The time has come for an important decision to be made: What will our next travel vehicle be? After years of mulling over all the possibilities and debating the pros and cons, we came to an agreement.
We are converting a minivan to a campervan!
We are proud new owners of a 2017 Chrysler Pacifica. The conversion process has begun and we will keep you updated as we go along.
It’s no secret we love a good adventure especially when it includes a road trip. We have tent camped, truck camped, and last year we borrowed a pop up camper for the summer. All the while, talking through the positives and negatives of each, knowing at some point we will be choosing our next fun on wheels.
All of these experiences have led us to our final decision to convert a minivan for our next travel vehicle and here’s why.
SEE BELOW FOR VIDEO TOURS OF WHAT WE’VE DONE SO FAR!
Benefits of a Campervan
Size and Maneuverability
Compared to a motorhome or detachable trailer, a van is a breeze to drive and is much smaller. We realized last year while towing the pop up, we felt limited getting to and from places. If we see something off the highway that sounds interesting, we like to hop off and explore. Off-the-beaten-path roads are not necessarily suitable for large recreational vehicles. It is much easier to pull over at a roadside attraction or place of interest in a minivan.
Parking is also an issue. Searching for a spot for long vehicles is aggravating and time-consuming. The height is a limiting factor as well, but the minivan will fit in most underground parking garages including our garage at home.
Another great benefit of the van being easy to maneuver is that both of us feel comfortable driving which will come in handy on long road trips.
Everyday Use as a Second Vehicle
We are not choosing to sell our home (or at least not yet) and live in the van full-time. We will use it as an everyday vehicle and for our travels. Therefore, we are not gutting it to convert it to a camper; everything we add will be easy to remove making it a perfect second vehicle for us.
The upfront cost of a minivan is cheaper than an already customized Class B motorhome camper van. We chose to buy a brand new minivan which is the more expensive option than a used vehicle, but we wanted to start out with a warranty and defer any maintenance issues for as long as we could.
Maintenance costs can vary depending on the type of vehicle. Unlike a motorhome or specialty vehicle, a minivan can be worked on at any repair shop with costs significantly lower.
Fuel efficiency is an important factor to consider when purchasing a travel vehicle. Gas prices fluctuate; just because one year prices are low, doesn’t mean it will stay that way in the future. The Chrysler Pacifica gets 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 miles per gallon on the highway.
Let’s take our summer road trip last year as an example comparing it with a few other vehicle types. We drove 11,000 miles – almost all highway miles – at an average gas cost of $2.50 per gallon.
- Tow Vehicle with Trailer at 10 mpg = Fuel Cost $2,750
- Class C Motorhome at 15 mpg = Fuel Cost $1,833
- Pacifica at 25 mpg = Fuel Cost $1,100
- Chevrolet Cruze at 30 mpg = Fuel Cost $917
These are a few examples, but there are many variables and options that can affect fuel cost. We decided a mix of a slightly bigger vehicle that we can sleep in comfortably plus savings on gas is a advantageous combination.
Stealthiness and Lower Camping Costs
With an inconspicuous campervan, parking overnight for free undetected is possible almost anywhere. There are a few places that welcome overnight guests such as Wal-Mart, casinos, and rest stops, but with a van we won’t have to plan accordingly.
And when staying at campgrounds, there’s no need for electric or water so we will save costs with only needing a tent site.
Hassle Free Set Up
How nice does it sound after a long day of driving to just pull in and not have to set up. With a campervan there is virtually nothing to do. It doesn’t matter if it is nighttime or raining. There are no annoying tent poles or leveling necessary. Just pull in, roll out the mattress and relax.
Related Post: Find the Perfect Mattress for Van Camping
Security and Comfort
We’ve all seen idyllic pictures of the perfect camping moment. Don’t get me wrong, the picture below looks dreamy, but it is not reality all the time.
I will argue that tent camping is the best way to feel one with nature, but because of that it brings different issues to the table.
Theft is a major concern while traveling, but in a stealth camper such as a minivan it helps to blend in to normal traffic and vehicles. Having run-ins with wildlife is less of a concern as well-being protected by a hard outer shell.
Weather can also be a gloomy part of travel. Have you ever tried to take down a pop up or tent in the pouring rain with mud everywhere? Wind and rain are not really a complication in a campervan.
