Living in a Camper: Class B vs. Van vs. Minivan

Sharing is Super Cool!!
  • 15
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  • 389
  •  

**** 2015 Update: I bought an Astro van!! Check it out Van to Camper Conversion.

Growing up in the US, we are taught early on to go to college, get a degree, buy a house and start a family. I somewhat followed that path for many years, but I really didn’t like the idea of settling down in a house for the next 20-30 years with a mortgage. Last year, I started planning a change in my life where I’ll be living in a camper van and traveling US state by state.

In order to achieve this travel dream of mine, I need to figure out a few important details: How will I make money? What will I eat? How will I communicate with friends, family and my blog readers? What is the best choice of camper for my needs?

Living in a Camper Van and Choosing Which Type Is Best for You?

Extended travel in small camper vans could be a real test on your sanity or it could be the best experience of your life. Before you take the leap into the full-time camper lifestyle, you should consider asking yourself a few questions before beginning a search for used camper vans.

    Some Questions You Should Think About:

  • Are you traveling alone, with a significant other or kids?
  • How much sleeping area do you need?
  • How many travel spots do you require with seatbelts?
  • Is stealth important? Overnight parking without detection.
  • Is fuel economy a big concern?
  • Are you handy with tools or can you get help?
  • Will you want A/C?
  • Do you plan to live in RV Parks or on the street or free land?
  • What’s your budget? $2,000 – $5,000 – $20,000
  • Is Mobility important? Will you be on pavement, dirt roads or deep in a forest?

Those are some of the questions you may want to think about when choosing which Van size is best for you.

The Class B Camper Van (17-21 feet long) – Fully Self-Contained

Living in a Camper - Class B RV

Leisure Travel – Class B RV Camper Van.


The Class B camper van gives you everything you would need in an RV but in a very small package. They are build on an extended van chassis and typically include the following features below.

    Class B Camper Van Features:

  • Sleeping for 2-4 (sleeper sofa & over-cab bed or dinette area bed)
  • Roof Mounted A/C
  • Bathroom with toilet, shower and small tub
  • Microwave
  • Gas stove top
  • Refrigerator
  • Furnace
  • Generator
  • Patio Awning
  • Propane Tank
  • Swivel Captain’s Chairs
  • Hot water heater
  • Water pump – Fresh water storage
  • House Battery – To Run lights/gadgets
  • Water & Power hookups – when at RV Parks

As you can see, the Class B RV has plenty of features and could be ready to go traveling on the day you purchase it. Of course, you would want to check it over, do some maintenance and make it your own.

Living in a camper van interior

Leisure Travel camper van interior.

After looking at that list of features, the Class B camper van looks like it should be the best. Well, how about we run down the Pro and Cons.

Pro and Cons of Buying a Used Class B Camper Van

Pros - Class B Camper VanCons - Class B Camper Van
Loaded with features - Most comfortable option.Very heavy. Could get stuck easily.
Can tow a small trailer.Difficult to find and they are more expensive.
Has water and power hookups.Learning curve - plumbing, electric..etc.
Can run A/C at RV parks or with generator.Poor-Fair gas mileage
Good headroom, most people can stand up straight.
Fuel Economy - Average 8 - 14 mpg based on weight.
Stealth - stands out but considered vacation vehicle.
Ready to roll camping.
Easy to drive.

In a perfect scenario, the Class B camper van would be my choice due to comfort, convenience and the fact that it is ready to travel and camp the day you buy it. Unless it needs some maintenance or cleaning. My issue with the Class B is that the gas mileage is not great, they are hard to find in my area and they tend to be expensive when working properly.

How to Make the Class B Camper Van Better

All three of these camper vans have their pros and cons but to help make this camper van better we can do some of the following:

  • Add a Solar System – BatteriesSolar PanelsSolar Charge Controller
  • You gotta love getting free power from the big burning ball in the sky.

  • Add Blackout Curtains or Shades – close the curtains or pop up the shades for extra privacy at night. I’ve seen some people use Reflectix Insulation, trimmed to window size, for blackout shades.
  • Upgrade the lights to RV LED Lights – When you’re away for shore power and depending on solar, it’s a good idea to have low wattage LED lights to considerably cut battery usage.

Full-Size Cargo Van – Conversion Van – Standard Passenger Van

Living in a Cargo Van

Cargo Vans make great camper van options.


When considering a Full-Size Van for your camper living lifestyle, you have three choices (all of which are between 17-20 feet long):

  1. Cargo Van – Meant to haul items or to be used as a work van and comes with the back empty (unless you get it used with shelves for tool storage) – This option requires very little demolition and allows you to begin building your home right away, but be prepared to spend many hours building and organizing your home.
  2. Conversion Van – Typically, this van will comes with two bench seats. The furthest back bench seat may also convert into a bed. They will either have an entertainment center above the cab or skylights. For those looking for an easy route, you could pull out the middle bench, use the bench in the back as your bed, get an ice chest or a small refrigerator, buy some cheap shelving from Walmart or IKEA and be ready to go in a weekend.
  3. Standard Passenger Van – This option could require the most work if you were to build it right. First you would need to remove 2-3 bench seats, then you have the option to leave the stock interior as is, or gut the whole passenger area until it’s empty like a cargo van and build your home from there.

