We know from experience that there are lots of campers who just can’t make the jump from tent to campervan. So, we came up with a smart solution for a homemade mini-camper that cost us less than £350 (minus fridge!).
It’s perfect for quick overnight stops between campsites and for wild camping.
This is based on the old-style Citroen Berlingo. More on the new model at the end of this article. Also have a look at our full feature on how to turn your everyday car or van into an affordable, part-time camper – lots of great ideas!
How to turn your car into a camper
- Take one Berlingo Multispace car and remove all the back seats and parcel shelf.
- Take four large storage boxes with lids (Really Useful Boxes are good and strong or Ikea’s largest Samla boxes – 78x56x43cm). These fit perfectly in the back and even leave space behind the front seats for a bit of luggage.
- Fill the boxes with your camping gear, food, clothes and so on.
- Take two self-inflating mattresses (ours were 10cm thick Exped SIMs, but we’ve now swapped to the even better Sea to Summit Comfort Deluxe because they’re super-comfortable and easier to deflate). Check out our article on the best camping mats for more options too. They can be left slightly under-inflated during the day, so that they can be folded out of the way. At night, simply roll out and inflate on top of the boxes. Now you can sleep full-le ngth in the back without removing all your equipment. Our choice for sleeping bags (because they double up as blankets or wraps) are the Vaude Finsuits, but there are more options in our sleeping bag review.
- You can leave the front seats upright if you’re not too tall, which gives you an area at the front for anything you might want to get at in the night. If you fold them forwards, you’ll gain extra space for long legs, though.
- Get yourself a tarpaulin (see our tarp article). When you want to stay somewhere for a couple of days or more, you’ll have a flexible option for shade, rain protection, privacy etc. For longer trips, you’ll want to consider a shelter or tailgate awning
- The same method could work in other types of car and people-carrier too. Sliding doors, good head height, removable seats and a flattish floor are the main factors. A bit of research should turn up four boxes that will fit the space.
We’ve tested this system on winter camping trips to the Lake District – near Crummock Water, at the top of the Kirkstone Pass and on the Honister Pass. It was warm, cosy and comfortable, though the gale-force winds blew away some of our underwear out of the suitcase and sandblasted the side of the car with gravel. It worked really well and it was very easy to get at things the next morning. It’s also a fabulous and flexible option for warm weather camping in Europe – tried, tested and recommended (with tarp for shade) in Corsica, France, Germany and Switzerland.
Bear in mind that….
- This won’t work with a family, or if you need the back seats for some reason.
- If it’s just the one of you, two boxes and one mattress will give you lots of extra space at the side for a little table and stove (well vented).
- We weigh nine stone and 14 stone and the boxes hold us with no problem. If you’re very big or heavy, you might need stronger boxes and lids – here are some storage box options.
- If you have a lot of equipment, consider a roof rack or box. The beauty of our box-bed is that you don’t have to take everything out at night and store it under the car. If you find you’re spilling out of the boxes, then use the roof space.
- It’s not such a great method for bad weather camping because you tend to have to dress, wash and eat outside the car. The tarp is the solution for that. Or an awning, of course. Tailgate tents are another option, but we haven’t yet found one we really like.
- We bought a smallish Waeco compressor fridge. This fits behind the seat. If you need a larger fridge, you can replace one of the boxes with the fridge itself. The Waeco CFX35 fits nicely in the back in place of one box with room for ventilation. The fridge works fantastically and is a good size for two/four people. You can still use a mattress at this side, providing this is the leg end. The CDF11 might fit between the seats in some cars too. The 15l model is an option for behind the seats. Check out our fridge buying guide.
- We’ll probably make some simple window blinds – material cut to size, with hooks sewn on to fasten to suction cups. An upgrade for later!
- Another ideal upgrade – leave out two boxes and find a sturdy aluminium camping table with telescopic legs that will fit widthways at the rear, over the fridge and any gear you need to get at easily. At night, it’ll be a mattress base; during the day, can be taken out for use as a table. Any suggestions where we could find one?
Lots more ideas and info in our special feature on car camping too
You could also consider...
Amdro – made in Wales conversions and pull-out kits to go in the boot.
SwissRoombox – pricey, but hilariously well-designed. A big Swiss Army knife for your boot.
Campinbox – French and homemade-looking simple box system with a range to choose from.
Ludospace – French company that makes all kinds of pull-out/add-on accessories for part-time campervans.
Slidepods – custom slide-out kitchens and utility bits.
Or you could go this far...
The Citroen Berlingo has long been our favourite for workaround non-campervan camping. We've had a good look at the new 2018 Berlingo and we're sad...very sad. Looks great on paper, but click on the picture to find out why it just won't work.