Converting a Kia Sedona Minivan for Travel and Living
What makes his conversion so unique is that he has done zero physical changes to the minivan; after this trip, he can switch it back to a typical soccer moms minivan in just a few minutes! All he did was take out the back seats and buy specific camping gear that worked perfectly with the Kia. That’s important because there are a lot of people who don’t have the time, skills or tools to do any real construction on a van so they need a nice conversion that makes them comfortable but requires no building–this van is perfect for that!
It’s also perfect for people on a tight budget or who aren’t really sure if they want to live or travel in a van. The Sedona is a popular minivan but also one of the cheapest so they are easy to find and very affordable. You can easily take the seats out and go on a few trips to start getting an idea if vandwelling is really for you If you decide it is, then you’re ready to move in and start traveling, if it turns out you really don’t like it, then you may have lost a little bit of money on the camping gear, but not all that much.
A few years back he had a health scare with his heart and that made him really stop and reevaluate his life. He concluded that there were a lot of places he wanted to see and things he wanted to do but he hadn’t done them yet; facing his mortality forced him to take steps to make it happen. Flying is expensive, and you miss out on some of the best parts of the trip, so he decided to use the minivan he already owned because it was big enough to be quite comfortable, but small enough to get good gas mileage. Jim averages about 20 MPG but gets up to 23 on the highway. For as much comfort as it gives him, that’s pretty darn good.
Essentially Jim converted the van like he was going on a long tent camping trip but instead of setting up a tent outside he used the van as a rolling steel tent. That gave him a lot more security and safety with the steel walls and solved nearly all the problems of car-camping and sleeping on the ground in a tent. It also saved him the hassle of packing and unpacking the van at every campsite. He gets all the advantages of camping, but none of its disadvantages.
The first thing he did was take out the back seats which was easy because they are designed to be easily removable. Next he added the camping gear he needed to be comfortable. Basically, the same items he would have bought had he been going tent camping, but he didn’t need a tent!
This is the camping gear he’s carrying. The links go to Amazon and if you use them I’ll make a small amount on your purchase and it will cost you nothing.
General Camping Gear:
A quality cot. His is from Cabellas, but here is another that I’ve owned and recommend from Amazon: TETON Sports Outfitter XXL Camp Cot
Little Buddy Heater: His sons are in Colorado, and he travels there in the winter so he needs a good heater. Mr. Heater Buddy 4,000-9,000-BTU Indoor-Safe Radiant Heater
Big Kahuna Portable Shower: He wants to eat healthy so he cooks meals, the Big Kahuna makes dish washing easy, and of course it makes showering a great experience. It holds 4 1/2 gallons of water and has a 12 volt pump build in. I was very impressed by how well it works. Big Kahuna Portable Shower
Helinox Backpacking Chair: he uses this great chair inside and out of the van. It’s very comfortable and light but it packs down small. Best of all he doesn’t hit his head when he’s using it inside the van. Helinox Backpacking Chair
Folding Camp Toilet: He started with a porta potti but it took up too much room. Now he’s going to try a folding toilet from Reliance. Reliance Folding Portable Toilet
After his health scare he was determined to eat better, but how could he cook in a minivan? He needed a good kitchen to make it enjoyable to make quality, healthy meals and found the perfect solution. During good weather he can cook from outside the back hatch and in bad weather he has a butane stove he cooks inside on.
Coleman 2-Burner Propane Stove: Coleman InstaStart 2-Burner Stove
Butane Stove: to use inside during bad weather or as a third burner Butane Camping Stove
Dometic CF 18 Fridge/Freezer: 12 volt Compressor fridge/freezer, this is a very small fridge or freezer but enough for one person. It’s 12 volt and can easily be powered by a single battery being charged by the alternator. Dometic CF-018Portable Freezer/Refrigerator
1 Gallon Propane Bottle: Worthington 1-Gallon Steel Propane Cylinder
One thing you’ve got to have is some electrical power for your phones, tablets, laptops and lights. He found a simple and cheap solution by getting a marine battery and charging it from the cars starting battery. He uses an isolator to protect the starting battery from going dead and bought an inexpensive marine battery as a house battery. He used a Minnkota Battery/Box-Power/Center MinnKota Battery Holder-Power Center to hold the battery and it also gives him a two built-in cigarette lighters sockets and a voltmeter to monitor the battery.
I hope you enjoyed this tour of Jim’s Kia as much as I did and hopefully you found some ideas to help you with your build and who knows, maybe even some inspiration!
