No Van? How to turn your car in to a camper!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

If you have a van then the world is your oyster; you can drive, park, sleep and not just see, and swim in, amazing locations, but sleep by them too. If you want the freedom but buying a van just isn't an option, then you might want to consider the 'car camper'... still interested? Then keep reading for my top tips.

Morning view from one of my favourite camp spots.
About 5 years ago we decided to go on a spur of the moment surf trip to the south west coast of France. Initially we planned on camping but this has it's own problems; overcrowded sites, noise pollution, availability, overpriced... So instead we decided to sleep in my boyfriends old Vauxhall Estate and we had a surprisingly successful couple of weeks sleeping, swimming and surfing in beautiful locations; the car camper was born.

Vauxhall Astra turned car camper!

Since then we have gone on many swim and surf trips in Europe and the UK, and along the way I've picked up some top tips and tricks that made our lives easier.


If you have a car where the back seats recline flat then perfect! You're all set to go! If you don't then do a bit of research to see if this is possible, as this is crucial for comfort. Your next step is to get yourself some memory foam (3-4 inch). Either buy or cut it to size, stick a sheet on it and voila! You now have your very own backseat bed. As you can see we are suckers for luxury and normally take our pillows and duvet along for the ride as well.


These are a necessity, both for privacy and to keep out the morning sun in the summer months. After a lot of research I stumbled across the foldback(binder) clip method. Get yourself some clips from any stationery shop and a few meters of thick black material. You can also use blankets or scarfs if you have these to hand. Cut the material to the size of the windows and attach the foldback clips along the top.
Slide the tops of the clips in to the seams between the windows and the roof of your car. There you have it! There are plenty of other methods but this is the one I found the most manageable for my particular car.


You can get car window mosquito nets for as little as three quid each on the internet. These nets not only keep the bugs out but also provide some security and privacy if you're sleeping in the heat and want the windows open.
Follow link below ↓↓↓↓


Storage is the number one problem when car camping. Especially when you are not only carrying clothes, food and cooking equipment, but also an inflatable canoe, inflatable Paddle board, tent, bedding, two surfboards, wetsuits etc. Etc. Then storage can really turn in to a problem. 
I don't have an amazing answer to this but keep it minimal (do you really need a four ring gas cooker?), roof racks are your friend and use the space behind the front seats for essential storage. We actually removed the bottom part of our back seats to increase this space and normally keep our suitcases here.
Everything else is turfed in to the front seats when we need to go to bed. Not glamorous but then again we are sleeping in our car so...


Gaffa tape is always your friend... we've used it to fix our tent, fix our car, tape up tarpaulins, tape up curtains. Put it on your list.
I also love bungees. They are useful in so many ways but one of the ways we use them is in creating a floating washing line and storage space across the width of the car. Hang damp clothes and towels from here, attach a camping bulb for nighttime and in a pinch use it for storage. Done.
Bungees and gaffa are just two items that have made our life easier over the years, but in fact there are so many useful essentials that I've written a full packing list. Click here to see!


Research wherever you are going carefully. When driving in Europe for example you have to carry certain things with you by law and will most likely need to get stickers to alter your headlights. 
Again, if in Europe, decide whether or not you are going to avoid tolls roads or not. Driving from one side of France to another on the toll roads can cost you up to £100... so suddenly your budget break on the fly isn't looking so cheap! I would recommend avoiding toll roads if possible, as through experience they really don't save you that much time, and if you do decide to use them then get a 'Sanef Toll Tag' as this allows you to skip the sometimes horrendous toll road queues. You also need to ask yourself, how easy is it going to be to find a sleep spot? Is the area quiet or built up? Will you feel safe here?


In some places it's easy to car camp and in other places it's not so easy. The north coast of Spain, the west coast of France and Scotland were particularly easy to find appealing places where you could stay the night. Other places we have been, for example Switzerland, Sardinia and Corsica were more of a struggle. 
For our last trip we used the 'Furgo Perfectos' app, which is a Spanish app that pinpoints sleep spots around Europe and provides essential information about facilities (e.g. water and toilets). If you don't mind company then I highly recommend using an app or website as it does all the hard work for you!
Alternatively we've spent the night on beaches, lakesides and in church car parks, as well as up mountains, by rivers and a couple of times on quiet residential streets. Top tip: take notice of signage; normally if the signs say no overnight parking or no camping then they mean it. 
On a more positive note, the entire time we have been car camping we have only been moved on twice. Once in Sardinia and once when we tried to sleep in Hossegor, where there are bylaws forbidding this (too many surf bums, us included, doing the same thing).

Lakeside sleeping on the west coast of France.
Abandoned mountain carpark in Scotland


When wild camping (car or no car) it's important to be respectful and leave everything exactly as you have found it. Be quiet, arrive late and depart early, don't leave rubbish, don't light fires etc. 
You know what I mean. Just be a good egg yeah?

Sardinia seaside for late night dinner and a quiet kip.


Break up the car camping with staying every few days in a campsite. Here you can shower, wash icky cutlery, fill up water bottles etc.


Car camping can get frustrating sometimes. I mean I would do pretty much anything other than sell my soul for a kitted out VW transformer, but remember it's supposed to be fun! And one day when you can afford a van you can look back on all this and laugh.

If you decide to go car camping then click here to see my optimal packing list.

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