Making our Van a Home: The Conversion

Why did we choose the Dodge Grand Caravan?

We wanted something a little bigger but it turns out, in Canada, you cannot safely have a child car seat on a rear facing or side facing seat. It also includes no captain (pivot) seats or any seats without the correct car seat anchor. I did a lot of research and contacted numerous Canadian bodies to determine what was legal and what was safe. We had looked at Ford Econolines but these had side facing seats. The Mitsubishi Delicas also looked promising but very hard to come by. Most we came across were imports which meant finding parts for it would be difficult if something went wrong. They have high suspension which would be beneficial but offered less space than the Dodge. Having the Dodge, with blackout windows offered a lot of privacy and the vehicle doesn’t necessarily look like a camper so is more stealth which facilitates free camping.

We weren’t left with many options. You could buy a seat conversion kit for a VW camper to make the back seat car seat compatible but the VW are too unreliable mechanically but also out of our price range. The be honest, I am glad we didn’t go for something bigger-we save a fortune on fuel because of achieving a better MPG and we plan to do around 50,000km so this was an important consideration.

Time to rest: Building the bed

The previous owner of the Dodge had existed with a few foam mattress toppers on the floor of the van. This was not going to do. We were planning of living in this van for a year and a little more comfort was certainly required and immediately storage would be an issue.

We decided on building a fold out bed frame. The bed would be queen size and perfectly suitable to sleep all three of us comfortably. With a few sketches, a trip to Home Depot and some help from our AirBnB host Mizzan, we were able to construct a fold out bed with removable legs. We needed the bed to be space saving as in the evening, Jaspers seat would go into the floor and the bed fold out.

The construction cost a little over $200 Canadian and was completed with a foam mattress (in four stackable cushion segments) covered in some awesome hippie material we found in IKEA. It also allows us to store food, clothes, kitchen equipment, camp table, chairs and more underneath. We topped the foam cushions with a thin inflatable mattress for some extra comfort and we do have to say it provides an extremely comfortable nights sleep.

Feeding the Family: The leisure battery and fridge

Weather proofing: The Car Mountable ARB awning

The awning is a great addition to any camper as it can provide both shade from the sun and protection from the rain. Having our awning allowed us to cook when it rained, Jasper could play under it in all weather conditions and it provided that additional space that we needed.

We purchased ours from who are based in the Greater Vancouver area. The awnings are incredibly easy to fit using just a few tools. Matt from was ever so helpful in helping us secure an awning (they were proving very hard to come by) and a fitting kit suitable to the roof racks on our car (The Dodge Grand Caravan). To be honest google was spitting out all sorts of U.N. useful information and it was proving very difficult to even ascertain if we could get an awning to fit the Dodge.

The brand we chose was ARB – their simple design and durable material meant that the extendable 8ft x 6ft awning offered SPF 50 rating and a large amount of shade for Jasper to play in whilst if it rained it was also waterproof and you could set it at an angle to allow the rain to simply run off. As we were unable to cook inside our vehicle this meant cooking in the rain was no problem which in the long run home cooking allowed us to stick to our budget.

The ARB awning also has a number of accessories that are available to accompany the various size awnings (currently 3 sizes available). These include: a windbreak, 4 additional walls and a full room with mosquito nets. We chose the additional windbreak to add to the front of our awning to offer further protection from the elements. This also provides a certain amount of protection from bugs and if needed, other campers.

The awning retails at:

Space: The Roofbox

Simply, we needed more space. The storage under our bed included three laundry baskets-one with our clothes, one with food and one with kitchen utensils. Also in the space there was a spare tyre (additional to the space saver tyre under the vehicle), a table, camping chairs, outer stove, the leisure battery and a few odd bits (shoes, gas, water etc.).

We purchased a Roof box from a Canadian Tire in Vancouver, that was half the width of the roof allowing for the awning on the other half of the roof. Our two suitcases fit snuggly into the roof box and are filled with tools and other maintenance bits as well as some additional clothes (thick Coats and winter gear for when we head north).

The roof box retails at:

The Additional: Home comforts

Our most valuable addition was the curtains. We purchased a pair of blackout curtains from IKEA, cut them to size, hemmed using iron on hemming web and attached using white netting cable with eyelets to small screws. They aren’t perfect but they do a pretty good job at keeping street light out. We couldn’t go without them. The curtains cost us $29.99 for the curtains and $8.20 for the cable and eyelets.

We don’t have sleeping bags but a four seasons duvet. It has done us proud and has kept us warm at -7 degrees in Washington DC. The duvet was expensive at $95.99 but we are glad we made the investment. We also have 3 pillows, a fitted sheet and duvet cover.

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