This week's blog is written by Lukas Cech, small car camping & travel enthusiast and founder of nimblecamper.com, where he writes about car camping, reviews the best cars for camping in and camping gear and searches the internet for useful information - like boot dimensions of all good camping cars.
If you would be interested in guest writing for the Travel World Culture blog, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Camping in your car doesn't have to be uncomfortable, even if you're on a budget. Learn how to get the best sleep possible while enjoying the great outdoors and the freedom that comes with car camping. We’ve prepared 3 ways to sleep in your car for every budget:
First of all, what car is best to sleep in?
Before we jump into car camping, let’s first set some criteria that should be met for a comfortable car camping trip. Because it’s not just about some equipment that will enable you to sleep in your car - you should start with the right type of car first.
Criteria #1 - It’s all about the boot!
Size matters in this case - you want your camping car to have the tallest and longest boot possible within your budget & preferred car size. Don’t worry - you don’t need to have a big van that’s hard to park. Many everyday cars fit these criteria - Minivans (MPVs), SUVs, and even station wagons are the best small campers. Small enough so that they are inconspicuous, have good consumption and are easy to park, but still have plenty of room for sleeping (and some for working remotely too).
We’d recommend at least 5.6 ft boot length (from the front seat rests all the way to the rear door) - so that you can stretch whilst sleeping. Some cars might be shorter than that, but allow you to push the front seats forward, so make sure to check that too.
You’d also want at least 3 ft boot height - so that when you put a mattress or a car bed inside, you’ll still be able to sit comfortably.
Criteria #2 - Storage
The more storage compartments your car comes equipped with out of the box, the less work for you to put some in yourself. You’ll be spending more time in the boot, so look for good storage compartments on both sides of the boot when the rear seats are folded down.
Criteria #3 - Everyday life compatible
You want the car to be usable in everyday life - commuting, long journeys, short trips, easy to park and not incur any additional charges. This leaves out most of the big vans, caravans and motorhomes that would be great for camping and living in - but they aren’t really usable in everyday life and are expensive to run, hard to park (you have to find an official camp site, or even if you find a good spot, there’s hardly ever room for a caravan). Plus they shout out loud that you are sleeping there. But this leaves us with a good selection of small to medium size everyday cars that are still perfect for sleeping in.
What cars fit these criteria best?
According to Nimblecamper.com’s Best cars for car camping, it’s these:
Minivans (5-8 seaters)
Dodge Grand Caravan
VW Caddy Maxi Life
Citroen Berlingo (Long)
VW Sharan / Seat Alhambra
Panel Vans (2 seats)
These aren’t as useful for everyday life if there are more than 2 of you. On the other hand, they can be very good for 1-2 people, because the hollow box at the back usually offers even more room as there are no seats and trim.
They are also perfect for DIY conversions
Almost any SUV as they tend to have a minimum size - always look for long & tall boot area.
Station Wagons (Estates in the UK and Combis in the EU)
They tend to have less headroom compared to Minivans or SUVs, but still offer good boot length
Now we know which cars to look out for, so let’s review different ways of sleeping in them.
Camp in your car the DIY way - DIY camping conversions
Image: Nimble Camper
This is a wide category that engulfs anything from hardcore and luxurious DIY conversions that come with a bed and a kitchen with an added personal touch, to simple conversions where you throw a mattress into the boot and sleep in it.
It’s really up to you and your budget and DIY skills. People tend to create some kind of bed base (i.e. flat surface that’s lifted above the car floor, creating storage underneath). Then they put a comfortable mattress (or any suitable DIY car mattress alternative, see here).
The storage can be built using simple sturdy plastic or wooden boxes (they can even serve as the “legs” for your bed - like in Lukas’ Sharan DIY camping conversion).
Low budget (or not - it’s all up to you) - the cost can be as low as $50 (but might not be the best way to go for a long term camping trip)
Make it fit your needs and car
Custom length and height that serve your needs
you have to do all the work - time consuming
the quality depends on your DIY skills
You might need to do a few versions until you get what works best
might not be removable – stays in the car or fits only this specific car - can’t put it into a new car later
See NimbleCamper.com’s DIY Camping conversions or Travel World Culture's own Subaru car camper conversion for inspiration.
Mid-range - buy a camping box (sometimes called boot jump)
Instead of creating some kind of storage + bed + kitchen solution for your car yourself, you can buy ready-made camping boxes that come with all built-in. Just slide them into the boot and extend the bed when needed. The perfect solution if you have spare $1500 - $3000 and no time for a DIY conversion.
There’s a wide range of camping boxes in the EU - not as many in the US. They come in various sizes, build qualities, options and prices.
The most important features you should look for in a camping box:
Plenty of storage (utensils, drawers, big & small compartments)
Kitchen + sink + cooking hob (not essential, but helps if you’re paying good money for it)
They are usually built for a specific car size & model (like the VW Caddy or Berlingo). You need to check each camping boxes dimensions to make sure it will fit your car (packed and extended).
Just buy it, stick it in and go camping :)
Good quality finish + clever storage solutions
Can put it into another car when you buy a new one
Much more expensive compared to a simple DIY solution
Takes up more space in the boot, so if you don’t use it for camping, there’s still not much room for other items (shopping bags etc.)
Requires storage if not used - i.e. over winter, we wouldn’t recommend keeping it in the car
The cheapest camping boxes cost around $500, but typically around $2500 and the more expensive ones are around $5000. Then there are also many accessories that you can spend your money on.
Top-range - buy a ready-made small camper
If you really have no time and budget isn’t a problem, you can get it all in a compact camper. They are either factory-made (like the VW Caddy California) or custom DIY conversions that are resold, or there are companies that do the conversion for you - turn your car into a camper.
You need to have a good budget for these - anything from $15,000 upwards, more likely $40,000.
So there you have it - you can sleep in more cars than you’d think - all you need is either good DIY skills, or a good company that will do it for you, or a bigger wallet. But it’s possible either way - to have an everyday car turned into a camper, travel, sleep and even work in it (or drive between cafes and coworking places, then sleep in the car).
Which one would you pick? Let us know below!