With lockdowns (hopefully) receding, there’s no time like the present to start planning out a future getaway. Being confined to our four walls has made quite a few of you antsy, I’m sure. Whether it’s simply getting a tan at the beach or riding high on those mountain trails, an outdoors escape feels just right. There’s also another option that has recently become quite a popular trend – #vanlife.
Just you, your significant other, and a van (or in this case, a practical do-it-all SUV). Put a mattress in the back, maybe a tiny kitchen, and a shower. That’ll be your home away from home for however many weeks until you’re yearning to head back. Although, getting there might not be so easy. After all, how should you get started? Do you just fold the rear seats down and chuck down a sleeping bag?
Nope. Knowing how to convert your SUV into a camper ready for those lengthy excursions takes a whole lot more than that. There’s a method to the madness, so let’s take a peek at how you too can turn your handsome urban SUV into a camper…
Step #1 – Think About How You’re Laying Out Your Future Camper
The first step, as always, is to create an action plan. Grab a piece of paper or a napkin, and sketch out how you’re going to lay everything out, just like modeling a home. Some SUVs-slash-crossovers-slash-4x4s are smaller than others, while some are humungous. Are you turning this SUV just into a camper for two, or will you have more joining the party? Besides, you’ll be needing a bed, at least.
So, get a measuring tape and get some rough estimations for how big your SUV is, and take a look at how it all works. If you’re keen to learn more about your SUV or just need some quick dimensions, there are plenty of sites that provide the latest news and SUV reviews to help you out. Apart from the bed, here are a few more considerations of what to fit inside your camper-SUV…
- Battery (or two), if you’re planning to add fixtures such as lighting or other electrical accessories.
- Fridge, because why not, and how else are you supposed to chill your beer?
- Small outdoor shower, if you’re thinking of going out into the wilderness for a while.
- Ceiling fan or mini air conditioning unit, should you be heading out to somewhere toasty hot.
- Storage unit, cabinet, shelf, or trunk to keep your clothes and knick-knacks safe and out of sight.
Step #2 – Build A Platform To Fit Your Mattress
Once you’ve figured out a general layout of where to fit the bed or how to run the wiring, you can now start putting it all together. First thing’s first, we’ll need to build the platform for the bed. This is practically the spine of your camper-SUV and will be its central structure. Of course, you’ll have to remove the SUV’s rear seats out, and hammer together a bunch of 2x4s.
A pallet-like design should be sturdy enough. To maximize space, it’s wise to raise the bed platform so that it sits somewhat level with the rear windows. This gives you a nice view out to gaze at the sunrise. In addition, it also gives us space to work with underneath. Thus, some columns to help support the bed would be needed. As for the bed, a simple foam mattress will do just nicely.
Remember to tie things down and bolt them into the car, as you certainly don’t want your bed sliding around as you drive. If you’re especially handy, you may even consider building a retractable bed. This way, you could extend the entire platform outwards into the elements during the day. If that’s what you’re aiming for, then installing a tent cover or canvas would compliment it quite well.
Step #3 – Wire Together All Your Electrics And The Battery(s)
Should you want to bring a fridge or need that convenience of plugging your laptop for a quick sip of electricity, a battery is a must. At the very least, it’ll bring you that peace of mind, just in case the SUV’s battery runs flat. A regular 12V car battery might not suffice, however, especially for the long trips away from home. For your camper-SUV, you’ll need a more potent source of electric charge.
A marine, RV, or truck battery should do the trick. Maybe bring along two of them as a backup. If you have the space – and depending on how your SUV is conceived – you could bolt the batteries within the engine bay. You could create a customized metal mount, and fit them in place. Or, you still have the option to route it into the cabin, if you don’t have the room.
You could then connect those batteries through a battery isolator relay to alternate the charging. This’ll ensure that your SUV’s main battery and the camper’s batteries are all topped up. Just make sure you detach the relay while you’re stationary to avoid depleting your SUV’s actual running juice. When that’s done, you can start fitting in all your accessories.
Step #4 – Install Your Creature Comforts And Accessories Together
Now, we get to the fun stuff. Remember that gaping hole underneath your bed? Well, that’s where we’ll fit the fridge. Get a mini-fridge ready, and try to find the ones with the most efficient power usage. That should at least prevent our batteries from running dry too quickly. Choose a fridge whose size reflects just how many cases of Budweiser or salads that you plan to bring along.
If the destination is particularly hot and humid, you’ll certainly want some added cooling back in the camper side of your SUV. You could mount a couple of RV rooftop fans on the ceiling of your SUV. This will mean putting together more wood supports and finding a way to run all the wiring. If you have a particularly beefy battery setup, you might even get away with a tiny aircon unit.
Now, it’s time for plumbing. Even if you’re heading to a place where there’ll be plenty of freshwater rivers and waterfalls, nothing beats the comfort of a shower. A solar shower – usually made for RVs – will be your best bet. Not only are they fairly cheap, but they’re easy to run, too. The piping shouldn’t be too hard to configure, either. You can mount this along with the roof rack if you have one.
Step #5 – Go Out, And Enjoy Your Home Away From Home
But wait… There are a few more kinds of stuff that you might want to carry along. Some boxes or containers would be handy to keep your belongings in order. Then, there’s the maintenance side of things for your SUV. A tire inflator could be a life-saver, as is a portable battery charger and jump starter kit. Perhaps even bring a kitted-out toolbox for fixing up car troubles, if you’re a skilled mechanic.
It’s those little things that add to your peace of mind. And, when you get stuck in a nasty situation, you have the equipment to dig yourself out of it. The last thing to do is to go out, anywhere at all, and enjoy your new camper-SUV. Sure, it’s not as exuberant or as fancy as a campervan or an RV. But, putting together a camper out of your SUV while bored at home is significantly cheaper.
Considering your whims, you could spend as little as $1,000 on putting all that together. Relatively speaking, that’s cheap. And if you have a bigger budget to spend on, there are ready-to-go camper conversion kits for SUVs that you can find. On top of that, your SUV or 4×4 can go places – off-roading, I mean – that no van could ever dare to traverse. No path is ever an obstacle for your camper-cum-SUV.