Turn minivan into Camper

Our platform (note the storage space below) (Photograph by Annie Agnone)Earlier this year, I was awarded a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant to spend four months driving around the United States documenting nocturnal culture with my partner and collaborator, Kevin Weidner (who helped me write this piece), and our two dogs (check out my piece on late-night Vegas).

The platform when it's set up for sleeping (Photograph by Annie Agnone)Because the grant mostly covered fuel and food, and because we needed to cover a lot of ground in a relatively short amount of time, one of our first tasks was to figure out a reliable sleeping situation that would be both efficient and cost-effective.

Finding a place to camp, for free, or nearly free, every day seemed a daunting task that was bound to set us off course. And since we’d be driving and working at night and sleeping mostly during daylight hours, campground and hotel checkout times wouldn’t work for us.

We researched our options. Staying with friends would work in some cases, but would require advance planning. We couldn’t afford to rent an RV, so we had to make the most of the vehicle we had. Towing a trailer would be ideal, but what if we needed to go on a rough road or up a steep mountain? And what about the gas mileage we’d be sacrificing for the extra comfort?

Simple curtains help with privacy and keeping the car cool while you sleep (Photograph by Annie Agnone)Then we found a solution that seemed perfect: we would turn our 2008 Honda CR-V into a camper.

The simplest way to explain the process is that we built a table. An ugly table, made of plywood and two-by-fours, that fit in the back of the car. A table under which we could store all our stuff, and on top of which we could sleep, for free, almost anywhere.

After three months, 15, 000 miles, 31 states, and sleeping through about 60 summer mornings in the car-bed we built ourselves, we can tell you this: it was pretty great. Challenging, yes, and sometimes frustrating, but worth it.

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