Living in a Cargo Van - interior

Build the inside the way you want: bed, sink, toilet and storage.


My choice on this list would be the Full-Size Cargo Van. In my opinion, it is best to start with a clean slate and the cargo van gives you a base to build on from day 1. Don’t worry about the seats and interior, sell what you can and make this your home. If you decide to sell one day, you’re now selling a camper van which is very desirable to a small niche of people.

The Cargo van doesn’t have all the cool features we see in the list above for the Class B Camper, but with this base we can build whatever we want in there.

You may want to take measurements of the interior and sit down with pencil and paper and start mapping out ideas. Will you place the bed along the length of the van on the drivers side or will you use the entire back of the van? Will you build cabinets or just use storage bins? Maybe your handy with tools and want to build a couch that folds out to a bed to conserve space during the daytime. Will you have a sink with running water? What about a portable toilet or will you use public restrooms or the forest?

There are many questions to figure out when setting up for living in a camper full time, but the cool thing is you can start with a bed and add-on a kitchen w/cabinets, solar, a TV and whatever you want as you have time and money.

Pro and Cons of Buying a Used Cargo/Conv/Stand Van

Pros - Cargo/Conv/Stand VanCons - Cargo/Conv/Stand Van
Fair gas mileage - depends on engine size and weight.Not many features. You need to build in your own.
Can tow a small trailer.Headroom - not much for average height to tall people.
Stealth - Great. Blends in well in cities.Heavy, so could get stuck.
Lots of room for one person, tight for two.
Easy to find vans for sale.
Some vans come in 4X4 - increased adventure!
12-20 MPG - varies.
Low cost - Many available, lots of competition.
Easy to drive.

The Full-Size Van is very flexible. It allows you to move in almost immediately with very few luxuries or you could gut the van and spend some time making it your own. For those willing to get their hands a little dirty, this could be a very inexpensive but comfortable option with decent gas mileage.

How to Make the Full-Size Van Better

The Minivan Camper Conversion

Living in an Astro Van

The Chevy Astro Van would be a small camper.


Could you imagine living in a minivan? I didn’t even have minivans on my radar until I saw Glenn over at ToSimply.net convert his VW Vanagon into a great small camper van. My problem with his setup is that most Vanagons and Westfalias come with very low horsepower engines and would struggle in mountainous areas.

After looking around a bit, I found that the Chevy Astro and GMC Safari minivans would make great candidates for a minivan camper conversion for a cheap price.

    Like the Full-Size Van, the Astro and Safari minivans come in 3 types:

  1. Cargo Van (Empty – good to go)
  2. Conversion Van (Could have bench bed in the back with overhead TV)
  3. Passenger Van (2 rows of seating)

Once again, the cargo van would be the best option to make it your own, but leaving the interior intact would be easier with the conversion and passenger vans.

I’ve actually really been looking into these vans as an option to consider for my upcoming road trip. Sure they’re small, but they get better gas mileage and have enough room for a 6 foot person to sleep from driver’s seat to the back doors.

Living in an Astro Cargo Van

Remove the cabinets, add insulation, siding, floor, bed..etc..

If I go with this option, I would lean more towards the cargo van as I would want to build it up with my own floor plan. It would allow me to insulate the walls, put down my desired floor and anchor my furniture to the frame.

Astro Van Interior Dimensions:
Astro Van Interior

Pros and Cons of Buying a Used Astro or Safari Minivan

Pros - Astro or Safari MinivanCons - Astro or Safari Minivan
Good on Gas: 16-22 mpg or more.Not many features. You need to build in your own.
Stealth - Excellent! Blends in easily.No headroom, or much room at all.
Good dependable 4.3 L V6 engine.This is a 1 person option or 2 very close people.
Some minivans come in 4X4 - increased adventure!Low clearance - pavement travel mainly unless 4X4
Easy to find lots of minivans for sale.
Priced low: Commonly $2,000-$5,000
The easiest of this group to drive.

Although I focused on the Astro van and GMC Safari, there are many makes and models to choose from when selecting a minivan. As a matter of fact, the newer minivans are probably better suited for a camper conversion, but I am planning to keep the initial expenses as low as possible for my van purchase.

    Other viable Minivan Choices:

  • Toyota Sienna
  • Honda Odyssey
  • Ford Transit
  • Dodge Caravan
  • How about a Prius at 40 mpg (not a minivan but an option) ๐Ÿ™‚

The minivan really intrigues me. I actually like the smaller area compared to the Van and Class B since I really just want a place to sleep and a place to chill when the weather is bad. I hope to be out of the van exploring during the afternoons and working at coffee shops, libraries and fast food stops in the mornings.

How to Make Living in a Minivan a Better Experience

  • Buy over-the-ear headphones – minivans are small, so while watching a DVD on your laptop be aware that people may hear your movie from the outside.
  • Get a Portable Fan – It would be smart to at least get a small solar panel kit so you can power a fan like this while you sleep and charge the battery during the day.

What Are Your Thoughts?

