Van Life in Dodge Grand Caravan with Mellow Nomadic Adventures

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Vanlife in Dodge Grand Caravan is a unique way to travel and camp! This happened because of the use-what-you-have philosophy. I can’t say that I’m upset about it, I’m turning my 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan into the ultimate camping companion.

A couple of years ago, I was driving a 1996 Buick Regal that I had paid $1,200 USD:

1996 Buick Regal

As it turned 20 years old and started becoming a money trap, I knew I needed something bigger as I had now been in the film industry for a couple of years at this point and the tools I was accumulating were getting harder and harder to fit inside the Buick.

1996 Buick Regal Two Door

I didn’t have a lot of money, yet I knew I needed something bigger than the Buick. Also, every Production Designer I had worked with suggested a van as the ideal way to go if I wanted to advance in the art department.

I learned that most productions would rent a certain type of van: Dodge Grand Caravans.

2020 Dodge Grand Caravan
2020 Dodge Grand Caravan

I never dreamed I would want to buy a minivan!

Research for Vanlife in Dodge Grand Caravan

Before I decided on that route, I did a bunch of research.

This is where most dreams start. Even though I wasn’t in the position to get a van and build out a tool van for film and tv, I started researching all the options.

I wrote down all the different types of minivans available, which isn’t that many!

Here is the initial list I came up with:

Available Mini-vans in the United States:

  • Chevrolet Astrovan
  • Chevrolet Express 1500
  • Chevrolet Express 2500
  • Chrysler Town & Country
  • Chrysler Pacifica (Stow ‘N Go Seating)
  • Chrysler Voyager (Stow ‘N Go Seating)
  • Dodge Grand Caravan (Stow ‘N Go Seating)
  • Ford Transit Connect
  • GMC Savanna 1500
  • Honda Odyssey
  • Kia Sedona (Stow ‘N Go Seating)
  • RAM ProMaster City
  • Toyota Sienna
  • Volkswagen Routan

I looked for vans with ‘Stow ‘N Go’ seating. This means that the seats in the rear and middle section fold down into the floor providing a large cargo area.

I found a 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan for $6,750.

My Buick was having many issues and I no longer felt safe driving it. Everything was breaking and I didn’t want to invest any money into it. And I needed more tool storage space!

So, I decided to get the van!

Vanlife in Dodge Grand Caravan - Mellow Nomadic Adventures
2013 Dodge Grand Caravan with Window Sun Shades, Chrome Door Handle Covers, and LED Headlights & Bright Beams Upgrade

WARNING: Tangent Ahead!

I immediately added some basic accessories such as the sun shades for the windows and chrome door handle covers. It is all attached with strong, 3M, double-sided tape that comes with the products.

I also replaced the incandescent headlamps and bright beams with LED lights all around which was a total of 4 bulbs. So worth it!

Additionally, I only received one key fob when I bought the caravan so I picked up this two pack of 7 button key fobs. Then I went to a locksmith to have them programmed.

Luckily for me, it worked! I was nervous because some of the reviews mentioned that this process doesn’t always work. It was successful for me and all the buttons work.

Next, I built a tool shelf. I used ratchet straps to tie down the tool shelf to pre-existing tie down points inside the caravan.

Each shelf was made to hold one of the stackable Dewalt toolboxes I have.

And I used reclaimed wood my father gave me to create this shelf. I will try to find a photograph of it to update this post soon.

Over the course of 2018, I rocked this setup for a few films & commercials I worked on.

In 2019, I focused on commercial work and films for local filmmakers only. Filmmakers that are friends of mine.

Overall I have been very pleased with the tool setup and cargo space in the van. However, with the suspension of our state’s film tax incentives, production companies no longer want to apply to come film here when they can go right across the river and get competitive tax incentives.

We lost our film growth steam and then Covid-19 hit along with 2020. Needless to say, the film industry here in Kentucky is pretty much non-existent now.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

So, with all the downtime this year in 2020, I have found a few awesome YouTube channels that create consistent content. (These channels I will link these at the end of this article or by clicking here.) They have inspired me to pursue a nomadic lifestyle!

