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Car Camping

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Ever wonder what it would be like living in a car? Or camping… Well, here are some interesting photos of how someone converted their station wagon into a sleeper.

I definitely wouldn’t want to actually live like this but it has to be one of the most economical ways to travel long distances. Cars a great on gas, they’re stealthy, and super easy to drive.

I have known people that set their small SUV’s up in this way with an air mattress when traveling cross country. It’s interesting to see it done with small cars as well. And hey, it’s an alternative to a teardrop camper when you don’t want to spend the money and trouble.

I wonder if the same can be done with regular sedans because the rear seats usually fold down. I guess the challenge would be creating a flat platform to sleep on.  So here, have a look how this one is set up…

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Photo credits: http://www.passionelegno.eu/

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 25 comments… add one }
  • Carl in SC
    March 8, 2012, 5:45 pm

    The question was raised above about using a regular seday as a camper so I’ll give my input. Several years ago I drove our 1987 Honda Accord hatchback across country to Nebraska and stopped at a rest area to nap. I let the rear seat back down and put my legs into the luggage area. Unfortunately it didn’t work well because it was winter and I didn’t have a space heater. I also had to sleep at an angle to stretch out. So I gave up on sleeping. But with prep beforehand it could work out.
    I’ve tried to sleep in my two Honda 4 door sedans but the trunk floor is lower than the lowered seat backs, and the height between the seat and trunk is narrow because of the steel framing under the rear shelf. I’d have to carry some folded plywood to make a platform for headroom and fold the front seatbacks forward to make it work. So I’d say it can be done.

    • March 8, 2012, 7:07 pm

      Thanks for sharing Carl. I’ve seen some people share photos online where they’ve used plywood to make it work. It can definitely be done.

    • March 8, 2012, 7:07 pm

      There was someone who took the passenger seat out of his Geo 3-cylinder hatchback so he could fit a bed so he can live in it.

      • Josh
        July 26, 2012, 3:01 pm

        Can you please link me to this? My girlfriend and I just got back from a festival where we had to sleep in a sedan for a night. I’d love to see the setup in the Geo for sure!

        • July 30, 2012, 3:36 pm

          Sorry Josh unfortunately I haven’t been able to find it again :[

        • jerryd
          November 17, 2013, 4:23 pm

          It was common in the 70’s to take the passenger seat out and make a rather comfortable bed with storage under. Even articles converting a VW bug.

          There are aftermarket seats that turn into beds or build your own.

          Personally I won’t buy a car I can’t sleep in as I refuse to pay $50-100/8 hrs of sleep I can do almost as well in my car, van. Plus I sleep in 3-4 hr naps at rest stops traveling straight through making ho/motels not an option.

          Even my subcars have 6’6” to lay down, sleep in because of my back I sometimes just have to lay down for it to recover. But people get real upset if you do it in public thinking I’m dying or something, just need to rest my back is all.

          So even my personal transport module/high speed wheelchair will have a bed in it ;^))

          And fact is as long as you have your own bed you have a home, even if it’s a car.

        • Alex Pino
          November 18, 2013, 8:51 am

          Thanks for sharing Jerry!!

    • George
      November 17, 2013, 4:45 pm

      I’m 6’7″ and travel x-c twice a year in my VW beetle. If I move the passenger seat forward and roll the seatback toward the glove box, then stuff the rear seat foot-well with luggage, I can sleep lengthwise with 2′ of headroom. I’ve done it to -20 degrees at 8000′ and only had to prop the trunk 1″ to let in fresh air so as to avoid condensation. I had a teardrop az well but the beetle is just as comfortable. New style beetle with engine up front.

      • connie
        April 21, 2015, 9:57 am

        That’s what I’m thinking of doing. I have Vw beetle,2013. I would like to go to Colorado and I am only 5 foot two but large . I think I could do it . How did you keep the back up 1 inch ? Any information would be appreciated . Thanks . I am recently retired and want to make use of my freedom but not spend a ton of money .

  • Carl in SC
    March 8, 2012, 5:51 pm

    The idea of putting a matress in a station wagon is a much better idea than trying it is a sedan or hatchback. But whether you’re in a wagon or sedan or coupe you’d want to have a car top carrier for luggage unless you travel light and put the luggage in the floor behind the front seat.
    It just came to me that the wife and I traveled to Nebraska about 5 or 6 years ago in the 1992 Chevrolet Lumina sedan and we had taken the rear seat out and put in a platform and some padding. By placing all our luggage other than a few items we were able to sleep in that rear seat area. It might be impossible for a 6 1/2 footer to do it though.

    • March 8, 2012, 7:08 pm

      Hehehe, cool! Thanks again Carl

  • Michael
    March 12, 2012, 1:05 pm

    I have a 2012 Kia Rio sedan that’ll sleep with the rear seats folded down. The folded seats are higher than the trunk area, but can be smoothed out with a pillow for temporary travel accommodations.

    I’m about 6′ tall and in order to stretch out completely I have to move the passenger seat forward and pack the rear passenger floor with pillows to fill the gap between the end of the rear folded seat and the front passenger seat.

    Not the most comfortable sleeping arrangement. But for long road trip vacations on a budget, it’s great. 35 mpg in an inexpensive car with no hotel costs is an affrdable way to see the country.

    • April 29, 2012, 4:21 pm

      That’s awesome. 35 mpg, wow.

      Do you do anything for privacy? Any tips you can share for parking when doing this?

