When I first had the idea of taking this trip, I was only planning for a month or two on the road. So I didn’t want to invest in a big minivan project. My thought was to buy a cheap old used minivan, remove the seats, throw a foam mattress and cooler in the back and hit the road. Luckily, my dad allowed me to borrow his minivan and helped with the conversion project. This van had stowaway seats which were great except the flooring was uneven. Once the seats were stowed, there was a definite slope from the back of the van to the front seats, along with a few step downs and notches in the floor. The carpet had been ripped out by previous owners and left a pretty rough floor surface.
So our first project was to prepare the floor platform surface. We used a piece of 1/2 inch thick plywood as the floor panel, measuring 4 x 8 foot covering the entire van length from behind the front seats to the rear door. Then we placed 2 x 4 pieces of wood underneath the plywood running along the width of the floor panel to raise the front and center portions to make it more level with the rear of the van. These pieces were then screwed into the plywood panels. Next, we attached the cot frame to the floor, for better stability while driving, by using conduit clamps which fit perfectly over the bottom of the frame and then screwed into the floor. I chose a twin size folding cot with a camping pad made by Coleman as my bed. So I now have tons of space underneath for storage rather than having a mattress directly on the floor. The exposed half of the floor needed some carpet to make it a smoother surface, so I bought two runner style rugs with rubber backing and cut them to fit. The rubber backing holds them in place against the plywood to prevent sliding around.
The next big project was designing a table surface for cooking, eating, etc. I had considered the pull-out shelf design but opted for a bigger surface drop down table. Another piece of plywood, measuring 4 x 2 foot, was attached to the back of the floor panel with a single 4 foot long piano hinge and screws. The corners of the outer edges of the table were rounded to fit inside the rear van opening. When not in use, the table folds upright leaving space to close the rear door and not blocking the rear window view while driving. For extra stability when in use, removable PVC pipes are used as table legs. The legs are held in place by around 1/2″ rubber furniture leg tip that was screwed into the bottom of the table. The PVC pipe fits directly inside the rubber tip underneath the table, and the other end rests on the ground. This provides even support preventing the table from breaking with too much-suspended weight. (There’s a video that shows this table concept much better than my description).
The final project was deciding how to cover the windows. Curtains are always an easy option, but I wanted something to completely block the view from outside and to help with insulation. I read an article about someone using Reflectix in the windows and after some research chose this option. Reflectix is basically like bubble wrap with reflective lining on both sides. It’s great for keeping the heat out by reflecting sunlight and also holding heat in by preventing heat loss through the windows, and it’s thick enough people can’t see through the material. I’m amazed at how well it works. I can tell the difference from the temp outside, and it’s nice and dark in the morning, perfect for sleeping in. I don’t recommend this option if you’re claustrophobic because you really can’t see anything outside or any light except for whatever creeps through the small gaps. I cut individual pieces to fit the shape of each window. The corners can easily be stuffed into the edges of the window panel to hold them in place, so they fit perfectly with no attachment needed. On the rear window, I did use velcro command strips to attach the panel to the window. One 50sq foot roll of Reflectix was enough to cover all the windows and have a long piece to be used as a visor for the windshield. When they’re not being used, I roll them together and store them inside a pillow case. I took a scrap piece of Reflectix, added Velcro on the ends, and made a wraparound strip to hold all of the rolled up window coverings together (see photo below). My mom and grandma helped with this project.
Now that the building part was finished, it was time to pack everything up and organize the storage area underneath the cot. I have a double burner stove, a skillet, a pot, bowls, plate, cup, utensils, folding chair, cooler, a box filled with non-perishable food items, a box with kitchen items, a box with workout equipment, a box with all the other random things (tools, first aid kit, meds, batteries). My clothes are all stored in an XL plastic Ziploc under bed storage container. All of these items fit underneath the cot. I also have a 5-gallon water jug that I got from the Army surplus store. As for bedding, I got rid of the mattress pad that came with the cot and borrowed a memory foam bed topper from my mom. This worked better in the long run because the cot mattress was a slick surface and the sleeping bag kept sliding around while driving. (Remember I have a massive dog riding in the back on this bed, so one curve or use of the brakes and oops off in the floor he goes). So, on top of the mattress topper, I have a Coleman sleeping bag, a comforter, and a couple of blankets. So far I haven’t even needed to sleeping bag and only use the comforter at night. I was preparing for freezing nights which I luckily haven’t experienced yet. A lot of the items I’m using were either loaned or gifted to me by friends and family. I want to thank all my family and friends for the help and support on this trip. Without you guys, I wouldn’t be here now.
We’ve been living in the van about three weeks now, and so far it’s been great! Aside from occasionally having to pull everything out to find what you need and the challenge of cooking outside with crazy gusting winds, this tiny living situation isn’t so bad. Kuma is a bit of a bed hog though, but I wouldn’t trade these experiences on the road with him for anything in the world.