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Living in and Converting a Jeep Cherokee

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At the start of our 2010 road trip. Colorado River near Moab, UT

At the start of our 2010 road trip. Colorado River near Moab, UT

(Editors Note: Today we are having another guest post by my very good friends Forrest and Beth. They are very young but they have already packed two lifetimes of adventure in their few years: I tremendously admire them for that! 🙂 In today’s post they are going to tell us about their cross-country trip in a 4×4 Jeep Cherokee. I have to tell you that if you are considering living in an SUV I think a Cherokee would be my first choice. The engine and transmission is a very reliable and proven combination that gets reasonably good MPG. Under the sheet metal it is the exact same vehicle as a Jeep which means that there is a huge aftermarket of accessories to make it better off-road and 4-wheeling. But even box-stock it is a tremendously capable vehicle in the back-country. Best of all there are a lot of them available used so you can probably find one for a good price and parts and service are available for them everywhere. I think it may be the perfect adventure vehicle! Sprocket is their Black Lab that they had just gotten as a puppy.) Be sure to check out their great blog!!

The Cherokee is not the most comfortable rig to live out of. Especially for two people. HOWEVER, I’ve joked that if it were ever just Sprocket and I, I’d probably get one, put this set up in it and tow a 13′ Scamp. Because I love them both so much.

The whole 2010 road trip (Oregon to Texas to Key West to Maine back to Oregon) came about when I found a 5spd on Craigslist. I was driving an automatic Cherokee and getting ~18-20mpg and was hoping to pick up a few miles per gallon. They’re pretty rare so we headed out to buy it. Turns out we got 22-28mpg depending on elevation, speed traveled, etc. That thing LOVED going about 45mph at 6,000ft! We’d get that 28mpg only under those conditions. It could usually be counted on for 23 or 24mpg at 55mph.
We were 4-wheel drive equipped in a nice small secure package. Cherokees are also relatively easy to work on (you’ll have to talk to Forest more about this).


Here’s the “under the bed” drawers we used for storage. I had run all over town measuring options at Target, Walmart, Fred Meyers, and other retailers. We actually built our platform based around the height of these containers. (They were either the shortest or tallest under the bed type I could find. I can’t remember the reasoning anymore.) Food went in the left hand one, clothes, and toiletries (for two!) went in the right.


Inside view of the bed. You can see there’s not much room to sit up in, but it totally worked! (Especially when just Sprocket and I used it later for camping…much more roomy for one!)


Another rear view of the rig with the bed folded out for sleeping.


The bed is folded up into the “day position” (we did this to fit Sprocket’s crate in the back). It also shows the storage cubbies under the platform on either side. We stored water in one side as pictured here. I can’t remember what went in the other side. Shoes? I think?


Just because it’s so stinking cute! (Editors note: Sprocket’s head is now about the size of his whole body when he was a puppy!)

A view of the back of the Cherokee in "day position." Sprocket quickly refused to ride in his crate preferring the freedom of the whole back of the rig. Our bedding folded under the mattress vaguely protecting it from puppy hair. When he was wet or sandy he went into his crate. You can also see our stackable cooler that we cut the handles off to fit into the available space.

A view of the back of the Cherokee in “day position.” Sprocket quickly refused to ride in his crate preferring the freedom of the whole back of the rig. Our bedding folded under the mattress vaguely protecting it from puppy hair. When he was wet or sandy he went into his crate. You can also see our stackable cooler that we cut the handles off to fit into the available space.


Where baby Sprocket slept! This crate was the biggest one I could fit in the front seat! Each evening, I would prop the crate on top of his food bin and the console to get him out of our sleeping space. We had to abandon the crate in Pennsylvania when he got too big for it!

Cherokee on Louisiana's Gulf Coast

Cherokee on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast

Forest, Beth and Sprocket in front of their current adventure vehicle.

Forest, Beth and Sprocket in front of their current adventure vehicle.

This is their current adventure vehicle. It's a Dodge Cummins 4x4 flatbed and a Lance Ultra-Light camper. Like Pavlov's dogs, I start drooling every time I see it!

This is their current adventure vehicle. It’s a Dodge Cummins 4×4 flatbed and a Lance Ultra-Light camper. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I start drooling every time I see it!


  1. Rob

    Nice post! I like to tool boxes on the pickup…
    What year was the Cherokee with the 5sp?

