Van Conversion [Main] [Contact Us] [Events] [Family] [Fun] [Garden] [Misc.] [Photos] [Search] [Site Index] [Travel]

In 2020, we began discussing how to reconcile our love of travel with the reality of life with Claire. There will never be long vacations in our future when we retire unless we bring Claire with us. After researching lots of mini-RVs, we keep coming to the same conclusion that the cost and the hassle is not worth it for how we would travel. We would likely stay in hotels most nights, we would never cook anything in it, and we probably wouldn't use it more than a couple of times a year. But on an emergency road trip to Arizona, we discovered ways that we could comfortably sleep in the van and that got us thinking about turning ours into a mini-RV that would work for our unique situation with Claire. So we did.

All modifications are temporary so it can be used as a normal vehicle when we aren't traveling. Here it is: our beloved minivan Septimus converted into a very-mini-RV with sleeping space for three.

Before: a normal 2017 Dodge Caravan with all seats up. It's primarily a black and grey interior with small red seatbelt accents, so that's the color scheme I worked with to match.
Step #1: Put all seats in the floor except the narrow part of the back bench seat. That's where Claire will sit. There are built-in spaces for cups and food in the armrest area next to her. Not shown: the black and red seatbelt shoulder pad that has her name, DOB, and diagnosis on it in large text for first responders to find in an emergency.
Step #2: Protect knees when kneeling by placing black racquetballs in the larger gap of the chair latches and black golf balls in the smaller gap. The racquetballs squish slightly if kneeled on and the golf balls eliminate the remaining holes in the floor so that the mat above it stays flush with the rest of the floor.
Step #3: Add two thick cushioned floor mats side-by-side over the chair latches and open floor area. The mats are easy to clean and waterproof. Then add a long length of black carpet backing.
Step #4: Add a small cot. It took a long time to find a cot that was narrow enough to fit into the space. This one is 27.5" wide. Top this with a smaller length of black carpet backing.
Step #5: Top the cot with the small mattress it came with (which Claire will sleep on), then two black sleeping bags and two grey backpacking sleeping pads (only one of each shown here). Place a yoga mat on the very top which will provide a waterproof base when we use the cot as a diaper changing area for Claire.
Step #6: Bundle up everything on the cot with a fitted sheet. Use sheet clips to secure the four corners of the cot underneath since it is a little larger than the cot. Add pillows with washable shams, and a waterproof seat cover for Claire's seat. We will travel with three more pillows than shown here.
Step #7: Turn the space under Claire's seat into a diaper/wipes storage area by adding a cargo net. Under the front half of the cot, store two clear tubs, one for food and one for toys and other supplies. Also, store one grey Party Stacker cooler. It has an indented lid, which leaves enough space to store a large red eBags packing cube on top of it to hold more stuff (not shown). There is room in front of the cot to store a second Party Stacker cooler.
Step #8: Add touch-activated interior lights along the windows that are recharged by USB, and four black expanding net bags to hold items off the floor such as coats, shoes, large grocery items, etc. They are attached to seat belt holders with simple metal S hooks and can be moved to the other side of the van when using the cot to sleep. Also hanging up is a bag of window screens that are held in place by magnets. These go over the middle row windows and are designed to be placed on the outside of the van, but we will attach a magnetic strip to the base of the windows to hold the bottom of the screens, and there is enough magnetic pull around the rest of the window to hold it on the inside. This will allow us to crack open the windows if ventilation is needed at night. We also installed window deflectors on the exterior tops of the windows to keep things dry if we need to crack the windows. The last little gray bag is a USB-based battery charger for Claire's toy batteries.
Now, let's look at the transformation at the back of the van. There is a large space in the floor where Claire's chair would be stowed. We will use this space to store her boxes of liquid nutrition.
Step #9: Cover the space in the floor with large, thick cutting boards. The second one has been cut to be narrower and has been rounded off in one corner to fit.
Step #10: Add one large suitcase. We will swap out dirty and clean clothes as needed. Under the back half of the cot, we have space for Tom's and my computer backpacks, with room in front for a red eBags storage cube and Claire's wheelchair backpack. Note that the wheelchair backpack is blue on purpose - color coded to match her blue wheelchair, so we know exactly which bag to grab when we go on outings. It contains three color-coded canvas gait belts with loops on them - one for each of us with our different waist sizes. We can easily attach our belts to Claire's with bungy cords and caribeeners so we can walk with her without having to hold on to her clothing to keep her from walking away. (Yes, she can walk, but a wheelchair in public is much easier if it is an accessible site.)
Step #11: Add a short seatback organizer to the back of the driver's seat that holds gadgets, tools, umbrella, trash bags, USB flashlight, and food. This will get moved to the front of Claire's seat when we convert the van to its sleeping configuration. Hanging from the side of the passenger's chair is a trash bag holder. A black tote bag hangs from one of two hooks. This is the catch-all hotel bag which will be used to carry whatever we need to bring into and out of hotels.
Step #12: Up front, add a phone stand on the passenger side because we've discovered that Zoom meetings are a part of life during a road trip. Place a roll-up window shade on the passenger side window and two gap fillers between the seats and the center console. Not shown: underneath the console is an open area that contains small bags of supplies: first aid kit, wetnaps, kleenex, dental kits, candy, light-weight disposable ponchos, etc. Also not shown: two double cupholders that turn a single cup into two. We will use these in the cupholders in the back of the center console, because we tend to have a lot of different beverage cups out during a trip.
When configuring the van to sleep at night, first cover all of the windows with Weathertech blackout window covers, perfectly sized to fit each window (two shown here). Then take out the sleeping bags and sleeping mats from the cot. Place one pillow on the seat to even out the level between the seat back and seat, top the whole thing with the mat (all the way up over the headrest), then add a pillow and sleeping bag. Place an inflatable ottoman in the foot area under the dashboard to elevate the end of the sleeping mat. The end result is a surprisingly comfortable bed-like sleeping area. Note that the driver's side overlaps some of the cot's sleeping area, but Claire is fairly short and likes to sleep curled up on her side, so there is plenty of room for her. She hates covers so she will sleep on top of her cot with warm clothing on. We don't expect to use this configuration very often, and if we choose to camp in the future, all of this sleeping gear will work in a tent.
The last piece needed to make all this work is a cargo box for the top of the van. We bought a Thule Force XT (size L). It is large enough to hold Claire's wheelchair, our roadside emergency bag, extra diapers and nutrition, a collapsible toilet seat that doubles as an ottoman, and a large duffel bag which we will fill with lots of eBags packing cubes containing clean clothes. The Weathertech window shades will be stored flat in an oversized heavy-duty garbage bag on the top of all of the cargo. We bought a blue umbrella for Claire's wheelchair that stows nicely along the side of the cargo box. If we choose to camp in the future, we'll be able to fit a tent in here too. [Main] [Contact Us] [Events] [Family] [Fun] [Garden] [Misc.] [Photos] [Search] [Site Index] [Travel]

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