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!
Latest update: December 2019
Take one Berlingo Multispace car and remove the back seats and parcel shelf.
You can leave the front seats upright if you’re not too tall. This gives you an area at the front for anything you might want to get at in the night. If you fold them forwards, though, you’ll gain extra space for long legs.
Take two self-inflating mattresses.
Leave them slightly under-inflated during the day, so 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-length in the back without removing all your camping gear.
Our choice for sleeping bags, by the way (because they double up as blankets or wraps) are the Vaude Navajo range.
More options in our sleeping bag review. and our guide to the best camping mats.
Start finessing your set-up.
Get yourself a tarpaulin
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.
Tried and tested – but hang on to your knickers!
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 on the Honister Pass blew 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.
The same car camping method could work in other types of car and people-carrier. 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.
Have a look at our guide to car camping for more ideas for other models of car.
Car camping tips and techniques
Taking the weight
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 than the Ikea ones – The Really Useful Boxes work well.
Storing more camping gear
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.
Adding a fridge
We bought a smallish Dometic CDF 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 Dometic 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.
Check out our fridge buying guide.
Privacy and warmth
If you have an older model Berlingo (up to 2007), these tailored thermal blinds will save you a job.
A bedframe workaround?
Another ideal upgrade – leave out two boxes and find a sturdy 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, use it outside.
The Zempire Kitpac table above might work? Heights of 43-65cm. 50kg max load, but with just your head on it, no problem!
Uquip aluminium adjustable table. Fully adjustable height 45-69cm, but only takes 30kg.
You could also consider...
Amdro – made in Wales conversions and pull-out kits to go in the 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 try this
Can you camp in the 2018-onwards Berlingo?
In 2018, Citroen brought out a new Berlingo…and we were excited. On paper at least, they seemed to have recognised that people like to camp in their Berlingos.
So, we went for a thorough inspection and test drive. We weren’t aiming for a Top Gear style delve into engines and mechanics, but rather whether the new design made car camping easier or not.
Oh no! The seats don’t come out
In the new Berlingo, the seats DON’T come out. Instead they have what Citroen call ‘magic flat’ foldability. They claim they fold flat into the floor. There’s nothing magic and there’s certainly nothing flat about these. They leave a slight rise towards the back of the driver/passenger seats.
While it is slight, it definitely interferes with our box car camping arrangement. If you’re going for more of a modular conversion, then you’ll no doubt be able to work around it. We were disappointed.
A 220V socket. That’s good, isn’t it?
Perfect for car camping? Except that none of the three dealers we spoke to could explain how it was powered. On a campervan with a 220V socket, you use hook-up to give you electricity. There’s no hook-up point on the Berlingo, so it has to be coming from the car battery.
One of the dealers ‘guessed’; there’d be an inverter, but the best we could get after that was “maybe you’ll only be able to use the socket if the engine’s running”
Will it break?
Our old Berlingo feels sturdy and tough. This one was chock-full of plastic bits and pieces that looked messy and flimsy. Pull up the driver seat adjustment ratchet, for example, and the handle wobbles so much you think it might come off in your hand.
No, no to the nasty console
In the old Berlingo, there’s a box between the passenger and driver seat that can be removed. You get more room and can put something more useful there if needs be.
In the new model, you’re stuck with a big, ugly console that doesn’t come out. It immediately limits movement (no more squeezing a little 12V coolbox in there, for example).
The newest Berlingo starts at around £19,000, but you’re sure to want to add on lots of extras. We were actually ready to trade in. Now we’re not.
All in all, the new Berlingo didn’t give us the feeling of freedom and adaptability that we love about our old one. It’s worth noting too that there’s no point looking at the new Peugeot Rifter (updated Tepee) or the Vauxhall ComboLife, because these are all made in the same factory using the same design (bar a few tweaks).
The good news is that you can start snapping up old-style Berlingos for a better price.