Adventure is calling more and more people all over the world. Having experienced the pandemic, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z alike are taking to the road to live a more fulfilling life. Younger generations want to make routine a thing of the past.
Nobody wants to mindlessly go through the motions of life and grow old having not experienced some real adventure – whether it’s surfing big waves, hiking in canyons, skiing at high altitude, or touring brewhouses.
The easiest way to get gone is buying and converting a small van or truck into a camper. It’s economical and quick. Plus, you can use it to go on mini adventures at the weekend, if you need to keep your 9-5 job.
Looking to go live the van life? We’ve put together a list of small camper van interior ideas to help you get inspired. You can combine one or more of these setups to create the perfect adventure vehicle for your needs.
What van to choose
To keep costs down, you’ll want to stick with a modern minivan or small van. These are easy to find for sale, cheap to buy and maintain, and nimble. Choose something you’re confident driving and that can easily go unnoticed in a city.
Here’s a list of some of the small vans van lifers typically convert to live on the road:
- Nissan NV200
- Ram Promaster City
- Ford Transit Connect
- Mercedes Metris
- Toyota Sienna
- Chevrolet Uplander
- Honda Odyssey
- Chevy Express
- Kia Sedona
- Dodge Grand Caravan
- Honda Element
- Chevy Astro
- And more.
Of course, there are more vehicles to add to the list. If you see a minivan or small van for sale, do your own research. Find out how reliable it is, what the typical issues are, the lifespan of the engine, internal measurements, and more. There’s a huge amount of information about vans on the internet, including camper conversion ideas. Most popular models have been experimented with by now.
DIY, professional, or kit?
When it comes to converting your van into a camper, there are three main options: a DIY build, a professional conversion, or a conversion kit.
Let’s look at each option and its pros and cons.
This involves buying a new or used vehicle and installing all the furniture and equipment you need on your own.
- You can create a unique floor plan that suits your needs
- Everything in the van will be chosen by you
- It can be done in a weekend
- You get to know all the systems you install, so you can fix them yourself on the road
- It doesn’t need to be permanent – just chuck your favorite camping gear in the back and set off.
- If you’re not handy, things may not be as sturdy as they could be
- The end result won’t look professionally-made
- You may need to go through some trial and error at first.
Alternatively, you can invest in a kit – furniture with in-built gear designed for a range of vans and built by a company. Kitchen units and platform beds are an example of this solution. You can either get them installed by the company that produces them or do it yourself.
- It’s cheaper than a full build
- The furniture is well-made
- You save on build time, compared to doing a full DIY conversion
- You can mount the unit yourself, so you get to become familiar with it
- Most units can be removed in minutes.
- It can be more expensive than a DIY build
- The waiting list can be long-ish – a few months long
- The dimensions are fixed, so you need to buy a specific model of van that fits the kit.
This is the most costly option and it involves hiring a company to convert the van completely. You outline the floor plan with the designers and then leave the vehicle at the factory for a few weeks.
- Everything is brand new and sturdy
- The floor plan is often standardized
- You have limited options to choose from in terms of gear
- You won’t have to lift a finger – just keep saving money for your trip while it gets done
- All features have been tested.
- It’s expensive
- There’s usually a long waiting list
- The conversion is permanent, in most cases
- You won’t know how anything was installed or how to fix it.
If you’re in a rush to get going and you’re not planning to create a very specific floor plan, check out any conversions for sale in your area. Chances are that there’s something in good condition that suits you out there and you wouldn’t have to waste any time on the build.
Do you have a big budget? Why not check out brand new campers for sale, such as the incredible VW California? These are fantastic to drive and camp on and will last for many years.
Small van bed solution ideas
When it comes to converting a van or car into a camper, the sleeping area is the most important part of the build. Take your time to plan it well before you draw anything else. Make sure you can fully lie down comfortably and think carefully about headspace.
Even though a small van isn’t as versatile as a bigger vehicle, you can set up your bed in a variety of ways.
This is the most common type of bed you see on minivans and small vans. Many campers build a platform raised by 15-30 inches or so and place it inside the van. The space left underneath acts as a huge storage area, accessible from three sides of the vehicle.
It’s a simple concept, but the build can become a little complicated, depending on how irregular your van is inside. That said, if you can put up with a smaller bed, you can build a rectangular platform until you gain the confidence to create the edges to size.