I’m making Videos on my good friends James and Kyndal’s YouTube Channel. See them here:
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TETON Sports Outfitter XXL Camp Cot
Big Kahuna Portable Shower
Mr. Heater Buddy 4,000-9,000-BTU Indoor-Safe Radiant Heater
Dometic CF-018Portable Freezer/Refrigerator
MinnKota Battery Holder-Power Center
Reliance Folding Portable Toilet
Very clever & practical setting, easy to set it up & to take down when not traveling, N I C E !
Now, I have question, I see only one cot where does the second person sleeps ?? I noticed 2 pairs of shoes & 2 bicycles by the van.
Jim has done @ wonderful conversion, thank you Bob por the pictures, explanations & video U bring for us to see & enjoy.
Lucy, he’s alone, not sure about the two shoes but one bike is a road bike and one is a mountain bike.
Now that I come to think about it, how did Jim anchored the cot to the van ?
My regards, Lucy.
Lucy, I don’t remember but it may not be anchored at all. I don’t think it’s any big deal.
Thanks for posting this. I’m going get some of these items for my rig. The battery box looks very good. I’m really impressed with the kitchen.
Me too Juanita! He’s done a great job!
A van after my own heart! This kind of simplicity and this undemanding setup are exactly my approach. I will do a few things differently because I’m in a different situation, but the approach and much of the equipment exactly match my needs.
The battery/isolator setup is especially interesting to me. I have at least two brothers who could set that up in a few minutes. The Ryobi accessories that also give an extra battery apiece were a new idea to me. That gives a lot of stored power, and that could be really important for operating tools in emergencies or in the boondocks.
Question about the Buddy heaters: can the smallest one be run from a larger tank? I cannot tell from the sites where I’ve seen it, and your videos make a great point about the cost of propane in different modes. I could put up with a larger heater if I save a lot of money in the long run.
Calvin, yes, the little one can be run from a bigger tank. It needs a green bottle to be the stand so you have to figure another way to stand it up. One way is to hang it from something by a bungee. Another is to use a bucket with a gamma lid and drill a hole through it put the heater through it and screw the filter to the ether end and the hose to the filter. You’ll have to drill a hole to the bottom of the bucket for the hose.
I knew I had seen another choice somewhere, but that doesn’t help unless the reader can find it. This is Model #F242300. http://www.amazon.com/Mr-Heater-MH12C-000-Cooker/dp/B00002N82X/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1457461127&sr=8-3&keywords=f242300, which can be converted to a 20# tank and is also a cooker per the manufacturer description on Amazon.
Calvin, that is NOT rated as indoor-safe, it is designed only for outdoor use. I know people who use them in a van, but I would not.
One step up,two steps back. The philosophy is great but the concrete parts just get worse.
If you decide not to put the seats back in the van you might like to know that I put the seats from my Caravan on Freecycle and they went away with no hassle to me.
Thanks Linda, he still is working so has a family at home, but that is a very good tip anyway!
Brilliant! I love you the simplicity of it. And I’m lazy.
There’s a saying in the boat cruising world about using what you have in order to get going, “go small, go now”
I love that Cae, thanks!
I’m so glad you posted this! I was just going to buy a second harbor freight , jump starter/battery system to power a fan for my farmer’s market set up…as the small D cell battery ones, just don’t cut it. The whole Ryobi Lithium battery system and additional pieces available, fits many needs. You could charge them both off the vehicle or when stopped for a cup of Joe at Mc D’s. When I camp out….I don’t currently use a fridge, so these are plenty. Fan, light, radio…set.
I like it that one can just replace the smaller lithium batteries, when they wear out, as opposed to a large size power station….yay!
Joy, I was just in today )March 6, 2016) and Home Depot has the best Lithium battery for the 18 volt kit on sale right now in a blister pack with a buy one, get one free. The single one costs $99 and they have one that has two for $99. They each have the power and run-time of 4 of the old batteries so it’s like getting 8 batteries for $100.
We didn’t say but we should have, that the Ryobi tools that use these are ONLY available at Home Depot, they are exclusive.
Any idea where to get the folding table or the manufacturer? THANKS Katy in NH
Hi Katy, I’m not totally sure, but I’m pretty sure it’s from REI and this is it:
REI products have a lifetime warranty! I highly recommend them!!
What a great post! This is so inspiring. Of course I had to look on craigslist for mini-van’s I could convert and look up each item on Amazon to see what this setup would cost.
I would love to do this for a summer roadtrip, but I would still need to work full time remotely. Do you know if a typical 3 prong cord would be able to use this electricity setup? (powering my laptop)
Hi Tara, yes, you can get something called an inverter that easily attaches to your battery and it takes the 12 volt from the battery and changes it to 110 volt, which is what your laptop uses. They always have one or two regular 3 prong wall sockets you can use any extension cord with. they come in sizes and I’d recommend a 200 or 400 watt inverter. Get one that has alligator clips that can attach directly to the battery.
You can also buy a car adapter for most laptops that will let you plug it directly into a cigarette lighter socket. Search eBay and Amazon with the name and model of your laptop and “car adapter” or “12 volt adapter”
You can do this!!
Bob, Jim has got it together, That is one nice set-up. I like it. Thanks for post.
Wayne, yes it is!!
Here in northern Wisconsin, we had melting and freezing yesterday. The roads were too icy for my morning walk, so I headed into the woods where I enjoyed a lovely walk for the better part of an hour.
But as nice as that was, I found myself longing to head south for some warm weather.
Upon returning home I read this post and thought, ‘This. This is very doable for me.’
For now I have family obligations here at home, but the ability to put something together for trips to see loved ones (and sun! and warmth!) without breaking the bank is so very appealing.
I’m a 61 year old grandma and while I can still put up my tent by myself, sleeping on the ground doesn’t quite charm me as it once did.
Bob, I have read your blog for a while now, but this is my first comment. You are a preacher, a missionary, an evangelist for your lifestyle ( I mean this as a compliment). Thank you for all the time and effort in inspiring your readers ( like me!).
I think this minivan ‘conversion’ will be the gateway drug 🙂 to my life on the road.
Thanks to Jim for sharing his beautiful setup. Looking forward to watching the video when I’m near a free wifi.
Keep up the great work!
Cheri I’m required by law to warn you of the side affects of this drug:
1) Frequent bouts of uncontrollable smiling
2) A deep sense of joy
3) An unprecedented feelings of peace and contentment.
These are all very highly addicting and you will probably be hooked for life!! Proceed with caution! 🙂
LOL, Bob! By the way, I’m related to a batch of Wellses. We might be kin!
Cheri, it’s a small world so you never know!!
Wow!!! Another great post Bob! I love it when you show us someone’s setup and explain (with links, yea!) what they are using and how it all fits together.
I had no idea you could run a compressor fridge off a battery without a solar setup and a couple of golf car batteries! I was planning on a cargo van set up with two 100 watt panels on a ladder rack up top to run my fridge but seeing this changes things. I am now leaning to a used Prius since I can run the AC with the car off (I’m in the tropics). Jim is using a marine battery, would a Sam’s Club type golf cart battery (one of the cheap GC2 75 volt $85 types) hold any advantages over the marine unit?
DASA, remember that he drives a lot because he’s traveling. If that’s true then the alternator is enough to run his very small fridge. With a Prius you’d be set, no problem running a fridge at all. Golf Cart batteries are 6 volts and must be run in pairs. Most all of them are 100 ah or more so to of them would be 200 ah, which would be too much for the alternator. I’d stick to one 12 volt if only charging off the alternator.
Thank you for sharing this Jim and Bob! What a beautiful set-up. I’ve been drawing up plans for a teardrop trailer style minivan camper and this video is extremely helpful and inspiring to me.
I’m surprised that the buddy heater can be run in such a tight space. Do people just use it for very short bursts of warmth in tiny uninsulated vehicles?
Sentient Loon, yes, that’s what ends up happening is you turn it on and it quickly gets too hot and so you turn it off. Then it gets cold again and you repeat. Fortunately they are very easy to start so it isn’t really a problem.
thank you Jim and Bob for the virtual van visit. And thank you Beth. It’s great to see the different setups that people come up with depending on their needs. Beth built herself a long term home, and Jim came up with a quick and easy convertible rig. Both of them showed loads of ingenuity!
It’s our pleasure Ming!
I will note for those not needing to convert the van back to “family mode” that Stow and Go and similar seats that fold into the floor can be removed and leave a beautiful space for storage or systems. I saw pictures and text about a Honda Odyssey conversion with the back seat removed, and that space was big enough to be really important. I was impressed, and I will make a priority of those spaces.
