The Minivan Camper
When we are not out cruising on our boat, this is how we land travel. By minivan. We wanted a reliable car with good gas mileage that also allows us to sleep in it on occasion and the Toyota Sienna fit that bill. Of course a bigger van or small RV would be a lot more comfortable but it wouldn’t get great gas mileage or easily fit in an average parking space. Sleeping incognito in a minivan is much easier than in an obvious camper van. It’s all about compromises.
Check out our posts from the road in the minivan. We have made several cross-country trips and one trip to Alaska and back in this minivan and are still happy with our choice. Check out our video about taking the minivan on the Alaska ferry! As of of March 2017, we have over 215,000 miles on our little camper van!
Download our Packing Checklist
Everything we might need to hit the road (or the sea or the air) is listed in our travel packing list. We pick and choose from the checklist depending on the adventure ahead. If you download our free, editable packing list we would love it if you subscribe to our blog or share a link to this page on social media as a thanks.
The best thing about this minivan camper conversion is that we have made no modifications to the minivan. We just remove the middle row of seats and, depending on the setup, the backseat. We can convert it back by simply removing the bed and putting the seats back in.
Depending on what we are heading out to do we have different types of beds and gear. We added carriers for our bikes and a cargo box for fishing and ski gear. When those are removed we can carry the SUP (standup paddle board).
Gear Intensive/Long Trips
If we need to carry a lot of gear (like we did on our trip up to Alaska to spend six months there) we store six Action Packers below a sheet of plywood. The minivan fits exactly one standard sheet of plywood (4’x8′ or 48 x 96 inches) though we trimmed it to give us a little more space between the bed and the front seats.
In front of the six Action Packers are three clear tubs. We each have one tub allotted to our clothes. The middle tub holds our laptops and other electronics. We also each get a gear hammock, which are great for the stuff we use all the time. This photo shows us using foam padding but we like this air mattress topped with one inch memory foam much better as it’s more comfortable and easier to pack away.
Long Camping Trips
Here is another way to set up the bed that we use when most of our stuff doesn’t have to come along but we’re heading out to go camping for a more than just a weekend. Mike built a platform for our bed and we use shallow tubs like drawers under the frame. With the back seats removed we are even able to fit the inflatable kayak and SUP under the bed.
Once the platform is in place and the seats are pushed all the way forward there is a good amount of space in front of the bed. I recently found a tub that just fits under the center console to hold all of our shoes.Sometimes you have to get something from way underneath the bed…We drove the minivan to Alaska and back with some of it traveled on the Alaska Marine Highway. Watch the video here.
The Alaska Highway (aka Al-Can Highway) can be hard on cars. We lost several hubcaps and had dirt and dead bugs beyond belief.
If we are just heading out for the weekend we use an air-mattress after lowering the back seats. We really like this brand because it holds up much better than the rubbery air mattresses. It needs to be around 57-60 inches in width. Somehow a cheap queen-sized air mattress (60″ width) from Target or Walmart is way too wide but the Lighspeed mattress at 60″ width fits great. The photo below shows a cheap air mattress. See how it’s raised up on the left? With two people laying down that bump starts to grow in the middle and you end up wedged on the outside!
I love my Ricardo toiletry bag. I have had it for over 12 years and it’s holding up great. Mike really likes his Sea to Summit toiletry bag. His is much smaller and super light-weight. A recent great find are these squeeze bottles for shampoo, lotion, etc. They are three ounces which is under carry-on size and just enough for about 2 weeks of use for me. They are easy to fill and clean, and have never leaked. They also stand up with the nozzle down so they are always ready to use. When we are on the boat they are nice and small to toss in a bag with a towel and head to the marina showers. Check out more of our favorite gear here!
Our Camp Kitchen
To keep our camp kitchen supplies organized I use wine bottle carriers (I also use these on the boat).These plates are great! They act as lids and keep our food warm while more is cooking. They can stand a ton of heat without melting and can double as a cutting board.