A bench-seat in back folds out into a comfortable bed, so we were all set for van camping. That's why we spent more than 25 nights sleeping in our conversion van last year.. Initial cost is a lot less if you buy used, as we did. Fill a thermos bottle full of hot coffee each night, so it will be waiting in the morning. Heat yourselves instead. We also went down desert trails that no RV could handle. Not only do they stack well, but if you need more room at night, you can put them on the roof, because they're rainproof with the lids snapped on.
One great thing about vans is that you can park anywhere. We ran the van and cranked up the heater once in a while, but only for brief periods.
Why van camping? It certainly doesn't give you the luxury of life in an RV, but then you don't have the discomfort of sleeping in a tent, either. Carbon monoxide poisoning is just too possible, so don't leave the car running while you are sleeping. An average recreational vehicle is lucky to get half of that, and will be very expensive to maintain. We also learned how to keep the space open, by using plastic storage tubs.
Van Camping Advantages
Van camping obviously is cheaper than RV camping. We got the best spot at a free campground in Florida, on a bank overlooking Lake Talquin, because our van was small enough to fit there, unlike the RVs.
You have to make your van into something that's useable for you, especially if it's going to be your residence for days or weeks at a time. Just enjoy meal time warm-ups, but unless you have electric power, I don't know of a safe way to heat a van all night. Sometimes, though, a quick warm-up is all you need before you crawl under the blankets for the night. Also, if you do backpack, you'll likely drive some kind of car to wherever you go. We learned to be more efficient after hosiery machine that. With our conversion van, camping wherever we were when it got dark was no problem. When it was cold, it was time to cook dinner, breakfast, or coffee.
Cooking a meal heats up the van, and our propane camp stove burned very clean.
You can drive anywhere. Use a van, and you can come inside if it starts to rain. That flexibility and freedom is what we liked most about van camping. We've napped in parking lots, and nobody was the wiser, thanks to the inconspicuousness of a van. The cost of driving a van is substantialy less - we averaged 18 miles per gallon on our last cross-country trip.
A van is much more comfortable than tent camping. When backpacking a long way from home, you can save on motels on the drive to and from the trailhead. Removing the two middle seats gave us enough space for dressing or cooking.
What's the secret to heating a conversion van when camping? Giving up was our solution. You warm the van making it, and warm up yourselves drinking it for breakfast. This meant, for my wife and I, having space to move around. It's cheap compared to an RV, and you can go places they cannot. Cooking inside heats up a van, but again, because of carbon monoxide, don't sleep with a burner going.
Van Camping 101
You need a system of organization to keep your space inside the van livable. We noticed after our first long trip that we had brought many things we never used. Use warm clothing, and bring more blankets than you think you'll need.
Van camping can be cold, as it was for us in the deserts of Arizona last winter