Mom Chronicles: Hints from the road

The Camping Revolution?: The Minivan as An Adventure Vehicle

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family adventure camping in a Toyota Sienna minivan

The family life being what it is, largely a series of compromises and heels-in-the-ground budget-minded decisions, we see different folk riding in everything from custom Unimogs to crazy Jeeps to modest pickup trucks to touring bikes. Ain't nothin' taboo as long as there's a grin on your grill. Here's Lindsey Wilson's charming take on how her family enjoys not just their double-sliding-door Toyota Sienna but the places it takes them and in the style in which it does so. She was kind enough to let me share it here. Her blog is, and if you like what you read below, there's more of this glimmering gold there. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did, especially the photos at the bottom.
Mark Stephens, Publisher


I resisted a minivan for years. Instead I preferred to shove a kid, a dog, a weeks worth of camping/outdoor gear (and on one occasion 3 chickens) into or on top of our wagon. There was zero floor space anywhere, I couldn’t move my feet, rarely could you see out the back window, it smelled like dog breath and because we didn’t have tinted windows I once saw someone taking a photo of us with their cell phone. It was apparently a sight to behold.

I finally caved after Isaac was born. It took one road trip with an additional kid/car seat and I was done, a 2001 Toyota Sienna it was. You may be asking why not an SUV? Well, minivans are just far superior. Theeeey ummm, well, they . . . okay, maybe superior isn’t the right word, how about practical? Economical? They have their advantages.

6 Things I’ve Learned (and trust me, this took time) to Love About Our Minivan.

  1. We paid cash for it. I wanted a Honda Pilot, which would have meant taking out a loan, which would have meant going into debt, which I’m really glad we didn’t do.
  2. It’s versatile. Around town we only have the front seats in, this allows maximum child access for the driver and  plenty of room in the back for gear. On road trips we switch it up and only have the back bench in. This allows space in the middle for a cooler, a crate of food and a crate of toys/books and the bouldering pad (which is great for changing diapers, taking naps or eating lunch on road trips in the winter. Oh, or bouldering). All other non essentials are piled up in the back on our makeshift shelving system or on top in the rocket box.
  3. We can sleep in it. And quite comfortably actually, unless you count the time I slept on my arm funny and couldn’t move it for 2 weeks. This configuration involves the back bench, the bouldering pad folded out and a hammock along the roof.
  4. Safety and reliability. A older VW van was also an option. We just didn’t think it could handle the 10,000+ miles a year we typically put on our vehicle. Also, when you're trying to get from point A to point B with little ones, speed of travel is a factor, so is not blowing over in a wind storm.
  5. Gas Mileage Isn't too Shabby. We also considered an extended cab truck. Though minivans don’t get great mileage, they do get better mileage than a truck.
  6. It's Roomy. Indoor space to change you and the kids in and out of snow gear, biking gear, swimming gear, etc. I also love that I can walk from the front to the back just by bending at the waist.

And 4 Things You May Not Be Able to Handle About Minivans:

  1. Clearance. It’s no truck, it’s not even an Outback, but ours does okay. A big reason we went with an older Sienna (without stow-n-go) was the clearance factor.
  2. 4-Wheel Drive. This and clearance has been the hardest one for us. Sure limits your exploring capabilities.
  3. People Automatically Assume You Drive Slow. It’s true, after a stop light they don’t even give you a chance to accelerate at a normal speed. They just zoom around and get ahead of you as soon as possible.
  4. The Not-So-Hip Factor. I know this is debatable, but despite Honda's and Toyota's video efforts to change the Minis image, I just don’t know if it’s working? Maybe if we camping minivan owners band together we can have better luck? That is until I jump the minivan ship for a 4-door Toyota Tacoma with an extended bed and camper a shell . . .

So, therapy time: What’s your family camping vehicle?

adventure family ready for snow fun in a minivan

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kids camping in minivan southern utah adventure family

