A Easy and Simple Honda Odyssey Camper Van Conversion

Minivan Camper Conversion

This is the story of how I built a Honda Odyssey camper van conversion. For some time now, I've wanted to travel out west. However, I also wanted something for long-weekend trips. For this, I wanted a vehicle that would allow me to sleep inside, carry a variety of cargo, outdoor equipment, and camera gear, and get decent gas mileage. So a minivan camper conversion seemed like the best option. But what about other vehicles?

Initially, I was considering campervan conversions as well as Sprinters, Ram Promaster, Ford Transit Connect, or a Ford Transit to convert . These models offer a high roof option that allows you to stand up inside the van and provides a generous interior space. Unfortunately, this extra height meant it couldn't fit into my garage. If I chose this option, I'd be forced to store the vehicle when not in use adding extra costs and logistics. In addition, I wanted a vehicle that could serve as a daily driver and function as a weekend or more extended camper. So Instead, I decided upon a minivan conversion.

Working as a freelance digital marketing and SEO consultant, I have the freedom to work remotely. I also work as a photographer for clients and sell landscape and outdoor photos. So, to explore and photograph more places, I set out to find the ideal vehicle to support my road trips and weekend camping..

Honda Odyssey vs. Toyota Sienna vs. Dodge Grand Caravan

First, Dodge Grand Caravans and Chrysler minivans were eliminated from consideration only because recent model years were incompatible with Thule roof rack systems. My wife and I are both avid sea kayakers and cyclists, so we must have a vehicle capable of carrying sea kayaks and bicycles. Additionally, a roof rack allows the addition of a cargo box in case additional storage is required. After much research and comparison, I was torn between the Toyota Sienna and the Honda Odyssey.

I was attracted to the Toyota Sienna's all-wheel drive, but it lacks a spare tire. The Honda Odyssey lacks all-wheel drive but has a better safety rating and better gas mileage. Both have similar interior dimensions. After searching for low-mileage used vans, I found a good deal on a 2017 Honda Odyssey. Had I seen a Sienna at a reasonable price, I would definitely consider it. However, the choice ultimately came down to price and availability in the used market. Personally, I feel that any of these brands or models, if properly maintained, would make a fantastic campervan.

Let Minivan Camper Conversion Begin!

There are many details that you'll need to consider when planning your minivan camper conversion.  I had specific requirements for the van conversion. I wanted to be able to sleep in the van, and have a small kitchen with a stove, cooler, fresh water, and some sort of toilet for when other accommodations aren't convenient. I also wanted to be able to carry a bicycle inside the van. Since I still need to be able to work online, I also needed space to work as well as electrical power to recharge my laptop and cell phone.

The camper van conversion is intended to accommodate one adult. I'm an experienced ultralight backpacker and kayak camper, so in comparison, this will be a bit plusher.

Sleeping Platform and Storage

Sleeping platform frameI designed a sleeping platform (inspired by Oasis Campervan) that would allow storage underneath and includes a sliding drawer for the stove and kitchen supplies. This main fixture would provide the organization needed for managing the various needs in a small space. I intentionally designed the sleeping platform and kitchen combo so it could be easily removed and stored when not in use.

The bed platform only required that the middle row passenger seats be removed. The third-row seat(s) remain in place but are folded down into the van floor. Some van conversions I have seen (both Honda and Toyota) remove the third-row seats and gain more under-floor storage space. If I need extra room in the future, I can modify the platform to accommodate the deeper seat wells.

The bed frame platform is constructed from 2x2's and 1/2" birch plywood. The front legs are pre-made table legs from Home Depot. The table legs make it easy to level out the bed and compensate for the fact that no minivan has a flat floor. A 36" drawer slide mates with the built-in storage drawer that is made from 2x2's, 1/2" plywood sides, and 1/4" plywood for the drawer bottom.

Platform with rear seat up

Thule tie-down straps secure the platform to the seat mounting fixtures on the floor so the platform won't move under braking or acceleration.

The top of the platform is two pieces of 1/2" birch plywood. I used a hole saw to cut holes for ventilation and act as handles so that I could easily remove the panel to gain access if necessary. I haven't finished the additional holes in the section above the drawer as I haven't yet decided if I will make this into a hinged cover.

I'm currently using an REI self-inflating air mattress that works well for me. However, you could use foam or pretty much any other style of mattress that you prefer.

