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Are Jucy camper vans worth the effort? |

Are Jucy camper vans worth the effort?


New Zealand-based company Jucy converts minivans into camping vans. The backseat is turned into a versatile lounging and sleeping area and a kitchen is installed in the trunk. We tested one out on a camping trip in Big Sur.


Media: Alix Martichoux / SFGATE



You’ve probably seen one of these vans before. They’re pretty hard to miss.

New Zealand-based car rental company Jucy takes Dodge Grand Caravan minivans, paints them bright green and purple, takes out a row of seats, installs kitchens, and puts pop-up tents on the roofs. The effect is that of a miniature RV. The flashy slogans on the exterior of each car hint at what’s inside: “This Jucy RV comes with everything…including the kitchen sink.”

The branding promises an adventurous road trip without the hassle of pitching a tent and cooking over a campfire. It also gives a taste of the #vanlife lifestyle trend that’s tempting millennials away from stable jobs and mortgages in favor of flexibility, lower costs of living and adventure. Many young people are converting vans into makeshift mobile homes and hitting the road, telecommuting or working odd jobs along the way. (The hashtag has been used more than 2.6 million times on Instagram, the preferred platform for showing off one’s mobile way of life.)

I was curious if Jucy vans were really as turnkey as advertised, so my boyfriend, Nick, and I tested one out during a camping trip on the coast this winter. We planned to head 170 miles from Oakland down Highway 1 and camp on the Central Coast for a night.

While there were some hiccups along the way, I was genuinely surprised by how enjoyable camping in a Jucy van was — tacky branding aside. Here’s what you can expect if you decide to dip your toes into #vanlife with a similar rental for a few nights.


  • We tried out one of the vans by taking it on a camping trip in Big Sur. Photo: Alix Martichoux / SFGATE

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We tried out one of the vans by taking it on a camping trip in Big Sur.

We tried out one of the vans by taking it on a camping trip in Big Sur.

Photo: Alix Martichoux / SFGATE




The writing on the outside hints at what’s hidden in the trunk.

The writing on the outside hints at what’s hidden in the trunk.

Photo: Alix Martichoux / SFGATE





Juliana Linder and Richmond Hollen sit in their renovated Freightliner Sprinter van, along with their dog, Roscoe.

Scroll through the slideshow to view more photos of their travels and read more on their experiences of living in a van. 

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Juliana Linder and Richmond Hollen sit in their renovated Freightliner Sprinter van, along with their dog, Roscoe.

Scroll through the slideshow to view more photos of their travels and read more on their

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Photo: Courtesy Juliana Linder


Q: You have 128,000 followers on Instagram. What do you think is the attraction to following your adventures?

A: Everyone follows for different reasons. Some people just want to see Roscoe! Others are interested in the build, others in the destinations. It’s such a mixed bag, everyone projects their own desires onto our photos. It’s amazing what you’ll project onto a single photo when you have nothing more than just that visual information! Strangers make all kinds of assumptions about us, even though we put out (what we think to be) enough content telling it like it is.

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Q: You have 128,000 followers on Instagram. What do you think is the attraction to following your adventures?

A: Everyone follows for different reasons. Some people just want to see Roscoe! Others are interested

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Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder



(Answer, continued) Generally it seems that people have enjoyed our honesty and seeing how we’ve adapted to this lifestyle. A lot of comments we get are supportive, and they let us know that they are excited to see what’s next. That’s kind of what motivated us to continue posting in the very beginning. There was a lot of interest in our build out of the van. And we’d really like to help others get to the same point that we’ve gotten to, if we can, so we’re happy to do it.

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(Answer, continued) Generally it seems that people have enjoyed our honesty and seeing how we’ve adapted to this lifestyle. A lot of comments we get are supportive, and they let us know that they are excited to

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Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


Linder and Hollen’s bed is placed on a mechanical lift, allowing the couple to raise or lower the mattress to create a space below. It is one of the van’s more unique features, and they plan to install another lift in their new van.

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Linder and Hollen’s bed is placed on a mechanical lift, allowing the couple to raise or lower the mattress to create a space below. It is one of the van’s more unique features, and they plan to install another

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Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


Q: What are the reactions from strangers — and Bay Area folks — to your decision of living in a van?

A: A lot of strangers think it’s really cool and are excited to see the van. A lot of Bay Area folks were excited about it, and we found that a lot of them wanted to do similar things. We personally felt the need to take some time, similar to a sabbatical, to have an adventure and get the most out of life. A lot of people seem to relate to that feeling.

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Q: What are the reactions from strangers — and Bay Area folks — to your decision of living in a van?

A: A lot of strangers think it’s really cool and are excited to see the van. A lot of Bay Area folks were

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Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


Q: Do either of you ever miss having an apartment?

A: As far as features go, we miss having an oven! But we’ll be installing a Dometic Cooktop stove/oven combo in our new van, which we’re excited about.

Q: Do either of you ever miss having an apartment?

A: As far as features go, we miss having an oven! But we’ll be installing a Dometic Cooktop stove/oven combo in our new van, which we’re excited about.

Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder



(Answer, continued) Oh, and a toilet/shower accessible at all times would be nice too. But we’ve gotten by without them for this long!

(Answer, continued) Oh, and a toilet/shower accessible at all times would be nice too. But we’ve gotten by without them for this long!

Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder



Q: What is the easiest part about living in a van?

A: We were initially really surprised by the ease with which we got acclimated to daily life in the van. It really felt like exactly where we were meant to be. And we were both really nervous about the transition beforehand so it was a relief to feel that way.

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Q: What is the easiest part about living in a van?

A: We were initially really surprised by the ease with which we got acclimated to daily life in the van. It really felt like exactly where we were meant to be.

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Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


(Answer, continued) By far the easiest part for both of us was having all of our things with us at all times. It really simplified our life not having to worry about things all the time, where they were, if we had them on hand or not.

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(Answer, continued) By far the easiest part for both of us was having all of our things with us at all times. It really simplified our life not having to worry about things all the time, where they were, if we

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Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder



(Answer, continued) Life instantly became a lot simpler, just having less, and we noticed an increase in our happiness as a result. Literally a huge weight lifted off of us! Every so often we go through the van and see what more we can give away that hasn’t been used.

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(Answer, continued) Life instantly became a lot simpler, just having less, and we noticed an increase in our happiness as a result. Literally a huge weight lifted off of us! Every so often we go through the van

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Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


Linder captured a photo of the streets of Todos Santos in Mexico, while on a yearlong trip down the West Coast.

Linder captured a photo of the streets of Todos Santos in Mexico, while on a yearlong trip down the West Coast.

Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


Q: Is there a point when you both will return to living in a house/apartment?

A: For us, living in a van isn’t forever. We never intended for that to happen. Right now, it’s really just 1) our chosen lifestyle (we like not having much stuff and using less resources) and 2) a means to an end. We fully plan on taking advantage of our low costs (no rent) and lack of need for things, by saving as much money as we can.

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Q: Is there a point when you both will return to living in a house/apartment?

A: For us, living in a van isn’t forever. We never intended for that to happen. Right now, it’s really just 1) our chosen lifestyle

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Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


(Answer, continued) With that money, our plan is to buy some land, and build a small house off-the-grid. We want to port over all of what we’ve learned living in the van and put it into practice. Even during this adjustment period, we want to have a safe and comfortable place to live and will be looking to rent a parking spot.

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(Answer, continued) With that money, our plan is to buy some land, and build a small house off-the-grid. We want to port over all of what we’ve learned living in the van and put it into practice. Even during

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Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder



(Answer, continued) We definitely want to put roots down, we value our time with loved ones most and it’s tough when you’re constantly moving. But we still love to travel and learn, so we’ll always be doing that no matter if we live in the van full-time or not. We’ll always be looking to strike a healthy balance there.

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(Answer, continued) We definitely want to put roots down, we value our time with loved ones most and it’s tough when you’re constantly moving. But we still love to travel and learn, so we’ll always be doing

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Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


A memento of the couple’s travels, in needlepoint form.

