How to convert a van into a camper

Converting a Car/People mover to have a Bed 

We were wanting to road trip around the North Island of New Zealand for about three weeks, after looking into hiring a van or camper we very quickly worked out that this option is very overpriced so Plan B was taken up – to buy a people mover (SUV) and convert this into a camper. 

Step 1: 

Buy a van. We got a 1996 Honda Odyssey, which set us back NZD$1,500 – we had the advantage of time, knowing about six months in advance that we were going to do this we were able to look out for a suitable car that was good value for money. 

In New Zealand you can pick up cars on Trademe or on selected Facebook pages (eg New Zealand backpackers) 

Step 2: 

Once you have a car you need to remove the back seats. You could just fold the seats down flat, however this would limit the amount of storage space you would have during the trip. And if you are traveling for more than one week, you really want this space! 

The Odyssey is a seven seater with two rows of seats to remove, it mainly involves removing screws, and making sure you remove the right ones! Here are some photos of us doing this; 

Step 3: 

Bed making time! We measured up the car then headed to the hardware shop with a basic plan of what we were going to build. Our plan was to build a slack bed in the car. 

The wood and nails came to NZD$70, the wood consisted of posts 50x50mm and planks 200x50mm.

We measured the height that we wanted the bed to be, we based this off a standard box cube fitting under the bed (we made a trip to The Warehouse to check the sizes of different containers). We placed legs at the ends and one in the middle, these were all different heights due to the floor not being flat. Cutting two of each leg for each side of the car, if you have power tools, use them! We spent some time hand cutting all the posts, they were very thick pieces of wood. 

We then nailed the post to two flat long piece of wood that run the length of the bed. Making sure the post will line up to the spot where we measured them in the car (because of the different heights in the car). We then mirrored this on the matching long flat piece of wood. 

We then placed these into the vehicle checking they were level. We then placed all the planks to work out where to nail these in to have the gaps not too big. We nailed these in the car – earmuffs were required as the sound is ten times worse in the car! 

Step 4: 

Making curtains, we were lucky enough to be given curtains, however you can head to a secondhand shop or Savemart to pick up something cheap. 

We also purchased curtain netting wire (5metres worth) and hooks, this cost NZD$20. 

The curtains we had were full length, we cut them in half to make them half the height, this worked out well as the hemi on the bottom curtain could be used to thread the wire through.  

We then threaded the curtains with the netting wire and added the hooks at the ends. In the car we added cable ties to the sun-visor and back seat belt to make a small loop. Then simply hook the curtains up when you want them and with this method there are no holes in the car!  

Step 5:

Now you need to buy all your camping gear, we recommend the following items;

  • Deck chairs
  • Camping Table
  • Gas cookers (1 will get you by but two is a game changer)
  • Chilly bin
  • Car charger from cigarette lighter
  • Plastic plates, bowls and mugs
  • Cooking utensils 
  • Beach towels

Good luck and drive safe!

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