Turn Your Minivan Into A Campervan – My Dodge Caravan with Solar Power


Hello, my name is Darren Alf and I run a website called bicycle trim, procom where for the last 10 years or so I have been teaching people like you, how to plan, prepare for and execute their own incredible bicycle trips anywhere in the world.

Now, those of you who know me are probably used to seeing me traveling on my bicycle in some far-off place on the other side of the world, and that is normally what I am doing. However, for the last three months or so, I have been travelling across the American Southwest California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico with a van and two bicycles.

So today I thought it would be fun to give you a quick tour of my camper van when it came time for me to pick the van that I was going to use for my camper on the road. I looked at all the popular bands that people are using the Mercedes Sprinter van, the Ford Transit, the Volkswagen Westphalia, and ultimately I decided that I wanted a van that was fuel-efficient that I could park on the street and it wouldn’t necessarily scream.

Like camper van and I wanted some themes, that would essentially be big enough to carry me and two of my bicycles and potentially some friends. So, ultimately, in the end I decided instead of getting a big camper van or a big cargo van that I had been converted into a camper van.

I decided that I was going to get a mini van. So behind me here is my 2011 Dodge Caravan. It’s, a soccer mom minivan that I have essentially converted into a camper van, and I’ve, been living out of this van for the last three months.

The first thing that you’re gonna notice about this van is it just looks like a minivan there’s, nothing special about it. It doesn’t scream camper van or somebody sleeping in there, and that is exactly what I wanted.

I have done a lot of stealth, camping all around the world on my bicycle tours, and I knew that I wanted to be somewhat stealthy in my van as well. So I can park this on the street in a suburban neighborhood or an urban environment, and no one would ever know that I was in there cooking working on my computer sleeping or whatever.

Now because I am the bicycle turning pro, I knew that I wanted to get a band that I could carry at least two bicycles inside so right now I have the van set up with two Thule pro ride: roof racks on top of the van, but I Also have the option to carry and transport and store my two bicycles inside the van as well, which is how it & # 39.

S set up right now, and this is actually the way that I am carrying my bikes most of the time. Simply because my bicycles are so expensive, I worry about them being on the roof of the van. When I’m in an urban environment, I don’t want to leave the van for too long with the bikes up top even locked.

I worry about them a little bit so right now the two bicycles are inside, but I basically have the option to carry for total bicycles, if I want to I could, but to inside and to more up on the roof racks – and I also have seating inside For four people as well, two people up in front and two people in the back, so I can carry four people and four bicycles with this current setup.

In addition to the two bike racks that I have up here on the roof, I’ve. Also mounted a 100 watt solar panel, which I can then use to charge a large 100 amp hour deep cycle battery that I have stored inside the van and from that battery I can then charge all of the electronics I’m.

Carrying with me, my laptop my camera batteries, my drone, my smartphones, my GoPro, my USB lights, etc, etc. So everything that I’m, carrying with me as far as electronics is concerned, can be charged off of this one solar panel.

One of the things that I very quickly discovered about this solar panel is that, because I’m traveling in the winter time, and the Sun is about as far south as it can possibly be, and because the panel is mounted flat to the roof And not pointed towards the Sun.

At a better angle, I can’t get the maximum amperage out of a panel like I would like to I need. I need maximum amps in order to charge my battery and right now I’m. Only getting about half an end, and I can usually at most get about one and a half amps with the panel mounted flat to the roof.

However, I’ve discovered that if I can take the panel off of the roof and point it towards the Sun at the proper angle, I can get as many as 3 to 12 times more amps out of this panel than I would with it.

Just mounted flat to the roof, so I’ve configured the panel so that I can very easily with the use of just two screws, basically unscrew the panel from the roof and then point it towards the Sun. [ Music, ], [, Music ].

So inside the van, it basically just looks like your regular minivan up in the front here, at least it does. However, I should say in the pockets of basically every door and seat. I have something hidden or stored, so I’ll.

Show you some of that a little bit over here on my left. I have all of my cleaning supplies. I’ve got my toothbrush and toothpaste, which I put over here just so I can access it very quickly. On the other side, I have some disc golf discs to play.

Frisbee golf: I got some tools. I have a trimmer to cut my hair with over there underneath the passenger seat. I have toilet paper storage, so I stuff all the multiple rolls of toilet paper. Under there I’ve got my DSLR camera in the center console, as well as the charge controller for the solar panel and then under my seat.

I have all of the cooking gear, so I have two camp stoves, two pots, two titanium pots, what else fuel for the camp stoves and that’s about it in the center console as well. I also have storage for my camera and a couple of electronic devices cords and stuff like that, and there’s, a drawer underneath the center console, where I store all of my toiletries.

So I got soap and shampoo and toothbrush and toothpaste. I have two toothbrush in toothpaste, so I can access them at different times, but anyways all of my toiletries are stored in that drawer down here in the center console up.

Here I have my sunglasses. I also have a mount on the back of my rear view. Mirror so that I can mount my GoPro here and record my drives, which I do quite a bit for some of my videos. There are two little storage places over here in front of the passenger seat.

I just have some various knickknacks in the top drawer and I have all of my auto maps and paperwork’s and stuff down in the bottom drawer, so to the left of the driver’s seat. Here I have a little area where I & # 39: ve got some hand sanitizer a shovel and some air freshener.

This is kind of my poop kit for going to the bathroom out in the woods, so in the back of the van, this is where things get a little bit more interesting and the reason I bought this van, a Dodge Caravan versus any other minivan is because This van has seats that fold flat into the floor of the van.

So normally there are two middle seats here in the middle row of the van and I’ve, actually removed completely removed those two seats from the van now they used to fold down into the floor of the van into a big cubby that’s kind of built into the floor, but because I removed the seats entirely, I now have a huge space in the floor of the van where I can store stuff, and I knew that was going to be important to me, and that is really one Of the main reasons that I bought this van for my van life adventures, the other thing you’ll notice – is that I have both of my bicycles inside the van at this point in time, and this is where I usually carry the bikes.

I can, as I mentioned before, put them on the roof, but usually for security, and especially when I’m driving long distances. I keep my bikes inside the van these two bicycles that I have right here are worth a little over ten thousand dollars when you combine them together.

So I don & # 39. T really feel like super great about leaving them on the roof all the time, but in certain circumstances it is nice to take them out of here and then I have a whole lot more room in the back and I can just store them up on the Roof, I keep the bike secure just with a series of bungee cords that keep them kind of pressed up against the right side of the van back here as well.

I have two USB lights. These are from goal zero. I have one on this side and one on this side that I can charge off of my solar panel or whatever I can plug them into a wall outlet. If I need to in front of me, there is a seven gallon water tank, which just happens to fit perfectly right between the two front seats.

So I have lots of water, which is great. I can stay out in the woods for a long period of time without having to go back into civilization and resupply, and on the back of the two front seats I’ve got two small igloo bags, which I use to store.

All of my food, so I kind of have like my breakfast stuff in the bag behind the driver seat and I have like my dinner and lunch stuff in the bag. Behind the passenger’s seat, I & # 39. Ve also got a small mirror back here, which I can use to shave or just make sure I don’t have food in my teeth or whatever, and maybe one of the most important things to mention.

Is you don’t, see a bed back here anywhere? Do you that’s, because during the day I have this seat, the rear seat of the van? I have it up just like it is now, and I can use this area to sit to read to work on my computer.

I have a desk. I & # 39. Ll show you that in just a moment – and I cook food here and eat here – and I basically use this space on the left side of the van during the day. Then, at night, when I’m ready to go to bed, this seat folds down flat into the floor behind me, and I there’s, a mattress and sleeping bag and all my sleeping stuff basically is behind this seat.

So I pull all of that out, lay it down flat on the floor and then I go to bed. So it’s. A really really nice kind of simple configuration that I have back here in the back of my little minivan. But I found that, for me at least this is all I really need in addition to some of the things I just mentioned.

I also have a little bit of storage up here in the roof of the van, where I have in this one. I have books and toilet paper to blow my nose with and office supplies and stuff is another cubby further up with more office supplies in it.

So I used they’re on the right side of the van over. Here I carry two of my DSLR camera batteries and I have some candles that I light up at night to provide me with further light and yeah most of the stuff.

In addition to what you see here is either in the floor of the van where the two middle row seats used to be, or in the back of the van behind the seat, I’m sitting in now. I glued the small thermometer to the sliding door on the left-hand side of the van.

That way, I can tell the temperature inside the van, especially at night when it gets cold or during the day if it gets really hot under the back of the driver’s seat here I store a single pair of shoes and I also store Another pair of my bike, shoes under the passenger seat on the right hand side, so it might be difficult to see but down here on the right hand, side of the van underneath the passenger’s.

Seat is a small power inverter and it’s. This box that I use to plug all of my electronics into when I want to charge them. The power inverter is connected to the battery which is stored down in this area kind of underneath the passenger seat, which is then connected to the solar panel up on the roof.

So I can charge my laptop my drone, my camera batteries, everything all of my electronics off of this power inverter right here under the passenger’s, seat, [, Music ], so here in the back of the van, is pretty much all my sleep stuff And a bunch of other things which I’ll, show to you now.

This black duffel bag is all of the clothing that I am carrying with me at the moment. So everything I have clothing, wise socks, underwear, jacket, pants everything fits inside this one. Duffel bag. I also have a camp chair.

This is just a chair in case. I want to sit down and sit another campfire or sit outside of the van, which I sometimes do. This is a wooden desk that I built myself and it goes in the back. I’ll show it to you here in just a moment, but this has really come in handy throughout the course of the trip I use this to eat, on work off of, etc.

Then this big thing you see behind me this is my mattress. I bought this mattress at the tri-fold mattress cot sized and I bought it on Amazon. It cost about 80 US dollars. It fits perfectly in the space back here behind the back seat and behind the mattress.