Most people who choose a platform bed use all or almost all the space in the back on their van to create the biggest surface possible. This means that there’s little to no space left around it.
A platform bed is a great solution for campers who love hanging out outdoors all day long, or those living in warm areas who can set up an outdoor “living room” on the side of their van. If you don’t have a tarp or awning to use on rainy days, you’ll end up eating and relaxing on the bed.
Need a table and bench inside your van? A drop-down table can quickly turn your dinette area into a bed. This system allows you to hang out, eat, and work at the table, inside your van, during the day. At night, drop the table down to create a platform on which to sleep.
The typical design consists of two benches attached to the sides of the back of the van. A wooden plank is cut to fit perfectly between them and act as a table. Opt for a telescopic or removable leg to hold it up. There’s a good amount of storage space under each bench, but you’ll need to leave the space between them empty, so your legs can fit in there when you sit.
This bed system is great for those who need an indoor base for their adventures. It does mean you’ll need to make and put away the bed every time you need to switch, though. But is it a big price to pay in order to be able to shelter from the elements inside your vehicle?
A drop-down table only works on slightly bigger vans, such as the Chevy Astro or the Mercedes Metris. Minivans tend to be too short, resulting in too little headroom.
Some people find a platform bed or a dinette make a small van cramped. You don’t necessarily need to fill the interior of your van completely with furniture. A slide-out couch offers a valid alternative to a drop-down table and leaves a decent space next to it.
A slide-out couch is best suited to solo van lifers, as they can make the most of the space next to the bench by building and installing some custom furniture. The storage space is half of that created by a platform bed, as you can only use the space under the bench, though. You could add to it by getting a roof box.
A couple could settle on a slide-out couch if they were to use it mainly like a platform bed. The couch would slide back in on rainy and cold days when you need to be indoors. Most of the time, you could hang out outside, on camping chairs or inflatable sofas.
This is similar to the slide-out couch. Instead of sliding out, the extra part of the bed frame is attached to the bench by hinges and it flips out on top of it.
There’s nothing fundamentally different from the slide-out option. To make the bed, you’ll need to remove the mattress from the bench, which is slightly less handy than moving it across the slide-out side.
Small van kitchen ideas
On a small vehicle, you can’t usually fit a full kitchen area. Cooking in such a small space might be dangerous, too. So you have to get creative.
Kitchen unit drawers
This is a very popular choice for small van conversions. It consists of building sliding drawers attached to the platform bed. These slide out to reveal a kitchen unit or a surface on which to place a portable cooker. When not in use, they disappear under the bed. This set-up allows you to cook at the back of your vehicle, outdoors. It’s very safe.
The drawers would not work well in cities, though. Anyone would be able to see you cooking at the back of the camper.
Mini kitchen base cabinet
If you’re keen to have a kitchen area inside your van, you’ll need to build or buy a little kitchen base cabinet. This is a little unit made of plywood over which you fit a counter space, a cooker, and possibly a sink. In the cabinet itself, you can keep the water tank for the sink and the gas bottle, as well as your cooking gear.
It will need to leave enough room on top of it to place pots and pans. Also, you’ll need to place it next to a window, so the smoke and heat can be driven out of the van right away. This means that a base cabinet is only really suited to bigger vans, such as the Ram Promaster City.
A kitchen base cabinet suits van lifers who need to cook in cities often. Just find a secluded spot, open the window, and get cooking.
Portable kitchen or camping cooker
The simplest option is to carry a portable stove and set it up on your camping table or on a rock at the campsite. This means that you don’t have to install anything permanently on your vehicle and you can replace the cooker when it breaks.
However, if you’re staying in a city, it may be difficult to use a camping stove. You may need to go out for your meals or eat uncooked food most days. If you’re planning to hop from town to town, this is probably not the best option for you.
Small van toilet ideas
If you’re setting off on a small van, chances are you know how hard it is to fit a toilet in it. There’s little space, plus you need to create privacy to go to the bathroom inside. There are, however, two solutions to the problem.
Everyone knows Porta Potties. They are portable toilets which store the waste in a small tank, mixed with chemicals to manage the smell. Many people aren’t fans of Porta Potties, but they can be a life saver in an emergency. They are small, easy to store and fairly light. However, if you use one regularly, you will need to find facilities (a dump point or toilet) where to empty it quite often. You will also need to secure it well while driving.
