How I Turned My SUV Into A Camper

This past September  I traveled the west coast for an month by myself. (Mostly) this trip is what has been an inspiration for the rest of my travels and what I get the most questions about. Question no more!

6,000 miles, 28 days, 12 states and $1600 dollars.

I will dive into exact topics from this trip in other posts – but this particular post will be about my mode of daily travel.

I simply turned my SUV, a 2003 Mercury Mountaineer, into a lil baby camper. And it worked great! I was a safe warm ball of bliss every single night. This should work for any size SUV you have – except you might need to take the seats out vs putting them down like mine.

Step 1: Make note of the materials you’ll need before you go to the hardware store and follow step 2 before you go:

  • plywood
  • 4×4’s
  • some bins
  • an electric saw
  • a friend (or in my case, my dad who is also my friend)
  • measuring tape
  • a level

Step 2: Measure out your bins, the area of your car, and how tall you want your bed to be. I used some of my own bins and they were too big. I went to the dollar store and bought 4 $10 bins that worked perfectly. Take these measurements with you to the hardware store. For nails, we used long nails ( I could not tell you technical terms) and we used approximately 50 of them. Buy 75 for good measure.

Pictured here are my personal bins that didn’t work. The dollar store bins worked great.

Step 3: Saw up all the things. You’ve got your measurements. Your plywood. Your 2 x 4’s. Your long nails. Your electric saw. From here, you will want to measure out and cut your plywood to fit in your car. There are other designs on the web – this is the one I went with to make it easiest.


Here is the plywood after it was cut down to fit in my car.

From here, it’s time to decide how tall you want your bed to be so your bins can fit comfortably underneath. My dad and I decided to make three rows of 2×4’s underneath the plywood. This meant we needed three different measurements to make sure my bed was level – this is also where the level comes in. Play around with these measurements and then cut the 2×4’s as needed. We also screwed two 2×4’s together to make sure it was sturdy enough.

Unfortunately it got dark when we did this, but you can see from the side and the back once we nailed in our feet to the bed. We also created a 2×4 brace at the back of the bed (back of the car) along the bottom of the back 2×4’s, this isn’t pictured. This was done for added stability but I wouldn’t say it’s necessary.

Step 4: Your basic design is created! Congrats! From here, you and your friend (or dad) should test out the sturdiness of your car-bed. Then, the fun part. Adding cushion, blankets and lights.

Yay! We both are able to lay on it! I used 2 pieces of egg crate foam padding for the base. You could staple carpet, throw on an actual mattress, use sleeping pads, tons of clothing….However you add to this comfort is up to you. An egg crate worked fine for me. From there, I added some sheets, a sleeping bag and two base blankets because I am ALL ABOUT the comfort. I wanted a big cozy bed.

I also added in some twinkle lights I bought from Ace Hardware at this time. To attach these, I used some mini nails and nailed them right into the soft part of the ceiling in my car. I’ve seen others on the web use the sticky photo hangers if you want something that won’t damage your car or if you don’t have a soft part. To plug them in, I bought a converter for my cigarette lighter that could plug in anything. This was useful throughout the entire trip.

A note: My car is able to charge things without it being on. I’m aware that other cars don’t do this. If this is the case, and twinkle lights are a must, might I suggest battery powered lights like the ones ENO sells. This is also a little bit safer and you won’t have to be conscious of how long they are on for, so your battery doesn’t die.

Step 5: Curtains! This is an important step. You will want to be sure that you can be hidden from the outside world if you are ever camping somewhere semi-public. Safety is important. My mom helped me with this task. (My parents are total saints and I am so grateful. S/O to them on so many levels, ya’ll will hear about how amazing they are as time goes on.) We used an old sheet. We cut it to fit the window size and then every night I used these little push pins in the soft part of the ceiling to hold them in. It took me about 10 minutes every night and every morning to prepare my curtains. It would have taken longer if I was more unorganized in my daily routines and they were a little bit of a hassle.

This photo quality isn’t fabulous but here’s a lil insight into my nightly cocoon – once it was set up I loved the coziness of the sheets and loved how homey it felt.

Step 6: Putting all the things inside! Feel free to organize your things however you would like. I was extremely particular about organizing everything so it had a home. You will want to think about these things: What will I need most often? What items will I be needing together? How accessible for safety reasons will I need particular items?

In this way, each tub was dedicated to it’s own type of item and then I had 3 smaller backpacks. One for books, one for shoes and one for miscellaneous items. I also had a folder for important papers and documents. I brought a suitcase that was packed like I would normally be traveling for any other trip. I brought all of my normal camping gear – tent, sleeping pad, stove, food, etc. I’ll go over these things in another post. I had a bag for all cosmetics. This was crucial so I wouldn’t have to build a bag everytime. Flipflops were in there as well

Step 7: Profusely thank whoever helped you build this beautiful little home of yours!! And give them a beer if it fits the situation! For me, this is a huge thanks to mom and dad. 🙂

I will go into more detail about my daily routine, the importance of a daily routine, housekeeping and organization on the road in my next post. Look out for that next Friday.

Thank you genuinely for reading this post, my love extends to all of you.

Stay beautiful. Stay inspired. Let me know if you have any questions!

3 thoughts on “How I Turned My SUV Into A Camper

  1. Pingback: Here’s Why It’s Ok To Change Your Mind On The Daily – Barriers Breaking Down

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