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posted on January 14th, 2016

When Errin Mixon’s family announced they were having a reunion in Wisconsin this past summer, she and her partner, John, knew that they wanted to attend. The only problem? Flights for four people — Errin, John, and his two daughters — on top of lodging was way out of their budget.

Instead of saying “no” to priority travel for her family, Errin had an inkling of how she could swing it.

Using Turo to finance a new camper van

“I started looking for other alternatives and found several camper van rental companies online,” she said. “It seemed like the perfect solution, so I broached it to John. But he suggested an alternative: why not buy a minivan and convert it into a camper van ourselves? He reasoned that it would cost less to convert a van than it would to rent one for two weeks.”

Knowing also that they could list the camper van for rent on Turo so that it would essentially pay for itself, she and her family made the purchase.

A trip to remember

Errin asked John if he knew how to convert a minivan into a camper van, to which he responded, “Sure. It’ll be easy. We can get it done in two weeks.”

But they quickly learned — as with so many DIY projects — that it was going to take much longer than expected. In fact, they finished the minivan conversion into “Minnie” the camper van just in time for their trip (a solid two months later).

Errin and John then bundled two teenagers and “two weeks’ worth of crap” into their new camper and hit the road for an unforgettable trip. “The van was a complete success. It slept four people comfortably throughout the entire trip, and we cooked most of our meals using the kitchen in the back. Sometimes we even cooked while we were driving — I highly recommend using a crock pot on road trips! The van smelled like barbecued pork for two weeks, but I was alright with that.”

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Camper van turned cash cow

Not only did Errin and her family enjoy the camper van, but they found good demand for it from other travelers on Turo. “I was late in listing it for this summer, but still managed to get seven rentals in the last three months. So far, Minnie is earning her keep in terms of raising enough to make her car payments. I expect that next summer she’ll do even better. It was a financial leap of faith, buying this vehicle, so breaking even was my biggest concern.”

Errin learned that camper van rental companies offer lots of amenities, but charge extra for each of them. “I didn’t want to do that. We built a lot of extras into our van, primarily to make our own trip fun and easy, but also for others to enjoy.” For example, having a DVD player with dual screens was “probably the one thing that kept the kids from killing each other in the backseat.”

She playfully adds, “And for those moments when we considered killing them, having an actual refrigerator stocked with cold beer turned out to be essential.”

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Lessons for improving your own listing

If you go to Errin’s van listing, you’ll get a good idea of what makes her listing stand out. “I wrote the quirky profile in hopes of garnering attention, and it seems to be working; several people have replied to my ad like they’re talking to Minnie directly, which is a lot of fun. I think that an engaging ad goes a long way toward encouraging rentals, along with proper photos and quick response time.”

Additionally, having such a unique vehicle to rent has garnered her some memorable clients. “I just rented the van for two weeks to a young woman visiting from Germany, who used it to travel the California coast. When I met her in person, she said, ‘I would rather spend my money with actual people than give it to a faceless company.’ And it was wonderful getting to meet her in person and hearing about her trip, both the highlights and the unexpected challenges. I was very impressed by her gumption, undertaking a solo journey in a foreign country — particularly since ‘all the car controls are in a slightly different place’!”

Overall, Errin says, “I don’t need a car in my daily life, but having a camper van that allows our family to go on adventures is pretty amazing. I hope one day John’s kids look back on these memories with enthusiasm.” And they have some solo adventures planned as well. “When I bought the car, I joked that owning a candy-apple red minivan was every unmarried woman’s dream. But now that John and I are newly engaged, I anticipate we’ll be road-tripping for our honeymoon (we won’t be bringing the kids).”

If you’re in the Oakland, CA area and need a camper rental, be sure to check out Minnie.

Amanda L. Grossman is a stretcher of paychecks and a post-it note lover. When not blogging at Turo, she's transitioning to her new Mommy-role in Houston where she lives with her husband and two cats.