Are Jucy camper vans worth the effort?

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.


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.

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.

Are Jucy camper vans worth the effort?

“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.


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.

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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.

Alix Martichoux is a video producer at Email: Twitter: @AlixMartichoux.