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Astro Safari Van Camper Conversion: Construction Update 1

Within a few months of moving to Canada, we knew we wanted to do another cross-continent road trip in a similar style to our UK to Turkey trip.

Different to that trip, however, this one is going to be bigger, longer and in a better converted ‘camper car.’ Last time we used a Toyota Lucida but we want something with more space and potential this time.

The general plan is to leave Vancouver Island and drive across Canada before travelling south through the United States to Mexico. We’d like to spend a good amount of time exploring Central America before heading north again, back to British Columbia, Canada.

First published 2013.

Introducing our new van conversion – a Chevrolet Astro

At the moment we have a Chevrolet Astro Van so for the time being Jean Robert is going to work on converting that and see how it goes….we don’t leave for a little while so we have lots of time if things change or don’t work out!

Here is our 1995 AWD 8 seater Chevrolet Astro Van.  I really love this car so far, even more so than our previous road trip car, Lucy the Toyota Lucida (sorry!). These vans were built on truck chassis’, so it’s a really sturdy vehicle. It’s perfect for carrying our canoe and the ability to go off-road every now and again.

Parked blue Astro van with small white dog next to it.

Basic bed set up

The best thing about this vehicle is the size. It’s much wider than our old Lucida, and a little bit longer.

Jean Robert took out all the sidings at the back of the car (the bits by the seats with cup holders and storage and the like) and found that being 5″9, he could lay width-wise in the car. This is when we really saw the potential as a vehicle to convert to a camper…

We figured that if we were able to have a bed all the way in the back, this would free up so much space in the middle, room for more living space.

We both agreed that we definitely wanted a fixed bed for the minimum fuss – it’s so nice to arrive somewhere late and then just crawl into bed rather than fuss around with sorting the bed!

Building a bed frame for our Astro van conversion

To start, Jean Robert put in a basic bed frame to test it out. He calculated the height of the van by how much head space he needed if he sat upright on the frame (as a seat).

This leaves us a good space for storage underneath; way more than our last car! This bed frame’s width is about the same as a double bed, but the height is less.

Though this is definitely not finished (there’s not much insulation for example) as a basic set up, it really works. It’s really exciting to see how much space this bed frees up in the middle of the car; there’s so much potential for a really awesome mini-camper.

Looking inside a blue Chevrolet Astro Van. It has a bed frame with blue cushion in it.

Future plans

Our Europe trip provided us with the experience and knowledge to build something much better than the first time – we now know for example, that the storage really needs to be accessible from the side (so some sort of sliding drawers) and the back – having a ‘trapdoor’ style opening under the bed is really annoying.

Small things like having hooks, more storage around the bed and a fan are little things we didn’t think of last time or didn’t have time to implement.

This conversion will also be more self-contained; we want to be able to stay at less paid campsites next time, mainly to save money but also for the experience.

We won’t be leaving on any big trip until Spring next year, so we’ve got a lot of time to plan and prepare this time. We’ve also got the chance to take the van on lots of smaller trips, which will help improve the design before we leave for the much longer adventure (potentially one year in length!)

Despite Jean Robert only putting in the basic bed last week, we’ve already taken it for a test camping trip to a nearby Provincial Park which went pretty well!

Our first update of our Astro Van Camper Conversion. Includes a basic bed setup behind the middle seats

PIN this post for future reference with the above image!

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Monday 9th of August 2021

Although the Astro is a rugged vehicle, they are not built on a truck chassis. It is a unibody vehicle with a subframe holding the engine and front suspension components.


Saturday 1st of May 2021

I am currently building a 1995 astro 4x4 conversion van into a camper van. Jacked it up 5 inches has a fridge composting toilet queen bed and kitchen out the back doors


Tuesday 4th of May 2021

Sounds awesome! Thanks for sharing Dan.

astro wannabuy

Tuesday 21st of October 2014

Hi there, I was interested to see that bed could be fitted width wise in Astro! This must make huge difference to available space inside van. But I test drove an Astro and tried to lie down across the back and could not see how it could be done. I'm 5'7" and seemed to be cramped even if I imagined I was lying above the wheel wells. Can you give me some details about how you removed the paneling to make a side to side bed possible and what the dimensions are once the paneling is removed? If I can work out how it's done, I'm definitely getting me an Astro! Thanks and safe travels to you both.

Marie-Josée Carrière

Wednesday 4th of November 2020

I have the same question, I am looking to buy a van for conversion, and considering an Astro, but from what I could find on internet is that the width is just close to 60 inches, which isn't much!

Johnnie Bethel

Tuesday 4th of December 2012

I have the same van, looking to do the same thing. Looking forward to reading about your adventures. Your site is very inspiring.


Thursday 10th of January 2013

Hi! Thanks for your comment. We should have another update on the van coming soon so keep an eye out! Progress is unfortunately a lot slower in the winter as we won't be realistically using the van until April or May. Good luck with your own conversion! Let us know if you start a blog about it Gemma and Jean Robert