The Microcamper

We traveled across the U.S. in our Honda Element conversion. Here's how we made our little home on wheels work!

 

We purchased our 2005 Honda Element a few days after New Year's in 2018 as our first solid, concrete move towards the trip we'd been talking and dreaming about. Besides saving up money, this was a mark that we were actually going to do the thing.

The Honda Element was an excellent first "toe-dip" into van life. We watched countless YouTube videos about how others had done a micro-camper setup in their Elements, but eventually decided we wanted to go rogue and do our own design that would fit our unique needs.

A couple of things we knew we wanted:

- A double bed, comfortable enough for two, and long enough for Andrew's 6ft body (A lot of microcamper videos we saw were for singles)

- A comfortable bed, since we didn't know how many nights we'd be spending in the car, and we didn't want poor sleep to ruin our adventures

- Enough storage space for a kitchen--it's always cheaper to cook than to eat out--and all of our gear to stay out of the way

 
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We weren't afraid to be bougie, so we ordered this memory foam mattress on Amazon. It actually fit almost perfectly; we only made a few cuts to make it easier to fold (two on the underside at the folding points, and a little off the edges at the foot of the bed). Our final design was a sort of scorpion-folding platform, that allowed us to lift the foot of the bed out of the way to access storage and move the two front seats into driving position. The platform itself was 12 to 14 inches above the floor of the car--Elements are slightly slanted--leaving room for our kitchen and backpack storage. Andrew goes into more detail about the design and construction here.

 
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The tailgate kitchen was a point of pride. We used an old gas camping stove that Andrew's family has had around for decades, and this little cooler. It was actually quite difficult to find a cooler that was small enough to fit in our limited space, because we made the mistake of guessing an appropriate height instead of researching what a standard cooler size is. We only had to replace the ice every few days, which was great. We used an insulated grocery bag for dry storage, and had a small bin for our pot, cast iron skillet, utensils, etc.

 
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We managed to snag a top carrier just before we left using Facebook Marketplace for $40, which was an amazing deal and so worth it. We'd nearly decided not to use one because they were so expensive, but I don't know what we would have done without it.

One problem we discovered with our design was, while it was technically possible to remove the entire bed platform without dismantling its construction, the head of our bed rested on top of the spare tire compartment. We knew that if we made the spare tire extremely inaccessible, we would for sure end up with a flat--so we took the tire out and put it in the top carrier. (Murphey's Law; we never got a flat!) Also in the top carrier was our 5 gallons of spare gas, first-aid kit, tool kit, extra bedding, and an emergency bucket toilet (that Andrew only used once, and it was pretty much for fun).

 
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We also made Reflectix window covers for every window, both for insulation and for privacy at night. Here is the blog post about that DIY day.

Finally, Andrew did a small modification to the rear hatch that allowed us to open it from the inside--a super necessary feature and really handy to have. There's also details about this in the linked blog post above.

Here is our low-quality video tour of our Element, filmed our very first night of the road trip:

 
 

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