Sprinter Adventures: 2020 Re-cap

We have enjoyed countless day trips and many long road trips in our DIY vans. Despite the hours and seemingly endless Sprinter adventures, we failed to anticipate how 2020 would elevate our attachement to our van. There is nothing like a pandemic to help us appreciate traveling in a vehicle that is more of a self-supported safety bubble than a mode of transportation. I have never been more grateful for our Sprinter and, as most of you know, I was so grateful that I took just went out and bought a 2020 4×4 Sprinter to start our DIY camping conversion all over again!

Here is a run down of some of the experiences that our Sprinter camper brought to us in the midst of a 2020 and a world wide pandemic.

Sprinter Camper DIY additions!

CD spend March and April in the van and it was worth it! I learned a ton about 8020, wiring, finish carpentry (van style), hinges, and options for storing fishing poles in a Sprinter 144. The van has never looked so great or been so comfortable. Despite this, CD kindly agreed to do it all again! I look forward to seeing what is next!

Exploring the Oregon Coast, pandemic Sprinter Adventure 2020 style

Any where on the coast is fair game when you can eat, sleep, change clothes, and use the restroom in the safety of your van! Once we realized this, we hit the coast enough times to find a favorite beach, settle into a routine, and pick up two new skimboards along the way (thank you grandma and grandpa!)

Revisiting Oregon Dunes

A great thing about the Pacific Coast and Oregon Dunes is that the weather is nearly the same whether you are there in winter or summer. The difference is that in the winter, it may be warmer than in the valley and in the summer it may be cooler. Either way, it is always fun! We spent Thanksgiving there and it was just the escape we needed. Thank you Sprinter van!

Camping anywhere that is less than a two hour drive

It wasn’t super easy to find available camping in Oregon during COVID times but we happened accross a campground that was open and perfect for us! This also led to a third child-size kayak purchase. We now have kayaks several thousand miles apart and one to spare.

Sprinter Camping in a lava field while watching a comet

No worries if the campgrounds are full. We slept like babies in the parking lot of an observatory in the middle of a lava field on a night of prime comet viewing. Not too bad!

Escaping wildfire smoke

As self supported travelers, we felt it was safe and reasonable to leave the state to escape wildfire smoke, even though traveling during the pandemic was not recommended and included post travel quarentines. School and work continued without interruption despite everything. We even snuck in a few hikes and a national park stop while on the road.

Checking off more National Parks

We managed to get a few new parks in the mix and that isn’t easy to do, even in normal times! Dinosaur National Monument was a win for sure! We also hiked, slept, and explore a handful of other parks and monuments, some of which we would not have taken the time to explore during our usual summer travels.

Waking up in Michigan

We made it to Michigan. I am grateful. It wasn’t long enough and it was a tough and confusing time earlier in the pandemic. Mostly, I know we can do it again. We can safely travel thousands of miles in our Sprinter to be with those we love. Next time has been on my mind everyday since.

Here is the van we will do it in next time, summer or winter.

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On to 2021, a new Sprinter camper DIY project, more pandemic safe adventures, and more opportunities to take the road less traveled. I look forward to seeing what’s next. Happy New Year!

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Click for: Tips on packing for a pandemic road trip

Click for: Tips for starting a camper van make-over

Sprinter Camper Conversion 2020

We are a family of 4 that wants to combine efficiency for long trips with comfort of frequent day trips. This is our third Sprinter. Our first was a low roof, our second was a 2015, and our third is a 2020 4 x 4. The big question is: what should we do differently with this Sprinter camper conversion?

Answering that question has not been as easy as I imagined. We are still at the beginning. Here is a list of five considerations for our most recent Sprinter build.

1. Time

I have never been known for my patience. I sold our mini-van to buy this Sprinter. In doing so, I kept our 2015 Sprinter. While having two Sprinters in the driveway seems a bit unusual, I do not regret it! We have one van ready to go for day trips at a moments notice!

We spent Thanksgiving at Oregon Dunes and yesterday hiking in the pouring rain. Our van made it all possible, even in the midst of a pandemic. For better or worse, we have time to debate and plan our next build. So far, insulation is in and all of the other plans change hour to hour.

