Since the name of this blog is called Weekend Campervanning, I thought I would periodically add a post about different aspects of campervanning. When we were camping last weekend a dad and his two kids came over to our site and started asking questions about our campervan. They were trying to figure out how they were going to build out their van for a family of four. We showed them the campervan and gave him our opinions on things like the awning, penthouse top and beds and you could tell his brain was already thinking about what he was going to do with his own van. When we were in the designing phase we really enjoyed looking at other people’s campervans and it was so interesting to us how differently people designed their campervans to fit their lifestyles. We saw many things that hadn’t even crossed our minds, people are so creative! Whether you are thinking of purchasing a campervan, already own one, going to build out a van/vehicle yourself or thinking of renting one for your next adventure, taking a look at different campervans could help determine what would allow you to get the most enjoyment for you and your family.
In the beginning stages of the design process we relied heavily on the Sportsmobile website. We were astonished with how many configurations and designs there were, but we couldn’t find the campervan that was just right for us. The Sportsmobile website has a “design your own” feature that allows you to make a custom layout of a camper van. This is fun to play around with and can help you figure out what you want in a campervan. Once we agreed on the priorities, it was a matter of arranging things to get them to fit in a relatively small space. We chose a Mercedes Sprinter van ( regular body) as our base van which gave us an area that was only 123″x 69″ to work with. If you want to know why we chose this model please check out a previous post called Our Van Choice. This proved a bit of a challenge, but eventually almost all of the things we prioritized fit. It was also important to us that it not feel claustrophobic even with all three of us inside. Having budget constraints at the design step is important because things can get out of hand real fast – so many options and add-ons! (If you want to know more about our experience with Sportsmobile and the build process please see a previous post called Our experience with Sportsmobile).
We were able to get everything to fit with this layout (cabinets/drawers in brown, seating in blue, and space for toilet in back of van):
Our priorities included:
1) Sleeping area for 3, the beds had to be long enough for 6’1″ hubby. Adding the penthouse top for us was the best way to do this. Penthouse top sleeps 2, while the gaucho sleeps 1-2 depending on the size of the person.
2) Gaucho seat (sofa) needed to be near the front of the cab, allowing for my daughter to be up front near us when traveling, and facing the sliding door which was our main viewing window. Sitting sideways when the car was in motion took a little getting used to, but now we like it. The gaucho seat is long enough to seat 4 people and it can be reconfigured into a bed.
3) Counter space for everything (food prep, cooking with induction stove, place to put “stuff”)
4) Sink connected to large water tank that holds 20 gallons of water (and a grey water tank to catch the “used” water)
5) Bathroom area in the back of the van. We started out using a “temporary” Porta-Potti (550P) from Thetford, but it has worked well and I think we’ll stick with this option for now.
6) Microwave and refrigerator. A key consideration was whether to use traditional propane to power the stove and refrigerator. Instead, we chose 100% electrical, which provides 12V DC through an AGM 4D deep cycle battery and 110V AC via DC/AC inverter. This covered all our cooking needs with the microwave (110V) and induction stove (110V), plus a refrigerator (12V) that is very energy efficient. (My hubby wrote the above paragraph, can’t you tell?)
7) Heater and air conditioning. Having both was a priority for us because we wanted to be able to travel year-round and didn’t want to be limited with extremes in temperatures or weather. The Espar Airtronics heats by using gas from the diesel tank and 12V power. It works extremely well for the space and we only need to run it for 10-15 min to heat up the van. The ProAir air conditioning was installed inside the van under the refrigerator and is powered by the van engine, while driving or idling.
8) Storage: drawers and cabinets (also a storage area in back for outdoor gear). More storage would be nice, but if we are careful with what we pack, we can usually fit it all in. A multi (4-5) day trip finds us adding a couple of more bins to the van for storage.
9) Dining area inside. We wanted to have an in-van dining option by having a table which can be set up in the van when eating inside or can be tucked away when driving. We are not thrilled with the table that Sportsmobile provided for us (hard to take apart, pieces get stuck) so we are currently looking for other options. We do like that the passenger seat swivels backwards and provides seating around the table along with the gaucho. We find that we rarely eat inside though, it’s much nicer to eat outside (except when there are a million mosquitos outside).