family hammock camping minivan

awesome family adventure in a minivan southern utah

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+5 / 0
# lindsey 2011-07-18 17:51
Outdoor Mini's UNITE!! Thanks for the props. Your site wears the post well...
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0 / 0
# Mark 2011-07-18 21:55
Say, in that first picture, I see a mountain bike. Is the other bike a single speed road bike? ME WANT SO BAD.
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+3 / 0
# MamaBee 2011-07-18 19:22
I love all the minivan glamour shots. Lindsey and crew totally rock the camping mini setup. If we ever get a minivan (please don't die anytime soon, beloved Jeep!) we're definitely going to rig up the hammock a la OutsideMom.
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+1 / 0
# Mark 2011-07-18 21:53
Ooooooooooh, I love the hammock action. It's brilliant.
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0 / 0
# Jennifer 2011-07-19 06:59
The Hammock? Brilliant!
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+6 / 0
# Mark 2011-07-19 08:34
For those who are interested, Lindsey posted a piece on how to make your own camping hammock right here:
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John W. Abert
+4 / 0
# John W. Abert 2011-07-21 20:05
I see you are into minivans like we are. We're in the process of converting a '94 T&C and have written a book on the concept. We'll be adding pictures as we complete the project this fall, after it cools down outside. Basically, the book shows you how to "create" (not build) a minivan camper without making any holes or modifications to the vehicle so that you don't lose any of your investment in doing it. Everything can be put in or taken out of any minivan without tools. The 94-page book is free, and I think you will find it an interesting read. Ignore the blue links in it, though. Amazon has eliminated their Associates program in Arkansas due to the internet tax law so the product links on the web site will be going away this week, to be replaced with articles about the recommmended products. More pictures will come later as we work on our own project. Join us and follow along. I think you will find it interesting and fun.
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+3 / 0
# Darin 2011-07-24 14:14
Great post on a dilemma my wife and faced two years ago. Xterra or mini-van? Honestly, the price was a driving factor for us, as the Xterra was actually significantly less than a mini-van (20k v 30k?). I really like the space available and flexibility of a mini-van. But as you point out, clearance and 4x4 are limiting factors, and I thought I needed both at the time. Anyway, GREAT POST!

On another note: I just found your site a week ago or so and love it. Good job all around, and very interesting info.
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0 / 0
# Mark 2011-07-30 08:03
So did you get an Xterra?

Thanks for checking out the site, Darin.
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+2 / 0
# Darin 2011-07-30 22:13
We got the Xterra, and it's on the verge of too small even with the large Skybox on top. That cargo box has a chariot with attachments in it, so there's not much room left in it. The back cargo area is big enough for everything else. With the car seats in the back, front seats for adults can't be leaned back all the way, and I'm kind of big so that affects me a bit. The car seats don't lay down completely flat, but you could sleep in it in a pinch. The 4x4 is really nice in the winter in Idaho, and it's because of that that I'm glad we got the's the biggest safety issue to me and I couldn't let it go.
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+3 / 0
# Ron 2012-03-06 10:41
Sienna is available with a very good 4x4 system, a very slight MPG penalty comes with that and more ground clearance.
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+2 / -1
# utkgrad101 2012-07-01 08:34
I camped in the back of a truck a long time ago with my dad. But now it is my kids turn! We are staying 1 night in the back of our mini van at a campground in Pigeon Forge, TN. It will be a memory that will last them a lifetime! We have a spot that has electricity so I can plug in a fan since it is 100 degrees outside. YAY!!
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+2 / -2
# Greg 2012-10-31 16:43
Mini vans or mini campers are simply something that have all you actually need to enjoy your free time. Cramping up your vehicle with stuff that you actually never need is just so... Do we really need all that.

Yes, it takes a lot of re-thinking to do, but once you get over it, you'll have the time of your life.

This is one way, of how you can keep it simple;
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+1 / 0
# Jeff 2013-01-03 13:57
Great site. As an avid surfer I loved my Nissan quest due to the ability to throw boards in and be off to the beach. Sold the van for a prius because the Quest to premium and gas prices were sky high. Once I return from my deployment(acti ve duty USAF) I will be buying a used older Sienna
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+2 / 0
# Frank 2013-01-09 10:46
I think you hit the points spot on! I love my 2012 Toyota Sienna XLE. My second Sienna! First one I got was a 2006 XLE. I don't think I would ever go back to cars or SUVs... :)
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+1 / 0
# Patrick 2013-01-11 08:07
What did you attach the hammock to??
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Mark Stephens
+1 / -1
# Mark Stephens 2013-01-11 09:10
There's webbing passing through the doors with carabiners attached to the ends to act as a stop nut. They made a short video of how it's done in this link:
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# Guest 2014-02-20 17:36
This comment has been flagged
Roger Steen
0 / 0
# Roger Steen 2015-03-15 19:03
I’ve been van camping for a year now, in the western U.S., and I wrote a book about putting my little camper together. I took a “casual” approach to the interior, so it’s not so much “house-like” as it is practical and reasonably priced:
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