    • Bob

      Thanks Rob! Forest is such a mechanic he bought the truck with a regular bed, took it off and put the aluminum flat-bed on it and then added the boxes later. it’s a very impressive job!!
      I’m sorry I don’t know the year. Hopefully Forest will read and answer the comments. If not I will e-mail and ask him.

  2. jim

    Do you all travel and camp full time or part time, what type of work do you all do for money, how long do you all plan on doing this just asking because i would like to be doing it thanks for your time

    • Bob

      Jim, I am a full-timer and have been camping on public land year-around for the last 6 years. I have a small pension and have been working as a campground host in the summer. Some people work as temps at the Holidays for and make really good money in 2-4 months.
      I hate living in houses!!!!! I’m going to do this for the rest of my life!
      What’s stopping you!!

      • Curious

        I believe Jim was actually asking about Beth and Forrest. I’d love to hear the financial side to all their adventures. In the last year or so they’ve had, what, four different vehicles, a new motorcycle, purchased land in the mountains of Colorado, and jetted around the US. Are they living off some saved money, or living at the ragged edge of their credit rating? They both seem pretty young to have retired early from some other type of work, I believe Beth spoke once of meeting Forrest while she was still in school? I know it’s none of our business but most folks who read your blog are of limited means and if they have some awesome method to work part-time, make big bucks, and travel the rest of the time I’d love to hear about it. Oh wait, isn’t Forrest Mark Zuckerburg’s brother?

        • Bob

          Curious, I don’t know anything about their finances and they’ve never volunteered it. I think most of us are like that (I’m the same way), and generally we don’t talk about our finances in public.
          If they are brothers, Mark got all the Geekiness and Forrest got all the manliness!!

          • jonthebru

            I seem to remember Forrest is an outdoor guide, probably Beth also. They seem to base out of Southern Colorado, but don’t quote me. I’m dredging that info out of my brain from a year or more ago. Beth does the writing on their blog. Very well I might add.

          • Bob

            jonthebru, yes, they are starting a Jeep Tour company out of Ridgeway and Ouray Colorado. I took a Jeep tour with them last October. Beth is a spokeswoman with Columbia Sportswear!!
            Remarkable people, I feel truly honored to call them friends!

      • Myddy

        Hey Bob, are you still travelling in a group or mostly alone now? I’ve not seen any posts about your travel companions as of late. Was just curious! Love hearing about all of you.
        I like the truck camper and all the storage boxes on their rig. Storage space is usually slim, having extra is great! I’m actually planning on installing a waterproof storage box on top of my van with a rack within the next few months. I’ve heard good things from others that did.

        • Bob

          Myddy, a bunch of us stayed together after the RTR ended, but as usual, they have drifted away. Right now there are 8 us still here but two are leaving this weekend to go to Nevada. We have a storm blowing through now so it has cooled off but it was getting hot, it got into the low 90s last week. When it gets too hot we will move up to higher elevation, probably Wickenburg, AZ. I think there will be 6 of us move from here to there.
          Everyone is welcome!

  3. openspaceman

    I had a Gray Cherokee Sport for 7 yrs. beat the crap out of it and never put a penny into it except tires…wish I still had it. I only slept in it a few times but I was all over it…can’t imagine 2 people in there…or maybe I just never liked anybody enough to want to do it. These two seem like perfect travel companions for each other.
    *Dig Forrest’s latest rig…they’re ready for the apocalypse.

    • Bob

      Openspaceman, I hear nothing but good things about the Cherokees and with Forrests recommendation of them I think they would be my SUV of choice.
      They are two very remarkable people!!

  4. Forrest

    That Cherokee was a 1997. The good Cherokee’s were from 1991-1998. 97 and 98’s fetch MUCH more $ because of the face lift they got in 97. But they are all the same under the hood.

    • Bob

      Thanks Forrest!

    • Rob


  5. Martin Hamilton

    Great post and love the photos of how their vehicle has evolved into the newest vehicle. I wanted to leave a link from a van rental company for the purposes of looking at their floor layouts. I recently met a couple traveling in one of these vans. Neat idea to start a business like this. I hope they thrive. Here is the link and hope it adds some ideas for us van dwellers.

    • Bob

      Martin, thanks for that link! I’ve seen their vans on the road and its good to see their site.

  6. Patrick

    Hi Bob,
    Free Movie site and make sure you install anti virus to protect your pc.

    • Bob

      Patrick, i don’t have any data on my plan to stream movies and I think few vandwellers do.