Calvin, you are so right!! Chrysler made a few of their vans in a cargo version and they come with the holes under the floor but no seats. They have a hatch over them and the space is incredible!!
I have a friend with one and it’s amazing the space she has under there!!
What is the Cabelas model of his cot? I don’t see that combination of cot leg and color on their website.
I’m sorry John, but I don’t know.
Thank you Bob and Jim, extraordinarily generous of you both to so share so much of the nuts-and-bolts detail.
Thanks David, it really is our pleasure!
I was so excited to find a minivan entry today, Bob and in reading the comments section found a new mantra, “go small, go now.” That has been me in a nutshell. Once I stumbled on your sight 2 months ago I knew this was want I wanted. I also knew I didn’t want to wait to convert a full-size van. I just bought a minivan (Plymouth Grand Voyager) about 10 days ago knowing I could make it work. This video just removed any tiny doubts I was starting too small. I love Jim’s kitchen galley in the back and might have to rethink my plans. ha! Bob, your introduction resonated with me about not have to have a big elaborate van to make this lifestyle work. I really think this video is going to inspire many people that they can go small and go now! Thank you Bob and Jim.
I’m very pleased to be able to help Gigi!!
Bob, would like to see a post regarding the refrigerator/freezer units. How to utilize and pac items in them. What type of foods do you find work best and do they keep food like meat at a safe temperature to eat after a few days? Can you have a few ice cubes or is it a waste of space?
Tanya, go to my channel where I have a video covering the different 12 volt compressor fridges, you may want to check it out. Here is a post I did on my refrigerator. http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/review-and-comparison-of-whytner-and-dometic-12-volt-compressor-refigerators/
Yes, they work very well and will keep any food you want perfectly. They can be set from 50 to 0 degrees and they will keep the food at that temperature. But they re only that temperature, not both. You can make ice with one but it has to be set to be a freezer. Some people set them as freezers and then keep jugs of ice in them. They get an ice chest and use the jugs of ice to keep it cold so they have both a freezer and a cooler. They get 4 gallon jugs, two are freezing in the freezer, two are thawing in the cooler. and they just keep swapping them back and forth.
Any food you can keep in your fridge at home you can keep in one of these fridges.
I like the idea of freezing jugs of water to use in an ice chest. Thank you for the links
Tanya, glad to help.
Great post, Bob. I love the simplicity of his setup. Lots of good information and inspiration there.
Hi again Bob,
Puzzled a bit – entered “cargo-trailer conversions” into your blog ‘search box’ and nothing showed !
You answered my Q. couple of months ago – my ordered all-aluminum [including frame] 6′ 10′ cargo trailer has arrived – to be towed by a MBZ C-280 as of Monday, 14 March, when conversion will begin “along the way”.
Been doin’ some interesting home/pet ‘sitting’ – a great way to ‘take-a-break’ while traveling; would you like a ‘guest-blog’ on this subject to share ?
Questions: how does one contact you w/o having to ‘tack-onto’ another blog subject AND how does one attach a photo ?
Hi John, the search bar is very literal and because I don’t hyphenate that word, it didn’t show up. Type in cargo trailer and they will show up. Here are some of them:
Yes, I would be interested in a guest post, are you going through a website and being paid?
If you go to the website and look at the right hand side-bar you’ll find my email address. It is email@example.com. You are welcome to email me at any time.
I’m not sure what a reader sees, but there may be the option to use html codes in a comment and if so you use the img command to enter photos. No one has ever done it before so it probably isn’t possible. You can email me the photos
This article and video is so inspiring that I have read and watched it numerous times!
I am wondering if there are any issues with the cot remaining level. Some minivans have a bit of an angle to the floor space once the seats are stored or flattened.
Are there any updates on the changes Jim has done since making the video or a way he can be contacted directly?
Dena, he didn’t mention having level problems, but you’re right, that is common. My guess is even if it was a problem, you could find a way to shim it up, or just make sure your head was at the high point.
He said he was working on a remodel, but no word yet on what it will be.
your video has been marked private so it doesn’t work 🙁
Then, I’m sorry but all my videos on enigmatic nomadic have been closed down. That video will be moved back over to my new channel as soon as I can get the editing done on it. It should not be too much longer the next few weeks. Email me in a few weeks and see if I’ve gotten it done or just follow And subscribe to my YouTube channel. Thanks
When I saw the title of this post, I thought it would be about Chris and Tamara – a couple who travel and live in a Kia Sedona. Their blog is here: