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cmcgregor (Forum Supporter)
cmcgregor (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
6/30/21 5:58 p.m.

Like everyone else in the country, we've been camping quite a bit as a way to escape daily life. It's been nice. But, we have two small kids that don't sleep particularly well in a tent and frequently only camp one or two nights, so setup and breakdown is starting to get pretty old. We also have some cash that we've been saving for a down payment on a house, but that's not happening in the next year or two, especially if we stay where we are in California.

So, we've been looking at ways to make our lives easier. 

Parameters:

  • Two separate sleeping spaces, one that will accommodate two kids and one that will accommodate two adults. We'd really prefer not to all sleep together since the kids are kind of active sleepers.
  • Storage space for camping gear so we aren't packing everything for every trip.
  • Prefer to be able to stand/change inside.
  • Fits in a standard parking space (no big RVs)
  • If it's a trailer, needs to be towable by a minivan (2018 Grand Caravan).
  • Budget around 20k, 25 at a push.

Options, in order of my current preference:

  • Popup trailer. Cheap. Cool factor is....less high. Better sleeping arrangement, but still need to park it somewhere. Potentially hard to find in decent shape.
  • Teardrop trailer (+tent or minivan mattress or rooftop tent). Cool factor is high. Won't really fit in the driveway unless it's pretty small. Space is not ideal for the whole family.
  • Canned Ham/Airstream/Vintage trailer. Cool. Big. Expensive. Heavy. Could be a massive project.
  • DIY Sprinter/Ram/Transit - Big, not generally laid out well for car seats, can be expensive.
  • Domestic conversion van - Would need an additional sleeping space, high tops are harder to find.
  • DIY Domestic work van conversion - lots of work, but lots of potential. Can fit in a normal parking space.
  • Weird JDM Campervan (Delica, HiAce, etc) - questionable parts support, needs rooftop tent or additional sleeping space, RHD will be weird for a bit.
  • Minivan retrofit + rooftop tent. Cheapest option. Not adding another thing to maintain and register. Possibly makes the van less useful for everyday life.
  • Vanagon - Good sleeping space. Slow. Old. Good resale value.
  • Eurovan - Good sleeping space. Not quite as slow. Less of a cult following, get more for your money.

Here in the Bay area, there is a huge following for VWs, so availability is pretty decent although prices are high and condition is all over the map. I could do a fly and drive, but even the newest Eurovan is like 20 years old, so there's some risk there. I'd love to build a #vanlife Sprinter (and actually went to look at a 1977 Mercedes 307D today) but realistically, I don't have the time or space for it. Ideally we'd buy something we can just start using now to get some camping in this summer. Similarly, I'd love to build a teardrop, but my driveway is literally only long enough to fit my Minivan, and my garage is only 10ft deep so that's out. I could leave it in the driveway and street park my other 3 vehicles but it's kind of a small residential street so I can see trying to back it into the driveway being a huge pain.

I'm all over the map here but kind of leaning Vanagon/Eurovan. Vanagons are definitely cooler (which is important to me) despite their questionable safety and complete lack of power. Eurovans are newer and probably better cars, but lack the je ne sais quoi of the older vans. The JDM imports are really tempting but registration is not trivial here and they don't 100% solve the sleeping/usability needs.

Obviously I'm having a hard time making up my mind. I'm curious what all of you have found to solve this problem, and am open to opinions!

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
6/30/21 6:16 p.m.

This is mine, 1990 E250 Coachman. It has a small tub and toilet in the back.  There is an overhead bunk (5x8) which I actually use for storage.  The bench folds out into a bed (4.5x6).  It has a stove top and a microwave. Storage is OK but not huge.  One similar would set you back around 12-20K dependent on condition. 

I love it because I can park it in the driveway and even use it to haul large stuff (on my car trailer).

 

californiamilleghia
californiamilleghia SuperDork
6/30/21 7:43 p.m.

How about a Utility trailer with a side door ?

you can put all the camping stuff in there and make bunk beds for the kids ? Add a side awning or a side tent .

not as cool as a canned ham but  much cheaper and will fit in the driveway :)

Driven5
Driven5 UltraDork
6/30/21 8:07 p.m.

We faced almost the same decision a couple of years ago.

A soft-sided pop-up is little better than a tent in most ways. So we wanted a minivan towable hard sided tent on wheels. Oh yeah, and with a toilet... Super useful, especially with kids!

A van is like a pickup camper. My parents have lived in both, and had plenty to say on the issue. Sure there are families that can make it work, but it's much better suited to 2 than 4... Especially as the kids grow.

A hard-sided (A-frame) pop-up is nice but lacks space and amenities of a small travel trailer. Aliner Expedition still got an honorable mention in our search.

For our family and usage, we ended up with an R-Pod 178. It technically pushes the minivans rated limit a bit, but in doing so is the most accommodating thing it will tow.  For some families, the R-Pod 176 would be a good alternative as well.

 

WillG80
WillG80 Reader
6/30/21 8:22 p.m.

I don't have kids, so I ended up with this. $4k for the decommissioned ambulance, then I did the 4x4 conversion myself. Like many of your DIY options, it's a blank slate. The benefit being that it's framed like a house, but 1x2 aluminum tube instead of 2x4's. Good insulation. Straight walls make building out the inside much easier

 

CyberEric
CyberEric Dork
6/30/21 8:28 p.m.

I think you might struggle to get something like the Coachman in the Bay Area for 12-20k (I too live in the East Bay). But you might just get lucky. When I was on my van search, I saw those for well north of 20k, some even over 30k! But that's the Bay Baybe!

I ended up with a converted wheelchair van (Ford E250), but that wouldn't suit your needs as it only sleeps 2 (although it is just under a king sized bed and I suppose you could sleep 3 if one was a child.)

I'd probably be looking for a truck with an in-bed camper if I needed to sleep 4. I'm not sure how feasible those are for four though now that I think about it. Maybe a larger one would work.

I looked at Eurovans, and they were all steeply priced too, as you have seen. There's one for sale on CL for almost $50k! Here's probably the best deal I can remember seeing for 18k$.

https://sfbay.craigslist.org/sfc/cto/d/san-francisco-1995-vw-westfaila-eurovan/7344076832.html 

Woody (Forum Supportum)
Woody (Forum Supportum) MegaDork
6/30/21 8:42 p.m.

I read the thread title as "Camper van Ramblings".

That is all.

itsarebuild
itsarebuild Dork
6/30/21 8:53 p.m.

One thing to consider is how you camp. Do you go out to the boonies and stay in one spot for a day or two? Do you need (or want) to campgrounds for power and water hookups? Do you want to be able to camp in one spot and take side trips to hike, eat, paddle etc?

a trailer option works best for us which is option 3 since you can leave it at the site fully deployed and bug out with the tow vehicle for other adventures.

cmcgregor (Forum Supporter)
cmcgregor (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
6/30/21 9:15 p.m.

In reply to Tom1200 :

I like that a lot. The towing ability would be a nice bonus, too. I haven't seen anything like it in my price range, but I'm definitely keeping an eye out.

The utility trailer (and other towed campers) idea is a good one, I'm still just not sure that I'm sold on pulling something. I would probably need to rent a parking spot for it since I don't think I can leave it on the street, and I'm not confident enough in my backup abilities to park it in the driveway, although I'm sure I'd learn. The r-pod campers look really nice but I kind of want something with more... character? That probably just means it'll be worse at what I'm using it for, but whatever. Aliner popups are on the radar but kind of hard to find right now.

vwcorvette (Forum Supporter)
vwcorvette (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
6/30/21 9:15 p.m.

Came here to say Rpod as well. Friends use theirs and have two children. Kids sleep in bunk beds at one end they sleep in the other end. Full height, bath, etc. Some have push outs as well to increase interior space. They tow with a Wrangler.

cmcgregor (Forum Supporter)
cmcgregor (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
6/30/21 9:16 p.m.
WillG80 said:

I don't have kids, so I ended up with this. $4k for the decommissioned ambulance, then I did the 4x4 conversion myself. Like many of your DIY options, it's a blank slate. The benefit being that it's framed like a house, but 1x2 aluminum tube instead of 2x4's. Good insulation. Straight walls make building out the inside much easier

 

Just gonna go ahead and quote this so we can all bask in its glory twice on one page. If I had space and time to build it I would be 100% on board. We don't really need the 4wd so my wife has been trying to sell me on a short bus conversion but I'm not sure I want to go there.

cmcgregor (Forum Supporter)
cmcgregor (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
6/30/21 9:20 p.m.

In reply to CyberEric :

Yeah, the problem with most conversions (DIY or otherwise) is that they're set up for couples. The problem I've been having with eurovans is that most of them are full campers and I kind of want a Weekender - we typically don't take long trips and I'd rather cook outside and have more space in the van.

Also - I have a spreadsheet of all the vanagons/eurovans on Craigslist right now wink. I'm going to try to look at that one this weekend.

I had no idea how popular they were until I moved here - there are 3? At least? In my little 5 block neighborhood. They're everywhere.

cmcgregor (Forum Supporter)
cmcgregor (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
6/30/21 9:21 p.m.
Woody (Forum Supportum) said:

I read the thread title as "Camper van Rambilings".