There is plenty of storage underneath to store backpacks, duffel bags, and storage bins.

Suppose you are looking for a commercial option rather than building yourself. In that case, I recommend looking at the Oasis Campervans camper kits system.


Window and Sunroof Ventilation

Window screen made from gutter guardVentilation while parked meant having bug screens for the windows and sunroof.  The sunroof screen is fiberglass screen window material cut to size and secured with magnets.

The side window vents are made from Home Depot gutter guards. These do have a fine mesh screen that keeps mosquitoes out. Cut to size and trimmed with Gorilla tape, these were super easy to make.

Both of these were inspired by others from various YouTube videos and Facebook groups. The same groups provided me with details on making dual purpose window covers that provide privacy as well as insulating from heat and cold.

Reflectix Window Covers

Reflectix window covers

For privacy, especially for stealth camping, and to reduce heat on sunny days, I made a set of window covers using Reflectix insulation and some black cotton twill cloth. When the shiny side is placed outward, it reflects the sunlight helping to keep the interior cooler. You can reverse these and place the black side out to darken the appearance of the windows and block out light giving you more privacy compared to the factory-tinted windows.

These are easily made by tracing a pattern and cutting the Reflectix to size. I used 3M spray adhesive to glue on the black cotton twill. The black cloth provides a blacked-out appearance that blends in with the factory-tinted windows. After gluing, I trimmed the excess material. They fit into place by friction. Simple and easy.

I fashioned a curtain from the same material I used for the window covers. A simple adhesive Velcro patch on the van's interior and the curtain keep the curtain simple and easy to put up or take down.

Rechargeable Fan

OPOLAR FanFor hotter conditions or when I want a breeze, I use an Koonie/OPOLAR USB rechargeable fanUPDATE - The fan is now being sold under the Koonie name. The fan has a swivel base that allows a full 360 degree pivot in any direction. It can sit on a level surface or it can be clamped to just about anything. I typically clamp it to the grab handle in the rear of the van.

It has three (technically four) speeds. On a full charge it will run overnight. On the low setting it is very quiet. The noise level on the higher speeds is still rather low and not disturbing at all. The OPOLAR fan seems very well made and well worth the price.

You can see the Reflectix window covers in this photo. The rear is shown in "black out" mode. The dark side facing outward, while the other is shown with the shiny side out.

Koonie/OPOLAR USB Rechargeable Fan

Pros: Quiet, multiple speeds, price, USB rechargeable, long run time, clamp almost anywhere.
Cons: None so far. This has a been a rock solid purchase and has really made hot nights so much more pleasant!

Minivan Camper Kitchen

Coleman camp stoveThe sleeping platform has a slide-out drawer that houses my kitchen.

The kitchen drawer stores either a two-burner propane Coleman gas camping stove or a single burner butane stove, along with a collapsible sink and an organizer container for cutlery and kitchen items. In addition, there's room for paper towels and even some food storage. The drawer slides out, and the raised tailgating provides overhead shelter.

Fresh drinking water is stored in two four-gallon Reliance water jugs. I also carry a tarp that can be attached to the tailgate or the roof rack for shade or rain protection.

Minivan Camper Electricity

Some minivan camper conversions have elaborate supplemental electric systems. These are necessary if you wish to power appliances. Refrigerators, heaters, and TV's all suck up large amounts of power. My needs are a bit simpler.

A Jackery Explorer 500 portable power station provides additional power to recharge my cell phone, camera batteries, and laptop. On long trips I intend to recharge the Jackery at campgrounds. Later I might purchase a solar panel depending on my needs and travel plans. I prefer to camp at more rustic locations when possible.

The Odyssey has 12 volt outlet in the rear hatch area as well as the dashboard. I also have a 110 volt, 100 watt power inverter.

UPDATE - See Electric Options for Van Campers for more options and details

Update 12/13/20 - I have added a Jackery SolarSaga 100W solar panel. It also has two USB ports to recharge cell phones, laptops, or anything else with a USB input.

So far, the combination of the Explorer 500 and the SolarSaga 100 has eliminated any need for external power sources while traveling. For example, the combination worked flawlessly on a two-week trip to Colorado.

The SolarSaga 100 folds into a convenient 21" x 24" size that conveniently stores under my kitchen drawer.


Solar ShowerLet's face it, a camper van is too small  for an indoor shower. I use two options. A gravity fed solar shower and a Riigoo Portable Camping Shower.

