There is something undeniably exhilarating about crossing the great American landscape in a car that can be both comfortably lived out of and driven at the same time. Vehicles that offer many of the amenities of home are oftentimes in short supply these days, especially with the increased popularity of the RV in recent decades. So can living out of one’s car really be considered camping? Consensus around the Cheat Sheet office says no, not really. You gotta have a tent to technically be camping in our book. But when the mercury suddenly dips below zero, that heated interior sure looks fantastic to us!
So what really makes a car livable, and why would anyone opt to live out of a car in the first place? Not everyone has the financial means to own a car and a house, so just having a car and a P.O. Box is oftentimes all that the underemployed really require. There also are the people who suffer from automotive wanderlust, the uncontrollable urge to explore the world from behind the wheel of a particular vehicle. And finally, there are the weekend warriors — people who want to get out into nature but don’t want to deal with all of the headaches associated with lugging 80 tons of camping gear with them everywhere they go.
There will be no pitching of tents under the setting sun here today. Convenience is key: We want to build our camp around us and take it everywhere we go, pre-assembled. So do we recommend living out of one of these vehicles permanently? We personally would not recommend it, but if a sudden desire to sell all your belongings, along with your house, sounds like a solid choice, we are not going to stop you. Just please be sure to take one of these following vehicles into consideration before heading out onto the open road in a Fiat.
1. Honda Element with ECamper
Our first “mobile home” comes to us courtesy of our friends over at Honda, who had the bright idea of teaming up with pop-up camper specialists Ursa Minor Vehicles to make the Element even more of a practical car. Even though this clever crossover is no longer being manufactured, there are plenty of people out there who think this little machine would make an ideal home away from home.
The Element’s rear seats fold up into the walls ambulance-style, it has suicide rear doors that do not have impeding B-pillars, and the Ursa camper only adds an additional six inches of overall height to the vehicle while driving. This carbon fiber camper also offers more than 6.5 feet of standing room inside, a large mattress, LED lighting, and panoramic views via ventilation-screened windows on all four sides. For anyone wanting to convert their Element, it is good to know that this kit costs around $5,650 new.
2. Ford Transit Connect Van
Here is a sharp-looking van that was not originally designed to be a camper, but could instead easily be converted into a car that one could live out of comfortably. The Transit certainly has the space part of the equation covered, as it can comfortably seat up to 15 people and has an extended roof option that allows a 6-foot-5 person to stand upright in the cabin!
Outside of being the most spacious car on our list, the Transit also offers fantastic fuel efficiency with its EcoBoost V6, and since its DNA is firmly planted in being a work van, the Transit favors unsurpassed ruggedness over plush interior design. But for those of you who are into DIY projects, be sure to check out the Camper-Van-Fun website, as it has tons of cool ideas and videos on how to turn these large vans into utilitarian sleepers.
3. 1980s Chevrolet Conversion Van
I remember road trips in vans like this in the early 1990s. As a kid, it was pretty wicked bumping down the interstate completely unbuckled, chewing Big League Chew, and playing Ninja Turtles on the Nintendo via a tiny TV screen. There was also that nifty cooler box up front for storing Pepsi Clear, and a rear-mounted “high-top” table complete with cup holders proved to be quite the superior snacking station.
And let’s not forget that the rear bench seat folded out into a bed. We also dig the idea of having drapery in a car, along with sliding side windows that have built-in mesh screens for keeping bugs out. Prices for these large vans on eBay ran anywhere from $2,800 all the way up to $66,900.
4. Chrysler Town & Country
For a slice of modern luxury, let’s go all out and get a car that has swiveling seats, a pop-up dining table, USB ports, TVs, and tons of tech, along with a quiet cabin and superior safety features. The latest Town & Country may not be the world’s most amazing looker from the outside, but man does it bring the interior amenities at the end of the day!
For anyone wanting to spread out for a snooze, the rear seats fold flat into the floorboard, thus leaving ample room for nap time. And if there is not enough space in the roof rack, know that there are storage cubbies aplenty in this van. A 2015 model starts at $29,995, and a fully loaded version will cost well over $40,000.
5. Volkswagen Westfalia Pop-Up Camper
When people think of living out of their car, this is often what comes to mind. A refined step above the original Volkswagen bus, newer models of the Westfalia-equipped bus came complete with a pop-up tent, modern air conditioning, power steering, and an engine that has more horsepower.
These clever campers were produced from the early 1950s all the way up until 2003, and are one of the most long-lasting staples of vagabond culture in the world. Clever amenities included a built-in sink, laminated folding tables, attachable awnings and side tents, a camping stove, and a child sleeping cot on the driver’s side of the cab. This house on wheels was especially popular among hippies, and many a child was surely conceived in one of these German-engineered machines. Used Westfalia vans on eBay start at the $5,000 mark and climb all the way up to $34,000.