  7. Ming

    Great post, I love their thoughtfully modded vehicles! The flatbed truck with the storage boxes looks great. I imagine that it’s more versatile in terms of camper choice than flatbed truck + flatbed camper. Thanks for introducing us to all these creative people and how they live their lives.

    • Bob

      Ming, you are very welcome!

  8. Victor

    good story above .I have dreams of being on the road in a year or two. I restoring a 13′ burro camper going to tow it with a conversion van.

    • Bob

      Victor, I love those burros, they are great little trailers and towing it with a conversion van is nearly ideal! Keep following your dreams and they will come true!

  9. Tom

    Hi Bob
    Currently I live with my 88 year old mom in the house I was born in so that she doesn’t have to live in a rest-home; the thought of which terrifies her. Anyhow, I doubt if this will go on for much longer and at that point I have wondered if I could “make it” as a vagabond. I am lucky in terms of my financial situation, but I have all these fears. For one thing, I have never been mechanically inclined so breakdowns for me would be a big problem. Then I worry about being hijacked by criminals, wild bears breaking in, tornados, and rogue cops, to name a few. I know bears and tornados are probably rare, but you have been doing this for long enough to know what the “real things” to worry about should be. As of right now, I am still undecided about doing this in the future. Have you had any really scary incidents and how did you get out of them?

    • Bob

      Tom, I understand how you feel and believe me, most of us feel that way when we first start out. It is so far out of our comfort zone our imagination runs wild with us.
      But that’s just what it is, your imagination! There is almost no danger you will ever run into. I have been scared a few times but that was because I spend a LOT of time hiking in the backcountry. If you don’t include that, I have never been in any real danger.
      I have been broke down on the side of the road three times. But it turns out they were no big deal! Two times I had cell signal so I called for a tow and they towed me to a mechanic. One time there was no cell signal and it was late at night. I was safely off the side of the road so I just made dinner, read a little while, and went to bed. Your house is with you, what difference does it make where it is parked at? The next day I flagged down a car, got a ride into the nearest town and got a tow truck to take me back to the van and tow me to a mechanic. No big deal!!!
      If you have the funds to get a new or a late-model van, even that becomes very unlikely.
      I have no way to know if you will like vandwelling, but I am reasonably sure that you will be safe if you decide to do it.

  10. Keenan

    Hey Bob.
    I have a somewhat unique situation. I am 19 years old and living in Dallas, TX. I recently read Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas, and having been a thorough fan of books such as Into The Wild and My Side of the Mountain, as well as having had the best experience of my life on a backpacking trip with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), reading about Ken’s minimalist lifestyles and in particular his vandwelling experience, I am seriously considering taking up the lifestyle.
    I homeschooled instead of attending 8th grade and I studied Buddhism thoroughly which left a thorough impression on me, and long story short, I find something supremely freeing about living debt-free, not tied down, and in through experience rather than possession (of materials.)
    In High School I planned on enlisting in the marine core for many of the aforementioned reasons but decided otherwise after becoming a NOLS alumni. I fully support the military but there are people in my life I don’t want to place the burden on, and I’ve learned that growth experiences can be found in thousands of ways other than Military.
    To cut to the chase, finally, I’m currently living in my Dad’s house. I dropped out of UT Dallas because I found it absurd to incur such debt upon my family for an undeclared major. At the beginning of this year, my goal was to use my time to save money to attend NOLS’ year long course in Patagonia. I have been involved in fitness all my life and am currently pursuing a temporary career in male modeling in order to fund the course.
    After reading Ken’s experiences though, I realized that what I want is not to go to Patagonia (I do still plan on making that experience a reality too) but that it’s independence for the first time in my life that I really and truly desire. I admit to being ignorant, inexperienced, and to an extent, afraid, but every time I research more about Vandwelling, the greater I feel the pull of the open road.
    At first my intent was to get a cherokee and live out of it until I could afford an apartment, but I think instead I’m going to go for the full experience. Get a van, outfit it to the least amount of human needs I am comfortable with. The one hitch is that Modeling is good money, so I intend on continuing to work for my agency. This means I’ll be staying in the DFW metroplex in a van.
    I also work as a lifeguard, and I get free gym membership to my city pool where there is a shower, a laundry machine, and a refrigerator in the guard room. The only thing I’m really worried about with vandwelling is stealth. It’s difficult to find stories from long-term city vandwellers. Personally, I intend on either parking behind businesses in a cargo style van, or near the houses of personal friends in neighbourhoods. I guess what I’m asking is this,
    How stressful and difficult is it really to maintain stealth in a city? Do you know of people who have been able to find consistent parking places within urban areas?
    Lastly, to be completely honest I just wanted to vent my ideas. I think your story is amazing Bob, and I hope to see you at one of your Vandweller’s events as soon as I’m capable. For all I know, I will try the lifestyle for a month and decide to through modeling out the window, hit the road, and get to out into the country for some real Boondocking. I really have no idea what’s going to happen, but I intend on going with my gut and making a freakin’ adventure out of it.
    You are an inspiration man, truly.