2. Sleeping Space

We are all older than during our first build and we plan to keep this van for much longer than the others so we need to use the space much more carefully than before. We went from 2 people sleeping on the floor in our first van to a genius 2 bed system in our second. The challenge of our second build is that when the beds are converted, you can no longer stand on the floor. How can we use space to allow privacy and preserve floor space even at night? Is this even possible?

3. Kitchen Space

Our prior Sprinter camper builds did not have kitchens. I am typically happy to cook outside or eat cheese and crackers inside when the weather is bad. It rains in Oregon, however. Rain is so much more difficult for me to deal with than snow. Rain means mud.

I cooked two meals while on our recent Thanksgiving trip. I sat on the electric step in a puddle of mud both times. It was the best option.

If you have ever tried to sit at a picnic table in the Pacific Northwest between the months of October and March, you know what I mean. Everything is muddy, wet, and mossy.

In retrospect, my shift towards indoor cooking started last winter with hot chocolate and went as far as soup and instant mashed potatoes by July. By then I was really stretching the limits of the Camp Chef Stryker that we bought for boiling water for tea. At this point, I am open to discussing a kitchen.

4. Thinsulate installation goes more quickly the second time.

The van was insulated in a fraction of the time of our last build. The panels did not go back in more easily than last time, however. We still needed two people and a bit of patience to get the front panel back in. The airbags added to the stress a bit but mostly because it felt nerve wracking to have exposed airbags just hanging around.

5. All options are on the table and that doesn’t make the process easier.

This is the first time that I have been ready to spend additional money to get the best build for us. It turns out that short of buying a van that is already converted, deciding to spend money doesn’t really help. The world of DIY Sprinter Camper conversions is open ended, confusing, and popular, especially right now. Everyone we talk in the business is busy. Supplies are back ordered but ideas are still limitless. Everyone has good ideas. Not all of the ideas are interchangable so each decision affects the next.

So far, in addition to insullation, we have installed a modular rack system. It was easy to install and we love what we can do from here. With that being said, we drilled holes to secure it to the van, so we must go forward from there. As we browse the internet, we are careful not to click on other modular systems or accessories attached to systems other than what we have in place.

It feels like we are headed down a rabbit hole but keep getting turned around and going back. As I mentioned, patience is not my strong suit but I am doing my best to give the process a chance. Even I look forward to seeing where this all lands! I just hope it lands somewhere while there is still time for a ski trip this winter. Wish us luck and leave us comments with your ideas and questions!

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5 Ways To #optoutside This Thanksgiving

Skimboarding Pacific Ocean Beaches

Oregon’s Pacific Ocean beaches are scenic, spacious, and accessible. They are not exactly known for being warm and sunny, however. The benefit of this is that you can enjoy the same beach activities during winter as you can during the summer. So we chose this weekend to pick up a new hobby.

Skimboarding was a hit! Everyone had a turn. Most of us were semi-successful and at the end of the day, each of us was smiling!

Exploring Dunes

Next stop was Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. It felt great to trade a turkey dinner for a few laps up the dunes. There were two cars in day use parking when we arrived and none when we left. Don’t let the footprints in the sand fool you, we were mostly alone on the dunes on Thursday and only accompanied by distant ATVs on Friday. The kids were free to dig, climb, run, build, and explore as far as they could go. How bad can a little sand in the van be anyway?!

Oregon Dunes
The ATV tracks in the distance
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Camping Near the Pacific Ocean

Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park was open and with plenty of empty tent sites. Every site in the RV loop was full but we only found one tent and one other camper in our primate campsite loop. Tent sites are $21. We didn’t have reservations and late check in was a breeze. We walked form our campsite down a wooded path and to the day use parking lot to get one more shot at the dunes, do some star gazing, and toss in a fishing lure a few times.

Star Gazing

The moon was nearly full. The dunes were empty. Hardly anyone was camping. The day use lot was closed. It was a great time for star gazing!

