Warning: We are not professionals. Please, take appropriate precautions when performing any vehicle modifications. This post is specific to our 2002 Ford Explorer XLS, but feel free to be inspired.
After getting married in September, my wife and I were headed to Thailand to work with refugees on the border of Myanmar. That left us with a lot of loose ends to tie up before we took off - including what to do with her car.
Upon looking at plane tickets, we made a bold move and pulled the trigger on cheap tickets from LAX to BKK (check out Scott's Cheap Flights for amazing deals on airfare). Not knowing how we were going to make it from Charlotte, NC to Los Angeles, CA we came up with a plan.
Over the next couple of weeks, we took our unassuming Ford Explorer and converted it into our own adventure mobile - equipped with a foldable sleeping platform, kitchen, comfortable mattress, tons of storage, and more!
With a modest budget and a lot of elbow grease, we turned "Dora the Explorer" into what we believe is the coolest car camping solution ever.
Below are 5 Steps to convert your vehicle into a camper
1. Do your research
Do a quick google search for "camper car conversion" and you'll dive down a rabbit whole of van conversions, Pinterest boards, and Youtube channels with tons of awesome rigs. With something so unique like the interior of a vehicle, designs require creativity and in most cases, a little modification.
Among most designs, you will find the following similarities:
It's important to figure out what is right for you and your vehicle. Some things to consider:
We found inspiration everywhere. Just remember that each car is different, and even the same vehicles can have different models with varying internal dimensions. Below are a few places we found some key design elements.
2. Decide on the design
Once you've made your way out of the deep dark hole that is vehicle camper conversions... put your ideas together. My wife and I decided that we really liked the lower bed platform design. This gave us the maximum amount of headroom while still allowing for under-bed storage. That, paired with built in window cubbies and a roof-top cargo carrier gave us plenty of room for all of our stuff.
Sleep is crucial, and neither of us liked the idea of sacrificing in this arena. We lucked out and received a 3" mattress pad from our parents. To add a little more cushioning, we took an egg-carton mattress topper we had on our bed and fused it to the bottom. Once cut to size, this gave us a total of around 5" of memory foam sleeping comfort.
We love to cook. So, a functional kitchen was a must have for us. We decided to go with a pull out counter-top in the rear to accommodate a single burner stove and still have enough space for prep work.
3. Clear out your car
This is where everything gets real. Removing seats, seatbelts, and unnecessary hardware gives you a good idea of what you are working with. Like a clear canvas, everything starts to take shape and the feasibility of your designs become apparent.
This is also where you have to make some decisions on how "de-convertable" you want your camper to be. We found out that it was easier for us to remove some of the bolts left in the floor from the seats. You may not have to do this in your vehicle, but whatever you decide, you should consider what you are doing with your car after you are done camping in it. There are far less permanent designs that allow an easy transition back to your original vehicle.
4. Build it
With the help of some incredible friends and family, we completed the build-out in around two weeks. From start to finish, it took us around 40-50 hours (however, there are always projects left to do).
In the end, it's hard to tell exactly how much we spent, but all the meat and potatoes cost us around $300-$400.
Looking back, there were some things we could have done to save here and there. But overall we are happy with our investment, and we believe it will make up for itself in no time.
Here is a list of items we used for our build:
Converting your vehicle into a camper can be the perfect way to spend more time doing the things you love with the ones you love. It's been an incredible journey for us, and we are grateful to everyone who's helped us along the way, and to you for reading our blog!
Follow our journey on instagram at @wanderingwinfreys
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