  • Ryan
    April 28, 2012, 11:49 pm

    I built a pretty functional and easy to set up bed out of plywood in my 2006 Rav4. I took out the back seats which allowed for storage under the bed. I also use two large rooftop carriers so my girlfriend and I don’t need to leave anything outside the car when sleeping overnight which is nice when you don’t want to draw attention to yourself.

    You can see some fairly detailed pictures of that project here:


    • April 29, 2012, 4:12 pm

      Whoa, awesome, thanks for sharing! Do you still have it?

      • Ryan
        April 30, 2012, 1:49 pm

        I do, in fact my girlfriend and I are getting it all set up for another road trip up the Oregon / Washington coast next week.

        • July 30, 2012, 3:37 pm

          Thanks for sharing, Ryan! Hope you enjoyed that trip.

  • Carl in SC
    April 29, 2012, 4:53 pm

    I like that Rav4 conversion. Didn’t expect to see two cartop carriers side by side though. Pretty neat. An inflatable queen mattress might be easier to to store and take less room that the futon mattress, but the inflated height might prevent having a doggie bed shelf. Just wondering. About 20+ years ago I built a plywood platform above wheel wells in 1988 Dodge Ram 50 (Mitsubishi Mighty Max) truck bed and used an inflatable mattress with that. Stored luggage under the bed. Worked great. Of course the 3 children had to lay down or squat back there. And we had a camper topper on it. It was nice while the kids were young.

    • Ryan
      April 30, 2012, 1:55 pm

      I actually tried an inflatable mattress first but, as you suspected, it didn’t allow room for the dog bed above our feet and was too high for us to sit up at night. I was also able to trim down the queen foam mattress a bit to fit around the wheel wells so it was nice and flat. The air mattress pinched in at those points making it less comfortable than the futon.

      • July 30, 2012, 3:38 pm

        Thanks for all the info, Ryan! Would love to feature your set up here sometime if you’re okay with it.

        • Ryan
          August 5, 2012, 1:58 pm

          I would be totally ok with that. Feel free to use any info or pictures I have posted about it.

  • Dave
    November 7, 2012, 9:42 pm

    I, too, have a 2012 Kia Rio, but mine is the hatchback. At 5′ 6″, I can stretch out with the rear seats folded down, but my head just hangs off the front edge. I was thinking about coverting a van, but I’d get much better mileage in the Kia. So, what I’ll probably do is remove the rear seats altogether and fabricate a platform to lay a airbed/foam mattress down, and mount a cartop carrier for clothes, gear, and such. I’ll have it paid off before I take early retirement, and I’ll be able to do to it what I want 😉 .

  • Bob
    November 24, 2012, 10:09 am

    o!!! Very great car camping!!! But I have small car – VW POLO ! On this car is not The bed with 2000sm (more 3 f) long!

  • sunshineandrain
    January 12, 2013, 9:36 am

    I love to camp and have camped all my life. I have done it since 1994 in my Nissan Kingcab pickup. I’ve gone cross-country to Oregon with a tonneau cover and dome tent and I have used a Truck Tent with an inflatable mattress in the floor of the pickup bed. That was cool.

    Then I ran across a contractor’s camper, sized for my pickup for $250. You know, the kind with the sloped roof, tallest point at the tailgate/locking entry door and locking access windows on both sides? (really aerodynamic too)

    I built a removable support system and my sliding bed platform; it slides from side-to-side so that the bed can be slid away and the storage underneath the bed can be accessed from either side window. My mattress is an inflatable twin. It fits perfectly.

    The area beneath the bed stores my ice chest, food chest, and my storage containers of old milk crates rescued from the trash through the years. I have a narrow aisle in which to walk beside the bed (though not at full height) that ends in a bucket toilet that doubles as a chair for dressing.

    I made curtains and hung rods to cover all the windows (all four sides) after I had the windows tinted to help reduce the heat build-up. The camper is not insulated so I don’t use it to camp in the winter.

    I have slept in it in many a campground, highway rest area, occasional city park when I am on vacation (talk about stealth to carry that off), and the occasional truck stop/convenience store/24hour retail parking lot when necessary.

    This past summer my pickup needed major engine work, so I took my vacation in my 2-door Toyota coupe. I love it when the back seats flatten and open to the trunk! I went to Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas camping all the way. Great time! Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

    Someone asked about privacy. I had curtains on rods in the camper. The car was another matter. I hung a sheet from the clothes rod hook, made a rabbit tail in the sheet at the passenger window and closed the window on it, made another rabbit tail in the sheet at the driver’s window and back to the other clothes rod hook. I hung a towel from the clothes rod hooks across the back glass and slept like a baby.

    Have fun and be safe out there. Listen to your body (stomach, hairs on the back of your neck, etc.) it will try its best to keep you safe.

    • Fran
      December 5, 2013, 10:21 pm

      Yes, I’ve done something like this my cell. (almost senior age lady) putting an inflatable mattress in the back of a van was most comfortable but can also be done in a sedan of a toyota camery. Agreed, there is a safety factor. In the states it is legal I have a CCW license. I keep the car alarm near my pillow and look for rv camps or not so secluded areas to sleep/car camp in.
      If you can a motion alarm on the car is really good to have too.
      If you use a ceramic heater you must have the windows cracked ever so slightly or you risk CO2 poisoning. Did you know they have car Potties! If you look up wag bags it can help when all of a sudden the middle of the night…well you know! http://www.biffybag.com

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