If you want to travel cheap, then camper conversion is a great option. You can save a lot of money on accommodation. I realize that camper conversion might sound intimidating, but it is way easier than you might think. You need just basic tools and you will be ready to go in a day.
Everybody doesn't drive the same car, but estate cars are usually quite similar. Your dimensions might be different but the overall concept will stay the same.
I hope that this will inspire you to make the leap and travel more.
Step 1: Tools and Supplies
- Circular saw
- Cordless drill
- Hand saw
- Plywood – The main dimensions depend on the size of your vehicle the thickness is 12 mm
- Pine/hardwood battens – dimensions depend on your vehicle
- Folding leg brackets
- 2 rare earth magnets (20 mm diameter, 10 mm thickness)
- Curtains, curtain clips, foldback clips, paracord OR tinted windows
Step 2: Level the Boot Floor
Many cars have the trunk floor a little bit lover. Meaning, when you fold the rear seats, you will end up with a surface that has a step in the middle. We need to level this gap to have a flat surface for the bed. If your car has a level floor you can skip this step.
- Cut a piece of plywood that nicely covers the entire area of your trunk. Make sure that the board is a little bit smaller to make it easier to fit it in and take back out (about 1 cm on each side should be more than enough).
- Measure the height you need to level. The difference between the thickness of the plywood(12 mm) and the height you measured gives you the dimension of your support pieces.
- 4 supports placed roughly around the perimeter of your trunk will make it plenty strong. You can make those by cutting strips of desired thickness out of a 2x4 using a circular saw, for example. The dimensions of my supports are 50x50 mm.
This also creates additional storage space. We have stored our towels and raincoats there.
Step 3: Storage Shelf
When you wanna sleep in an estate car the space for your luggage in the sleep mode is fairly limited. Therefore we will add a plywood shelf that will provide extra some storage.
- The dimensions of the shelf will depend on your vehicle(mine are 130x50 cm).
- This piece of 12 mm plywood rests on the interior panels above the wheel arches.
- You will have your legs underneath this shelf while sleeping, so you don't need as much vertical clearance here.
- The shelf needs to be wide enough so that it can rest safely on the interior panels, but not too wide because then you would not be able to put it in.
- On the bottom side of the shelf, there are two strips of wood that prevent it from sliding from side to side(see the third pic).
Step 4: Back Seat Cushions Out
In this particular car, to have enough room, you have to take out the bottom cushions of the rear seats. This is a really simple process that takes 5 minutes.
Step 5: Head Rest Extensions
On the back of the rear seats we had to install plywood extensions otherwise the sleeping area would be too short. The ones I am using extend the sleeping area by 30 cm.
- There usually is a metal frame at the back of the seats. Sometimes you can see its outline through the upholstery. If you can't see it you can use a magnet to spot it.
- Once you have located the frame you can drill and thread two holes in it for each extension. I am using M5 bolts with a countersunk head.
- Now you can measure and cut the plywood. The dimensions will depend on your car.
- Cut a solid piece first, drill holes for the bolts and install it the car. Mark the place where you need the hinges to be.
- Cut the board at the marked position and connect the pieces back together with hinges. You need to use hinges because of the front seats which have to be fully forward for the sleep mode. When you wanna drive you will need a clearance to be able to push them back.
Step 6: Support Legs
- Measure the desired height of the support leg. It is better when the extensions end up in a slight incline.
- I am using a 40x30 mm piece of hardwood as a leg.
- It might be necessary to split the leg into two pieces. Use a hinge and two rare earth magnets (20 mm in diameter and 10 mm thick). This will make a very secure connection.
- Screw the folding leg bracket to the leg and then secure the setup to the appropriate place on the plywood board using countersunk bolts and nuts.
- In my case, it works the best when the whole leg folds to the side and its hinging part hinges to the front.
If this description doesn't make sense, please watch the video. That should make it clear.
Step 7: Mattress
I am using a 5 cm thick foam mattress. It is 2 m long, 1 m wide and it fits the sleeping area perfectly. I was originally slightly worried about the comforts of such a thin mattress. As it turns out, it is comfortable enough.
When you wanna go to the drive mode you can roll it to a cylinder and secure with straps, or just fold it in half and store it in the trunk (as you can see in the video).
Step 8: Curtains
This is an optional step. The goal is to have more privacy when camping in urban places. Having tinted windows is definitely a much better option.
- Cut the curtains to the desired length and height.
- Tie a piece of paracord at the front to the roof handle. At the back connect it to the upholstery using a regular fold back clip.
- Lastly, connect the curtains to the paracord using curtain clips.
Step 9: Drive Towards Adventure
Now your portable free accommodation is done and you can set off. Traveling in a camper car is magical. You can stay almost anywhere you like it and you don't ever have to hurry again.
Be careful when choosing a place to stay the night though. There can be restrictions in certain areas (e. g. national parks). I have a great experience using an app called park4night.
Thank you for reading this far. Enjoy your travels.