10) Windows that open for cross breeze. The Mercedes Sprinter van includes large factory windows in its base price. However, we found out those beautiful windows don’t open, which was a problem for us. We wanted to be able to open the windows to get a cross breeze in the van. So, we chose the factory window for the sliding door, and then custom windows offered through Sportsmobile which could be opened for the sides of the van. One is a sliding window and the other is an awning window. They’re smaller than I wanted, but the cross breeze that we get is great! I think the window placement has got to be one of the top things we are most happy with.
We decided against a shower because it just didn’t fit. Since we weren’t planning on living in our campervan we were ok with letting the idea of a shower go. Using a sun shower (solar heated shower in a bag) or campground shower if available or staying at a motel/hotel every once in awhile for longer trips seemed to be a good compromise for the type of seating/sleeping arrangement we wanted. Also, the capacity of the large water tank is 20 gallons. I don’t think we would have enough water after our normal use to even be able to take showers unless we were hooked up (I know it can be done, but we just aren’t that talented). There’s nothing wrong with being hooked up at an RV park, but that was just not the type of camping we were envisioning.
Having an alleyway/hallway all the way to the back allowed for more light to come in, but since we wanted a bathroom area in the back where we can close the door, we had to have a custom configuration. Basically, the door would stay “open” when the bathroom was not in use leaving the alleyway clear, hiding the toilet, and getting light from the rear windows into the van.
Here’s my review of this area after 9 months. I love the alleyway, the light from the back windows makes the inside of the van seem bigger. When we’re in the van we don’t see the toilet because it is behind the door. The door does rattle a bit on bumpier roads, but we’ve updated to a bungee cord from the side that wedges it against the foam block. When we enter the bathroom and then have to close the door in front of us to get past it, it is a tight fit for us (especially for my hubby). But it is surprisingly roomy in the bathroom, and entry is also possible from the rear doors.
This design/layout works very well for us, but it’s still the compactness (fits in a parking spot), great gas mileage (25 mpg) and the year round travel potential that we love.
Renting a campervan:
If you’re thinking of renting a campervan, there are many places that rent campervans these days with many different configurations. There certainly are many more places now than when we first looked. I’ve also personally noticed many more vans (some with very bright colors and designs) on the road and at campsites. Some are actual campervans and some are minivans that have tents that pop up on top of a vehicle. You definitely have options now.
Some places to look to get you started:
Jucy RV rentals: They rent a minivan called the Jucy Champ which is a mini RV that sleeps 4 (one double bed is in a tent on top of the vehicle), seats 5, has a refrigerator, sink (5 gallon water tank) and dual gas stove. You can also rent additional items like a kitchen kit, bedding kit, solar showers, camp chairs and external picnic tables. They have pick up locations in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas. I’ve personally seen them in Death Valley and around the San Francisco Bay area, they are easy to notice in their purple and green vans.
Escape campervans: They have a campervan model called the Mavericks which is a converted Ford van that can sleep 2/3 or 5 with the added roof top sleeper and has seating for 5. It has a refrigerator, sink, dual gas stove and a fold-away inside table. These vans come already equipped with cooking utensils, bedding and camp chairs for 4.
They have a smaller model called the Ventura which is a converted Dodge Caravan that can sleep 2 or 3 with the added roof top sleeper (same equipment and accessories as for Mavericks but for 2). They have pick up locations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami and New York. I’ve seen these vans around as well since they have bright, colorful murals covering their van.
Lost Campers Budget Campervan Rentals has a fleet of different types and sizes of camper vans, including Sierra Class, Hotel Sierra Class, Redwood Class and Wanderer Class. They are proud of the fact that they don’t have any advertising on their campervans and their vans come fully equipped for camping. They claim their prices are budget friendly and are “similar to car rentals.” They have pick up locations in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Salt Lake City.
Roadtrek Rentals rents Mercedes Sprinter conversion vans. They describe their vans to be luxury solar campervans and they have 25 pickup locations in 11 states (western US).
Whatever way you come by a campervan, it is a fun way to travel and opens the potential to camp year-round and in remote places.