Fishing

We didn’t catch anything but we enjoyed trying. The dunes run down into a lock with accessible shorelines and a dock for fishing. Next time, we will bring the kayaks and get out there to see what we can catch!

Don’t worry, I still cooked a turkey. It was just a few days late. Spending our pandemic holiday outside was just what we needed! We weren’t isolated but didn’t need a mask since hardly anyone else was there. Now, I will lend my thoughts to Christmas and how best to hold off the feelings of sadness and loss that comes with holidays during COVID 19 times. The guilt of being together versus the lonliness of not being together may temporary be reconciled by fresh air and exercise. Stay safe and happy holidays everyone!

Sprinter Camper Conversion: Things I Learned

We chose a 2015 Sprinter 144 for our family of 4 camper van. It is our third camping van and our second camping conversion. We chose it because we drive more than we camp.

I am not much of a camper. In fact, I am really only starting to learn to camp and this can be painfully obvious for my husband at times. It was recently that I realized it would be best if I tried to learn to camp.

I am really a cottage girl. I grew up with a cottage and that is where my skillsets lie. It could be argued that few are more skilled at the art of cottaging. I can arrive at the cottage any time day or night and have everything I need. My biggest concern may be getting the cold food and drinks in the fridge and my chair positioned correctly on the deck.

So, here I am, the proud owner of a Sprinter 144 DIY camper conversion. There are dozens of great things about this van! CD gets all of the credit for the modifications. They are amazing and have helped to ease me into van life. New cabinets, fishing rod holders, and LED lights are our latest upgrades.

Even with these latest upgrades, 2020 has been an eye opening year. Here are a few things I have learned so far.

1. A Van Chosen For Driving May Not Be Ideal For Camping

It may seem like I am stating the obvious but this one took me a bit to wrap my head around. Last summer’s trip racked up 8528 miles and 190 hours and 55 minutes of total trip time. Our average mileage was 23.4 miles per gallon.

Our van is easy to drive in nearly all conditions. It is fast, comfortable, gets decent mileage, can park in any parking spot, and makes a U turn like nobody’s business. We may drive a couple of hundred miles during a day in the Rockies but nearly 1000 miles once we hit the plains. No matter how many miles we put on in a day, we rarely spend more than an afternoon at a campground. Our Sprinter has rolled into some of our country’s most beautiful campgrounds at dinner and left the next day. We have slept at a gas station in South Dakota, a rest stop in southern Michigan, friends driveways all over the US and Canada, and plenty of Walmarts.

Yet, our van is a Sprinter 144 DIY camping conversion. So what happens when we camp?

Sprinter camper conversion

2. Camping In Our Sprinter Is More Like Car Camping Than Van Living.

It turns out that I don’t really know how to camp. Even the best camping conversion may be hard for me to navigate.

My cooler is always a mess. I spill things and burn dinner regularly. I am constantly rearranging everything. At the campground, I take things out of the van and put them back in the van. CD recently pointed out that even people with RVs tend to arrange thier campsite by using outside space. I have since noticed water coolers on tables, dish washing stations on benches, accesory tables full of who knows what, chairs all over the place, laterns, and so many things that I can’t even remember.

So, is the idea to set up and tear down your own mini cottage at each campsite? If so, I think I can work towards that, although I am not sure I fully understand it yet.

Are these the things that I use to build my mini-cottage each week? Sprinter camper conversion

3. Camping In Our Sprinter Is More Like Car Camping Than Thru-Hiking

Okay, this one is really for CD. He has hiking tons of long trails, including thru hiking the PCT in 2004. Some of the skills that he learned on the PCT are not fully transferrable to our Sprinter. He does not need to drink the cooking water, save his one spork for every meal, eat two breakfasts, or check his pack weight for our day hike. Even though he doesn’t need to, he does all of this anyway. I guess that if I need to set up a mini cottage each week, he can act as if he is on a thru-hike! I am just glad that he hasn’t gone back to eating pop tarts in order to up his calories!

