The Ultimate Car Camper Conversion on a Budget: Subaru Outback Edition

Updated: Oct 28, 2020


Girl in the trunk of a car camper
The Ultimate Guide to Living in Your Car

This week's blog is finally the super requested CAR CAMPING CONVERSION how-to on a budget for under $150! It's Jess here (hi!) with Gavin chiming in at certain parts to discuss the technical aspects of the build that he designed - guess that Engineering degree didn't go too much to waste, huh Gav? If you haven't seen our road trip adventures thus far (over on the @travelworldculture Instagram), we are over three months into traveling the US in our converted Subaru Outback car camper. In this blog, we've compiled all of the details you need to make your own camper (Subaru or not!), prepare for a road-trip, and hit the road! We've included our best secrets for finding free campsites and car camping long-term while working on the go.

If you would be interested in guest writing for the Travel World Culture blog, please email jessica@travelwc.com. We sell affordable group trips and custom trips for the adventurous at heart. Browse group trips here or get a quote on a custom trip here.

 

STORYTIME!

A little over two years ago, Gavin and I sold nearly all of our belongings, including our cars. As we moved out of our apartments here in the US, we began a multi-year journey of carrying our 40-liter backpacks from hostel to hostel (with some Airbnbs thrown around in there) around the world.


Then COVID-19 hit, stopping us and our growing travel business in its tracks. Cue a massive change of plans in both our personal and professional lives that involved us temporarily returning to our hometown of Dallas to social distance. Thankfully, now months into the pandemic, our TWC business is still here and back on its way to thriving. To make this happen, we have had to get creative and dream up new itineraries for group and custom trips that would take place right here in the US! And to make that happen, we needed an easy, comfortable, socially-distanced, and affordable way to travel the US to get all of the research and put together some amazing new domestic trips.


Three people with a car in front of a mountain
Taking in the views at Mount Rainier

*The Subaru Outback has entered the chat.* Meet the ideal car for camping and road-tripping! With all-wheel drive, an average of 28 miles per gallon (32 highway), and being one of the longest compact SUVs, it was our top choice by far! So much so that we decided to make this car our first substantial purchase in TWO YEARS. After years of living in hostels and Airbnbs, we have our own little home on wheels. And, yes, Gavin did say to me how excited he was about "our first home" when we bought the Subaru...


Fortunately, our time traveling abroad is far from over, and we are nowhere near ready to have a home base in the US. We love being free to explore every day as we work online. Thus this little Subaru Outback camper has been the perfect compromise for us! We've driven from Texas to the Rockies, over through the Southwest to California, up the West Coast to the Pacific Northwest, and finally back over to the Rockies of Montana and Wyoming. It has been gloriously messy, imperfect, and inspiring. Expect many new domestic TWC group itineraries on the way...


Now we want to help you create your home on wheels! A car camper conversion is an affordable alternative to van life if you're looking for an adventure on the road on a budget for a few days, weeks, or even months. This build cost us less than $150, a couple of trips to Lowe's, and only a few hours of labor. Let's get started!



(Scroll to the bottom of this blog if you don't need the technical information on the build and instead are just looking for our packing list - with links for everything - and our advice on finding free places to camp, shower, and do laundry.)



DESIGNING YOUR CAR CAMPER CONVERSION


There are a few things to consider when planning out your car camper conversion. This list looks like a lot, but each section is pretty simple.


LENGTH

Gavin wanted the full length of the bed to fit at least a 6’2 person, as we're both pretty tall. It is ideal to have your height +6 inches to have plenty of room for a pillow.


WIDTH

We made the bed the maximum width from wheel well to wheel well. Pretty simple!


HEIGHT

We wanted the height of the bed platform to be tall enough to fit two flat storage containers underneath. The storage containers also needed enough space to roll in and out easily. On the other hand, we wanted the bed platform to also short enough that we felt like we had enough space left to sleep without feeling claustrophobic once the platform was covered with carpet, our mattresses, sheets, etc.


WILL THE BED PLATFORM FOLD UP?

As opposed to some other stationery designs we've seen online, we wanted to keep the back seats in the car and have a design where we could easily put the seats back up during the day. This was so we'd be able to have our siblings join us on adventures!


From the beginning of the design period, we knew that the platform would need to be cut into multiple pieces that would then fold up with hinges into the trunk space while the back seats were up during the day. From there, we had a bit of trouble during the build period because we initially didn't plan out the lengths of each piece of the platform very well. During our first attempt, we made the second piece of the platform too tall because it kept hitting the roof of the car when we tried to fold it up - oops! After our second attempt, we ended up with the bed platform being in three separate pieces that each folded up onto the one before it into the trunk and thankfully did not scrape the ceiling during the process - read more about each measurement below.


WEIGHT