Hi! I’m Brian Keith Wallen, and I live in a van down by the river.
OK, not exactly like Chris Farley’s character in the famous SNL sketch, but kind of! I make my living as a solo touring musician, and I’m on the road full time. Just to give you an idea, I’m writing this on September 7th, 2016, and I have about 60 shows in 15 different states on the books between now and Christmas. I don’t stay in one place for very long at a time.
The last couple of tours, I’d grown really tired of bouncing around from cheap motel to cheap motel, often paying $60, $70, $80 per night just to sleep for 6 or 7 hours and leave the next morning. I thought about buying an RV, but the cost was so prohibitive that I decided against it pretty quickly. Eventually, I settled on converting my existing vehicle into a space where I could camp out.
This is Regina, my home away from home. She’s a 2007 Toyota Sienna minivan, and she is a good and faithful servant. She’s been reinforced a bit with air shocks in the back, and Yokohama all-terrain truck tires to handle the extra load of my gear. Other than that, bone stock. A little over 200,000 miles now, a consistent 24 MPG, and super reliable. Now, check out the inside setup!
First things first, I have a lot of gear. Full PA, lights, merch, usually three guitars, plus my luggage, food, water, cooler, etc. My dad built a wooden rack in the back that I store some stuff on top of, and the guitars and luggage underneath of. That was step one, and you can sort of see that behind the mattress in the above pic.
I’d already been touring with the second and third row seats removed/folded away, and step two was to remove the front passenger seat to open up the space for the bed. Step three? Buy a platform mattress. This is awesome on multiple levels. It was $90, all I had to do was fold it open, and it fit like a glove in the van. Plus, there is tons of easily accessible storage right underneath the bed for merch, my stompboards, and whatever else, as you can see. I ended up adding a nice memory foam mattress topper, so here it is with that+sheets and everything.
The platform mattress came with a 5″ pad, and the topper I added is 2.5″, so all in all, it’s 7.5″ of memory foam that I’m sleeping on. It’s really comfortable, and it’s adequate space for me. I’m 6′ 4″ tall, so if I can fit, that’s saying something.
I love the flexibility I have now with this setup. I never feel stressed out about finding accommodations. If I can’t crash with a friend or find an AirBnB spot on the cheap, I’ll just roll into a Walmart, Flying J, or Pilot, and crash. Campgrounds are an option as well, of course. Many towns have free or almost free camping available at city parks. The first night I camped out, I did it at the Walmart in Iron Mountain, Michigan. They had free coffee in the store for shoppers, and free Wi-Fi in the parking lot! How can you beat that?
Total Cost for Minivan Camper Conversion
Platform Mattress: $90
Mattress Topper: $80
Windshield Sunshade (For privacy): $20
Power Inverter (For charging laptops+tablets and phones on the go): $20
The nice thing about van camping is that it’s super stealthy. Nobody even notices a minivan in a parking lot. My back windows are already tinted, so I just put the sunshade in the front window, hang a couple of jackets up to block the front windows, and go to sleep. I’m absolutely thrilled about the money that this is going to save me over the coming months and years! I’d love to do a Sprinter conversion and make my own tiny house on wheels someday, but for now, this is an incredibly cost effective way to have a home away from home.
So, yeah. I live in a van down by the river. And I’m good with that.