Here's how i converted a Plymouth Voyager minivan into a travelling gipsie wagon, for almost no money at all. With a little time and an extended-bed minivan, you can do it too! NOTE: Although i haven't tried it, i'm sure this plan can be adapted to a smaller minivan as well. Use your creativity!
Step 1: Clear the Seats.
First, you need to remove the middle bench seat from the van. In a Voyager or Caravan, this is done by pressing levers on the front legs, lifting the front of the seat up, then lifting up and back to disengage the back legs. Check the documentation for your van if you're not sure how. Store the bench seat somewhere out of the elements; as long as you keep the camper set-up, you won't be using it again!
Step 2: Prepare the Floor.
Next, put a tarp down. This is the voice of experience speaking, trust me! Even if the carpeting on your van's floor isn't primo, a tarp will make clean-ups *so* much easier. Just lift the corners, fold, then tip into a garbage can. Cheaper than vacuuming! Now it's time to start building the bed.
Step 3: Building a Bed: the Platform
For this, you will need a minimum of four milk crates. You *do* have old milk crates lying around, don't you? Sure you do. Or someone you know does. *Don't* use store-bought 'storage crates'; they aren't strong enough to support the weight you'll be putting on them.
Place one crate in each corner of your tarp 'floor'. i have an extra crate in the middle back pictured; in fact, by the time this build was done, nearly the whole floor was filled with crates! But my previous van had only four, and that worked just fine.
Step 4: Building a Bed: Step 2
Now you need plywood. You'll have to purchase this, unless you're the sort of person who happens to have spare sheets of plywood around the house. Get a 4' x 8' sheet of at least 1/2" thick plywood. You can have them cut it in half for you at the lumberyard or do it yourself - either way, you want to wind up with two 4' x 4' squares.
You will need to load these in through your back hatch and over the rear seat - there isn't enough clearance to load through the side door, even though it's closer. Stack the sheets on top of each other and on top of the milkcrates, as shown.
i've considered cutting both sheets in half the long way (2' x 4' rectangles) and add hinges, to make getting to the back storage crates easier.
Step 5: Building a Bed: Make It Comfy
Making the bed comfortable comes next. Use at least one roll of egg-crate foam - the more you put under you, the better you'll sleep. Air mattresses, futons, or old sofa cushions are other options.
Foam can be purchased various places; old cushions can be acquired at thrift stores, yard sales, or curbside. Shop at your own risk. if you do go with Found cushioning, make sure the foam isn't so old its rotting; the dust is teh badness. Spraying with some sort of disinfectant/upholstery cleaner/scent remover might not be a bad idea either, particularly if you're going with Found materials.
Step 6: Building a Bed: Finishing Touches
Top off with two sleeping bags - one inner side up on the bottom, one inner side down on the top. Add a sheet between them if you like.
Note that the back bench seat is now going to be an inch or more lower than the bed, so to keep your head from going downhill, you'll want to build this up a little too. i usually store towels, hangings, cloaks etc. under the pillows.
Step 7: Make It Private!
Hangings, you say? Why, yes. If your van doesn't have tinted windows, they are a must for privacy, tho nice in any event. The owners of our previous minivan had come up with this solution to sagging ceiling cloth; i found it worked well for other things as well! (Sorry i don't have a better picture).
Measure the width of the ceiling arch, both in back and just behind the front seats. The front measurement will be shorter. Cut two or more strips of lathe to the length measured. Tuck one end of the lathe into the vinyl 'edging' at the top of the window, then angle the lathe until you can tuck it in the other side as well.
Step 8: Final Touches
This ribbed ceiling is useful for many things:
- drape a sarong, beachtowel, or other cloth over to provide privacy
- run clothesline along sides to hang curtains over windows
- hang mini battery lamps to provide light when the doors are closed
- tuck decorative cards in to look at while lying down
... use your imagination!
Sadly, i didn't take any pictures of this van in use (i no longer own it - i'll have to figure out how to customize a PT Cruiser one of these days i guess ;p ) so no picture for this step. However, in practice, i hung material (sarongs, cloaks, towels etc) around all four perimeters so that when we were inside, no one could see us. Kind of a must if you need privacy to change clothes etc in public places!
Step 9: Odds and Ends.
This picture gives an idea how i had the underbed storage set up. On the left is a sideways milk crate that held our cooking kit, mugs, a drawstring bag for cutlery, etc - the 'kitchen crate'. On the right is a small butane stove; the crate behind that held canned and boxed goods.
I think the final crate count on this one was seven: see the diagram for more detail. Heavy lines indicate 'closed' sides of crates. Obviously the back two corners couldn't hold anything you needed easy access to - i don't recall now what all i kept in there. Must have been the Really Important Stuff. Or super-sekrit treasure.
i left the travelling life before i got around to implementing any further steps on this, but i had plans to install a kitchen area in the 'trunk' space behind the back seat. I wanted to fit a plywood platform with four legs to raise it to the height of the top of the seat back.
Then i planned to cut a couple holes in the plywood: one that the pump stem of a 5-gal. water jug could fit thru, with the jug sitting on the floor under the platform. The other hole was to be slightly smaller than a rectangular dish tub. That way, i figured i could have a sink w/running water that could be lifted out to empty the greywater. This would have also provided counter space at the other side of the sink, for food prep or to set the stove on. One reason i never got around to doing it was the necessity of having a place to keep the spare tire; however, a van w/roof rack could carry it on top and i'm sure there are other ways of dealing with that problem.
One of those screenhouses designed to fit over the lifted tailgate of a van and we'd've been *set*. As it was, in practice we'd put a dining fly tarp up alongside the sliding door and set up our living/kitchen space beside the van. Kept a couple of the collapsible camp chairs stashed in the open space between crates along with the tarp, ropes etc, and we were good to go at a moment's notice.