On June 1, 2020, after months of watching videos and researching all my options, I decided to create a nomadic lifestyle plan.

But how do I even go about accomplishing this transition? I have so much “stuff”!

Me vs. My Stuff

Well, just like in Bill Hogan’s book How Do You Eat An Elephant? One Bite At A Time!, that’s the approach I knew I must take:

I must accomplish my goal one step at a time!

I know if I really want to achieve my goal, I can do it like I have accomplished the other goals throughout my lifetime.

Since June 1, I have been actively selling my “excess stuff” that I no longer need. Items that just don’t serve a purpose to me any longer. Things that have been collecting dust around my room or in the garage.

At first, it did feel overwhelming. However, as I make progress each day, the results start to show like diamonds glistening in the sunlight. And it begins to feel like a weight has been lifted off of me.

How Did I Start Vanlife in Grand Caravan

After I compared the cargo area sizes of the top cargo van makers (and their price tags!), I started looking at enclosed cargo trailers. I noticed several people converting these trailers into off-grid, mini-RVs. And they were creating some very nice layouts in these converted, enclosed cargo trailers!

As I was researching these trailers, I noticed that the dimensions on them gave you MORE space to do a buildout as opposed to a high-roof, cargo van. This is what sold me!

If I can invest my savings in a custom trailer & build it out myself, then I’d have more space to live in AND if anything ever happens to my caravan, I’ll still have my conversion trailer. I can always get another van, SUV, or truck.

It just seems to have more pros than cons. Of course, there are some cons such as parking a trailer, maneuvering a trailer, & possibility of trailer theft. I think it would be a great way to live! And honestly, the room I rent isn’t much bigger than a trailer so there wouldn’t be much difference in space.

On to other techniques I am using…

I started by using Google Sheets (it’s FREE!) to create a spreadsheet.

On this spreadsheet, I created sheets for each category I had: Big Stuff, Electronics, Books, Clothes, and Miscellaneous.

Next, I started putting the items I knew I wanted to try and sell into the proper categories. Besides each item, I researched what the value was and I made a note of it.

Each day I would pick an area to work on and I would focus on that one area. Sometimes I would move on to the next area in the same day. As I went through each area, I divided the “stuff” into three piles:

  1. Keep
  2. Donate
  3. Sell

The KEEP pile I kept obviously. These were items like my toothbrush, basic clothes, camera gear I use, my favorite books, my business laptop, and some sentimental items like gifts from my now-passed-away grandmother and grandfather.

The stuff I wanted to DONATE, I would place into boxes or bags and take them to my van when I knew I was finished going through things for the day. That way, it would be ready to drop off at the Goodwill.

Until then, I would have the box near my bedroom door to remind me to take it out.

For the SELL pile, I took photos of each item being sure to capture in-focus photographs that were well-lit with no other distractions in frame. I took photos of everything on my bedroom’s wooden floor. Then I went to each photo and adjusted the crop and lighting for each image.

Selling on Facebook Marketplace For Vanlife in Dodge Grand Caravan

With clean, cropped, and well-lit photographs of the stuff I wanted to sell, I headed over to Facebook Marketplace.

I chose this method because I knew I could reach a wider audience than say doing a yard/garage sale or listing on eBay and messing with packing each item up to ship.

Although eBay probably does have a great audience as well, I knew I didn’t want to ship items or pay the fees that eBay has.

Facebook Marketplace has been great for me. It’s free to use and I request that buyers come to my house once I know they are serious about making the purchase. Then I send them my address.

The items I list on Facebook Marketplace don’t necessarily sell immediately or within the desired time frame. Yet they do eventually sell.

I can do a post on Tips for Selling on Facebook Marketplace maybe…?

Do I Have To Pare Down For Vanlife in Dodge Grand Caravan?

Paring down isn’t necessary! I use my Grand Caravan to camp in. And so far I have made some decent progress on adding some elements to it.

First, I folded the stow-n-go seating in the cargo space into the floor. This opened up the entire cargo area.

