Turn your car into a comfortable camping spot for under $100 | auto blog
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camping car conversion, real camper car conversion, can cost as much as a house. Until relatively recently, living in a van down the river was seen as a lifestyle only grudgingly adopted by the less fortunate. It has since become a status statement, largely thanks to instagram and other forms of social media that flaunt the highlights of living in a car without revealing any downsides. (finding the bathroom at midnight is one of the biggest negatives).
But just because you can spend thousands of dollars turning a car into something you can sleep in doesn’t mean you should. For me, there are plenty of reasons not to make my Crosstrek or Flex a full-time camper, the main reason being that my wife and I use these vehicles as our daily drivers. They have to keep a car seat, any friends and family we happen to be driving around, and two medium-sized puppies that love their own space. That leaves little or no room for a permanent kitchen or bed. Luckily, we learned to sleep sparingly, and spent many nights comfortably sawing wood in the back of the car, and when we got home we took everything out, put it in the garage and the car. Ours is back to normal. All for under $100.
Is it the best setup ever? Is not. But before you judge, check it out for yourself.
Air mattress – $11.44
Get your measure, put all your chairs down and see which mattress size is right for you. When it comes to the cars I have in my garage, a double size fits the back of my Crosstrek and it’s thick enough to eliminate rear-end bumps. My Flex can handle a slightly larger mattress, but since I wanted it to work for both I stuck with the double bed. It’s not the prettiest model you can buy, but considering I’ve bought more six packs, it’s pretty good.
A plug-in air pump sometimes feels like an incredible luxury to me, and I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe I feel camping should involve me having to inflate the mattress myself, but in this day and age, when so many cars come with AC power outlets, why make yourself dizzy by inflating yourself? mattress? This one will plug into any AC outlet and costs so little I can’t believe I even thought of not buying it. If you don’t have an AC outlet in your car, they will either output 12V DC to plug into a cigarette lighter or a 6-C the battery powered without plugging in anything.
Window Screen – $11.48
The stagnant air in the car at night is the worst. Yes, the second worst. Mosquitoes are the worst. Thankfully, these window screens solve both of those problems. They cover the entire window so you can roll them down completely if you want. I just rolled them down a few inches. Open enough for air to have the quality to circulate, tight enough that if a bear or other creature passes by, they can’t easily get into the car before I wake up and get out of there.
DIY window blinds – $YMMV
In addition to window screens, blackout window blinds are great for privacy, as well as keeping heat in or out, depending on what time of year you happen to be camping. They’re also pretty easy to make; all it takes is some foam core, reflective insulation and some adhesive tape. Watch the video above to learn how to create your own.
Another more permanent option is to colorize your windows. Laws on this vary from state to state, so make sure you do your research first, but tinting window Not only can it add privacy and block harmful UV rays, but it also helps keep your vehicle cooler during the hot summer months.
Bedding – Already Available
Most of us already have blankets and pillows. I use the ones I sleep with at home.
Stove – 9.99 USD
In addition to sleeping, eating is an important part of any camping trip. Many campsites have fire pits or charcoal grills available, but if not, there are ways to enjoy a quality meal on the cheap.
This ultralight stove is made for backpacking, but it’s just as good at the campsite. Plus, it takes up very little space inside your car. I always carry one with me, so even when I’m road trip I have a way to make a hot cup of coffee if it’s not available nearby.
Table – $19.99
This is an unusual item at the campsite, it’s also the most expensive item on this list, so you can skip it and save some change. Otherwise, a table like this can feel luxurious if you’re used to dining on the ground while camping. At 11.2 inches tall, that’s not the actual height of the table, something like that would set you back a bit, but it’s foldable and stowed so storage shouldn’t be an issue. If you’re camping with others, the $29.99 medium size might be a better choice.
5 gallon water tank – $9.99
When my wife and I first started car camping, I bought a 6-gallon jug with a spout. It’s big, heavy, takes up space even when it’s empty, and unwieldy to pick up and empty when full. This collapsible jar is superior in every way. In particular, the faucet is much easier to use and since you will be using the water for everything from cooking and cleaning to drinking and washing dishes, this is a must-have.
Cooler – Already available
A cooler can be the biggest expense when setting up a camping kitchen depending on your needs. A sturdy 9-quart Coleman will set you back around $17, but a Yeti big enough to hold a moose will run into the thousands. Most people already have one but if you’re just starting out, I recommend going the cheap route and figuring out what you need in the future.
Throw these in your car and you’re on your way to a low-cost van that’s easy to set up and dismantle. You may want to go big and have all the high-end devices in no time, but going this route will allow you to easily upgrade based on your needs rather than what looks great on instagram. Plus, if you discover that 16 days living outside of your car isn’t everything, you won’t have to sell your house to learn that lesson.