Vanonomics: Mastering Minivan Living to Save Big and Travel

Minivans are step up from SUVs when it comes to living in your vehicle because they offer more interior height. Sliding side doors also offer multiple wide entrances, making it easier to get things–including yourself–in and out of the vehicle. The downside is that minivans are much less popular than SUVs, so they’re harder to find, and they used to be more expensive (although this can change over time, depending on demand; when we bought our SUV, it was because a truck was too expensive, but when I went to replace the SUV some years later, a small truck was cheaper).

This is a how-to video giving you some ideas on how to create a no-build living space inside a minivan with minimal expense. If the more complicated builds aren’t in your budget (or skill set) just yet, or if you only need to live in a van for a few months and you don’t want to spend a lot of time or money, or you just want a minimal buildout so you can trial the idea for a while, this will get you started.

This minivan is configured so that all cooking and living can take place inside the van. Although there’s only a small trashcan that can double as an emergency toilet, there is room for a larger bucket toilet in the back, if desired.

Although this buildout features a handmade piece of furniture that is probably beyond most people’s carpentry skills, the builder admits that it was repurposed and was not created to fit this van specifically. For the less carpentry-inclined, a similar setup could be achieved with some creative thinking and IKEA units, keeping this to a low-skill build.

This minivan has a unique set-up in that the bed is turned width-wise, which leaves more space for a galley kitchen/storage area. This design only works because the owner is a short woman, but if you are of similar size (or maybe you always sleep curled up), this seems like a better choice in terms of feeling like you have more space. (Turning the bed this direction is common in larger vans for just this reason.) The magnetic screen door (probably one for a regular door that’s been cut down) is also a nice addition and can help if you’re camping in hotter areas.

Although this lady doesn’t talk about how she built the van out, she’s clearly repurposed some things like a plastic shelving/drawer unit (the narrow one with flip out drawers is used for shoe storage and a version can be found on IKEA), and I think she built her kitchen unit from a bookcase or similar piece of furniture that she’s cut to fit and cobbled together herself.

One thing that’s unique to this setup is that she has an electric stove. She shows a power bank in the back of her van, like you use to jump start a car, and mentions using it if she doesn’t have access to electricity, so she probably stays mostly at campgrounds where she can hook up to shore power. However, one of the larger solar generators should be able to run the stove (check to see how much power it draws first to see how big a generator you need), so if you’re afraid of running a gas stove, especially inside a small vehicle, this would be your answer.

The other thing I like about this setup is how pretty it is. She’s even managed to put up a painting on the end of her shelving unit. So if you find other builds a bit grim and the thought of living in a van full-time seems depressing, take some inspiration from this design. Even living in a van, you can still have touches of home and make it feel unique to you.

This build looks more like a camper than the back of a minivan. The indoor kitchen area is especially nice. The aesthetic here is Asian-inspired with a couch/bed on the floor, but if you want a little bit of height to your bed (and more storage space), the various no-build and custom-build bed designs featured in other vans will work here. This arrangement is also meant to sleep 2 people.

This channel has videos on how they did their build, so if you feel you’re up to the challenge of building a custom kitchen unit, it will show you how.

This minivan also features a horizontal bed, but it’s at the front of the van and the back has a custom-built galley kitchen/storage unit. The owner has her kitchen designed to pull out of the back of the van so that she has plenty of space to cook, but if you prefer to stay inside the van for stealth reasons, the console could be reconfigured so that everything was accessible inside and something like a low stool on casters (something my husband used in his work van years ago) would allow you to sit and cook.

This small minivan has everything: a couch that turns into a bed, room to eat inside the van, a chemical potty, a small electric refrigerator, and a small kitchen that is accessible from outside. (Kind of a problem if it’s raining, although the backdoor does create an awning, so if the rain isn’t too heavy or the wind blowing too hard, you can still manage to cook).

This minivan has even more than the previous one, because it includes a shower. A futon couch-bed creates a decent amount of space in the interior, so it feels less claustrophobic. It has a rear pull-out kitchen, as seen with some of the other builds, but it also has an alternative kitchen area in an impressive custom built-in wall unit. If it were me, and I was going to live in this vehicle instead of just camp, I would have an electric stove and I would just cook inside. The under-bed drawer that contains the kitchen, I would turn into a series of drawers that pull out on the inside, the way his junk drawer does, and those would hold my clothes and additional food stuffs. I think I would prefer a gym membership with shower privileges as an alternative to showering Japanese style in this tiny wet bath (especially as I have way too much hair to try and wash this way), but if you can’t afford that or will be where there aren’t gyms or truck stops, then this could satisfy your bathing needs.

Don’t have or can’t get a minivan? Not to worry; there are builds for every type of personal vehicle.

Interested in the nomad lifestyle, but living in something as small as a minivan isn’t for you? Check out this post for more nomad ideas: On the Road Again – Exploring Nomadic Housing Options

Survival Roadmap: Living in a Car Amid Financial Challenges

In this post, we will review how to live out of your car--be it a hatchback, station wagon, or even something as small as a Camero.

Putting Your Bed in the Bed . . . of a Truck: Living Out of a Pick-Up

Discover the art of living out of the bed of your truck. Explore innovative, frugal, and adventurous living on the open road.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *