When it comes to DIY campervan conversions there is no better vehicle than a minivan for a camper. Once you get past the fact that it’s a minivan you’ll quickly see it’s the best DIY camper for just about every type of camping trip or even long-term living. Here is our design for the best Minivan Camper and we have road tested it for more than 30,000 miles and 150+ nights over two multi-month trips and lots of weekends.
We converted a 2006 Honda Odessy minivan into a campervan with a full-sized mattress, 7 under bed storage drawers, nicely equipped kitchen, cooler, and power charging station. We pulled off this conversion in about three days and under $350.
Take a tour of our Minivan Camper Conversion
This video gives you a quick look inside of our minivan along with some sweet music. The video doesn’t go into depth on the actual build, but all of that is described below and one of these days we should make another video on more about the minivan to campervan conversion process.
Picking a minivan for your Minivan to campervan conversion
We choose a minivan for our project because they are much more fuel efficient than full-size vans and would give us the most amount of space for the money. We bought our 2006 Honda Oddessy for $6500 with just over 100,000 miles.
Things to look for in a minivan camper:
- Good mechanical condition – check service records and have it inspected before starting a long trip.
- Room for a full sized bed (or close) – which is 54 inches, ours was about 51-52″ between the narrowest point but we used a flexible mattress which fit nicely.
- Consider a good condition minivan around 100,000 miles – After a minivan passes 100,000 miles the price drops to a very affordable level.
How to convert a minivan into the best campervan ever
We are going to take you step by step on how to make your minivan into the best campervan possible. Since everyone might be working with a different van the dimensions of your camper will be different. So, instead of giving exact measurements I used, I will give suggestions on how much room between different parts of the build I would leave, and things like that instead of my exact blueprints.
Tools Required for this campervan conversion
- Drill with Phillips screwdriver & a 1/8′ drill bit
- Tape Measurer
- Circular Saw or Table Saw or just a hand saw if that’s what you have
- Other general hand tools would be helpful but are not required
Supplies Required for this campervan conversion
From Building Supply Store:
- 2 – sheets of 4′ x 8′ plywood for the top of the bed platform and kitchen storage unit
- 10 – 2″x 2″ pine studs
- 1 – Box of screws to build the bed frame and kitchen cabinet frame
- 1 – Roll of reflective windshield shade material custom cut to fit the front window
- 1 – Roll of standard duct tape
From Amazon, we found the best prices on Amazon and it’s delivered right to your home:
- 1 – Full-size premium Futon mattress $123, we love this mattress it’s honestly better than hotel beds and comparable to our bed at home
- 7 – Sterlite tubs to go under the bed frame
- 2 – Sterlite storage crates $6.25
- 1 – Coleman cooler $58
- 1 – Compact folding table $43
- 2 – Outdoor folding chairs
Step 1. Remove the Minivan 2nd and 3rd-row seats
We started our conversion by removing all of the back seats of the van. We will be traveling as just two people so more seats while isn’t necessary. Honestly, a minivan camper is probably best for 2 people at most, if you are planning a trip with more people a bigger van might be a better option.
If you have a van with a third-row seat that folds flat, still consider removing it and using that pocket for additional storage. We used this space to add about a 12″ deep by the width of the van of extra storage space. I was tempted to leave it in there and make building the minivan camper easier, but the extra room was great.
Step 2. Building a platform frame for the bed
We rented a campervan for our trip to New Zealand and it had storage under the bed which was great but in their design, you had to lift the mattress up to access to storage. We wanted quick easy access to the storage and to have it divided and also cheap and easy to make.
We used 2″x 2″ pine studs to make the supports for the frame and a piece of cheap OSB roofing plywood for the top of the platform. We built the platform to raise the bed and frame high enough to slide bins in that we bought.
Start just behind the front seats to put your first bed platform frame member. Double check to make sure to make it high enough for your storage bins to fit underneath including any part of the frame. After the first one is the get a level and set the height of the back frame member.
The reason I did this is that the floor of our van was all kinds of different heights. The floor was higher and lower in many places so to get the bed level I would suggest setting the front frame support and then the back with a level, and the build each of the rest to fit your van floor.
Step 3. Adding under-bed storage
We built out platform tall enough for a bunch of plastic bins to slide under. Using plastic bins didn’t require building and tracks or complicated systems, just slide them in and go. We have used 7-inch tall bins since we did the camper conversion a few years ago, but next trip we are planning on raising the platform for more storage. Always, always build in as much storage as you possibly can, it will make trips in your campervan much more enjoyable.
Step 4. Build a ‘Kitchen’ Storage Cabinet
Here is where you can get as crazy as you want, but we wanted to keep it simple. Our kitchen is primarily for storage and we cook and clean everything on a small fold-out table. When we are camping we find we end up cooking on this table or a campsite picnic table and doing washup here as well. So we didn’t want to add a sink because it adds a lot of costs and they never really work that well.
A 12v refrigerator cooler would be great if you are on the move a lot, but if you are going to stay put for days at a time a normal quality cooler is probably better.
Step 5. DIY Camper Window Shades
As funny as this sounds widow shades can make or break your camper build. Our first design of window shades we a total disaster and we were constantly fixing them. Our van has side curtain airbags in the back around most of the windows so we couldn’t screw in and mount anything to hold sliding fabric shades. So, we tried to attach brackets to the windows themselves. Note nothing expoy-ed, sticky velcro-ed, or anything suction to windows in a campervan will ever be permanent.
Optional – Blackout shades for a DIY Campervan
Last summer we drove to Alaska during the solstice and we knew we needed to get some sleep during the 24 hours of sun so we build blackout shades for our minivan camper. We did this cheap and easy, of course. We bought black poster board from Walmart and then with the windows open we held the poster board inside the van and traced out the shape of the window best we could. We cut them out using an Exacto knife.
This got the blackout shades close, but then we took 2″ wide (standard size) duct tape a taped the perimeter with pieces of the tape laying half of the width on the board and half hanging over. then did the same on the other side sticking both sticky sides of the tape together. This made up for any errors we made while tracing and created a flexible edge to really seal out all of the light. These worked out really well, we were even able to sleep in the middle of the day for a nap when we started out late taking photos or slept in bright parking lots – these are great for stealth camping for both privacy and blocking out the light.
Step 6. Basic 120 Volt Charging Station (wall/house power outlets)
All minivans should have several 12v power outlets or cigarette adapters and with a low-cost power inverter $29.99 you can charge or power most household things. This takes a lot of power and should really only be used while driving or the van is turned on.
Last step. Put the mattress into the minivan camper
We put our mattress in right after building the platform and it constantly got dirty and sometimes damaged as we finished the campervan conversion. After you finish the bed platform make sure the mattress fits, but then leave it out of the van until the very end, it will keep it a lot nicer as you finish building your campervan.
Additional pieces of kit to consider
Portable Jump Station – If you plan to be in some remote areas it’s best to be prepared. You might forget to turn off a light or cold temperatures at night can make a weak battery not start. With this unit, you can jump-start your camper without having to use another car. We bought this portable jump station with an air compressor for $45.
Things that worked and didn’t in our minivan camper
Stuff that worked:
The Bed – Our bed was actually super comfortable, I would rather sleep on this mattress than a bunch of hotels I’ve stayed in. We measured the inside of the wheel wells and they were about 2-3″ too narrow for a ‘real’ full-size mattress, so we were pretty confident that a premium futon mattress would squeeze into the space and it did. A spring mattress might have but it would have been a tighter fit. Plus the mattress was only $123 shipped right to our door.
The Kitchen – It works well mostly for storage, the cooking we do is usually on our fold up table or on a picnic table.
Stuff that didn’t work:
- Suction cups to hold anything on the windows long term, with heat they fall
- Command strip hangers on the window, when it gets over 100° they fall off
- Cast Iron pots and pans, unless you are cooking over a fire a lot, they are too hard to clean and keep from rusting when you can’t wash them right away (or maybe we just got bad quality ones)
- Our first window shades – Our biggest problems we the window shades, we are seriously thinking about having the windows heavily tinted in the back to help with this and give us more privacy. We wanted to keep the van as close to normal condition because we wanted to resell it after our big road trip, which for the most part worked.
The stuff we wished we had:
Portable battery operated fan for hot nights.
The van has been busy so far, she has brought us on a three month US road trip, a 6-week road trip to Alaska, and many other short trips around the country.