside temperature when we get up in the morning.
There is one oddity that I discovered when shopping for our Dodge Caravan: the spare tire is optional! Today most people don’t know how to change a tire and since many minivan drivers are women it is best to just call for roadside assistance if you ever have a flat. In reality, many people will never have a flat tire if they don’t leave the city. But I still want a spare tire for insurance when I am traveling because I PLAN to be out of cell phone range A LOT!
Chrysler has engineered the spare tire holder under the van, directly below the center console. The temporary spare tire and wheel is suspended by a cable, like the spare tire carrier on pickups and SUV’s. It must be lowered to the ground and then retrieved from under the vehicle. It’s not the easiest to access, but I still prefer having the temporary spare to traveling without one.
My advice is to look under your Caravan to confirm that you have a spare tire. If not, you may be able to have the dealer install one or pick up the parts from a salvage yard.
Potential “Van Living” Modification to Your GoneCamper
I would like to add one more option if you plan to use your Dodge Caravan exclusively as a camper. As mentioned at the beginning of this story, we chose the Caravan for the host of the GoneCamper specifically because of the Stow-N-Go seating that is exclusive to this brand. Both the second and third row seats fold flat into the floor. The result is a relatively flat 4-foot by 8-foot cargo area. The seats fold into wells that are molded into the steel frame and floor of the van.
One of the advantages of the Caravan as a passenger vehicle is that these floor storage wells provide tons of space for miscellaneous stuff. You can imagine filling this space with camping gear – UNTIL you fold the seats and the space is completely consumed by the seats.
Now we use our GoneCamper as BOTH a camper and a passenger vehicle. But if you will only be using your Caravan as a camper, then I suggest you remove the passenger seats entirely! You will gain an incredible amount of below the floor storage. I only recommend removing these seats once because you are going to have to unbolt them from the floor and mounting brackets. It is going to be a painful job to do this repeatedly. But if you don’t need the passenger seats, get rid of them. In fact, you may even want to sell them on Craig’s List so you don’t have to store them!
The front storage compartments (that is, where the second-row seats would store when folded forward) are covered by folding lids. These will be accessible only when the front sections of the bed are in the stored mode. Removing these fronts seats is a great option. Remember, you still have the 3-passenger rear seats as well as the rear bed platform that can be used as a couch.
The third-row seats fold backward into the rear storage well and the seat backs form the van floor. When you remove these seats, you will have a deep storage area the full width of the van. But you will also not have a floor to support the rear galley. If you chose this option, you will need to add a floor (that is, a lid) over this compartment. I have designed a floor section with two hatches to access the lower compartment. Unfortunately, you will need to remove the rear galley to uncover the hatches to access whatever you have stored in the rear lower compartment. This is an obvious hassle, but if you only store emergency supplies here, including your spare tire and tools, it isn’t hard to lift out the rear galley when needed.
Additional Tips for Your GoneCamper Experience
I have included a check list of what we take with us when enjoying our GoneCamper. Please use this as a starting point and customize to fit your needs. A few comments follow:
The folding table and chairs are the smallest we could find that are still functional and comfortable. We can use the table inside or outside, although most campsites provide a picnic table. The table and chairs store under the rear bed platform. They can be reached from the front when the bed is stored, or from the back through a small opening behind the cooler.
The toilet is simply a sturdy folding frame and a toilet seat. You place a garbage bag over the seat when needed. We don’t use this unless we are boondocking and there is no outhouse available. We also carry a small bag of cat litter (from the dollar store) and add a handful to the garbage bag with each use. After use, we double bag the “cargo” and dispose in the first dumpster we pass. Also, if boondocking within sight of anyone, we rig a small tarp as a privacy enclosure. But you can also purchase a pop-up toilet and shower enclosure if desired.
Our three cooking pots are nesting aluminum with a non-stick coating. Constant travel wears this coating so I place a small square of rubberized shelf liner between the pots for storage.
The coffee pot we use is a steel camping model. We discard the percolator basket and just use it to boil water for instant coffee and to heat water for cooking, washing dishes and ourselves!
You can build a fine camping shower by adapting a two-gallon pump sprayer commonly used for weed killer or insecticide. When you buy your sprayer also purchase a standard kitchen spray nozzle and hose. While at the hardware store, buy a ¼ ID barb to ¼ MPT adapter. Then cut off the spray wand, insert the hose barb, and screw on the hose and hand nozzle.
Fill the bottle half full with cold water and add a full coffee pot of hot water. Pump the bottle to pressurize. You will be amazed that you can shower and rinse with less than two gallons of water! You can use the tarp toilet enclosure and Astro turf door mats for a quality shower experience in the boonies.
Some people are concerned about predators – four-legged and two-legged – when camping in remote areas. Rest assured that your GoneCamper is way more secure than any tent or pop-up camper. When we travel, each of us carries one of the vehicle keys so we can never get locked out accidentally. We don’t usually bother locking the doors at night since we are used to sleeping totally unprotected in tents. But the locks can be set before you go to sleep, or with the press of a button any time during the night. Plus, if you feel threatened, you can also press the alarm button on the key fob to trigger the loud car alarm, which should scare off most nuisances.
If you want more defensive protection, I recommend also carrying a canister of Guard Alaska Bear Spray. This powerful pepper spray will deter a bear in your campsite, and will also disable a two-legged intruder. Just be careful to be upwind when you release the spray or YOU will be disabled as well! Note: pepper spray may be prohibited in some localities. Bear spray IS permitted by Canadian customs so you don’t need to declare it as a weapon at the border – so don’t!
We hope you agree that the GoneCamper provides the best combination of traveling efficiency, camping comfort and economical access to the great outdoors! We invite your comments and suggestions. We also invite you to send pictures and videos of your camping and travel experiences with your GoneCamper.
Each GoneCamper is built one at a time with the highest attention to detail. Please contact us for a current price quote. While we have fine-tuned the design, we can also incorporate special features to your specific order. Contact us for more information and for a price quote on any alterations or additional options. Please use the Contact Us form at GoneCamper.com or email us at GoneCamper@gmail.com
Thanks! We will see you on the road or at an awesome campsite!