A memento of the couple’s travels, in needlepoint form.

Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


Linder and Hollen started their trip in British Columbia in March 2016, driving all the way down to Baja.

Linder and Hollen started their trip in British Columbia in March 2016, driving all the way down to Baja.

Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


A view of the inside of the Sprinter van, with the white framing of the mechanical bed lift shown.

A view of the inside of the Sprinter van, with the white framing of the mechanical bed lift shown.

Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder



Linder and Hollen are now documenting the changes to their new van, a Ford Transit, which they are working on in Oregon.

Linder and Hollen are now documenting the changes to their new van, a Ford Transit, which they are working on in Oregon.

Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


The plan is to build out a van that Hollen could finally stand up in; the couple says that the new van is taller than their previous Sprinter, which they used on the trip to Mexico.

The plan is to build out a van that Hollen could finally stand up in; the couple says that the new van is taller than their previous Sprinter, which they used on the trip to Mexico.

Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


Linder and Hollen’s van can be seen in the background as their dog Roscoe takes a break outside the Sprinter.

Linder and Hollen’s van can be seen in the background as their dog Roscoe takes a break outside the Sprinter.

Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


A view of the Sprinter van on the beach, complete with an awning attached to the right side.

A view of the Sprinter van on the beach, complete with an awning attached to the right side.

Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder



Another shot of the interior of the van, along with storage options attached to the wood-lined doors.

Another shot of the interior of the van, along with storage options attached to the wood-lined doors.

Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


A recent photograph showing off a detour in Oregon, where the couple is now staying while they fix up their new van.

A recent photograph showing off a detour in Oregon, where the couple is now staying while they fix up their new van.

Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder


Linder and Roscoe sit in the new van’s swivel seats, as the couple continues to build out their car.

Linder and Roscoe sit in the new van’s swivel seats, as the couple continues to build out their car.

Photo: Photos Are Courtesy Juliana Linder




Getting started

We picked up the van from the company’s “San Francisco location,” which is actually in San Leandro, about three miles east of the Oakland Airport. We signed the paperwork, paid, and got the quick-and-dirty overview of the van from a staffer.

The driver’s seat and passenger side look like those of a normal car, but just about everything else had been modified. The middle row of seats was gone, allowing the back of the van to serve as a seating area, dining area, or bed.

When you pop the trunk, you’ll find a kitchenette installed in the rear with a small counter space above an array of drawers and cabinets. One drawer opens to a mini-fridge; another pulls out to reveal a gas burner. A sink you have to pump to operate sits on top of the counter. There’s a pop-up tent mounted on the roof that can serve as a bed for another two people.




The rear of Jucy vans unfolds into a kitchenette. Photo: Courtesy Jucy RV Rentals



Jucy typically requires a three-night minimum rental, but my boss wasn’t keen on springing for a full-on vacation, so the company made an exception for us.

After about 40 minutes of set-up and orientation, we were off.

On the road

Driving took some getting used to. The Grand Caravan is a lot larger than our Prius, but it’s not any harder to maneuver than your standard minivan.

A second car battery powers the mini-fridge and lights and allows you to charge your devices when the engine is off. Which leads me to the first major hiccup of the trip: the charging ports are USB only, meaning we couldn’t charge our camera or Nick’s phone (a Google Pixel, which is too futuristic for its own good with a USB-C hookup).

As we wound down Highway 17 through the Santa Cruz Mountains, my boyfriend and I postulated whether we would do this again soon. Then, during a pit-stop in Capitola, I became self-conscious: Was everyone staring at us? By the time we parked in downtown Monterey for lunch, it was clear that yes, everyone was gawking at our garish clown car.

Mostly unbothered by the extra attention, we took our time heading south on Highway 1, frequently pulling over for photo ops (and to let faster drivers pass). We arrived at our campsite at Limekiln State Park just in time to catch the sunset.

