I spend a lot of time dreaming about the adventure van we’re hoping to acquire in the next year. It’s going to be a high-roof Sprinter type rig that allows us to take off at the spur of the moment for the next adventure. Serving as transportation as well as a tiny home during our travels we’ve got some big plans.
In the meantime, we’ll do with what we have; she gets the job done. Our current rig is a Honda Element. It’s all wheel drive, easy to clean and has tons of headroom. Best of all, the rear seats can easily be removed with plenty of space for cargo.
Or in our case, to live out of when venturing out to ride new trails.
We often call it our fake SUV. Though she’s made for utility, she drives much more like a car. The Element doesn’t have much in terms of ground clearance either, and because of that, we’re forced to exercise an abundance of caution to avoid scraping our bike rack in driveways, off-road etc. But when it comes to car camping though, she’s number one.
The Element is known for its seats that can be folded back to create two long beds. That works great for long drives when you need a quick nap at a rest area, but it isn’t comfortable for more than one night.
I had researched camper top conversion kits for the Honda Element, provided it has a skylight. That was the prerequisite when I was shopping for ours. (along with AWD) They’re a bit expensive though, so I never pulled the trigger.
After a hotel canceled on us during a trip to Tahoe last summer, I became motivated to improve our road trip setup. (We ended up driving around for two hours only to pay way to much for a nasty room. We almost just drove home.) After that lousy experience, I made it a policy to never leave for a trip without sleeping bags in the car.
After I saw a gallery of photos from Carl Zoch on Outside, I was inspired to set ours up similarly. A search led me to the Honda Element Owners forums, filled with descriptions and how-to’s describing setups from similar folks. Like Carl, we’re using easy to assemble parts found at Home Depot, though without the roof rack and box, we don’t have as much space.
With two people and gear things get a bit tight, but it gets the job done. The downside is that the only real living space you have is the front seats, which works if you’re somewhere camping, and can build camp around the car, but we tend to crash at rest areas then move on in the morning.
I haven’t taken our setup nearly as far as I initially planned now my heart’s set on a van. If we were going work on improving our setup, I’d add blackout curtains for privacy when stealth camping, and additional storage on the roof, which would free up invaluable living space.
We’re using a foam mattress from Cabela’s which I also discovered on the forum, and it has been a great investment that has given us many nights of sound sleep. Between our Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag and the recent addition of a Rumple blanket, we’re set for a wide range of temperatures.
To date we’ve racked up at least four trips and and over a dozen nights in our current #adventuremobile configuration. More importantly, we saved a ton of cash that used to go towards hotels, since Inga doesn’t do tent camping. We keep a solar shower stowed in a tub under the bed platform for cleaning up post ride, unless we can bum a shower from someone.
The bed platform
I went to Home Depot at least twice trying to find someone to cut and thread tubing to the length I wanted. In the end I found that pre-cut and threaded pieces actually cost the same or less. 8 segments of pipe were paired with brackets, plus a few cut down 1x4s to space the platforms (in order to clear the plastic tubs we wanted to be able to slide underneath for storage) were all that was needed along with a sheet of plywood. It was surprisingly easy once I had it all figured out, and the only tools needed were a jigsaw, (purchased for the project) a drill driver, wood screws and wood glue.
The initial plan was to glue some carpet padding to the platform then wrap the whole thing in vinyl fabric. I haven’t actually gotten around to it yet, which means it probably won’t happen.
I often wish we had a bit more ground clearance for our bike rack, better gas mileage or more power, but we love our little box, and plan to drive her into the ground.