Negative Aspects of a Campervan
We have taken into consideration the negative aspects as well. We will rely on campgrounds and alternative means, but the biggest negative to me is the lack of running water, shower or bathroom. Since the interior is not particularly high, there is no standing tall in the van which might feel cramped at times.
Read here to find out more about our DIY outdoor shower and toilet combo solution.
We also realize it limits where we can travel to since we can’t drive to every continent. For the next few years, we plan to take the van on many short trips and at least one major road trip a year in the United States. On any other future trips we will fly to our destination.
We’ve weighed it all out and decided the benefits outweigh the negatives so here we are in the middle of converting our minivan to a campervan!
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What’s the right adventure vehicle for you? Would you ever travel in a campervan?
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Thanks for giving such a detailed and well written post on the merits of van camping. You make some very good observations, including both the pros and cons.
The lack of running water, shower and bathroom are what always hold me back. But I’m very curious to see how it turns out and I’ll be following this project!
Those were my concerns as well, but for the most part we will be camping close to those at either a campground, rest stop or casino. And when we are not, we are going to utilize a portable toilet and shower. We shall see!
The hubs has been working on an old Ford van that we are going to take out camping. Looking forward to when we can take it out on the road. I look forward to reading more about the Pacifica.
Christine | The Traveloguer
This is so cool, I can’t wait to see what it’s like once it’s been converted into a campervan! I like that you can revert it back to a normal car if you want too.
Very cool project! One massive plus is the complete freedom that you have to go where you want and not relying on public transport
I traveled during one month on a campervan like this one (well, fully equipped and ready to use) and I felt the “cramped thing” a lot. However the shower or running water was never an issue for me because I always used camp sites. The main pro for me was that even if I drive once every 5 years, taking a campervan was not an issue for me (I am not sure I could say the same with a motor home). Only two years left to my next drive, now!
Just at the right time . I am having the same dilemma. A camper van really gives you the freedom to travel and stopover where you like to. Saves on hotel bills and can easily be parked up in towns and cities. Look forward to your updates.
Can’t wait to see the finished design!! How exciting!
Thanks Christy! Hopefully we will be done by September when we leave for our next road trip.
I agree the benefits of a camper van are wonderful. I like that you picked a smallish vehicle that can still take you just about anywhere. I am excited to see your end design.
Sandy N Vyjay
The Campervan looks like a great way to move around. I like the fact that its maneuverability is good. I am sure it will take you to places and on roads that have not been trod before. Would love to explore the campervan life.
I had actually never thought to travel like this until I met some friends doing it recently. Now, I think I would like to try it. I would have loved to have done this during my time in Iceland.
So glad to have found this sight. Just in the process of pricing a Chrysler Pacifica for the exact same reason. Had a GMC Savana in the past that I did the same thing with. I know the Pacifica will be a little smaller inside than the GMC but I’m hoping it’s not too cramped for me as a single camper. I used and still have a cot with a regular RV premium single mattress attached to a piece of 4’x7′ plywood.Boxes with camping gear fit under the cot and I utilized a Thetford Curve portable toilet. I am familiar with the Tri fold mattress’ you are using. We use them for guests at home. Very comfortable.
Another nice feature of using a mini van, easier to sell or trade in on another vehicle in the future. RV’s not always so easy to sell.
Looking forward to your progress.
I’m glad you found us too! You should follow us on Facebook because in the next few days we are leaving for our first road trip in the van. We are off on a 2.5 month trip starting with Route 66. We will be shooting a video to show off what we’ve done so far. I haven’t had a chance to write up a post yet on all the progress. It’ll have to wait till we get back but we’ve installed a microwave, shelving unit for clothes and a fridge. We did buy a portable toilet as well, a Luggable Loo.
Awesome. Will definitely be following you on Facebook. Looking forward to seeing your additions to the van.
We have come full circle to van camping, after detours to thinking about trailers (costly and hard to tow) and actually doing tent camping (once the mattress is set up there’s no room to get around in the tent!) and we’re now ready to go back to the idea of a no-platform bed in the back of the Toyota Sienna. We slept in it last year to avoid a rainy night in the tent, and it just makes more sense to me right now. The one thing that we need is a portable air conditioner (vent the exhaust heat through a window). Camping in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee can get downright miserable.
Any thoughts on that point? Or do you just go north?
