For the past few months I've been maniacally 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. Maddening. But, as you might have read here, I'm determined to take back my travel life (and the rest of my life for that matter). So much so that I plan to head south for two months every winter.
The outcome of my recent research frenzy?
I've decided to forgo the initial idea of a scrumptious, sexy, little vintage travel trailer in lieu of...wait for it...a minivan. Well, a minivan camper conversion, that is.
As much as I relish the idea of a quirky, vintage, aesthetically adorable travel trailer, 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, 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 MINI-VAN. She fits all those requirements. Sure, the exterior aesthetic makes me cringe. And before you get all incredulous that I, little design diva that I am, am not on the hunt for a cool Vanagon or a Eurovan, let me say that of COURSE I'd love one of those. Apparently they're very finicky and require frequent, expensive upkeep and repairs. And they get pretty shitty gas mileage. Trust me people, I've researched every conceivable travel vehicle and trailer that ever existed. Why do you think I haven't blogged in so long? I've been in research lock-down, determined to get this project ON THE ROAD by this winter. I've got some lost living to make up for. ASAP.
|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. And the dog clinches the whole thing.|
So I'm aspiring to do what very few have done: a mini-van conversion. (I'm making myself sound more pioneer-y, paving-the-way girl than I need to here. But I'll let that stand.) When I say conversion, I mean CONVERSION. This little baby (currently known as "kar-pod"*) will have 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 mini-van into a mini-mini-mini-RV.
* About the working title for the kar-pod van: "k" for Kyle, "ar" for Arlo the dog (dog is my co-pilot kind of thing), "pod" for well, that's a longer story but in brief, "pod" connects me to my brother Jeff. Before he died he was working on a travel trailer that we playfully coined the MiPod. My pod project is deeply connected to Jeff on many levels - too many to describe here.)
|NOT exactly 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.|
Here comes the heartbreaking part: I thought I'd already found my kar-pod 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. Since I've been kicking-ass and taking-names with my fears recently, I've gotten a little cocky about the hurdles I can tackle. I was all "come on van smell, bring it. I can handle you." Well, not so much. Apparently car detailers use hard-core cleaners (think 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 just loved this van so damn much (only 31,000 miles for a 2007 van - practically unheard ot!) and wanted so so badly to get this project under way in time for the winter 2012 inaugural journey. Apparently, love and wishing and a dose of impatience got in the way of my otherwise good instincts and judgement. So it looks like I'm going to have to turn around and sell this van, and keep searching for my forever kar-pod.
|This is my friend Jay removing the rear seats from the van that I thought would be my forever kar-pod. We probably won't be laughing in traffic when we have to put the seats back in.|
One of the things that sucks about living with severe chemical sensitivity is that this strange disability drastically and regularly limits your access to many 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.
I won't lie. This big-ass 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. NFW. I won't lie down that easy. No dream has ever felt more true to my bones than this one does.
No doubt, 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 little kar-pod.
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. Arlo-homey don't like that.
- cloth seats (no leather)
- tinted rear windows for additional privacy
I daydream about the following best-case scenario: your friend (maybe, magically and unfortunately for her, also happens to be chemically-sensitive and never wears or uses scented stuff) off-handedly mentions that she and her family just aren't using their mini-van as much as they thought they would (low-mileage!), and they're thinking about selling.
At which point, you exclaim that you know someone who is in a needle-in-the-haystack search for a low mileage unscented mini-van! Then you contact me immediately, before your friend cleans her to car to sell it, and I choke up, telling you that you just might have answered my prayers and I will never forget the role you played in helping me realize this vision. Or if you're not the process-y type, we skip the crying and reflection, and you just give me your friend's contact info. And I go sniff it out. See. That's how easy it would be for you to make a girl's and her little white dog's dream come true.
I know you're so busy, but would you take 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 kar-pod. And you're forever a hero in my book.
With love and front-loaded gratitude,
Kyle & Arlo
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