New to forum and small camper van question

Hi everyone,

I hope this post isn’t too redundant.

Previously, I lived pretty much full time in a Toyota, Previa for years, which I had done just about everything one could do to turn it into a full time home. I spent my winters in Baja, surfing and living on the beach, fall backpacking the Sierra Nevada, and lots of up and down the California coast, guerrilla camping and surfing.

I upgraded to a used 2004Dodge Sprinter with 85K miles in 2009, but it was the low roof model and was an unbelievable money pit. I was glad to get rid of it.

For the last 10 years, after I got married and had kids, we’ve had a 1991 Toyota Warrior, which has its pros and cons, but we use it mainly to stay at local camp grounds here on the coast of Oregon. (it gets terrible gas mileage)

What I want to get now, is a small vehicle that I could use to take on surf trips about two or three times a year from Newport, Oregon down the coast to Encinitas, CA. These will be monthlong trips and I’ll have a couple surfboards, but travel solo (my wife and kids will stay home)

I need a vehicle that will get good gas mileage. The Toyota Warrior is too much and too old for these trips, and the gas mileage is terrible.

I need enough room to sleep inside, be able to guerrilla camp, camp at campgrounds occasionally, park in front of friends houses, etc.

It would be useful to have a camp stove and ice chest or better yet, a powered cooler, like a dometic (and this might require some electrical system or a solar array).

Of course, a portable toilet is critical, just something I can pop out and use and tuck away.

Basically a space to sleep, cook, keep food cold, go to the bathroom and keep my nine foot board inside or on the roof.

Any thoughts?

I’ve see Ford Transit Connects as an option, and I think there other similar mini vehicles of this type.

I’ve seen conversions of the Connects that end up being $50K for the vehicle and conversion; that’s not my budget.

In the past, I built out my own Toyota, a bit like the way a kid builds a fort, very basic.

I had friends build out my Sprinter in a more professional manner, but it was still affordable.

I am open to all options, but looking to save myself trouble and time by checking in with others who have current experience.

Cheers and thanks so much,


Greetings & Welcome!

Cheap Dodge Grand Caravans get decent MPG and can make great campers.


"Life can be as simple or as complicated as you make it.
Simple is cheaper and more reliable." ~ Off Grid

Thanks for this. I’ll check them.
Having lived in a previa, then later a sprinter, I’m torn between two worlds.

And now there is the ford transit connect that seems popular

And the new Toyota sienna AWD with 36 mpg and extra clearance

Almost too many choices.


I tend to choose used, old, & cheap. Old (pre-computerized) gives me the comfort and reliability I desire, pre-smog gives me better MPG & even better reliability, and was built in an era when quality wasn’t just another word in the dictionary.

The quality and reliability of vehicles dropped off a cliff when they added computers, and the whole auto industry adopted greed as their replacement for quality & reliability. Bad engines, bad transmissions, cheap everything, and costly repairs.

Toyota’s do probably have the best drivetrains, at least the older ones did. One of the other problems with newer vehicles is the depreciation. Depreciation can cost you a fortune, but fully depreciated vehicles tend to hold their value. I’ve put a lot of trouble free miles on 40-50 year old vehicles, while newer ones turned into money pits.

There’s a reason that most of us real full timers drive old rigs, we value comfort, reliability, and overall cost of ownership over keeping up with the Jones’s.


"I saved a fortune by going old & cheap.
It's proven reliable & trouble free and the savings
can buy a ton of gas & adventures." ~ A Happy Camper

That’s really interesting information.

Do you have any suggestions about makes, models, and years?

Thanks so much



I love the 70’s Dodges with the 318 engine. Best vans ever made in my humble opinion.


"Day Labor = Work Today, Get Paid Today. Win/Win" ~ Nomad-Norm