The Best Way To Make Your Van Into a Simple Camper
Turning My Van into a Temporary Camper
We own a 13-year-old Ford Transit Van with a double high roof, which we use for all kind of things and one of them is using it as a one person camper. I'm a sheep breeder and an inspector of our very rare Dutch sheep breed called Drenthe Heath Sheep. In summer (July and August) I have to travel through my country during the weekends to our Association members/breeders to inspect their sheep. So I need sleeping accomodations. As I don't like a hotel or B&B, I turn my big van into a temporary one-person camper. I just love camping; I love to be totally independent and I love nature.
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 July and August. Most of these trips involve a more than two hour drive from my home and sometimes a 5 hours drive just to get there. Inspecting sheep the whole day long is exhausting, and I would get in trouble if I had to drive long hours first, then 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.
As I like to go trout fishing, 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, because they have strict rules on when to arrive and when to leave and most of the time they don't correspond very well with my movements. In The Netherlands, an organization called SVR Camping Sites 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 just love to camp there.
Camping at a Farm
Some farmers in The Netherlands give campers the opportunity to camp on their property. Very often they're still active farmers where the guests can see farm animals like cows, chickens, pigs, sheep and horses.
Then there are the mini-camping sites, run by private persons who happen to have an overload of land.
They all have to play by the rules of the camping law, and they're much cheaper and certainly more peaceful than the big family camping sites.
Most of them are a member of a coordinating organization called "Camping at the Farm." You can become a member by paying them a small fee each year (10 Euros) and then you get a reduced price at all the mini and farm camping sites.
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 'what do I need' list:
2. Portable toilet
4. Water container
5. Electricity converter
6. Butane Gas Cooker
7. Pots, cutlery, and cleanng 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
As I am not a young teen anymore and since I have had two hip operations, it is not so easy for me to sleep on a mattress on the floor, because then I have some trouble standing up again.
A couple of years ago I found this lovely small bed, which fits into my van perfectly. The braces (I hope that's the right word) where it stands on, can be folded when I have to stash it when not in use.
A pro for using a regular bed is that you have room underneath to store some stuff.
I Used to Take the Dogs with Me
I used to take my dogs 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. I needed a setup to get into my bed and I had to move slowly, because the benches would move a bit with me, but the dogs got used to that and they loved camping with me.
I don't take them along anymore, because I have to travel in summer and it's getting too hot in the van for the dogs and some camping sites won't allow dogs and most fishing ponds won't allow them and then they had to stay in the van all the time and I didn't like that.
2. A Portable Toilet
A Portable Toilet Can Be Very Convenient
Well, you know, once in a while a woman has to go to the room where even the Queen is alone and those rooms are not always directly available when you're travelling on the road. So at one time I stumbled upon this which I immediately bought and I have used it ever since to my great satisfaction. I love being selfsupporting. Today I even take my portable toilet along when I'm not camping in my Van, just because it can be so convenient at times you know. 2.6 gallon portable toilet
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 from getting cooked before its time. 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 fishing in between sheep inspection.
The below looks exactly like the electric cooler I use. These coolers can either run on your car battery through a cigarette lighter or on electricity when I'm at a camping site. Koolatron P25 26-Quart FunKool Cooler
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 fresh water container is a must when you're travelling long distance and are camping in a Van.
You need it to fill your portable toilet and to clean all kinds of other stuff, so you have to take at least one reasonable size fresh water container with you. 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 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? Because you could end up in a situation that you have to drink the water and then it's always safer to have filtered water available. 7-Gallon Rigid Water Container
5. An Electricity Converter
Make sure you buy the right one
You Might Need an Electricity Converter
When camping in Europe you need an camping electricity converter in order to be able to get electricity in your camper or van on a camping site. 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 either this converter or they put the cable directly into a socket. I have two cable reels, so I can cover quite a bit of distance, because sometimes the electric point is a bit far from where I can stand.
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, fruit with me and then in the evening I bought some French fries or something like that, but those were not always available and sometimes I just fancied something hot to eat. So I bought a one pit burner to cook my own hot meal.
I just love my . I can make some hot coco, or boil some eggs and even cook a meal. Sometimes I take a small pack of those pre-baked French fries with me and then bake them in a little frying pan. Then you have baked potatoes in the shape of French fries. Portable Butane Gas Stove
7. Cutlery and Cleaning Stuff
Don't Forget the Cutlery and Cleaning Stuff
You might think you don't need that much when you go camping for one or two nights, but 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 just take 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
Because I do not travel only in the summer, but also in the fall season and winter too, I needed something to keep me warm from the time I stopped driving and going to bed. So I went to this local camping shop and they had those cute little fan heaters, specially made for campers. Mine looks almost the same as this and the beautiful part is that it's very safe, because when you accidentally knock it over (happened to me more than once) it immediately stops, so nothing can get burned. The moment you lift it from its 'feet', it stops; put it down and it runs again. Ceramic Fan Heater
I never let it run at night, because I'm warm enough under my eiderdown and a fleece blanket on top of that, but it's very agreeable during the evening when I'm watching TV or read a book.
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, so first thing in the morning I had to find a store like Walmart, to get some shorts, t-shirts, underwear, toothbrush, toothpaste and more. You always discover something missing when you're too far away to turn back to pick it up. I keep a special set of bedding stored with my camping stuff.
Update April 2, 2016
Starting New Adventures in My New Van
From today on my dear old blue Van will be history. She will be replaced by a younger version. After 19 years of joy I have to say goodbye, because her body is rusting away. To get her through the yearly inspection this year would cost us a huge amount of money, but that will only help us for a short time, because once it starts the rusting process will go on forever. We'll face the same next year.
A Van like ours is hard, if not almost impossible to find in the second hand market. Last month we stumbled upon one that would certainly fit our need. It's 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 totally not happy about it. After 19 years this van has grown on me.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Titia Geertman