    • Bob

      Keenan, our world is in such a state of transition it is really hard to know what tomorrow will bring. For someone your age, the world is wide open. You can make it anything you want it to be. If I could do it over again, I’d say fuck it all and live my life with one goal to be happy and fulfilled without thought for the future. But, before you do that you need to consider that you by living to be happy NOW, you may leave yourself open to an unhappy old age. I think that is a good trade and I think everyone your age is looking at an unhappy old age almost no matter what you do. But I’m just guessing and I could be wrong.
      You have to decide for yourself and then you have to live with the consequences.
      Here are three posts on a friend of mine who sounds a lot like you. He’s decided to live in van and work just as long as he needs to and then park the van and go through-hiking long trails. Something like that might work for you. Some people ski, surf, climb, whatever. The hobby changes with the individual, but the basic idea doesn’t.
      Your problem in Dallas is going to be the heat. A van will be miserable, but some people do it. I think you could stealth park in Dallas no problem. One possibility is to run an ad on Craigslist and pay someone $100 a month to park in their driveway. That solves the parking problem. Usually you can find someone to do it.

      • Keenan

        Thank you so much Bob!
        If I have trouble stealth parking I’ll definitely put an ad on craigslist. That’s a very efficient idea.
        As for the heat, until march the temperature here won’t exceed 80 and will most likely vary between 20 and 60 throughout the texas “winter.” In the summer, two friends of mine are getting an apartment. I’m either going to join them or if I have enough money, I’m going to spend the hotter months in northern states traveling.
        We’ll see. Again, thank you so much for the guidance. Have a good day bob.

        • Bob

          You’re welcome Keenan!

  11. forest

    I use to live in my van and made a fair living as a gold. prospector and selling at swap meets, both take some on the job learning .

    • Bob

      Forest you are one of the few who make money at it. That’s a pretty good job, get paid to have a lot of fun and play in the dirt!

    • HB

      What did you do for privacy screening and ventilation in the jeep?

      • Bob

        HB, I doubt Forest will answer, that is a very old post. I’d guess they either used simple fabric like curtains, cut sheets or even towels. But Reflectix can work better to keep the heat out during the day and in at night.

  12. Renny

    Thanks for the article! Been living in my 98 jeep cherokee for over a month now, and will be for a few more. I have the back seats folded down as well, but was getting real tired of being cramped on the sides because all my things were lined up next to me in boxes, so I only had a couple inches on each side. After seeing the pictures of your bed setup in the back, I was absolutely inspired. I used a friend’s tools, went out and bought the wood needed, and built my own jeep bed frame. I even got some great storage containers! Soooo much better being able to sprawl out a little more. A little close to the ceiling like you said (I actually went a couple inches higher by mistake), but still awesome to be able to properly store all my things underneath now! Thanks again!

    • Bob

      Glad to be of help Renny, enjoy your Cherokee!

  13. chris cooper

    hay bob im converting my Cherokee in to a living space any ideal on how or if theres someone who can wire my solor stuff as im wanting to add a roof type air condisher

    • Bob

      Chris, here is a couple living in a Cherokee.
      Come to the RTR and we’ll help you with your solar. BUT, you can not run an air conditioner in it–not gonna happen. You could carry a generator, but where will you put it?

  14. Peter

    Ahh, I LOVE this thread. Thanks a bunch. I’ve had a few Cherokees ten plus years ago and recently bought an 89. I want to make it livable enough to travel up and down the West coast at least. I’m thinking of trying to make an office in the back. LOL We’ll see how it goes, I’m just starting the thought process tonight. Thanks again! Glad this is still up.

  15. Alfred Juarez

    So exciting!!!
    Great blog, cool jeep!

  16. Maria Davila

    Great article! Thank you!

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