That is all.

Thanks for naming my future camper!

cmcgregor (Forum Supporter)
cmcgregor (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
6/30/21 9:26 p.m.

In reply to itsarebuild :

Being able to leave the trailer at the site is definitely appealing. We typically camp in state parks, so we're not going all the way off grid and trips are 3-4 days at most (although we'd like to do longer as the kids get older). We generally stay pretty close to camp since the kids are happy to just ride bikes and play in the dirt, and parks here are pretty incredible in terms of stuff to do without having to drive anywhere, but options are great.

cmcgregor (Forum Supporter)
cmcgregor (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
6/30/21 9:31 p.m.

In reply to vwcorvette (Forum Supporter) :

Two votes r-pod! There are a few on Craigslist, looks like they're around 20k right now. They do look really nice.

Tom1200
Tom1200 SuperDork
6/30/21 11:00 p.m.

In reply to cmcgregor (Forum Supporter) :

We bought the van 14 years ago. We paid 4k for it plus I put another 3k in it.

I got constant offers from people wanting to buy it.

If you can swing it at all I'd get one, even if it needs a little fixing up inside.

cfvwtuner
cfvwtuner New Reader
7/1/21 6:18 a.m.

I wouldnt really recommend a Vanagon. I dont feel like they are worth the price that people are asking, and I have a 77 Beetle and a 70 Westy. They are unsafe for today's roads. Your knees are the bumper. The engines arent great, some have the heads just fall off once the head studs rot through.  

You can get a weekender eurovan pop-top. They rust as bad as all the older VW's do though.  I'm in New England so rust free just isnt happening. 

I think a 16ft camper is your best bet.  Usually minivan towable, will actually sleep 4, plus the comforts of home (kinda)

in 2017 we bought a Wolf pup 18TO.  Its a small 18 footer, but the whole side slides out.  We paid $12500 new.  Now the exact same year and model seem to be going for 15K used.  

alfadriver
alfadriver MegaDork
7/1/21 9:48 a.m.

Had it not been for the parking inside requirement, the R-pod would have been high on our list, for sure. Fwiw, it's not the only option in that size and shape range, so shop around some a little. 

Fiberglass trailers seem nice, but check them out- as some are narrow- which is one reason we chose to restomod a vintage trailer. 

For the vintage thing, many of them are super light, even up to 20ft. But condition matters SO much. 

The other consideration to make is ALL amenities- do you need a toilet and/or shower? Options matter wrt layout quite a bit. 
 

Driven5
Driven5 UltraDork
7/1/21 10:26 a.m.

In reply to cmcgregor (Forum Supporter) :

Regarding backing trailers: What's the constraint that has you worried with getting a trailer into your driveway?

Regarding R-Pods: With a minivan towing you'll still probably want to limit yourself to the lighter end, and it'll have to be pre-2021 since the brand has dropped most of their 'traditional' models and moved 'upscale' (larger, heavier, and boxier) and away from what made a name for R-Pods in the first place. This means that the actual (original - smaller/lighter) teardrop shaped R-Pods will probably be viewed as having more and more 'character' with the passage of time.

Everything older than 2020 also has an advertised weight without 'options', many of which (A/C, microwave, etc) came on every one you'll find. West coast purchased ones should also all be 'Hood River Edition' with the lift, meatier tires, and protective diamond plate, for what it's worth. So the actual weight will be a couple hundred pounds higher than the spec sheet shows. Check the door for the as-measured weight sticker, although note that you'll still find significant variation between what should otherwise be identical units.

Personally, we decided not to go any heavier than the 178/176. Depending on how light you pack, how well you can balance the payload, and your comfort level with pushing up against (or slightly over) the vans rated limits, you *might* be ok with the 179 too. Beyond that are the lighter and shorter framed 177 (178 with smaller kids bed/dinette), 172 (176 with no slideout and less interior storage), and 171 (177 with no slideout). I'd recommend checking them all out, with kids in tow, to get a good feel for how well each might or might not fit with your family situation/needs.

One thing about the R-Pod size travel trailers behind a minivan that I enjoy is that the combo easily slips into a single width pull-through double parking spot found in most parking lots without hanging into the aisle at all on either end. This makes meal stops while traveling much easier than with the typical bigger truck/trailer combos most people think of.

The Anderson weight distribution and anti-sway hitch has been a great lighter weight solution for this type of application, as has the Curt Echo wireless brake controller.

