The Best Way to Make Your Van Into a Simple Camper
How to Turn a Van Into a Temporary Camper
We own a 13-year-old Ford Transit Van with a double-high roof. We use it for all kind of things, one of which is as a one-person camper. I'm a sheep breeder and an inspector of our very rare Dutch sheep breed (Drenthe Heath Sheep).
In summer (July and August) I travel through my country in the weekends to inspect the sheep of our breeders. I don't like to sleep in hotels or B&Bs, but I love camping. So I turn my big van into a temporary camper. That way I'm independent.
I Travel All Over My Country
On the map below, you can see where I have to travel to in my country during the months of July and August. Most of these trips involve over a two-hour drive from my home (sometimes as much as a 5-hour drive). Inspecting sheep the whole day long is exhausting. I would get in trouble if I had to drive long hours first, inspect the whole day, and then drive long hours back. I would fall asleep in the car, and we don't want that to happen.
Camping at a Farm
I like to go trout fishing too. I always search for a fishing pond in the area where I have to be and then search for a nice small campground nearby. I don't like the big, noisy family camping sites. They have strict rules on when to arrive and when to leave. Most of the time they don't correspond very well with my time schedule.
In The Netherlands we have an organization called SVR Camping Sites. Membership is cheap and they provides addresses of mini-camping sites at active farms. Those are small sites of 10 to 15 places max, and you can camp either in the meadow or in the orchard. They don't charge much for one night, and all have nice and clean toilets and showers, plus electricity. I love to camp there.
Make a 'What Do I Need' List
When you plan to turn your van into a temporary camper, you need to make a 'what do I need' list. What you need depends on how basic you are willing to camp or what form of luxury you think you can't do without.
My 'Must-Have' List:
2. Portable toilet
4. Water container
5. Electricity converter
6. Butane Gas Cooker
7. Pots, cutlery, and cleaning stuff
8. Extra lights
9. Window covers (if you need them)
10. Heater for cold nights
1. A Bed to Sleep In
It Is Easier to Sleep in a Normal Bed
I'm not a young teen anymore. I've had two hip operations and I can't sleep on a mattress on the floor anymore. I would have big troubles to stand up in the morning. So I put a complete bed in my van. It fits perfect and a great pro is that I have room underneath to store some stuff.
I Used to Take the Dogs with Me
I used to take my dogs with me and then I used a different kind of bedding because they needed their benches to sleep in. We set the benches apart from each other and put an old flat door on top of it and on top of that I put the mattress. It was a bit high so I needed a stepup to get in bed. Once in bed I couldn't move too much because the benches would move along. The dogs got used to that though.
I don't take them along anymore. In summer it's getting too hot in the van for the dogs. Besides that, not all camping sites allow dogs.
2. A Portable Toilet
A Portable Toilet Can Be Very Convenient
Once in a while a woman has to go to the room where even the Queen is alone. Those rooms are not always available when you need them. I found this 2.8-gallon portable toilet and I have used it ever since to my great satisfaction. I love being self supporting. Today I even take my portable toilet along when I'm not camping. It can be so darn convenient at times you know.
When you're planning to buy such a toilet don't forget to buy the necessary chemicals too. You need them to keep your toilet clean.
3. A Cooler
You need at least one cooler
An Electric Cooler Is a Must When Temps Are High
When you're on the road for a couple of days, you need at least one cooler to keep your stuff cool. I take along two coolers and a whole bunch of ice packs. I use the non-electric cooler for my own stuff and the electric cooler when I catch some trout or salmon. I love to go fish between sheep inspection.
The Koolatron P25 26-Quart FunKool Cooler looks like the electric cooler I use. These coolers can either run on your car battery or on electricity.
Ice Packs - You'll Need More Than One
I always take a load of ice packs with me, because they keep the cold in much longer. Sometimes I'm lucky to hit a camping place where I can put them in the freezer for the night. Sometimes I fill empty bottles with water and put them in the freezer. They function like ice packs too.
4. A Fresh Water Container
Don't go away without a fresh water tank of some kind
Don't Spare on a Fresh Water Container
A freshwater container is a must when you're travelling long distances and are camping in a Van.
You can use it for your portable toilet, clean your boots, and do the dishes. Choose one that's not pliable, but rather firm, because it should be able to stand a bit of rough handling.
I use a water container like this 7-Gallon Rigid Water Container only mine has no filter. I've never seen those in my country, but if I had a choice, I would've bought one with a filter. Why? You could end up in a situation that you have to drink the water. Then it's always safer to have filtered water available.
5. An Electricity Converter
Make sure you buy the right one
You Might Need an Electricity Converter
In Europe you can't do without a camping electricity converter. Most camping sites have a lower voltage than the normal 220 in houses in Europe. I don't know if that's the same in the USA or other countries outside of Europe.
I use a normal cable reel and then I need this converter to put the cable into a socket. I have two cable reels, so I can cover quite a bit of distance. Sometimes the electric point is a bit far from where I can place my van.
6. A Butane Portable Gas Stove
Portable Butane Gas Stove for Cooking
I used to take only cold food like buns, butter, cheese, some pastry, and fruit with me. For dinner I often bought some French fries or other fast food. Those snackbars are not always available and I didn't want to eat fast food all the time. So I bought a one pit burner to cook my own hot meal.
I love my Portable Butane Gas Stove. After a long day of inspecting sheep I love to make a hot cocoa. I can boil some eggs, and even cook a meal. Sometimes I eat a fresh caught trout for dinner.
7. Cutlery and Cleaning Stuff
Don't Forget the Cutlery and Cleaning Stuff
You might think you don't need much when you go camping for one or two nights. Take it from me, if you don't have it, you sure going to miss it.
I once forgot a spoon and a knife and you don't want to know how I ate my meat and pudding. I use a crate that's always packed with all the things I need. So when I have to go on a trip, I only have to pack that crate and I've all the stuff I need.
Some Extra Lights Might Come in Handy
This van doesn't have much light in the back and if I use the lights too or my car battery will die. At a camping site when I have electricity I take along an old floor lamp so I can read a few pages before going to sleep.
Having some extra flashlights is important when you have to go outside in the middle of the night. I always carry at least one, but two is better.
9. Window Covers
You Don't Want Peeking Toms at Night When You Have to Undress
In my Van I have windows at three sides, the front, the back and the side door. I use old, but nice bed sheets to cover the windows and they stay in my 'tool' crate, so I'll never forget them. I also use them when I have to use the portable toilet.
In the back I span elastic binders and I hang the sheet over them. In the front and on the side I use clamps to tighten the sheets. It's very easy to hang them and very easy to take them off.
I also take some extra blankets, because it can be rather cold at night, especially in Fall season.
10. A Portable Heater
For the cold days
It Can Be Quite Cold in Autumn or Winter
I do not travel only in the summer, but also in the fall season and winter too. I needed something to keep me warm in the evenings. In the local camping shop I found this cute little fan heater, made for campers. Mine looks almost the same as this Ceramic Fan Heater. The beautiful part is, that these heaters are very safe to use. When knocked over they stop immediately and nothing can get burned.
I never let it run at night though. I'm warm enough under my eiderdown and a fleece blanket. I do use it in the chilly evenings when I watch a movie on my laptop.
Organizing Your Stuff
Organizing Saves a Lot of Time and Space
I keep all the stuff I need for these short trips in separate boxes, so I don't have to go looking for stuff when I have to leave. All has its own place, even my fishing gear. I once forgot my bag full of clothing and it was a four day trip. First thing in the morning I had to find a store like Walmart, to get some basic clothing. Not easy in a place without big cities. You always discover something missing when you're too far away to turn back to pick it up.
Update April 2, 2016
Starting New Adventures in My New Van
From today on my dear old blue Van will be history. After 20 years of joy I have to say goodbye, because her body is rusting away. She won't pass the yearly inspection anymore. Too much corrosion underneath to be safe.
These vans are very hard to find in the second hand market. Most of them don't have an increast roof and very few have automatic transition. Last month we stumbled upon one that would fit our need. The roof is not as high as the present one, but high enough for me to go around in. It's 12 years old but has a very low mileage, so we decided to buy it and will trade-in our old van. Today I will drive my Van for the last time and I must confess: I'm feeling a bit sad. After 20 years this van has grown on me.
Update January 2019
After using this 'new' van for a couple of years, I must say that I don't miss my old blue van at all.
I thought I would miss the windows at the side and the rear, but after all I'm very glad that this is an all around closed van. It actually gives me a very safe and pretty feeling that nobody can see me when I'm sleeping in it. Not even when they try to peep inside from the front windows because it's very dark in the back.
Besides that, this van is also a bit longer than the old one, which gives me more room inside.
I love it.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2011 Titia Geertman