I just finished up a 6 week road trip in my Honda CR-V and it was AMAZING. I have been wanting an RV for awhile (and will get one someday!), but in the meantime, I thought… “What if I converted my car into a camper?”.
Car camping came with it’s own fun challenges, but I learned so much about myself, our amazing country, minimalism, and being present in the moment.
Ready to get in on the action?! Here is everything you need to know about how to convert your car for epic camping adventures.
Look for inspiration
Before we get started, let’s brainstorm the possibilities! What you’re looking for in this stage is layout ideas, DIY projects, and recommended car camping products.
You can find tons of blog posts and photos of car camping ideas and car conversions on Pinterest. I’ve put together a board for car camping to get your ideas flowing. It has ideas for where to park, how to pack food, where to go to the bathroom, what to bring, and photos for inspiration.
Another great place to find information about car camping is YouTube. You can do a quick search on “car camping” and find tons of videos of various car conversions and camping tips.
Plan your layout and theme
Now that you’ve got some inspiration, let’s put together a plan of action. Here are some things to consider in this stage:
- Are you converting your car for short term or long term trips?
- Will you be removing seats in your car?
- Do you want to build a platform bed?
- How will you store food and where in the car will you put it?
- Do you want a portable toilet?
- Where will all of your clothes and other items go?
- How will you get power?
- Will you be working from the car?
- Do you want to install a bike rack?
All of these questions will factor into your layout. If you want to sleep in your car for a short trip, you might be able to avoid removing seats. If you want to do a whole conversion, you might end up removing seats and building a platform bed. It’s all up to your personal preference.
I chose not to have a platform in my CR-V, specifically because I wanted more room to sit up and move around. I work on the road, so being able to sit up in my car was extremely important to me. However, I sacrificed a lot of storage by not having a platform.
If you create a flexible design, you can make changes along the way. I originally took all of the back seats out of my car and had a porta potty. Then, I put one seat back in and took the toilet out. I wasn’t using the toilet and this design gave me more storage.
Start with the outside
Next, we will get started on the outside of your car conversion!
Upgrade your windows
My first step with converting my car was to tint the windows. This has been crucial for staying safe, keeping the temperature controlled, and concealing my possessions during the day.
Then, I added window deflectors to my car for ventilation on rainy days. I can also have my windows slightly rolled down and you can’t see it from the outside. If your car doesn’t have these, you can find them on amazon by searching your car model and “window deflectors”. Be sure to get the kind that fit into the actual window channel. The stick-on kind won’t stay on as well.
Other updates for the outside
Another item you can add to your car conversion is a bike rack. This is great for carrying around a bike or an external storage container. Keep in mind though that this will attract more attention to your vehicle.
Also in this stage, you’ll want to check up on your car maintenance. It would be a shame to find out that your car isn’t up for the epic camping adventures that you have planned!
Create your new layout
Finally, we get to the good stuff!! In this stage you get to remove seats, build a platform, and make modifications inside the car.
When you remove your seats, take photos of where all the pieces go. Someday you might want to put the seats back in your car. You’ll also have to find a place to store these and they can take up a lot of room. I store my seats in the guest bedroom at my parent’s house.
After you remove the seats, cover any holes in the floor with duct tape to prevent fumes from getting in the car.
Build your platform
As you are building your platform, keep in mind the height of your mattress. I bought 4 inch foam from JoAnn’s for my bed. An extra 4 inches makes a difference with your head clearance in the car, plus you still have to add all of your linens and sleeping bag!
Also, think about how you will reach any storage under the bed. I have a storage space under the floor in my trunk and it isn’t easy to get into, but is nice for storing car maintenance supplies. I can only reach it by getting out of the car.
Put everything in its place
This stage is also where you will fit your cooler, toilet, and any other larger living requirements that you may have. Coolers come in a variety of sizes and price ranges. If you plan to keep ice in the cooler, make sure you can easily remove the cooler from your car and put it back. Struggling with your cooler will be a damper on your epic camping adventure.
Other products you’ll want to add to the car in this stage are your camp kitchen and furniture, like a camp chair and maybe even a table. I have this folding table in my car and it comes in so handy when I’m working late at night.
Decorate and add extra storage
You’ve got the foundations of your car conversion, now you need to add the finishing touches, and the rest of your stuff! My mom is a former interior decorator, so we really went to town on this phase of the car conversion.
If you plan to do any decorating, choose a color palette first before you bring storage, decor, or blankets/pillows into the car. I chose pink and teal, so we started with finding a comforter and designed from there. My mom helped me create pillows, storage bags, and all kinds of things that matched the comforter.
Even if you don’t plan on glamping out your car conversion, you can add some awesome finishing touches. I have color changing lights in my car and this makes camping at night so much more fun. I also have these Luci solar lights and they add plenty of light for reading at night. Even products like floor mats for your front seats can make a HUGE difference in living quality, and keeping your space clean.
You’ll also want to have some kind of window covering. Don’t camp without these. It will block out any lights you have on inside and give you privacy. You don’t want people looking in at you while you are camping in your car. Trust me. See my “creeper in the campground” story for proof. You can make window coverings out of reflective material from the hardware store. Measure your windows and cut pieces close to size. Then, you can cut to size by holding it up to the window from inside the car.
Add storage anywhere you can
Storage will be your best friend when you are camping in your car (or your worst enemy if you can’t find where you put everything!)
We took a shoe organizer and cut it down to fit behind each of the front seats. These organizers hold a majority of my storage. I also have two plastic tubs. One for clothes and one for holding miscellaneous items. For food, I carry two lunch boxes that store under my bed. I found that smaller containers were easier for food. One container was too hard to get into in that location.
Test it out!
The final step is to get in your car and go test it out! You’ve prepped, designed, built, and decorated your perfect car conversion. Now, you just need to hit the road and head out on epic camping adventures!
Have you ever tried camping in your car? Let us know how it went in the comments!