Getting the Minivan Camper Ready to Travel

The past couple of weeks I have been completing many of the little tasks to get the minivan ready for travel. Not knowing exactly where I will be going, or how long I will be gone, I must be prepared for anything. This could mean taking some things that will never be used, but I plan to be prepared.

Some items that likely won’t be used “every” day, but need to go along, don’t have to take up valuable space inside the van, either. And although a rear, hitch mounted storage pod on a swing-away bracket would be much easier to get into, the costs involved are partially wasted. Not only is the swing-away hitch and pod expensive (roughly $800), but I would have the cost of the receiver hitch that mounts to the van, plus all the related wiring necessary to make it complete. That can easily add another $300+ to the overall cost. And that would be lost with the van when I make a trade!

The pod itself wouldn’t even need tail lights, but I wouldn’t do a job half-way. I might decide to get a small trailer to use with the van, and if so, it needs not only tail light wiring, but possibly an electric brake circuit as well as a charging circuit for trailer batteries. So I would do it right if I was going to do it at all… which I am not… at least not at this time. I want to test my use of just the van over several months, before I decide to add anything else to it. But yet I still need some extra space.

My solution is a roof-mounted storage pod. I found that I could buy a very nice soft-side bag, made of convertible top material. I already knew approximately how much space I needed, so it was a matter of finding one with suitable measurements.

Once the bag arrived, I opened it up and spread it out on the roof of the van, and realized I needed to correct some things.

First, the bag was longer than the distance between the bars on the factory roof rack. And the way this roof rack is made, the bars are stored along the sides until pulled up and crossed over the roof. That leaves no side rail to anchor anything to. The roof itself only has ridges to support loads, but no extra trim to prevent scratching the paint. Knowing that a soft-side pod is likely to shift some during travel, I don’t want my roof scratched up with it.

The solution was to find a roof “basket”, an add-on rack that would anchor rigidly to my existing roof bars, and support the load that is put into it. That means it also has to be long enough to contain the storage bag without scrunching it up, while providing multiple tie points for the immovable, sewn-on straps that are already on the bag.

I searched Amazon until I found the longest and widest basket rack that would do the job, but somewhere along the line, someone’s measurements were off… and I don’t think they were mine! Due to a slanted front end on the basket, and being shorter than was stated, I found that I needed to make the basket a little longer. Fortunately for the way it was built, that didn’t take long.

I found the frame of an old folding table that someone had thrown away, and the aluminum tubing for the legs was a near-perfect size to slide into the tubing side rails of the roof basket. I was able to cut four pieces long enough to extend the length of the basket. A screw through each end and some black paint, and it looks like it was made that way!

The new roof basket with the extensions in place.

Now, the only issue is a gap in the wire grid “floor” of the basket, but I can find a piece of screen later. There is nothing going into the bag that will push down on that empty spot, so it won’t hurt anything.

For now, I have the basket mounted on the van, but since I am not ready leave yet, and more rain coming, I decided not to drive around with the fully-loaded storage pod on the roof until I have to.

The roof basket mounted to the van.

As far as noise, I hear a little extra wind noise at highway speed, but nothing to be aggravating. And when the 17″-tall, 31″-wide and 47″-long storage bag is put up there, I figure it will change some anyway… maybe better, maybe worse. Who knows?

The only thing I am sure of is that the extra wind drag will hurt the fuel economy, but I don’t expect it to be more than 10%. Considering that the on-board computer showed 23.8 mpg on this last 250 mile trip (and that may go up with longer drives), I’m still hoping for at least 21 mpg as an average.

In the meantime, I did have a chance to get out and socialize a little, even though it was well within a day’s drive. I had been told about a neat little lakeside restaurant, and it was beckoning to me.

A nice (although slightly pricey) lakeside restaurant.

The grounds were beautiful, and being able to eat on a dock right out in the water was great. There was even a seaplane that buzzed around the shoreline while I ate, as well as having a jet ski go right underneath the dock and to the beach. The oak trees by the entrance were beautifully covered with hanging moss, so typical of the south.

Beautiful oak trees and hanging moss at the lakeside restaurant.

One thing is sure… I would have never got in there with anything much bigger than my minivan camper. The parking lot was very small and tight.

My minivan camper fits perfectly in the tight parking lot.

While I was leaving, I noticed this beautiful old (’63 maybe?) Mercury Comet convertible parked right behind me, and I had to get a photo of it.

A beautifully restored old Mercury Comet convertible was parked behind me!

Back at “home base”, I again tried the storage bag in the basket and ran into another problem. The bottom end straps have a loop about 5″ long holding a buckle. But the bag is too close to the end of the basket to wrap the other strip into it! If I tried to wrap the loop around the lower basket rail, the buckle ended up underneath the pod, where I couldn’t even reach it!

My solution was to come up with something that would go through both strap loops and hold the buckles out far enough to reach them, and still keep the storage bag secure. The answer was a piece of 1-1/2″ PVC, capped at both ends, and with a weep hole on the bottom at each end… to keep it from building up pressure due to the sun’s heat, as well as drain any moisture in case of rain getting into it. The caps will prevent wind noise, as well as to serve as stops, so it can’t slide out of the straps.

My solution to tightening the straps on the storage bag.

On the inside, I have the couch all recut, and leg supports moved as was mentioned in my previous post. I also painted it with black spray paint on all exposed areas, and attached Velcro tabs to hold the legs on the back section tight to the couch back… to prevent rattles.

The only thing I need to do yet is to cut the height of the foam couch back to 2″ less. I can’t do that right now, because I need to buy an electric knife first.

There is still a lot to do at the “home base” yet. With my planning to be gone for several months, there are a few maintenance issues, as well as some clean up and organizational issues before I can just walk away from it for that long.

One of those issues is insects. Anytime you go away for that long, insects (and sometimes other critters) can take over. I have never had a problem with mice or animals, but it seems like tiny things like ants find their way in somehow. Ant traps have been useless, so before I leave, I will put out some “sticky squares”, especially around the kitchen. Once anything touches that sticky stuff, they are there permanently!

Clothes and personal items are already organized and ready to go into carry-on bags. Food items still have to go out to the totes under the couch in the van, and I have reminder lists made up for everything else that goes.

As soon as the temps get up high enough to where I would have to run the air conditioner, I’ll be ready to head for someplace cooler! At the rate things have been going north of here, it won’t take long to get out of the heat.

I’m going to let serendipty (and weather) guide my travels, as always. If I want to stop and see something I will… and then re-examine the situation from each new stop… to see what else I might be near that looks interesting enough to go there. By having my “dwelling” with me at all times, and by being able to park almost anywhere, there is no reason to rush back to anything, or rush forward to get to the next parking place. I will be content just “to be”… wherever that is.

Why don’t you create your own minivan camper and join me and thousands of others like me… out exploring the world, seeing new sights and meeting new people? It sure beats any alternative I can think of!

Don’t forget to subscribe to new posts, so you, too, can learn how to do this, just like I will be learning new things along the way! It’s fun! As Mikey used to say, “try it… you’ll like it!”

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