Meeting a vanlifer

To be clear, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to camping. Case in point: I accidentally reserved a “tent only” campsite that didn’t allow for RVs. I thought because the Jucy van was technically a minivan that it would be OK. I was wrong.

Luckily, the staff at Limekiln squeezed us into a spot near another van camper — who was more like a van-lifer — named Michael, who lives out of his converted cargo van full time.

“It’s the bitchingest lifestyle ever,” Michael said. “I wouldn’t do anything else.”

We chatted with him as we popped the trunk and started to make dinner. That’s when we realized we had forgotten a few things. The van comes with basic cookware — pots, pans, bowls, even a colander. We brought ravioli, sauce and a salad mix, but we didn’t bring a sponge or dish soap to clean up after ourselves. We also forgot a garbage bag, so we had to keep running to the shared trash cans down the hill.

At one point, Nick reached into a compartment for a slotted spoon and pulled out a sharp, unsheathed butcher knife. He breathed a sigh of relief, realizing he barely avoided slicing his hand. It was then we realized we were also missing a first aid kit (the vans don’t include them).

We unfolded a table tucked away in the backseat to convert the area into a dining room where we could enjoy our dinner.




Jucy is committed to the green and purple aesthetic. Even the bedding matches the van. Photo: Alix Martichoux / SFGATE

Jucy is committed to the green and purple aesthetic. Even the bedding matches the van.

Jucy is committed to the green and purple aesthetic. Even the…



Bedtime

We would have liked to sleep in the pop-up tent on the roof, but with temperatures expected to dip into the 30s overnight, we opted to sleep inside the van. Opening up the bed was easy enough. We slipped the memory foam pad into place and unfolded bedding included with the van. No surprise here: the sheets and comforter match the car’s green and purple aesthetic. The linens had a few small stains, but smelled like clean laundry right when we unzipped the carrying case.

Getting ourselves ready for bed proved a little trickier. There are privacy shields on the side and rear windows, and another for the windshield, that you can unroll and stick in place with suction cups. We went back outside and turned the kitchen into a makeshift vanity to take out contacts and pump water from the sink to wash our faces and brush our teeth.






When we finally lay down to sleep, we were cozy. The inside was just big enough for us to lie shoulder to shoulder and just barely long enough for our 5-foot-7-inch and 5-foot-9-inch frames to fully stretch out. Anyone taller than six feet probably wouldn’t be able to lay flat like we did.

One major challenge was heating. The car’s second battery doesn’t power the heat and air conditioning, so you actually have to start the engine to warm it up. Our strategy was to heat the car to an uncomfortably warm temperature, then turn the engine off, hoping that would last us through the night. The plan mostly worked, but I was grateful we brought extra blankets.

For what it’s worth, Jucy offers a winter kit for an extra charge, which includes a sub-zero sleeping bag, a thermos flask and a pair of hand warmers.

Rise and shine

When I reached to turn off my phone’s alarm at 7 a.m., I felt a crick in my neck. I had contorted myself into a strange position overnight in an attempt to stay warm and fit between my boyfriend and the cup holder in the backseat. A few of the window covers had slid out of place.

We hadn’t packed breakfast so we hit the road right away, back to civilization.

Is it worth it?

How much does this thing cost anyways? Well, it depends.

Jucy’s prices fluctuate based on demand, like airfare. During the winter low season, rates can be as low as $40 per night. In the summer, the price can jump to $110.

The rate for our trip in January was $66 per night for the rental plus an extra $25 fee for dropping off the van on a Sunday. I was surprised to find an extra $60 charge on my credit card a few days later. That’s because our trip only included 100 free miles of driving, so we were charged an additional 25 cents per mile for the extra distance we traveled.

On top of that, there were the costs outside of Jucy’s control ($43 for the campsite plus about $50 for gas), bringing the total cost to just short of $250.

Camping is supposed to be cheap, and this isn’t exactly a bargain. But for someone like me, who has never pitched a tent let alone owns one, our trip down Highway 1 in a tacky purple and green van let me get close to nature in one of the most beautiful parts of California — but not too close.

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