Until now most of the blog post, where stories about our summer kayak adventures. However, in the spring and autumn, we like to slow travel by car. Taking the bicycles and hiking boots somewhere into the landscape of northern France. To get some sleep in a French forest or field we use our car as a small mini camper.
As you have read in Charlotte’s story “The divorce“, we had to give up our old and tired Peugeot Partner. This meant we had to buy and convert another vehicle. This was one of the reasons the flow of new stories was slow. There was a lot of work to do, in the few of weeks before our autumn trip.
Our Peugeot Partner, a small commercial van, was a simple camper conversion. There was an outer tent, consisting of a woven and PVC coated tarpaulin which rested on the rear barn doors with a frame of bend electric PVC pipe. There was also an inner tent to keep the warmth a little bit in the car. However, the cargo area of the car was hardly insulated and a clear night meant suffering and wearing all the clothes you can find. We also had an air mattress that was resting against the cold metal of the wheel arches and on top of a rubber mat. Especially in the autumn, this could result in a cold night in the car.
When we returned with her from our Orkney kayak trip in August, we were driving with a screaming clutch. There were some other repairs required as well, and we felt that the car was not worth the costs of the reparation she required to run again. We also dreamed of an update on our camper van interior.
Charlotte did a lot of research to find a new car and we ended up with a choice. A Volkswagen Caddy was advertised as a small commercial van but when we showed up at the garage, it was an import from Germany that was not yet converted. In the end, we choose to keep it as a Multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) version which means that we have now windows in the back and are able to carry more people. The advantage of this type is that the rear benches, without any tools, are easily removed. And the colour, a reddish-brown, is excellent for stealth camping.
So for the mini camper, we had a few requirements:
- It should be fast and easy to install or remove.
- Loads of storage space. No more moving stuff to the front seats when making the bed.
- It should be compact when not in use. An IKEA flat-pack concept for storage would be nice.
- Getting a nice, comfortable and warm bed. The inflatable mattress should be a thing of the past, no more midnight leaks or cold asses. Not to mention the heap of plastic that remains when the bed is beyond repair.
- An easy way to transport our bicycles, in a safe and compact manner.
- We would like to make it nice looking, but also use as much reclaimed materials as possible.
With this in mind, we build our new mini camper and tested it in the last week of October. The building story became a bit long with a lot of pictures, so we created separate pages, just follow these links if you would like to see the results.
In the first two weeks, we had to design and build the removable compact camper unit. The work was mainly carpentry and a lot of measuring and re-measuring. I work at a University and they were redoing the World Soil Museum, so I did some dumpster diving and salvaged a lot of plywood. The plywood had served as the backdrop to their soil profiles. Except for some fixture holes on the back, there was very little damage to the sheets. We were able to cut most of the camper unit parts out of this material. All the hardware, metal threaded inserts for furniture and the Allen key bolts were salvaged from old office desks. Then, for the top, we used the phenolic plywood flooring with a slip-resistant pattern, which we salvaged from our Peugeot Partner.
All in all, we ended up with a double bed, 113 centimetres at the feet end, and a 120 cm wide from the hips up. We are not that tall, so with some narrow pillows, the 185 cm of length is more than enough for us. We bought a 120×200 cm HR foam or cold foam mattress with a thickness of 8 cm. After slicing it up in three pieces and bagging it into tricot sleeves, we took some old Jersey bedding sheets and made colourful covers. We sew the covers with the sewing machine, nice and tight and put zippers in sites. By having zippers we are still able to wash the covers. We salvaged some sturdy straps with Velcro from our home mattresses. These straps are used to transport the mattresses in an upright position.
For some privacy and insulation, we used yoga mats bought at the Decathlon sports shop, to create window covers. They were fixed in the windowsills with mini bungee cord and some home-made fixtures. We also created a ventilation bracket for the tailgate. This keeps a gap between the door and car while the door can still be locked.
To transport the bikes, I created a wooden bicycle stand. Which is secured to the car floor with a steel rod. With some help from a friend who is an excellent welder the bikes are firmly fixed to the chassis
So with most of the work done, it was time to test drive our labour. We went for a week to the French Ardennes. The weather was great, nice, dry weather during the day for all kind of activities, and a wide range of temperatures during the night. The pictures below give a good impression of the weather and our favourite camping spots. Very good for a nightly sleep test.
We are very happy with the result. We had a frosty night but it was not cold in the car. Of course there is still a wish list, but for now, we had fun.