Kreb (Forum Supporter)
Kreb (Forum Supporter) UberDork
7/1/21 11:17 a.m.

 friend of mine spent a large percentage of the pandemic living on the road with his family (4 people total, with the kids 3 and 7 YO). They bought a large Econoline extended length passenger van and tore out most of the seats. The trailer was a long, full-featured one, so it had a pretty huge footprint. 

Long story short. While the creature comforts of the big trailer were nice, the overall bulk got old whenever they had to cover ground, gas up, et cetera. They ended up camping out of the van much of the time. Often passenger vans are cheaper than cargo vans if you don't mind the windows.

hoots04
hoots04 New Reader
7/2/21 12:46 a.m.

I was recently at yellowstone and was amazed at the number of Sprinter and NV Cargo based camper vans.  But the coolest I saw was a mini camper made out of a NV200.  Probably had room for 2.  I wonder if you can set up a 2 man tent for the adults and let the kids sleep in the camper.

I did a little search and saw this as well:

https://www.reconcampers.com/

 

golfduke
golfduke Dork
7/2/21 7:44 a.m.

You're pushing the limit of your caravan, but a small hybrid camper checks all of your boxes, especially budget.  

We bought thismodel-  https://www.rvtrader.com/listing/2017-Keystone-Rv-Bullet-Crossfire-1650EX-5016996324

... brand new 2018 leftover, for $17k out the door.  It does everything we need it to do for a family of 4 and a big dog.  Bathroom, self contained, small enough to tow, simple to set up and operate, ample enough indoor/awning space should we camp in bad weather, etc... 

 

Similar to you, we tented for a bit with a 6 month old, and very quickly realized that the game has changed.  This has been one of our favorite purchases for family bonding that I can think of.  We use it all the darn time. 

 

 

 

Ian F (Forum Supporter)
Ian F (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
7/2/21 8:09 a.m.

I have been having the campervan vs. towable-by-a-minivan debate for a few years now.

I have a similar minivan (2017 GC GT) that I like quite a bit.

I have looked at R-Pods a lot.  Personally, I like the R-Pod 180 as it can just barely squeak under the towing limits of the GC.  Plus, it seems to me the "aero" profile of the R-Pod should be a bit better behind a somewhat smaller tow vehicle.  I would consider a brake-controller in the GC to be an absolute must. And a sway-control/weight distributing hitch.  My theory is when you are pushing the limits of the tow vehicle, you want all the help you can get for it.  It's not so much for the pulling factor, but the ability to keep things under control should an emergency arise.  

I agree this is a terrible time to be shopping for a camper van.  Definitely a seller's market and if you find a cheap one, figure on it needing the purchase cost (or more) in differed repairs. 

I am back to the campervan side of the debate (mostly because I don't want to deal with storing a trailer), but my needs are a lot different than yours, so I don't really have much input there.

I will say a friend has a roof-tent she puts on her minivan for trips and between that and sleeping arrangements in the van, it works well for trips she takes with her two kids (her husband tends to not camp).

pinchvalve (Forum Supporter)
pinchvalve (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
7/2/21 9:49 a.m.

I have thought about this a bit as well. The request for an RV came from my wife who wants to go see family for weekends, but not pay for the one expensive hotel in town. So it has to be small enough for her to handle on a 2 hour drive. It would be parked at a relative's house, so it would have access to 120v power and maybe a garden hose. She would have access to indoor bathrooms, but ideally would be able to clean up and use the restroom in the RV. Lenght of stay is about 2 days, so storage and large water tanks and tow capacity are not a big need.

Option #1 is a campervan of some sort, but most seem to be pretty pricey or pretty beat up. 30-foot RVs are often cheaper than a van. My favorite is the Toyota Dolphin. Many sizes and configurations are available, and if all you wanted to do is sleep, pee and change, it fits the bill.  Yes, the 22re is not powerful, but its reliable and speed and towing are not high on the list. 


Option #3 is a pickup bed RV. They make them for even small trucks, but bathrooms are hard to find in that size. If I had a full-sized truck as my DD this would make sense, but I don't have one.

Option #3 is a smaller towable, something under 3500# total GVWR. My ex has a nice one, and for two people and a kid for a weekend, it is pretty great. Larger than a teardrop, but smaller than a 5th wheel beast.  It ticks a lot of boxes and could be pressed into service for a longer trip with a kitchen on board. Storing it takes up space though.

After much contemplation, we decided that hotels are the cheapest option and they make the beds for you and include breakfast and there are fewer bugs. 

 

alfadriver
alfadriver MegaDork
7/2/21 10:38 a.m.

In reply to pinchvalve (Forum Supporter) :

40 years ago, we did a cross country trip with a truck camper. 2 years later, math told my dad that a car + hotel was considerably cheaper. 

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