the poor man’s (kind of) vanagon

Camping, parenting, travel May 15, 2015

The Euro Van is the most recent incarnation of the Westfalia (available in the U.S. atleast, there is a cruelly named ‘California’ available in Europe). And they are sweet. They represent freedom. They capture the spirit of the adventurous American, our grand National Parks, and long highways. You can picture one adorned with surfboards and bicycles and parked on a beach, I’m sure of it. If not, see Pinterest. My stepmother still speaks wistfully about the Westfalia she had when her boys were young, her eyes lose focus as they follow memories of rising early and driving off down empty roads to new adventures. She also remembers it as her mobile office, a private retreat reserved for her dissertation away from the hubbub of motherhood. The only problem with Westfalias is that they are old, some show their age better than others, and they are expensive because of the demand. She also tells me that they’ll break your heart when they break down as hers inevitably would. Eurovans went out of production more recently, and are in better shape but that comes with a price. Repairs can be costly, and for my family atleast, having a vehicle (expensive or not) expressly dedicated to camping is out of our budget. We are trying to make do as is with one family car and one work truck. There has to be another way.

And there is I think.

We went for it and bought a Toyota Sienna minivan. It is not hip like a Westfalia. Understatement, I know. It is reasonably fuel efficient, has all wheel drive, and has a spacious interior. As a daily driver with camper tendencies, is actually affordable. Ever since we got it I have been busy trying to transform it into my version of a camper van for some epic road trips that I have planned. We do face the issue of having two small children and therefore cannot remove all the seats (plus it being a daily driver is what makes it affordable). Additionally, we need to keep enough room to have two huge ass car seats as well as enough sleeping space for 4 people. I also must have the pull over and be asleep in minutes effect of the euro van/ Westfalia. No pitching tents. No leveling trailers, just sleep. So, while my plan isn’t exactly revolutionary, it is precise and I think I’ve worked out all of the details. Here they are:

Priority: ready made bedding for four and easy food prep.

Need:

1xToyota Sienna, 2011 and up has sliding captains seats which is crucial to my plan of keeping our car seats latched in at night. (I also considered the Chevy Astro, but didn’t find a suitable one in our area, consequently I am unsure as to how the measurements break down.)
***you may be questioning the expense of a relatively new Sienna vs. a Westfalia, but think of this: gas mileage, dependability, comfort of interior for long distances of travel (the Sienna seats are spacious and comfortable, the captains chairs even have retractable foot rests), AWD, and the fact that a Sienna is a daily driver. Also, the beds on this set up are more roomy than those in the Westfalia.

1 cooler

1 Camp Chef Sherpa containing camp kitchen supplies (including small camp stove)

1 Nemo Helio camp shower, and some sort of sink vessel (we have the fold up backpacking type). The Helio provides pressurized warm water. I will be writing a separate review of it in a camp kitchen post, because it is awesome.

1 roof top tent (James Baroud or Autohome due to fastest set up) I like the James Baroud Horizon as written up here by expedition portal. It is light, low profile, pretty large, and less expensive than the other quick set up tents. They are available on adventure-ready.com

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It would be awesome to have a hitch mounted stow away cargo rack to hold the camp chef Sherpa and cooler (they fit perfectly, I measured) for an easy access kitchen and making room for the bedding the van. But, that may come in a couple of seasons. In the meantime we will move the Sherpa and cooler to front seat for nights. Also, you may want to reserve the hitch mount for a bike rack.

So, roof top tent goes on top of course with bedding. The captain seats remain in the car with the car seats. When they are pushed forward as far as they go, you have a full 72 inches in the back for sleeping (with bench seat folded down, obviously). The back holds one partially inflated sleeping pad and one cot already assembled (because that’s what we have, but a folded futon could work too) and bedding, folded in half, as well as the cooler, Sherpa, the water, our clothes and the toilet. Pull over, pop roof top tent, slide seats forward, flatten out the van bedding, throw the cooking stuff in the front seat, and sleep.
Here is the bedding, assembled for travel and with ample room for the rest of our gear as well as the full extension of leg room for passenger seating.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

Here is all the bedding and tent that we will no longer need to pack:

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Here is the assembled bed, after a couple of minutes setup.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetThe cot fits my 6’1” husband comfortably, and the slightly folded sleeping mat will be perfect for one of the boys for many years to come. Without car seats, this could comfortably accommodate two adults around 6 feet.

All we need now is the roof top tent and a road map.

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