For the past few months I've been researching and scheming and thinking about how to create a safe haven mini-home on wheels that will finally enable me to travel again, despite my limiting chemical sensitivities and other health struggles. Bizarre challenges call for bizarre solutions. Before 1997 I loved traveling, from Egypt to Ecuador to the Jersey shore, never having to worry about where I slept. Since 1997, when my health plummeted and I first became ill with this mysterious syndrome and a slew of others, I've traveled rarely and only to places that I know are environmentally tolerable for me. It's maddening. But, as you might have read here, I'm determined to take back my travel life.
I've decided to forgo my initial idea of a sexy, little vintage travel trailer in lieu of...a minivan. A minivan camper conversion.
I love the idea of a quirky, vintage travel trailer, but I discovered some deal-breaking downsides for my particular situation. At the end of my research, I got clear about the priorities for my travel solution: a stress-free self-contained unit that can be driven, no special storage requirements, better than abysmal gas mileage, inexpensive repair requirements, and something that can function as my one and only vehicle.
Thus the minivan. She fits all those requirements. Aesthetically, I'd much rather a cool Vanagon or Eurovan, but apparently they're finicky and require frequent, expensive upkeep and repairs. And they get pretty shitty gas mileage.
|I've found very few examples of mini-van conversions online but here's one by a guy in Florida. It's simple and sweet. The couch reclines into a bed.|
So I'm aspiring to do what few have done: a minivan camper conversion. My vision includes a daybed, mini-kitchen, curtains, rug, throw pillows, room for lounging, electric and deep cell battery power, and a roof vent. If you're ever been to my apartment, imagine something like that but miniature and without standing room. I've already found my guy, Dennis, in Manchester, New Hampshire who can do some of the technical retrofitting. I love this guy. He spent two and half hours with me in his shop, patiently answering my litany of questions about how conceivable it is to actualize my fantasy of turning a minivan into a mini-RV.
|Not my style but here's another example of how much you can fit into the back of a mini-van. This company is in Europe I think, but I can't find the original website. The bed folds up into a couch during the day.|
I thought I'd already found my van. So much so that I bought it two weeks ago. I've learned an expensive and miserable lesson: someone with serious chemical sensitivities should never buy a vehicle that's been detailed, no matter how long ago. I knew it smelled when I first and second looked at it. Apparently car detailers use hard-core cleaners (like Armor-All) that creep into every crevice of the car's surface from upholstery to dashboard, and once in, those chemicals are next to impossible to get out. Fuck, that sucks.
I loved this van so damn much (only 31,000 miles for a 2007 van - practically unheard of) and wanted so badly to get this project under way in time for a winter 2012 inaugural journey. Loving and wishing and a dose of impatience got in the way of my otherwise good instincts and judgement. It looks like I'm going to have to turn around and sell this van, and keep searching for my forever one.
|This is my friend Jay removing the rear seats from the van that I thought would be my forever one.|
One of the things that sucks about living with severe chemical sensitivity is that this strange disability drastically limits your access to places and experiences and things. In this case, unlike most people, I can't just go buy any old used car. And as soon as a car dealership receives a used car, they detail it. And I definitely can't buy a new car since the new-car chemicals would make me sick, and I'll be sleeping in this van night after night.
This setback of not being able to keep this otherwise ideal van tempts me to surrender, resigning myself once and for all to a life without free-spirited travel. But no dream has ever felt more true to my bones than this one.
I'm in search of a rare bird of a van, as you'll read below. Which is exactly why I'm broadcasting this wish to as many people as I can. I'm bringing it to you In hopes that you can help me find this one-in-a-million minivan.
Here's what I'm looking for:
2007, 2006, or 2005 Toyota Sienna LE with less than 40,000 miles! (There are reasons why the Toyota is the only van that will work for my camper conversion.)
Here's where it gets trickier. I also need a van that's:
- never been detailed
- has only been driven by non-smokers
- has only been driven by people who don't wear perfumes, heavily scented detergents or other strong personal products
- never had car fresheners
- light colored exterior (white, tan, silver, light green, light blue, you get the idea.) Dark vans get significantly hotter inside. Have to think about my dog.
- cloth seats (no leather)
- tinted rear windows for additional privacy
Would you mind taking a few minutes to forward this post to anyone you know who currently owns a mini-van even if you've never heard them talk about selling it. Plus, mini-van owners probably know other mini-van owners. And before we know it, I've found my forever van. And you're forever my hero.
With love and front-loaded gratitude,
Kyle & Arlo
With love and front-loaded gratitude,
Kyle & Arlo