When I think of traveling the country, there are two things that come to mind. Travel frugally and travel light. I don’t want some big monstrosity of an RV guzzling a gallon of gas every time I start the engine and I surely don’t need much storage. I have cut way back on all my belonging to make moving about the country easy, so my mode of transportation should be just as lightweight.

Which van would you prefer? For me, they are all about equal. I would love to have a Class B in good condition since they have everything you need and I can stand up inside, but converting a Cargo van or Minivan to my exact specs would be sweet.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below:


Sharing is Super Cool!!
  • 15
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  • 389
  •  

, , , , , , ,

67 Responses to Living in a Camper: Class B vs. Van vs. Minivan

  1. Tina October 7, 2013 at 5:46 PM #

    Hi Troy,

    Great post! I like how you have broken down everything. For me a B is out due to price and I really just want to create my own space. I plan on renting both sizes of the cargo vans to see how I like driving it and mapping out interior space. The small cargo van would be nice for fitting in places and on gas, but that might just be a little to small for me. I’ve been thinking about putting on a high top, but not sure about it.

    Looking forward to seeing what you go with and how it works out for you.

    Take care,

    Tina

    • Jeff Duncan August 26, 2016 at 8:14 AM #

      I don’t know if you are still reading this or not but I drive and have driven Toyota Corollas, currently a 2012 basic and before that a 2007. I drive all over the states and Canada. I get 48mpg normally. I have my blankets, a pillow, food, water, reading material, and my travel journal. I sleep in my car anywhere and feel comfortable in the morning. I place a nearly full 2 liter plastic bottle in the front window when I hike or tour some place. When I am back the water is warm and I use it to wash my hair and body. Easy to do in the wilderness and less so in populated areas. Staying over in BLM land is free and often there are other people you can make friends with. A camper van is a dream but it is expensive even the smallest ones. A car is real stealth. I see Europeans visiting the states who put down the backseats and sleep partly in the trunk and partly over the backseats. No one can see you and no one thinks about someone being in the car as the police or others look at the front seats. That’s my comments. Enjoy.

      • HG April 18, 2017 at 2:08 PM #

        Great post, Jeff! I’m with you. If you are mentally committed to the minimalist lifestyle then you can make just about anything work. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Troy Wiedeman October 8, 2013 at 5:03 AM #

    Hi Tina,

    Thanks for checking out my post. True, the Class B can be expensive. I’m hoping to get lucky and find a cute older couple too tired to RV anymore and willing to give a guy a break on price. ๐Ÿ™‚

    It’s between these three types for me. I like how the Class B is just ready to go and fully loaded, but I think I would really appreciate the extra stealth in the Van and Minivan. I plan to do some city dwelling as well as boondocking.

    Renting them out would be a great idea. Nothing like getting the measurements for yourself, which could ultimately help you decide which van would work best. I think if I were to go van, I would want to install a fresh water tank, solar w/batteries and a refrigerator, so is there enough room for all that in a minivan? I noticed a neighbor near me just bought a used GMC Safari minivan, so I may need to go down and have a look. He may find the tape measure a bit odd. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Well, check back in later. I hope you find a good van.

    Troy

    • linda April 20, 2016 at 9:39 PM #

      Hi there,

      I know your post is a few years old … so wondered if you are still out there ๐Ÿ™‚
      I have a 2002 gmc safari van and thought it would be fun to turn it into a camper. Not sure where to begin. I live in Oregon. Any ideas? Conversion kits are no longer available for the safaris, which may be a good thing, as it might be less expensive to start from scratch. Thanks for your thoughts.
      Linda

      • Troy Wiedeman April 21, 2016 at 6:46 AM #

        Hi there, Linda. Welcome to the blog. I’ll answer your question down below on your other comment.

        Thanks.

  3. Kent October 8, 2013 at 2:04 PM #

    Hi Troy, nice job on this post. I have a question for you: What is the difference in size on the inside (W, L & H) of the van vs the astro van? From the pictures, they look really close.

    Thanks man. I always enjoy your posts and I’m still working on getting my new blog started.

    Kent

    • Troy Wiedeman October 10, 2013 at 4:54 AM #

      Hey Kent! I added an interior dimensions chart so everyone can have a look for themselves at the Astro/Safari interior. It looks like there is a total of about 170 cu. feet available in the cargo area of the Astro van, but only has about 4 feet in height. The chart shows about 8 feet from the back doors to the back front seats.

      I hope this helps, Kent. Vans in general come in many sizes so you would need to look them up individually.

  4. Linda Sand October 8, 2013 at 3:41 PM #

    My extended van is 24′ long–lots of room inside but harder to park since it does not fit into a standard parking spot unless I can back in where the back of the van hangs over a curb.

    • Troy Wiedeman October 10, 2013 at 4:58 AM #

      Hi Linda. Thanks for the comment. Wow! A 24′ long van, that’s a big van. I can imagine it being tough to park. If I may ask, what make & model is your van?

  5. Lee Revell November 14, 2013 at 2:00 PM #

    Good comparisons, Troy. I am beginning to modify my late Father’s Ford E150 cargo van into a camper. Taking my time, so when I retire in a couple years, I’ll be road tripping too! Was going to do it with my Grand Caravan, but it’s really too small for me. And I still need it as my daily driver. The Ford will get a raised roof, and be made into a ‘psuedo-B’. At 6’4″, I need a little more headroom….. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Laurie April 24, 2014 at 2:12 AM #

    Troy,
    Love the way you have addressed these three sizes. It was VERY helpful to me and verified some of the things I am thinking. Also gave me new ideas.
    Thank you so much for organizing this info this way. I had Sienna for 12 years and put over 250 miles on it as a regular family van. Getting ready to retire and so tempted to get another Sienna and convert due to mileage, great visibility in driving (never had an accident with it in all that time) and just over all reliability of that van. Love the sleuth factor also. I am planning on a pop top though and back rack for extra stuff and maybe bike. When looking at them, tempting at times to go with a ready to go, fancy Class B, but I then say to myself… the simple life.. the simple life.. the less on it the less to maintain and fix. Figure can always try smaller first and then go bigger once comfortable with the whole thing. Should always be able to sell a Sienna, which holds value so well too. Very curious what you went with. Good luck and thanks again for this clear info about issues which can be confusing! Very helpful. Thank you.

    • Troy Wiedeman April 30, 2014 at 4:36 PM #

      Hi Laurie. I still haven’t made a purchase yet, though I am still leaning towards a Chevy Astro van or a Chevy Express van. I like the idea of starting small and simple and if I need more down the road, I can upgrade. I’m shooting for getting something this summer. It was supposed to be earlier but things happen. When I do make the purchase, I will begin documenting my conversion progress on this blog and my travels later on.

      Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your future purchase. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. DIANE SPINA April 26, 2014 at 11:34 AM #

    Hey there!

    Just wanted to share this with you. I found this car tent for my minivan and plan on ordering it. It is great for camping or just to put my equipment under when I am working if rain is in the air. Check it out by googling it. It is called the Tail Veil.

    Sincerely,
    Diane Spina

    • Troy Wiedeman April 30, 2014 at 4:41 PM #

      Wow! That Tail Veil is pretty slick! Thank you for telling us about it, as I think it would really come in handy. I can’t stand mosquitoes and was recently looking into what to do about them. Great find!

      • John March 8, 2016 at 11:32 PM #

        Hello I have been keeping up with you and I have become a real fan of yours.You are just a wealth of knowledge.Thank you so much.I have a 1993 ford areo star van Its thee extended length It has the 4.0 engine..I found out that parts are hard to find for this van.What do you think about converting the ford aerostar van into a camper van?I saw a chevy astro conversion van with the raised roof and the famous 4.3 vortec v6 engine on craigslist I feel like I should have grabbed it.Well when this old areostar van poops out I will buy a chevy astro conversion van.Ok well any advice his helpful thanks in advance.

        • Troy Wiedeman March 11, 2016 at 8:34 AM #

          Hi John. I remember seeing somewhere online where a guy made an Aerostar into a camper van or he at least he converted it into a livable space. Should work fine. I don’t personally know the interior of the Aerostar very well, so not sure on the space.

          I have recently seen a couple guys convert the Astro passenger van into a camper van which seems to work out really well. They didn’t have to go through as much demo work as I did on the cargo van, because they just took out the seats and built it from there.

  8. Art Miller April 30, 2014 at 10:47 AM #

    Excellent information. We purchased a Class B 1994 Roadtrek last summer and have loved camping and traveling in it but are concerned about it’s age. You have inspired us to build our own plan into a newer van.

    We visited JustLeanBack chair store in Rhinebeck, NY last week and discovered a wonderful loveseat and chair combination that together convert into a full 54″x82″ bed, which just fits between wheel wells on many vans. We are thinking that we would use this combination in a hightop van, take it out into the campsite, or into a cabin easily.

    • Troy Wiedeman April 30, 2014 at 4:45 PM #

      Wow! Another good find! Thanks for telling me about this Art. I went and checked out their website http://justleanback.com and this gives me some great ideas on what I can do with my future van.

      Thanks for the great info!

  9. Carole July 22, 2014 at 9:03 PM #

    I just bought a high roof Sprinter van and plan to do some mods to make it into a camper van.

    • Troy Wiedeman July 23, 2014 at 11:52 AM #

      Excellent! I really like the Sprinter vans with their great engines for high mileage, room to stand (mostly) and great gas mileage. Good choice! Thanks for checking out my site. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Troy

  10. Anne August 21, 2014 at 11:03 AM #

    Hello Troy.

    Ran across your blog this morning (8/21/14). I spent a lot of time going through the decisions you describe, and ended up selecting a GMC Savanna van, and doing my own DIY conversion:

    http://www.heartdogs.net/wordpress

    A word to the wise: It took me ten times forever to do the conversion (a solid year of 18-hour weekends) but the result is well worth it. Proof is in the pudding: figured the van, with insulation, should be good down to about 35 degrees (with electric hookups). Camped out last January, when I woke up in the morning the inside was a toasty 70 degrees (a bit too warm, actually, and the heater was set to low). Out side was the shocker (I always put a thermometer outside away from the van – maybe on a picnic table) my thermometer read a cool 13 (yes, thirteen!) degrees.

    The insulation is a lot of work, but good for winter and summer (the van’s A/C unit keeps the inside of the van very cool when going down the road, which wouldn’t be true on a hot day without the insulation.

    The “door” a/c unit when camping brings the interior of the van down about 30 degrees from outside temps (100 degrees outside, 30 degrees inside).

    Enjoy your adventure!

    Anne

    • Troy Wiedeman August 21, 2014 at 6:18 PM #

      Hi Anne. Thanks for stopping by my site. I enjoy reading about how others do their van builds so thank your for the link to your site. I will check it out tonight. ๐Ÿ™‚ I look forward to following your adventures.

      Troy

  11. James September 19, 2014 at 8:44 AM #

    Nice job. Thanks!

    • juliette October 8, 2014 at 4:46 AM #

      What van would be the best option for me and my cousin who is very small (70lbs) but has a small wheelchair. We need room for me to stand, a bed for both of us, lots of storage, (diapers, food, etc), portable toilet, sink and cabinet. and of course room for her wheelchair. Those are the necessities.
      Would be our main vehicle, love to travel. Need good gas mileage; don’t like diesel. Any ideas who could help me in denver, co? Need good price, too.. I am retired and taking care of her (age 31).

      • Mick B October 9, 2014 at 12:50 PM #

        I don’t think a mini van. due to size, is the best for you. A class B though generally the largest will not normally be designed for wheel chair accessibility thus reducing availability. this leaves the full size cargo van that you can convert to you own special needs. My personal belief is that the extended bed is always the better choice as they are just as available especially when looking for the open cargo version. If you really need the head room. pop tops are nice but much harder to find and expensive to have installed.
        I’m 6’2″ and would sooner buy knee pads than pay to have the top raised.
        Other more costly, less fuel efficient, less stealthy, options include sprinter vans or step vans (Used UPS vans).
        Best wishes, stay creative.

      • Troy Wiedeman October 13, 2014 at 5:55 AM #

        I agree with what Mike has to say. A high-top cargo van would be a good option for you, but it does take some time to set it up properly with sink, storage, bed and others.

        The class B RV would give you everything already set up but it wouldn’t get good gas mileage. They can be expensive, unless you find an older model in good condition.

  12. Calvin Rittenhouse November 4, 2014 at 10:10 PM #

    I have camped in two 1995 Dodge Grand Caravan minivans, and I will be looking for another Grand Caravan when the money comes around. My wife and I traveled round trip Ohio to Arizona in one and Ohio to the Blue Ridge Parkway in the other. I’m on my own now, and I favor extremely simple, cheap, and quick conversions.

    • Troy Wiedeman November 5, 2014 at 8:50 AM #

      Hi there, Calvin! I agree with you. It is nice to be able to convert a vehicle with a simple floor plan, on a budget that doesn’t drag on for 6-12 months. It looks like you picked a great vehicle to get the job done quick and easy.

      Good luck on your adventures!

      • Roger January 10, 2015 at 9:13 PM #

        It is silly to build cabinets, etc. Like one woman said regarding this: It wastes space and kills your gas mileage trying to turn one into a house. Store your things in ziplocs and collapsible containers, duffel bags, etc. I agree with her 100%. Chairs in a cargo van for me would be a couple of those collapsible camping chairs as they can also be used for sitting outside. Keep it simple and effective. Tablets/laptops/smart phones along with a good portable AM/FM/SW radio and perhaps a Kindle reader would cover entertainment easily.

        • Roger January 10, 2015 at 9:19 PM #

          And your bed is a zero degree bag when temps dip along with a Buddy heater.vyou can use a camping pad or get a foam shikibuton that folds up. I have one and they work fine. A 7 gallon aquatainer from Walmart and a stainless steel mixing bowl for a sink. A lined 5 gallon bucket with a camping seat and cat litter as an emergency toilet and a large Gatorade bottle if you can’t duck out somewhere at the moment.

          • Troy Wiedeman January 11, 2015 at 6:54 AM #

            Hi Roger! Yes, I tend to agree with you on this one. Like Calvin said above, keep the conversion extremely simple, cheap and quick.

  13. Budd November 18, 2014 at 4:48 PM #

    I have an 85 dodge b250 camper van with hightop roof 318 motor aut tranny and 2.92 rear end no air at all.She has 72000 miles on her and was retro by it’s 4 owner.cleaned her up and took some small trips . She’s a good runner and looks good for her age.

    • Troy Wiedeman November 28, 2014 at 7:34 AM #

      Heck yeah, Budd! She sounds like a great van. I’ve heard the 318 engines are solid and at only 72k miles, that’s excellent. Awesome, congrats on the van.

  14. Cory December 19, 2014 at 7:59 PM #

    I like your site; great information. I just retired and my wife and I had been going around and around for a couple years about whether to go RV or truck/trailer when we start travelling. Back in August we found a ’99 Coachmen Class C w/ only 60K miles and in nearly-new condition. It’s a GMC w/ a 350 CI engine and a 3/4 ton chassis; we may add a trailer some day in the future. It has a water tank, sink, toilet, fridge, microwave, heater, and a TV. Since there are two of us and two 80lb labradoodles, we probably won’t spend too many nights in the van, but at least we will be able to if we need to. For one person it could be just what you are looking for. We were happy to get it in it’s excellent condition and with so few miles for less than $10,000.

    Day after tomorrow we are heading out on our maiden voyage; Christmas and New Years in sunny Florida, instead of cold Ohio.

    Good luck in your search, what you are looking for is out there… somewhere.

    • Troy Wiedeman December 21, 2014 at 8:22 AM #

      Hi Cory! Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate you checking out my site. More to come on my site for sure in the future, so check back.

      As far as that 99 coachmen goes, what a steal! It really sounds like a great deal. I wish you much luck and long travels in your new home on wheels. Have a great Holiday trip down in Florida.

  15. Jim Harvey May 1, 2015 at 12:45 AM #

    Troy –

    Great reading!

    In the past 40 years I’ve owned four VW campers which I used for 1-2 week trips. Two years ago I bought a Toyota-Winnebago 22′ RV for a four month US road trip. I now plan to get an Astro cargo van, fix up the “camper” portion myself, road trip for months at a time. This will be more like the VDubs than the Toyota.

    A key question for me was: do I want a driveable house I can walk around in, or do I want an indoor bunk with much better gas mileage. My Toyota was a comfortable home, but it got 12mpg and screamed “man sleeping inside!” everyplace I parked. So I’ll buy the 20 mpg Astro, which can be parked in all kinds of store, airport and industrial parking lots without looking occupied. I’ll put in an extra-long twin bed, some bookshelves and shallow cabinets, I’ll be good. I’ll use a Coleman camp stove with a deep cycle 12v battery for my interior lights and cooler.

    If you have an RV you’ll feel safer sleeping in campgrounds, which can get expensive. If you have a stealth van like the Astro you can sleep many places overnight for free, or for a few bucks (airports). In my Astro I’ll shower every few days – I travel alone… – at LA Fitness or truck stops. $6-8 for a truck stop shower is a lot cheaper than a $30 nightly state park campground or $40+ RV park.

    Several of my friends also have gone through several kinds of RVs before figuring out exactly what they wanted.

    Keep on truckin’ – Jim

    • Troy Wiedeman May 1, 2015 at 6:50 AM #

      That’s great Jim! Sounds like you have a good plan with the Astro Van. Very similar to my plan.

      If you haven’t already, go check out my Astro van build videos on my YouTube channel:
      https://www.youtube.com/c/Travelingtroy

      Good luck with your van!

      Troy

  16. Lee May 30, 2015 at 9:51 AM #

    Excellent post, Troy.

    I lived in a 24′ Class B Ford Phoenix for a couple of years and ultimately decided it was too big. Not too big for daily drivingโ€”I got to where I could parallel park it downtown if two spaces were open together. But I had a living room with slide-out I never even used. Too much house for me! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I have a Dodge Grand Caravan I’m going to convert 100% stealth. I had solar in the Clas B and wouldn’t be without it. Even though I went through one very heavy winter in the Midwest, I never needed to plug in. I had 12-volt everythingโ€”including A/Cโ€”and will do that again.

    The problem with every pre-made RV I’ve seen is wasted space and unnecessary weight. Having a black water tank instead of a composting toilet, for example. Cabinets that are not well laid-out and designed so you have to empty them to find what you’re looking for. Empty walls where fold-down shelves could be.

    Living in one for awhile really let’s you see how the living quarters could be designed better and much lighter. Use the weight for important stuffโ€”not things like “real oak cabinets.”

    And stealth is important, for safety as well as avoiding harassment.

    • Troy Wiedeman May 30, 2015 at 4:27 PM #

      Thanks for commenting Lee. I agree with you about having a smaller vehicle. The Dodge Grand Caravan makes a great stealth vehicle. I had it on my short list of vans to consider. I eventually went with the Astro van. I’m currently building the van and hope to have it complete by July 2015. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Micahel M June 9, 2015 at 7:56 AM #

    Hello All
    Really like this post. Loo forward to see your upcoming finished product Troy. I have a family of 4 2 girls which are now 17-24 and my wife. Just went and looked at a High Top Dodge Ram 3500 handicap van which I made out an open plan for which I was excited about and even showed the wife a youtube video of the closest thing I could come up with. After looing at it she felt it would be too small. We briefly had a Class B that had TOO MUCH cabinetry in it and I think that swayed her decision a bit. Also had a Toyota Class C (approx. 22′) which they all enjoyed and it got 16 mpg HWY, but for me it was the ceiling height cramped bathroom and sluggish pulling power. I would have kept the Class B had they liked it I got a Dodge Ram 3500 Pleasureway and it got 16 mpg Hwy. It is a bit tight for 4. I felt my new plans would solve the “oh so cramped” feeling but wife wasn’t convinced. Not sure what we’ll do next. Looking at pull behinds etc. But saw on some blogs that a GMC Safari user was getting 9 mpg towing 400 lbs with his. I really like the ALL in One Idea as I had the plan to set up to easily convert and use for an everyday work vehicle as well as RV and daytrippper. Still wondering ???

    • Troy Wiedeman June 17, 2015 at 7:12 AM #

      Hi Micahel. I’m just returning from my first official trip in my Astro van. I took a road trip to Big Bend for a week. My van performed well. The build isn’t complete yet but I’m glad I took it out for a test run before finalizing the build. I learned a lot from this trip and have figured out what I need to do to make the van better.

      The Safari/Astro hauling a small trailer might be a good option for your family. It’s so tough making the decision of which route to go on an RV purchase. There are so many variables. I wish you luck with your decision making process and hope you and your family enjoy your travels in whatever you choose.

  18. Micahel M June 9, 2015 at 7:57 AM #

    Sorry, my last post was supposed to say hauling a 4000lb trailer not 400 lb.

  19. Meredith June 10, 2015 at 12:51 AM #

    No one speaks of the ride…How comfortable are drivers’ seats in these vehicles .. and is it possible to interchange either passenger seat or whole unit with driver’s seat/unit when it shows fatigue. My 2006 ford E150 V8 van was hit and run; ins is deep sixing it as $8000 damage = current value with 154,000 miles. Driver side panel to rear doors crunched; no windows broken; driver door and rear doors in good shape with little damage My dilemma .. should I buy as salvage for $1500 and pay for repair? Interior plush, but not insulated with 6 individual passenger seats as van was used for human transport to Coast Guard station in SF Bay area. Would like to use as camper van but am not interested in hauling an interior house. Gas mileage leaves me cold: 14 / 18. Is there any way to increase mpg? Ball joints will need repair sooner than later

  20. Rhonda August 14, 2015 at 11:38 AM #

    This blog post was VERY helpful. I’ve been waffling between a Roadtrek or mini cargo van and this post has me leaning toward the latter. My situation, however, is that I am not handy with tools and have no clue about vehicle electrical stuff. I’ve been in touch with Morehead Design Lab for conversion possibilities but they are too high for me to consider (12k or so for what I’d like). So…I’m still mulling over it all. Thanks for the very useful info and I’ll be further checking out your conversion process…

    • Troy Wiedeman August 14, 2015 at 12:42 PM #

      I agree Rhonda, picking between the different types is a tough decision. Personally, I settled with the mini cargo van which was just about as small as I thought I could go. Some people travel all over and live out of their car, but I wanted something with built-in storage, bed & galley.

      I would have gone with a Class B, as that was my 1st choice, but they are fairly expense. Even a 20 year old Class B would be $10k-$15k but the interior, plumbing and electrical would be 20 years old too. So, I opted to get a 17 year old van and build a NEW interior. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Good luck with your search. Hopefully, you can find some assistance with the build, if you go that route.

  21. Van February 13, 2016 at 2:10 AM #

    If I were going to do mobile living in a cargo van, I would choose the Sprinter high top.

    • Troy Wiedeman February 13, 2016 at 8:53 AM #

      Yes indeed! I would pick they same, if I had the cash to do it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. John March 8, 2016 at 11:46 PM #

    Troy What king of mpg do you think that I would get out of a chevy astro van with a raised top? Ok thank you.You’re the man.

    • Troy Wiedeman March 11, 2016 at 8:36 AM #

      Well, I imagine it would cut out a few miles per gallon. Let’s say you’re getting 20 hwy and 16 city, so maybe it would cut it down to 17 hwy and 14 city or something like that. Just my guess. Thanks for checking out the blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. mary anne harleman April 15, 2016 at 6:36 PM #

    great website great information

    • Troy Wiedeman April 16, 2016 at 12:39 PM #

      Thank you Mary Anne. I’ve been on a break posting new content, but I’m hoping to get back to posting regularly on my blog very soon.

      Thanks for commenting.

  24. linda April 20, 2016 at 9:46 PM #

    Hi Troy,
    So nice to have found you. I have a 2001 gmc safari gmc and thought I would convert it somehow into a camping van. Money is limited, and it would be mostly just for me, my dogs … and on occasion my husband when he is able to come. Not sure where to begin. Kits don’t seem to be available anymore, but they were pretty expensive. Where should I begin?
    Bed, storage, stove, heater, solar, … etc.
    Thanks so much!
    I look forward to your thoughts.
    Linda

    • Troy Wiedeman April 21, 2016 at 7:03 AM #

      Welcome to the Blog, Linda! I guess the first decision would be if you plan to use it as a weekend get a way vehicle or will you be staying traveling/camping for extended periods of time. If you’re just interested in weekend get a ways and on a tight budget, then you could make a basic build. Bed platform, cooking surface and storage would get you by.

      If your planning extended stays in the van, then you might want to add solar, batteries, insulation and blackout curtains.

      I would say focus on a basic build first and try it out to see if you like it. From there, you can add on things your realize you need or want. You could build a bed platform, get a small mattress and some walmart storage bins for pretty cheap.

      I’m interested to hear what you do. Thanks for checking in.

  25. Jen April 29, 2016 at 9:10 PM #

    Hello, this is probably a silly question but if I were going to insulate a cargo minivan is it best to purchase a van without side passenger windows or would I be able to insulate a regular van with windows? Which would be best for insulating or does it matter? Thank you!

    • Troy Wiedeman April 30, 2016 at 6:54 AM #

      Hi Jen. Good question. I’ll use the Astro van as an example. The regular passenger vans come with some insulation already behind the walls. With the passenger van, you have a choice, gut the van and start from scratch or build on what is already there. From what I’ve seen, gutting the van (pulling out seats, walls, seat belts & insulation) is a pain. It would be easier to just pull the seats out only and build from there.

      Cargo vans with no windows (expect cab area) are easier to insulate since you don’t have to deal with windows, but then you have no view of the outside (if you want that).

      Cargo vans with windows (side and back) can be insulated just as easily and you have the choice of completely covering the windows or leaving them uncovered with a view. I made insulated blackout window coverings for my van, so I get the best of both worlds. I put up the coverings to block the heat and for privacy, but then I can pull them down to give me a view.

      Hope this helps. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Jen May 1, 2016 at 8:23 AM #

        That’s very helpful, thanks a lot for your answer!

        • Troy Wiedeman May 2, 2016 at 7:11 AM #

          Great Jen! Thanks for checking out the blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. WESS June 10, 2016 at 6:03 AM #

    IS THERE SOMEWHERE TO BUY A REPLACEMENT TOP FOR A 1994 TOYOTA WARRIOR MOTORHOME

    • Troy Wiedeman June 11, 2016 at 7:56 AM #

      Sorry Wess, I have no idea where to find a replacement top for the Toyota Warrior motorhome. I did a quick search for that year/model and it looks to be a fully self contained RV on a small Toyota truck frame. Pretty cool.

    • Christopher July 4, 2016 at 7:11 PM #

      Hi Wess. I’m going to chime in here. You can get 1 piece rubber roofs on ebay. Take all the stuff of the top, glue it down and replace and caulk your vents, etc. I saw 9’6″ vide for $9.00 a running foot.

  27. Les August 16, 2016 at 7:30 AM #

    Lots of useful info in the article/post.
    Myself, wanting to go even smaller, to using a minivan as base of small class B.
    Will like only be able to fit one or two people in it comfortably, but mostly for weekend get aways or road trips, not a full team living unit, though I think it could be by the right person(s)
    Mostly about mileage and cost, but also stealth, access to tighter areas, and smaller parking areas.
    Plan to start with modified minivan (wheel chair accessible) (grand Caravan or town and country) with a lowered floor and add a raised roof, should have enough headroom.
    Then pull out rear seat and make a futon style bed on the driver’s side,
    Small kitchen in the rear like on tear drop trailers, but also want to be able to access it from the inside.
    Awning on the sides, the passenger seat to swivel to face the rear and reclinable.
    Small camping toilet, shower tent.
    Also able to tow small cargo trailer (for extra fuel, propane and water tanks, generator and room for other gear and stuff picked up along the way)

    • Troy Wiedeman August 24, 2016 at 7:37 AM #

      Wow Les! It sounds like you have it all planned out. I think your minivan choices would be perfect for your build plans and weekend getaways. Room in these vans really disappears fast, so hopefully you will be able to fit everything you need in this build. The small cargo trailer is a great idea. Good luck with the build. ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. B P May 1, 2017 at 9:04 AM #

    Lots of things to consider! Recently my wife and I have begun van camping, and have really enjoyed it. Currently we are using our kia sedona, taking out the 2 middle seats, folding the back seat into the floor, tossing a twin mattress in it and filling up a couple rectangular laundry baskets with stuff we will need on our adventure. All in all, we can convert it from a kid-hauling grocery-getter to minimalist ass-kicking camping platform in about 15 minutes. For 2 people, it’s ideal!
    Generally we stay in state parks of forestry land and have electric hookups available, sometimes water.
    Until the kids move out, we will stick to this plan. But after they go their own way in just a couple short years, I will buy and convert a full size cargo van dedicated to the art of simple living. The express/savannas look to be the best deal for a full conversion. Plenty of room.
    Glad I stumbled on your blog!

    • Troy Wiedeman May 9, 2017 at 6:17 AM #

      Wow, that’s great to have such a versatile vehicle for your daily life and adventurous life. Yes, I would say the Express/Savanna is a great choice for van conversion. I went with the Astro and it is very limited in space, but it really makes you think about what you do and don’t need.

      Sounds like you have a good plan for now and the future. Good luck.

  29. bill July 29, 2017 at 4:29 AM #

    But who in the hell needs sleeping bunks for 6 people?

  30. Darlene August 9, 2017 at 8:27 AM #

    Just starting to plan… looking at a 2007 Chevy Savana, but want to pop a window in that opens, Just want to go basic, bed platform, and an antique dresser, wanting a shabby chic feel to it. Would do a floor and insulate and wall with ceiling, My lugaloo would suffice for toilet.
    Yes, love the roadteks advertised on kijiji, but BAM, they are snapped up in a second,
    Have you ever priced putting in a window that opens on the side,? There is one person ahead of me on the van, but they are a dime a dozen. This one does have AWD though.
    I have no clue about electrical, additions as a fridge is rather necessary and extra lighting would be grand,
    We do have a 72 Scotty that we tow places, but just being able to start and go without the tow, would be nice as well,

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge