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How to Convert Your SUV into a Camper: 3 Easy Steps

For the past five years, I dreamed of owning a van. The only issues were school and cost. A few months ago, I took a break from being a full-time college student and turned my SUV into a camper that sleeps two.

The hard part was knowing how to actually build it. There was no step-by-step guide out there on how to do it. So, here’s a guide on how to turn an SUV into a camper.

1. Choosing the Right Vehicle

our Finished Car Platform

If you already have your SUV or minivan, you can skip this section. For our conversion, we used a 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport we already had (pictured above).

When planning to turn a vehicle into a camper, it’s essential to choose the right one for your needs. Consider factors such as size, reliability, and fuel efficiency.

You’ll want a vehicle that’s large enough to accommodate our essentials without being too bulky or guzzling gas. Consider the reliability of the vehicle, as you want one that will last and not break down in the middle of your adventures.

Vehicle TypeProsCons
MinivanGood balance of space and fuel efficiencyMay have limited off-road capabilities
Cargo VanAmple space and storage possibilitiesLess fuel efficient
SUVCompact, budget-friendly, fuel efficiencyLimited space

By considering these factors, you can choose the most appropriate vehicle for our camper conversion project and enjoy a comfortable and practical camping experience.

2. Planning Your Layout

When transforming your car into a camper, the first step is to plan out the layout. This is crucial as it will determine how you’ll utilize the available space and maximize comfort. You must consider factors such as sleeping arrangements and storage.


First, find the interior dimensions of your car to determine the available space. This helped us visualize how to arrange our camper conversion. A simple sketch or digital diagram can be useful when planning the layout.

For our build, we took the back seats out. We measured the width of the interior from tire sidewall to tire sidewall. We then measured the length from our seats to the back of the car.

We wanted our YETI cooler to fit underneath the sleeping platform so we measured from the top of the cooler to the ceiling.

our empty car

3. Start Building

This step requires learning as you go. There will likely never be a step-by-step on how to build out your specific car into a camper.

For starters, we decided to use 3/4″ birch plywood (untreated) from Home Depot for our build. If you have your measurements, Home Depot will cut the wood for you!

Step 1: Attach the Platform to the Car

Base of the car platform

We wanted storage under our sleeping platform, so we literally built a box and attached it to the car.

To do this attachment, we bolted the base down to the frame of the car. This was made doable thanks to us taking the seats out and using the leftover bolt holes from the seats in the car floor.

We made a block to rest on the bolts and attached it to the base of the box (pictured above).

Step 2: Build the Box Frame

The frame of our bed

After drilling the bottom platform into the other plywood pieces, we built the frame and bracketed the pieces together. Each bracket cost us 75¢ and we used around 18 of them.

We then hinged the top of the platform using two door hinges on each side (pictured below).

Our converted camper

As for the actual bed, we use personal-sized camping foam mats, which also allow us to access the other side of the storage box without having to get out of the car (you can see this demonstrated in our video below).

Tips & Items I Recommend (Cooking, Hygiene, Privacy, Etc.)

Our camp stove

Now that we have the sleeping arrangement figured out, some other concerns include eating, cooking, hygiene, privacy, air ventilation, and more.


When it comes to eating, we re-stock up on groceries from stores and farmer’s markets weekly and put them in our YETI cooler. We also have a big “pantry” bag with beef jerky, tuna, fruit, and emergency food.

Once we get to the campsites, we cook on our Coleman Cascade Classic Camp Stove from REI. We also try to change out the ice every few days.

Here are some more examples of how you can cook as a nomad:

Solar oven: Utilize the power of the sun to cook your meals with a solar oven. These ovens are eco-friendly, fuel-free, and can be set up in just minutes. They work best in sunny conditions, so plan accordingly. Example dish: Solar Oven Baked Potatoes

Electric skillet: An electric skillet is a versatile cooking tool that can be plugged into your vehicle’s 12V socket or a portable power bank. It can be used for frying, sautéing, or even baking.

Campfire cooking: Nothing beats the experience of cooking over an open fire. When you have the opportunity to set up a campfire, you can roast, grill, or cook food in a cast-iron skillet.

No-cook meals: Always have a few no-cook meal options on hand for when you want a quick, hassle-free meal or when cooking is not an option.


Keeping clean (specifically washing my face each day) was the most difficult for me to figure out. I can confidently say we finally have a pretty good system. We bought a 5-gallon shower bag that we can use at campsites and a small basin that we can use in the car to wash our faces and brush our teeth.

We also have a Planet Fitness Black Card membership so we can shower at any of their locations all over the country.

Showering out of a basin in a car is a practical solution when you’re on the road and don’t have access to traditional shower facilities. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you shower with a basin while inside your car:

  1. Gather your supplies: Before you begin, gather all the necessary items for your shower. These may include:
    • A large basin or plastic container
    • Water (preferably warm, if possible)
    • Biodegradable soap or body wash
    • A washcloth or sponge
    • A towel
    • Wet wipes (for extra cleaning)
    • A change of clothes
  2. Find a suitable location: Look for a discreet, level, and safe place to park your car. You’ll want privacy to shower comfortably inside your vehicle.
  3. Prepare your car: Clear out some space inside your car for the basin and your supplies. Consider laying down a waterproof tarp or mat on the floor to protect your car’s interior from water spills. If your car is spacious enough, you might even be able to sit on the edge of the basin for better access.
  4. Fill the basin with water: Pour warm water into the basin, filling it enough to submerge your washcloth or sponge. Make sure not to overfill it, as you don’t want water spilling while you’re using it.
  5. Undress and get ready
  6. Start washing

Window Covers and Insulation

When camping, privacy, and insulation are essential for a good night’s sleep. Custom window covers can be created with materials like Reflectix, black fabric, and adhesive Velcro. WeatherTech makes these custom for ANY car. We love ours (it’s my boyfriend’s favorite purchase)!

Ventilation and Air Circulation

Proper ventilation is essential to maintain a comfortable temperature and air quality inside your camper. We bought rain guards on Amazon for around $40 and now we can crack our windows down 1-2 inches without it being obvious when we stealth camp.

Roof Rack and Storage

Our car

Cargo boxes or rooftop tents can be added to your roof rack to store belongings or create extra sleeping space.

We have a Thule for bigger camping gear such as a camp table and chairs. We also store our propane in here that is for our camp stove so we don’t risk anything with leaking gas in our car.

Portable Toilet

I have the smallest bladder on the planet. So, for me, it’s impossible to sleep a whole night without having to wake up to use the restroom. I use this pee bottle from Amazon and my boyfriend uses an empty laundry detergent bottle. Just add a small splash of bleach in the bottle, and it completely neutralizes it.


Proper lighting is essential for nighttime activities and safety. LED strip lights can be installed inside your SUV, or you can opt for portable lanterns and headlamps.

Make sure to choose energy-efficient lighting options to conserve power. We use a small, rechargeable lantern from Bio-Lite that we hang on the clothing hook.

Safety and Emergency Supplies

Always have a first aid kit and emergency tools such as a flashlight, multi-tool, and tire repair kit on hand. These items can be invaluable in the event of an accident or emergency.

As a girl who sometimes is alone, I carry around pepper spray and a taser as well.

Final Thoughts

Converting your SUV into a camper can be a rewarding experience that allows you to explore the country on your terms.

Carefully plan your layout, incorporate essential features and accessories, and ensure proper safety measures. This way you can create a comfortable and functional home away from home.

Remember that each build is unique, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find solutions that work best for your specific vehicle and camping needs.

Here’s our Youtube video on how we did it!