Conversion Van Camping
Conversion van camping is somewhere between the luxury of
life in an RV and the mild discomfort of sleeping in a tent.
You generally don't have any way to properly (safely) heat the
van at night, and you can't even stand up in it. It is cheap,
however, compared to an RV, and you can go places they cannot.
We spent more than 25 nights sleeping in our van last year.
Life In A Conversion Van
You have to make a van into something that is usable for you,
if it is going to be your residence for days or weeks at a time.
For my wife Ana and I, this meant having some space to move around.
We took out the two seats in the middle, which, I convinced Ana,
would be good armchairs for the living room. Now we have enough
space in the van for dressing or cooking. The bench-seat in back
folds out into a bed, so we were all set for camping.
When you are actually traveling for any amount of time, you
need to have a system of organization that keeps the space inside
livable. We found that after the first long trip, there were
numerous things we had brought with us, but never once used.
We were more efficient after that. We also have been able to
keep the space open in the van, despite carrying many things,
by using those plastic storage tubs you can buy at Walmart or
almost anywhere. They stack up well, and if you really need more
room at night, you can put them on the roof, as they are generally
rainproof with the lids snapped on.
Heating a Conversion Van
Camping in a van can get pretty cold at times, as it did even
when we were in the deserts of Arizona last winter. You can't
safely start the van and crank up the heater too often. We did
do this once in a while, for brief periods, but the danger of
carbon monoxide poisoning is just too great to leave the car
running while you are sleeping.
The other thing we did to heat up the van, was to cook. We
had a little propane camp stove that seemed to burn very clean.
When it was cold, it was time to cook dinner, breakfast, or tea.
The van heated up nicely from this. Again, because of the possibility
of carbon monoxide, I wouldn't recommend ever sleeping with a
propane burner going. Still, sometimes just warming up a little
is all you need before you crawl under the blankets for the night.
The real secret to heating a conversion van when you are camping
is to give up trying. Enjoy the little warm-ups at meal time,
of course, but unless you have electric power, I don't know of
a truly safe way to heat a van all night. What you need to do
instead, is heat yourselves. Wear warm clothing, and bring more
blankets than you think you'll need. Have a thermos bottle full
of hot coffee or tea waiting for you in the morning. You get
to warm the van making it the night before, and warm up yourselves
drinking it for breakfast.
The Advantages Of Conversion Van Camping
One obvious advantage of traveling and camping in a conversion
van is that it costs less than an RV. The initial cost is less,
especially if you buy used, as we did, and the cost of driving
it is substantially less. We averaged 18 miles per gallon on
our last cross-country trip. Many recreational vehicles are lucky
to get half of that, and they are much more expensive to maintain.
Compared with a tent, it is obvious that a van is much more
comfortable. Also, you are probably going to drive some kind
of car to wherever you are going camping. If you have a van,
it gives you the option to come inside if it starts to rain.
If you are backpacking a long way from home, it can save you
on motels on the drive to the trail head.
Flexibility is what we like about our conversion van. Camping
may be more comfortable in an RV, but not in all ways. It is
nice to be able to park anywhere, for example. We have taken
a nap in the parking lot of a store when traveling, and nobody
was the wiser, thanks to tinted windows, curtains, and the inconspicuousness
of a van. On our way back across the country last year, we found
a free campground in Florida that was on a beautiful lake and
had hot showers. We could park in one of the best spots, on a
bank overlooking Lake Talquin, because our van was small enough
to fit there, unlike most of the RVs.
It is also great to be able to drive anywhere. For an example
of this, read the story on the page, "Lost
On Mount Lemmon," about an off-road adventure in Arizona.
Because we were in the conversion van, camping when it got too
dark to drive was no problem. Finally, some of the larger RVs
need to drag a car around because the big rig just isn't practical
for daily driving. Our second home is also our primary vehicle
for going shopping or going to work. That's flexibility.
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