CD’s tent on the PCT

4. Putting Up A Tent Does Not Mean We Failed Our Sprinter Camper Conversion

The kids love tents. If we were staying at a campground for a few days and put a tent up near our Sprinter, it would not mean that we failed. It may mean that CD can sleep alone outside or the kids can play in the shade during the hottest part of the day.

The only time we put up a tent next to this Sprinter was last summer when we took our annual camping trip with my nephew. CD slept in my twenty year old tent. The rain seeped up from below and he soon realized that it is no longer water proof! The kids and I laughed about it while watching the storm from inside the van.

This was our first Sprinter and this actually did mean we failed. The low roof Sprinter did not work for us and we often used a tent to escape it! Waterton National Park

5. Camping, Either By Van Or Not, Requires Skill and Practice

It takes time to put up the table, organize the dishwashing station, unpack the kayaks, look for a fishing hole, or find a place to launch a boat. This all takes time away from my personal rest and relaxation. How much does that matter? Not much, I guess. My time is currently well spent organizing campsites and exploring unchartered rivers. Do I wish I was sitting on a deck or in a super fancy Sprinter drinking coffee and waiting for the best time to go fishing? Well, maybe – but now that I know that the van is just one part of the campsite, everything is looking up!

Schwarz camp

Would I change anything about our Sprinter camper conversion?

Not really. Well, maybe. Given endless time and a bottomless wallet, I would get a custom built Sprinter 170 for driving and camping. CD could spend his time doing minor modifications to the exsisting camping conversion, rather than being in charge of every detail starting with camping conversion design all the way through finish carpentry.

Wood paneling around rear AC. Part of our recent upgrades!

Would I recommend a Sprinter 144 camper conversion for a family?

Sure. Please make peace with its limitations in space and love its efficiency! I do!

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Sleeping 4 in a Sprinter: Budget Friendly Guide.
Sprinter Van Shopping List For The Minimalist
5 Tips for Starting Your Sprinter Camper Make-Over.
Sprinter Roof Rails Self Installation: 12 Easy Steps.
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Sprinter Camper: 10 Upgrades That I Love!

Our Sprinter camper conversion benefited from the pandemic lock down. Here is a list of my 10 favorite upgrades!

1. LED lights

We added four lights. 1 goes on and off as the door is open and closed. The other three click on and off via one of two dimmer switches. One switch is over the bed and the second is behind the driver’s seat.

2. Guitar storage

Finally, a reasonable way to travel with a guitar! It hangs under the bed and over the kids bikes. Easy access and never in the way!

3. Trekking pole and kite shelf

Poles and kites run the length of the van and next to the kids bikes. They are easily removed via the back door.

4. Fishing pole holder.

This was a last minute addition and a surprise for the kids and I. I couldn’t be more happy!

Our three poles run the length of the van, on the driver’s side, over the bed.

5. Food and kitchen supply storage boxes.

You may have already seen these as they are part of our second bed set up but CD improved the efficiently of these as well. The lid of the box has recently been cut into two pieces so that I may access food at one end while sitting on the other end. Amazing!

6. Cabinets at eye level.

Check this out! We have two cabinets at eye level. One is on the driver’s side and is used for kitchen supplies. The second is on the passenger side, over the bed, and used for PJs and other daily use items. Both are secured to 8020.

7. Wood paneling.

Cedar tongue and groove gives the illusion of being in a cabin. Don’t underestimate the power of wood paneling!

8. Bike storage in our Sprinter camper

The kids bikes attach to wood and a metal bracket to slide under the bed easily. It takes less than 5 minutes to get them out and I have yet to encounter a peddle stuck in spokes or any of the other problems that I had prior to storing the bikes upright. Thank you high roof Sprinter camper!

9. Maxxair fan

Again, you may have heard us talk about this already but we installed the fan last year. Now that it is framed in, it not only works great but looks great too!

10. Rear AC wood paneling

CD framed the rear AC unit and vent with the Cedar tongue and groove. I don’t know how he did it but I am glad he did. It looks amazing!

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5 Tips for Starting Your Sprinter Camper Make-Over.
Sprinter Roof Rails Self Installation: 12 Easy Steps.