Thanks for the tips and the ideas.
Hi Phil! We can either run the van in idle for AC if it’s too hot, but we just plan to avoid the heat. We also own a standalone ac unit that could be used, but it is large and we didn’t find a good way to vent it properly without having a window open so we don’t plan on using it. For instance, we are hitting the road this fall for a few months but will be heading to the east coast so it will be cooler then again in the spring.
Interesting. I have never seen any site which is providing these amazing piece of information like this. I really like this post because it’s completely giving whole the necessary info which anyone would like to see. so Thanks for giving me chance to get new and great info about campervans…
Hello! I appreciate your adventure details. I’ve been hoping to see other folks hack the Pacifica into a MiniCamper.
I too have a Pacifica, and feel its a perfect roadtrip vehicle. I usually hover around 28-30mpg…I love it. I took all the seating out except the front. It probably shaved 200lbs off the weight, …suckers are heavy! So much storage now, and the two tub like bins in the middle (where the seat would be) provide several purposes-storage/desk or eating areas(feet inside bins while sitting on mattress) and also can be a wash area if no shower is close. The rear I didn’t get to technical found a sweet camping table that fits and can come out easy. For the mattress, I went with a trifold foam-comfy…Safe travels!
Hi Timothy! Those suckers are heavy! LOL We took out the third row but kept in the second row for passengers since we use it as a ‘regular’ vehicle when we are not traveling. Sounds like you figured out a great setup for yourself. We love the Pacifica too; the space and gas mileage is awesome. We will be hitting the road again next week for a two month trip out east so excited to get back out there. Thanks for reaching out!
How difficult was it to remove that 3rd row? Just purchased a 2018 Pacifica Hybrid and considering building out a modular camper rig to go inside it.
It was really easy. From what he remembers, Dave said the chair is only held in with a couple of bolts. Let us know how it turns out!
Love your set up but here is my question which is particular to us: How long is the space in the Pacifica for the mattress? My husband is 6’3” tall so length is crucial for us – even if kitchen has to be somehow different…
With the cabinet, it’s only 6’3″ in the area but you could use the room on either side (cause our cabinet is a big T) for feet instead of stuff. The mattress we purchased is 75 inches so 6″3′ in length.
So glad I stumbled upon your videos on YouTube. Coincidentally, we just purchased a Pacifica LX a few months ago. It is even the same color as yours. We had briefly toyed with the idea of getting a camper trailer about a year ago, but ultimately dismissed the idea due to the expense and hassles involved. This opens whole new horizons for us. It had occurred to me that the Pacifica could be outfitted similarly to a small teardrop trailer, but I didn’t know that this was an actual thing that people were doing. You’ve given us encouragement and a wealth of tested ideas and equipment. One thing I’m wondering, did you ever consider a roof box for extra storage. If you rejected the idea I’d be interested knowing why. The basic OEM rack is a bit pricey, but I understand they are easy to install. We just retired so have time to travel. Wondering how you younger folk manage to travel six months of the year?
Hi Michael. Congrats on your retirement and snazzy new Pacifica purchase! I’m thrilled to hear you found our video online and are thinking of doing something similar. We did consider the roof box but we decided against it for a few reasons: (1)The van we bought did not come with a roof rack so we would have had to pay extra for it (2) We figured it wouldn’t be great for gas mileage and (3) we were concerned with it limiting us as far as parking in garages at home and on the road.
And as far as the travel goes, we work, work, work then travel, travel, travel. Luckily, Dave has contract-type job that allows him to work part-time and I have the website.
Your posts were an inspiration for us, having deliberated for quite some time over acquiring a small class “B” campervan. Price and practicality – all of which you have discussed so thoroughly – thankfully brought us back to our senses, and we just purchased a practically new Grand Caravan which we will be converting to a camper that, like yours, can be switched back to a daily use vehicle quickly. We are not nomads or van-lifers, but at 60, realized how attractive tenting ISN’T anymore, lol. I am in no way handy, so we ordered a pre-fab kit, basically wooden frame to accommodate a queen-size bed and storage and will then fancy it up from there in the Spring. Our primary focus is off-grid camping so the most “juice” we will carry is a lithium power tank to run and recharge phones, etc., and some batteries. Add a good cooler, camp stove, etc. and we can tent without the tent! Who knows…maybe some day will WILL hit the road for a marathon. But for now…baby steps. 🙂
Dave, this is awesome! I’m so happy for you guys and hope to hear how the conversion goes. And baby steps are the way to go. I am still not necessarily on board with traveling nonstop but Dave is ready so we are slowly going longer and longer as an experiment so I’m totally down with baby steps! These types of messages keep me inspired to keep sharing our story so thank you!
How dependable has the Pacifica been for you?
Thank you for the great videos! Do you have a list of all your accessories?
You are so very welcome! It’s been great so far. We haven’t had any issues and love driving it around. Here is a post for some of the accessories we use. https://www.dangtravelers.com/essential-van-camping-accessories/
Have you discovered any way to be able to raise and lower the windows in the sliding doors when you are in bed at night without having to turn on the accessory function (start button) on the dashboard? I also have a Pacifica LX and don’t find any way to be able adjust ventilation at night, without climbing over the driver’s seat to reach the start button first and then again after to turn it off.
I don’t think there’s another option on the back windows unfortunately.
We only lower the front windows and add covers on them for the bugs and we usually do that before we set up the back. We also have a fan in the back set up to help circulate the air.
Nice to be able to consult your ideas. From Ottawa Canada, in our 60’s, we’ve transformed our brand new Dodge Caravan to camper van. Just a folding plywood gear that lets us under Space for different camping stuf. We like long road trips too. We went to Alaska & West Canada in a 70 days tour. But we pulled a 18’ trailer and decided to try van camping for our next trip to the Floridian Keys. No fridge or microwave yet in ours but it may come… we’ll see. Anyways, let us see more of your ideas and experiences. Thanks!!
It’s well appreciated.
Thanks for reaching out Rob! The Alaska/Canada trip sounds amazing; we’d love to something similar. We played with the idea of a Caravan but ultimately decided on a Pacifica. Just got back from the Keys actually but we didnt camp on that trip. Here’s a video of you haven’t seen it of the full set up. We did a few adjustments since this but you can get the idea.
Enjoy viewing your site. Wife and I are both retired and live in Florida. We have a 2014 Town and Country. I only spent a night in it once, I used a folding cot and it worked out good. I need sleeping for two, the tri fold sounds good and when not in use folds. Two side by side 25×75 mattresses may work. The width back from the side doors narrows to 48in which would be a little narrow for 2x 25in mattresses. Might have to squish a couple inches. Did you ever consider installing a shore power receptacle to use at a campground for 110 volt power. Don’ t know where you could locate it to bring power into the van. Last but not least, do the bug screens work on the driver and passenger front windows with the mirrors. Love your site and keep up with all your dreams.
Thanks so much for reaching out! Yes, the two tri-fold foam mattresses work great for us but we do have a little more room. I don’t think I’ve seen any other tri-folds with smaller dimensions, maybe an air mattress could work for you guys? I’m not sure if I’d purchase the folding ones with that tight of a fit. Ours are pretty snug as it is. If you do, let us know if it worked out okay.
We do have a house battery and power inverter so we are able to plug in at campgrounds which is great for using our fan, microwave, and lights. Check out our van video here explaining some of the setup-
And as far as the bug screens, we haven’t had many issues at all with them BUT I will say we don’t typically leave the windows rolled all the way down. We time our trips usually in the spring and fall when night temps drop so we don’t necessarily need that much air. And if you are planning on camping in Florida with the no-see-ums, I don’t think they’d keep them out. Those guys are tiny!
I have a 2020 Pacifica and looking for a similar mattress solution. My max width is 48” and I only see 25 x 25 x 4” TRI-fold solutions. Did you find a 24x24x4” solution? Any additional info would be helpful. Thanks for your helpful videos!!
Hey James, Thanks for reaching out. We have a 2017 Pacifica and went with two 25’s and they squish a little by the wheel wells. Here’s my post on the ones we purchased. We’ve had no problems for the last four years. https://www.dangtravelers.com/van-camping-mattress-campervan/
Hi-you have done a great job with the Pacifica. I was just wondering if the uneven (hump in the floor) is an issue with the mattress and sleeping? Thank you, Ben
Thanks Ben! The rear of the van is slightly higher with a gradual slope but not a real hump or anything. The inside js pretty flat with the stow n go seats so sleeping is fine.