It’s been a while! I’ve been meaning to do this post ever since finishing our five month Western Canada road trip in September. We drove 17,000km around British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska with great success! The Astro performed really well overall, only having a few issues on the notorious Dempster Highway leading to the Arctic Circle. The conversion design worked a lot better than our first attempt for our 2011 Europe trip, but still had some flaws. JR is planning to upgrade the design again this summer. We still plan to one day cross-Canada and then down to Central America.

engine problems

We were around 350km into the 1500km return trip to Inuvik on the Dempster Highway when we started to experience problems with Big Blue cutting out at low speeds. Half-way and two days in to our adventure in the Arctic and we weren’t sure what to do. Luckily we had just passed Eagle Plains, the only ‘full service’ station on the road, so we doubled back and got some oil and transmission fluid.

North BC mountains

inside astrovan camper conversion

Flat tire dempster highway (1024x765)

Losing a tire

Back on the road, we lost one of our BFGoodrich All Terrain Tires (around a year old at this point) on the sharp shale that makes up the Dempster’s surface. This happened only 30km after the revving issues. It wasn’t a good day! We made it to Inuvik on our full size spare and replaced the tire for basically the same price we originally paid on Vancouver Island. Still running on the same tires now, I really would recommend them to any Astro owners. It is a fair outlay for these tires, but they are pretty solid.

As mentioned, the design was a bit improvement on our previous one, but still has some minor issues. The main problem we had on this trip was just too much stuff. We had been living on Vancouver Island for two and a half years and had collected a fair amount of possessions in that time. The plan after the road trip was to set ourselves up in another town, so while we had sorted through our things and given plenty away, we still had held on to a lot of items for the next place. In hindsight, we should have just put it all in storage somewhere like Vancouver or Prince George (central BC), but we didn’t want to have to return somewhere specific after the trip.

Too much stuff

So we had too much stuff. One solution was to send most of our winter gear away to JR’s dad in New Brunswick via Greyhound. This ended up being cheaper than we thought ($50 for four large boxes?!) so was worthwhile. Next, JR added some Dollar Store wire baskets on top of the cabinet within the first couple of weeks to allow for better storage. It did help but we still ended up with our most used items always in the middle section of the van for lack of a better place to put them. This meant we had trouble opening the doors to the cabinet without shuffling everything around.

Astro Van at Arctic Circle dirtyinside astro van camper conversion small camper5cooking al fresco

Wild camping

On the more positive side of things, we loved having a bed always made up at the back as it made for easy wild camping. We were able to park up anywhere and go to bed very quickly; this was super helpful for non-traditional camping locations such as cities, towns and rest stops. Having said that, we are going to tweak the design for the next version to prioritise space over a ‘ready’ bed. Although we don’t intend to carry as much stuff on the next trip (no way are we doing that again!), we want to have a much tidier and efficient living space overall.

Also on the ‘next design’ list is an awning (to avoid both rain and shade), solar panels and some kind of cooking area (so we don’t always require an external table). Both the panels and cooking area were intended to be on the current design, but our overall budget for the trip fell short due to lack of employment before we left so we reallocated the money.

Improvements

The trip solidified our belief that an Astro is an awesome choice for a van conversion. For two people it can be a bit snug at times, but it is still perfectly viable with a good design. I think an awning will really help to extend the space – we used tarps a lot over the summer for shelter and an awning would be a great upgrade. We both travelled in the van separately in 2014 and thought that our design worked really well for a solo person. There is just a bit of tweaking to be done to make it better for dual living. Another update will be coming soon!

*Note that the interior photos were taken March 2015, before setting out on another road trip. It was never this tidy during the five-month Western Canada adventure!

Camping spot Dempster highway

If you have your own Astro Van conversion, it would be great to hear from you.

PIN this post for future reference by clicking the top left corner of the below photo!Astro Van Camper Conversion - We travelled for five months in BC, Yukon and Alaska in our tiny camper conversion

Gemma
Author

One half of a Canadian/British couple currently living in Penticton, British Columbia. Gemma is happiest with a paddle in her hand, on the trail or planning the next big adventure.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Gemma! I’ve been following your posts for a while. I’m from the UK originally but right now, reading your posts from behind my desk here in Indiana (long story). Very interesting and informative articles! I love reading about your travels. I recently bought a GMC Safari (which as I’m sure you know, is essentially the same vehicle as an Astro) and I’m working on converting it. Once a few other things fall into place, I’m going to set off in her for some long term travel. Right now, I’m having a lot of fun working on her and getting her kitted out. Basically, I’ve taken out the middle bench seat and left the rear, which forms the middle section of the bed when folded down. One end of the bed is formed by the top of the kitchen box. Then an additional board (which can also double as a table) is suspended from the middle seat belts to make the other end. I can set it up pretty quick and it’s plenty of room for two. Anyway, I’m interested to know if you ever feel the need for a roof vent/fan, or if the climate up north means that you really don’t have to have one. And at the other end of the temperature range, what do you do for heat? Would you still recommend the reflectix bubble foil for window insulation?

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Hi there!

      It was so great to hear from a long term reader, thanks for your comment. Always love to hear from fellow Astro/Safari owners especially. Your van conversion sounds great, I’d love to see photos! We experienced around three/four days of 34 degree weather in Canada’s Northwest Territories and it was pretty intense. When I say three/four days, I mean 24 hours of sun and heat since we were above the Arctic Circle in late June. It was pretty uncomfortable. So our long term plans also include putting in a fan…something I completely forgot about for the post! I guess that is because it is not a priority – I don’t think we will be travelling long-term for a while.

      I still recommend the bubble foil for shade and privacy. We could not have survived those four intense days in NWT without them!! We keep a few of the panels up 100% of the time for privacy – it basically stops people from seeing any of our stuff in the back when parked. One thing I am on the fence about is whether I like the darkness they offer. On the one hand, they offer a complete blackout, so good for privacy and coolness while sleeping….but it also means we do not know when it is morning and often sleep in!! One compromise we made was to use them on all of the back windows and then use a curtain behind the front seats. Also helps to look a little more stealth seeing as we felt less conspicuous without all of the windows covered.

      All depends on your preferences I think to some extent – we have friends who bought the bubble foil for their trip to Mexico but didn’t use it at all since they liked being able to see outside all of the time! They never felt like they needed more privacy.

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