Next, I bought some climbing rope from my local home improvement store. This rope is rated up to 397 lbs. I knew I needed something that could at least support my weight and if I ever wanted to try a two-person hammock, I could.

Speaking of hammocks, that was my first choice. I went with a hammock so that I wouldn’t have to build anything. Also, it was cheaper to go this route. I paid $28.95 for this single-person hammock from Wise Owl based in Nashville, TN. When I wake up each day, I can roll up the hammock and have access to the entire cargo area.

However, I have quickly noticed that it can fill up quickly! By the time I gathered my Top 10 Camping Gear Essentials and loaded those into the caravan, it felt really cozy.

Anyway, I am still paring down my “stuff” and making progress every week. My room that I rent has gone from being overcrowded with “stuff” to having room for so many activities now.

To answer the question though, no, you don’t have to get rid of your stuff if you are only wanting to do van life on the weekends, road trips, or vacations.

Window Coverings for Vanlife in Dodge Grand Caravan

Not only did I want to prepare the van to be able to camp in, but I also wanted to prepare it to be able to stealth camp in. This part I am still working on this. I ordered a roll of Reflectix and made my own templates out of paper.

Then I traced the templates onto the Reflectix and next, I cut them out.

They fit great except they kept falling down. I tried to use velcro to hold them to the glass, however, that didn’t work so well either.

I finally came across a great video on YouTube where I learned how to make 5 layer window coverings.

So I made some! Here is that video:

I am also working on creating a curtain rod for the curtain divider between the front seats and the cargo area.

I found a thin piece of aluminum I think may work!

Have you ever slept in a van?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Favorite YouTube Channels

The first channel that really inspired me was The Nomadic Movement:

The Nomadic Movement YouTube Channel - Recommended channel by Mellow Nomadic Adventures
The Nomadic Movement YouTube Channel is about a couple fulfilling their lifelong dreams by ditching corporate life, converting a short bus into a tiny home, and traveling as long and far as possible!

And their channel led me to Trent & Allie:

Trent & Allie isa recommended YouTube channel from Mellow Nomadic Adventures
Trent & Allie YouTube Channel who are a couple of DIY’ers who spent 3 years traveling in a van before they decided to buy some land in Utah and start building their own little home in the mountains!

And around the same time, I discovered another HUGE inspiration. This guy is a filmmaker who lives in a van and he makes really well-crafted videos and content. Definitely go subscribe to Chrome & Cruz’s VanCity Vanlife channel:

VanCity Vanlife YouTube Channel is a recommended channel from Mellow Nomadic Adventures
VanCity Vanlife is a Canadian filmmaker in a 2004 Ford E250 Extended Cargo Van and he travels throughout Canada with his pal Cruz, the bulldog!

And then I came across one of my favorite channels because this creator is doing exactly what I want to do! Well, not 100% exactly, however, it’s close! I have a minivan and she has a truck! Please subscribe to her channel if you are interested in off-grid cargo trailer living:

Lex and Riot is a recommended YouTube channel from Mellow Nomadic Adventures
Lex lives full-time in a 6×12 cargo trailer camper with her dog Riot. Follow along as she travels, lives, and works off-grid!

This next recommended channel I have been a subscriber to this for a while now and it’s been really great to watch her journey. She is a mini-van lifer like me!

My Basic Journey is a recommended YouTube channel from Mellow Nomadic Adventures
Chantelle over at My Basic Journey creates videos about Vanlife, travel, minimalism, and becoming a digital nomad. Watch her and her dog Joey as they travel around the United States!

And last, however, certainly NOT least, is one of my favorite YouTube channels I have found! These two are amazing people who are intelligent, funny, and knowledgeable on a variety of subjects. And they built out a smaller van and they’re based in Italy!

Leave Everything And Wander (LEAW) is a recommended YouTube channel by Mellow Nomadic Adventures
Leave Everything And Wander (L.E.A.W.) is made up of Sara and Luca who are an Italian couple who love to explore and tell stories! They were the first YouTube adventurers to drive from Deadhorse, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina with an old truck camper!

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