The solar shower holds five gallons and also serves as a backup container for additional water. It heats up quickly when left in direct sunlight. The nozzle does a decent job of dispersing the water making it easier to rinse off.

The Riigoo Portable Camping Shower is battery powered using a USB rechargeable battery. It actually comes with two batteries.  In addition it can be powered directly from a 12 volt dc outlet.

The pump motor fits inside whatever container you like. It fits inside my water jugs nicely. It has a filter to strain out any large matter in case your water source is not completely clear. You could use this directly in a lake or stream if you really wanted or needed to.

It also does double duty as it is useful for rinsing off dishes. If you need to pump water, you can remove the hose from the shower head and pump into another container.
Riigoo showerThe Riigoo comes with a suction cup and hook so you can position the shower head for hands free use.

For more details on bathroom amenities check out Bathroom Options for a Minivan Camper

Portable Toilet

Reliance Luggable Loo Portable ToiletFor space, cost, and convenience, I chose a Reliance Luggable Loo Portable Toilet. Basically, a toilet seat that snaps on to a 5-gallon utility bucket.

I have another in-depth article The Best Minivan Camper Toilet Options that goes in to details on where to go when there isn't anywhere to go!

Bike Rack

Bike mounted and ready to travelAdditionally I needed a means to carry either a road or mountain bike. For weather and security purposes, I'd prefer that the bike was stored inside as opposed to an outside bike rack. I fashioned a fork mount rack that would accommodate both types of bikes. The rack is modular, so it is an optional piece depending on the trip.

The rack attaches to the rear seat back with a pair of Thule straps. A latch slides into the platform for an additional stability as well as a guide for positioning the platform. The bike rack has a small wooden "tongue" that is hidden from view and acts as locating guide. It inserts into the handle recess on the seat back.

The fork mount brackets were recycled from an existing bed rack.

UPDATE (9/12/2021)
I recently swapped out the old fork mount for a new universal model that works with any current fork design that uses Thru Axles 15x100, 12x100, or 15x110 mm.

Project Photos

This was a budget-friendly build. My costs were kept down as I was able to repurpose existing camping gear that I already owned. I was lucky enough to have tools and a few supplies already on hand so the majority of the out of pocket expenses were limited to lumber, drawer slides, Reflectix insulation, and a few odds and ends. Ultimately, I did have purchase a number of items to furnish the van with items my existing camping gear wouldn't cover. Cost of materials for the platform, window covers, and curtains came in under $350.

On the Road
So far I'm pretty happy with the camper van conversion.
  It has been adequate on multi-day trips and works well as a remote office.  With the bike inside it is a bit snug. On my last trip through Michigan's Upper Peninsula, I averaged 28 miles per gallon. I'm looking forward to more trips including a month-long excursion through the Rockies later this summer.

Update - During my trip to Colorado in September of 2020, my gas mileage averaged 30.2 mpg. This was without the Thule roof rack and using cruise control on most interstate highways.

Minivan Camper Conversion Resources

REI and Amazon have been good resources for unique items. Here is a list of many of the items I use.

Coleman Triton Propane 2-Burner Stove
The classic two burner camp stove. Super reliable, and easy to use.  It provides a full heating range from simmer to a raging boil in no time. The propane tanks are cheap and easy to find at most any hardware or camp store.

REI XL Self inflating Deluxe Bed
Another item that I had already owned. This is nice and thick and works well for me. You can adjust the firmness by the amount of inflation. Yes, it even works for side-sleepers like me.

Ultimate Survival Technologies FlexWare Sink - 8.5L
A nice compact collapsible sink.

Reliance Luggable Loo Seat and Cover
When you got to go, but there's nowhere to go. Effective - not glamorous.

Reliance Aqua-Tainer Water Container - 4 gal.
I chose to use two 4 gallon containers as opposed to one larger container. Easier to manage and pack.

Katadyn Gravity BeFree Water Filtration System - 3 Liters
I use this for backpacking a kayak camping too. It allows you to filter water from questionable sources and make it safe to drink. Works great in the backcountry, it should do just fine with dubious spigots wherever you may find them.

Thule Thru-Axle Adapter - 15mm
A simple adapter for through axles.

Adventure Mat Foldable Rubber Mat
I wanted some sort of mat to stand on outside the van while showering. It can be easily carried into campground showers too. Folds up, cleans easily.

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