I also have two sleeping bags, so it’s, gotten pretty cold out here, and so I have both sleeping bag. It’s kind of all back here behind the rear seat. Finally, this is probably one of the most important things that I bought for.

My entire band trip over here on the left are these, and these are made by a company called heat shield and basically, you go to their website. You type in what kind of vehicle you have and you can buy window coverings for every single window in your vehicle, so I bought eight window coverings for all eight windows yeah this way at nighttime, especially I’m going to bed, and I want Some privacy and put these up and no one, can see that I’m inside.

They also do a lot to keep out the heat and maybe keep in some of the heat as well during those cold nights. So I’m, going to put these in all of the windows now, so you can see what that looks like then, I’ll, show you the desk and then I’ll fold out the bag, so this is basically What the van looks like at nighttime, when I have it completely blacked out it’s totally private inside, and it feels like my own little room.

One of the funny things about converting to a van I’ve, noticed at least is that like when you watch a lot of videos on YouTube or whatever of people who have converted or who have transitioned from an apartment or a house into living? In a van, a lot of them are talking about how hard it was for them to downsize, get rid of the things that they weren’t using that sort of a thing.

But for me I have been traveling around the world for the last 17 years on a bicycle, so i I’ve, been used to carrying everything that I own with me on a bicycle. So moving from the bike to the van was actually a step up for me, I suddenly was like wow.

I have all this room. I can do all these things that I wouldn’t be able to do or wouldn’t be able to carry just on my bicycle. So for me, even though I’m in a minivan, it feels very big, and I just think it’s.

Funny when I look at people who are driving gigantic Sprinter vans or something, and they’re still talking about how limited their spaces. For me, this little van has been more than enough, and I haven’t missed the fact that I don’t have a bathroom or a shower or a kitchen, even yeah.

It feels great in here I feel very much at home. It’s, much bigger than the tent that I’m, used to sleeping in so yeah. I’m very happy with my minivan camper. So this is my desk that I made myself. I just made it with a handsaw and a screwdriver that’s.

Basically all it took but yeah it folds out like that. It’s, just resting on the ground over here, on the right hand, side and, on the left hand, side. It rests in the armrest on the left hand, side of the van and there’s, some notches that I built hard to see, but over here these little notches like go into the cup holder and stuff.

On the left hand, side of the van just to keep the table from like sliding this direction or rocking back and forth or whatever, but it’s very sturdy. This is where I work on my computer updating my website.

Bicycle train procom. I cook food over here hang out read a book whatever yeah it’s a great little desk. It cost me like eight dollars to make the whole thing: [: Music, ], [, Music, ], [, Music ]. So here it is.

This is my bed set up inside the van that’s very comfortable. The space over here on the left side of man, where I have the bed set up now, is actually bigger than the space inside the tent that I’m used to sleeping in.

So it feels very luxurious to me even with the bicycles in here there’s, quite a bit of room, and if I were to remove the bicycles, there would actually be a whole water room over here on the right hand, side, and it would Feel very, very spacious, but for the most part I am comfortable sleeping right here with or without the bikes in the van [ Music ].

I should point out that, in addition to some of the other stores that I & # 39, ve already showed you. There is some storage back here kind of where I put my head when I’m sleeping, and so I put a bunch of stuff back here, like my beanie, that I might sleep in at night, I have a pair of gloves.

I have a Rubik’s, Cube that I solve like pretty much every day. I have my camera batteries in these little bags that I bought when I was traveling in Peru and yeah. So I just have a bunch of little stuff like that stored back here as well, so there’s: lots of storage, even inside the minivan storage.

Here’s; storage, here, storage up here in the floor, etc, etc. So yeah it’s been great living here in the van. So the last thing that I want to do for you is: I want to take the bikes out of the van put them up on the roof, so you can see what that looks.

Like – and I also want to show you just how spacious it is here inside the van when the bikes are on the outside [ Music, ], [, Music ] with the bicycles now outside of the van, I think you can see just how spacious it is in Here and if I weren’t traveling with two very important bicycles, I could use the space on the right-hand side of the van to install a lot of the things that you see in more traditional camper vans, a sink some burners to cook.

Off of some cabinets, additional storage, food, rack, etc, etc, but because the bicycles are such an important part of my travels, I’m, reserving this space for the bikes and I basically just have to pack in another way.

Well, that just about does it for the tour of my minivan camper van. Thank you guys so much for watching. If you want to learn more about my van life, travel, see pictures or videos from my trip in the van be sure to visit my website at bicycle touring, procom and if you’re interested in learning how to conduct your own bicycle tours anywhere.

In the world be sure to pick up a free copy of my bicycle touring, pro starter guide, it’ll teach you the basics of how to get started, doing overnight bike tours anywhere in the world. Once again guys.

I’m darren. Al from bicycle touring, procom. Thank you so much for watching and I hope to see you out on the road sometime soon.