Sade's Gipsie Caravan: a Minivan to Camper Conversion




About: artist, musician, theater person, crafter; a Rainbow punk hippie goth gypsy. INFJ, or maybe P. i've been a sideshow performer, a blacklight performance artist, a bellydancer, a college DJ. Leanings towards c...

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!

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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.

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    12 Discussions


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Were your parents hippies? I grew up living like this, And have seen thousands of different variations for living out of a van. I think my favorite was a pop out tent, that was attached to the slider door of the van. But they too used the underside of their bed as storage, Only they used the rear cargo space, And a saw horse to polish surf boards. Not exactly a survival skill. But living in a mobile vehicle is an important skill, That shouldnt be forgotten, Especially with the current economy. You never know when your going to lose all your toys, And become homeless. Very nice instructable.

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Nope, they didn't invent hippies til i was about ten years old, lol. i've seen the (purchased) tents that fit over the raised hatchback; always wanted one, never got there. Also had plans to build a kitchen in the rear space by adding a plywood table w/cutout for a dishtub, and water from one of those big water jugs with a pump. i've never quite gotten to where i HAD to live out of my vehicle, i've been close to *choosing* it a couple times. These days i only seem to switch to festival mode once a year, so i've been surviving that with a dome tent and tarp. But you are sadly quite right. of course when you combine peak oil with bad economy, you may need a permanent space to park that vehicle before you move into it..


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I have a similar idea, check it out at You can see hq pictures and download free plans to do it the way I did


    10 years ago on Introduction

    in those corner crates you could put battery to run lights and radios or phone chargers. if you intend to be a gipsie and live out of the van you might also want to add a power inverter to run a laptop for directions and weather.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Great job. I wish I had thought of the "ribbed" ceiling in my old '72 VW bus. I found a bed kit at the dealer that you attached to the rear seat. You just lifted and pulled and the rear seat came up and forward on legs, the seat back pivoted down between the seat and the rear deck and you had a double bed. I made curtains by folding over the two edges of some towels and then hanging them with curtain springs. It only took one summer to send me to a local van and camper shop for a crank open skylight. A Coleman cooler was clipped to the back of the passenger's seat for food. Carpet tape and a remnant finished out the floor. Boy, I sure miss that van, not so much in the winter! lol. One trick I came up with for showering was to use a shower head and hose from the dollar store- the kind you attach over a sink faucet, and a black plastic garbage bag. just cut a small corner off of the bag and fit the adapter into the bag and twisty-tie it to seal the hole. add a couple of gallons of water to the bag, tie it off and lay it out flat on the roof of the van. The water will be hot in no time on a sunny day. Just unclip the hose and wet up, soap up and rinse off. Great 'ible, and thanks for bringing back so many memories.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    don't use any used bedding material,invest in a new mattress pad or similar type padding,foam etc.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I thought you had things worked out pretty well. The whole set up reminded of the interior of an actual gypsy bender tent. Simplicity is key and you have that figured out well. One suggestion if I may, For bathing I use a regular milk jug with "screw on type lid" heat up a nail and poke 7-10 holes (depending on nail size) in the lid for a jug shower. Fill jug up 1/2 full cold water fill up rest of the way with really hot water. You first wet your hair and body, lather up and scrub and then use remaining water for rinse. Usually one gallon of water will work for complete navy type shower. I wish you the best on all your future travels and I will be praying for you. I am a Christian and we all need Jesus :) He is my Lord and my Savior. Please pray to Him too. :) God bless.


    we're not TV people, so wouldn't have much use for that; but good idea for others. Some sort of additional ventilation would have come in very handy at times, but i never got that adventurous. Maybe in a year or two i'll be putting up Things To Do to a PT Cruiser, lol..


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks. i know i only had a crappy digicam at the time.. i just remembered this was on my computer so i figured i'd share!