If you have enough space, you could install a composting toilet inside the van itself, possibly next to a flip-out bench. The fan install needs to go super smoothly for the toilet to work. If you make a mistake, you could end up with a very stinky little van.
Small van shower ideas
If you’re going away for more than a couple of days, you’ll want to find a solution to stay clean. Showering inside the vehicle isn’t possible, of course. But there are two solutions which allow you to shower while camping, rather than looking for the nearest gym or swimming pool.
Extendable shower hose
If you’re planning to install a small base cabinet with a sink inside your van, why not add an extendable hose, which can act as a shower? Fix it in place on a window and shower next to your van. You can even add a water heater and a privacy curtain, if you like.
Cheap, simple, and reliable. Every camper knows how good solar showers are. If you want to have a warm shower, you need to plan it in advance and put it in the sun, but it’s a super cheap, no-fuss way to stay clean on the road.
Small van interior inspiration
We have selected our favorite floorplans to give you some small van interior ideas.
Wanderbusje’s Nissan NV200
This set-up by Wanderbusje is perfect for solo campers and couples who don’t need a wide bed. She made an L-shaped slide-out bench, so she could fit a kitchen area on the right hand side of the van. The interior look very cozy, too.
You can follow her adventures on Instagram.
Moment In Forest’s tiny home on wheels
Moment In Forest planned his minivan build down to the last detail. He needed a decent office, a nice space to relax, and to be able to use his furniture outside. His fantastic build looks gorgeous, but is also super practical. Just look at the amount of shelves and slide-out planks.
For more pictures of this incredible build, head to Instagram.
Kyle and Madison’s Chevrolet Uplander
This Seattle couple didn’t go for a simple platform bed. They created a floor with removable sections, so they can access the trunk storage. Above it, they laid two mattresses, which they use as couch and bed. At the front of the vehicle, there’s a kitchen base cabinet, which extends out of the window, so the guys can cook outside.
Cooking Under The Star’s Toyota Sienna
Cooking Under The Stars opted for a classic platform bed. However, they repurposed an Ikea kid’s storage to create a sort of kitchenette at the back of the minivan. Genius.
Check out this easy build on Instagram.
Lee’s Kia Sedona camper
After retiring, Lee decided to go boondocking across the country. She just filled her van with her favorite camping gear, so she didn’t have to build any furniture. She sits and sleeps on thick carpets and blankets, which means she has retained as much space inside the vehicle as possible. Nothing on board is fixed, including her lightweight chest of drawers, so she can turn the minivan back into a car in no time.
Super cozy Honda Element camper
This build by Flor, aka @99ProblemsMyElementAint1OfThem shows how you can make your camper unique, even if you opt for a popular model and floorplan. The platform bed is removable, so you can hang up a hammock for the night, while using all the interior space during the day. So cute.
Check out their Instagram for more inspiration.
Nick and Maela’s Dodge Grand Caravan
Want a fold-out bed that’s a little different? Check out Nick and Maela’s Dodge Grand Caravan. Their couch sits perpendicularly to the van, rather than parallel. It’s made out of three panels, which fold and unfold. This allows the couple to create a decent chilling out space during the day and to carry passengers on board.
Jay’s super functional Honda Odyssey camper
Some people don’t get lost in the paneling and soft furniture details. They just need a functional base for their adventures. If you’re such a person, Jay’s conversion is perfect for you.
He managed to fit all his favorite gear inside and outside his Honda Odyssey. At the back there’s a bike rack and on the roof he installed an awning and a roof box. Inside, he built some furniture to use as storage. Jay uses a fold-out futon as a bed, which he can remove. The most impressive part, though, is his power system. He has a solar panel on the roof, inverters, and a diesel heater to keep warm in the cold season.
Converting a small van into a camper is an excellent way to start living the van life in no time. It’s perfect for van lifers and digital nomads on a budget, as you can boondock in the wild and in a city. Make the most of the little space available by planning your floor plan out carefully.
We hope you found plenty of inspiration from this article! Whatever vehicle and floor plan you choose, make sure you work around your needs and preferences. Give yourself enough room to move around and make things easy to reach.