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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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