How does one get to the decision of literally converting one of the smallest roaming homes possible? Well let me tell you!
I first started by making the wrong decision. This past summer I had purchased a vintage ’74 boler trailer knowing that I wanted a place for Baron and I to call home while we explored the mountains and travelled together more. A little home on wheels.
After a 15 hour drive home from a festival where I was working I knew I had make the wrong choice by buying it. Sure I knew I could make it cute as heck and feel like home, which is what I wanted, but I started to realize how restrictive it was going to be in our travels. It would really only be for the summer and then even a quick stop at a grocery store could be tricky with parking. I knew it wasn’t the right choice after all.
As I was driving I started realizing that a camper van was exactly what we needed. Who knows maybe that thought came to me as I drove past one in that boring 15 hour drive. All I knew was that I didn’t need to tow a trailer and a camper would be perfect by having our traveling home all in one. Looking in the rearview mirror at my van packed to the roof with my apparel and artwork I joked to myself that I could probably even make this tiny van work. Ha. I didn’t know at the time it could actually be a thing.
When I got home I started doing some research and I found the whole community of camper van lifers. I found so many gorgeous builds, after gorgeous builds … busses, campers, camper vans, cargo van, trucks … you name it, I saw it. So much inspiration. I knew we needed something that was comfortable for both Baron and I, and we could make feel like home so we could live in it for extended periods of time while we travelled.
After exploring so many other builds I started by checking out different cargo van options so I could start from scratch and make it exactly how we wanted. Basically all the builds I saw were your standard white cargo vans. They were so spacious and all had beautiful wood paneling and looked so cozy. It was going to be perfect! Then I found out how much they cost to buy. Yikes! After going to a few dealerships and being handed payment plan options I knew that this would go against everything that “vanlife” was going to be to me. Sure I knew I wanted to explore, but with a payment every month … why? The point was freedom, not a payment plan. At that point I didn’t totally rule it out though, I really wanted the freedom to travel and explore.
I then started to look at small used campers and camper vans and something more affordable without needing a payment plan. There are tons out there and I’m sure with some cute curtains and pillows I could make them feel like home too. Sadly after searching and searching, reading ad after ad, every single one I found I was convinced I’d be broken down on the side of the road within a few months. I am traveling solo with my dog one of my biggest concerns would be being stranded on the side of the highway. Any of the newer camper vans in great shape that would avoid this issue were again just not in my budget.
Basically I was left either needing to have payments for something new and reliable or find something for under 5K that I could either get cheap enough I could put some money into making it a bit more mechanically sound, but potentially risk being stranded on the side of the highway with Baron. It was a tough decision which way to go and I was honestly left wondering if I could actually make this all a reality. Sadly I couldn’t have both … or could I?
Originally I jokingly looked at my van as an option and after getting so much inspiration from all the conversions I was sort of sent down the wrong path of what would be perfect for Baron and I. Cargo vans were out, I didn’t want payments, campers vans weren’t reliable, but hey maybe that original idea was maybe the best option. I own my mini van and sure it isn’t mechanically perfect, but it’s a 2008 and I know exactly what is wrong with it. Could I actually make it work? Was it actually big enough? Could I get the cute wood paneling and that cozy feel I saw in all the other vans? Hmm?!
I sat there and figured out exactly what I needed and if this tiny 54 inch x 70 inch van was actually an option. I spend a lot of my time with my business building and designing compact displays to sell my apparel and artwork, so this seemed like the challenge I was made to take on. After measuring and measuring I knew I could get my wish list, and could make it all happen. YES! So that was it, the decision was made, this was the van! I do admit the day the build actually started and I ripped apart my perfectly good van was terrifying. There was no going back like the boler trailer and just sell it if things didn’t work out. I just crossed my fingers and hoped I could actually pull it off. So happy that I did. If you’re curious look at the van build videos to see how the van turned out.
The best bit about choosing to convert a small mini van is that it has come with a TON of perks. Even though I took a lot of things into account, some of them I didn’t think would be as important as they were. The biggest was driving on icy winter roads. If you have no plans to explore the mountains in winter, don’t forget you might have to drive through them to get to where you are going. I couldn’t imagine having a bigger camper with all that extra height driving on those roads.
Right now I am driving on the coast of California and I forgot how crazy these roads are too. There might be no snow, but there is also no shoulders, 180 degree turns and if you go straight up, then you go right back down. Not sure I’d have the luxury of exploring them the way I do with any other vehicle. Or if I did I would be white knuckle driving the whole way or driving so slow I’d have that line of traffic with everyone behind me not loving me. It’s been nice traveling in winter on the coast because all the great spots to stop and enjoy the outdoors are just not as busy as they would be in the summer.
Another bonus! I have zero issues parking. I am a normal sized vehicle so any parking spot is perfect and I have no height restrictions, so my traveling home can go anywhere. It also helps to make my traveling feel a bit more stealth. Unless you wonder what is on the roof (the solar panel and fan), it looks like any normal vehicle.
Now the best bit, which I admit I didn’t even consider when I first started looking. The fuel economy!!! What a bonus that has been. I have a flex fuel Pontiac Montana and I went from Cranbrook, BC, Canada to Portland, OR USA and only had to stop for gas once. Basically I drove for 12 hours and had the gas I had when I left and 1 fill, which is $45 in the US. Gas is cheap here!
I admit there are times my van does feels super small and I get annoyed when I bump my head on that SAME spot for the 15th time, but for the freedom of this van to park in any parking spot, great on gas, no one really knows it is a mini RV and that it can handle icy winter roads and crazy coastline highways, I’m so thankful I went this route. I’ve also been incredible lucky with weather so far and haven’t been forced to stay inside the van for any long periods of time. Sure there is a little rain and snow, but luckily the weather has been manageable so far.
Everyone will have very different considerations for what they decide to convert and I am sure for many being able to stand up and have extra head room is a pretty big one. I personally wish I could have found a reliable and affordable Westfalia that could drive the highway speed limits, but that is more a dream vs reality. For myself right now I am thankful for the extra freedom this smaller van has come with.
For anyone out there finding themselves in the same dilemma of just not having a ton of money, but you want the freedom to travel maybe look at the perks converting a small mini van instead. There are so many vans out there I am sure you can find a reliable one for a great price to buy used.
Whatever you decide to do, just do what is perfect for you. You don’t necessarily have to follow what everyone else is doing and the point is truly to find that freedom and be able to explore. I’m happy to report I am still totally in love with my tiny 32 sq/ft home (if you include the front seat space). My van isn’t spacious, but it is perfect for us!
Let's get serious for a moment folks traveling with their 4 legged friends, especially in north Cali! While Baron was in the Redwoods, through our many days hiking he sadly pick up a tick and it tested positive for Lyme!