The Volkswagen Sharan is on its own a great camping car – it offers plenty of space, sliding doors, foldable seats. If you have the 5-seater version and want to sleep in your car, you have one more thing to worry about – a 14cm (5.5inch) drop from the middle row of seats. But not to worry – if you’re into a bit of DIY, there’s an easy fix. Here’s how I kitted out my Sharan camper…
How it all started – why I chose a Sharan for my camper conversion?
I love to travel on a budget and freely – without having to use buses, trains and their fixed schedules. I tried backpacking and carrying a tent with me, hitchhiking, but that has its limitations and disadvantages. Then I tried sleeping in a car that I rented whilst travelling in Greece – at 20 EUR per day, it was very cheap transport + accommodation in one. Aside from the low cost, it gives you a lot of freedom and comfort – you can travel easily to anywhere you want (no buses or public transport) at your own time, stop anywhere, sleep almost anywhere.
I loved this idea so after renting a bunch of cars and sleeping in them over a few years, I decided to buy a car that will serve two purposes – as my everyday car (so should be small enough, easy to maintain, cheap to run and not too big to drive – no vans, caravans etc). But it also had to be comfortable for sleeping in (long enough for me to stretch my legs, have good storage and be reversible from camper to a normal 5 seater and back). Plus I didn’t have tens of thousands to spend on a ready-made camper.
After doing lots of research into what cars fulfil these criteria, the VW Sharan was the best option for me – it’s big but also comfortable for long journeys and everyday use. You can find all my research about what cars are best, their measurements, consumption, comfort rating and much more in this best cars for camping table.
Now I had to figure out a simple way to sleep in the car without spending 2000 or more on a camping box (on top of the higher cost, a camping box is much bulkier – it takes up a lot of space in the boot that I would use for other stuff, like shopping bags, in everyday use). And I really didn’t see myself carrying the camping box in and out of the flat every time + it taking up a lot of room in the flat too.
I like simplicity – nothing too fancy, but sturdy enough to last a long time, nothing too big and tall (to have enough room for everyday use + enough headroom for sleeping / sitting in the “bedroom”).
Here’s what did the trick – an everyday car and a camper in one for less than €110 / $130:
- four simple wooden crates
- three pieces of light plywood
- some heavy duty straps
- a foam rubber sheet
Continue reading for details of the construction.
And Voilà – I have a 24×7 everyday car and camper in one :). I’ve added a bunch of comfort / homely touches (LED decoration lights, curtains, comfy pillows) and have been enjoying driving and sleeping around Europe since :).
Here’s how I did it:
The boot – sooo much room!
The boot in a 5-seater VW Sharan is an advantage for loading more stuff into it. The reason is – when you fold down the middle row of seats (or back row, as there are no other rear seats further back in this one…), you’re left with a 14cm (5.5inch) drop from the flat bed of seats to the bottom of the boot. Great as you get quite a bit more space without the folded rear seats as you would in a 7-seater. But what if you want to sleep in it? Well, it’s actually an advantage too, for two reasons:
- storage space for all your camping gear and food
- more headroom when you make your car bed (and sit on it!)
Create room for storage below your car bed
You need to fill that space somehow in order to create a flat bed surface. I’ve highlighted it with green lines on the image to the right. When the seats are down, that’s about the level you need to fill in with … something. Now it makes perfect sense to use every inch of space efficiently right? So what do you fill that space with?
Your stuff of course! All the food, cutlery, stove and gas bottles, knives, hammocks, blankets or whatever else you carry with you when camping and sleeping in your car.
Now you could go DIY crazy and build yourself a custom rack or storage space and boxes. But we are not about hardcore DIY – we’re about keeping things simple, minimalistic and low budget.
Instead, I headed down to our local DIY store and found wooden crates with almost the exact height we needed. I’m sure you can find something similar where you live – or get some delivered from Amazon. Or worst case scenario – buy slightly bigger boxes and just shave off how much you need from the top.
All you need to do is to place them as you feel fit – the spaces in between them are good for longer items. I found ones with partitions – handy for smaller items, so they don’t slide around when you drive, but you can use hollow ones too.
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Next – we need a bed to sleep on:
Base / rack for sleeping in your Sharan – lightweight & low cost
It’s going well so far – we have a leveled surface to put our car bed / mattress on. Where to start? Hmmm… I’d start here:
- it should be lightweight
- it should move / lift easilly (as you have stuff stored below it)
- it should be cheap
- it should be easy to remove if needed
- it should be easy to make
With these criteria, I went on a foraging trip to my local DIY superstore, what else :). First, I tested standard OSB sheets, but they were quite heavy and also rough – they left lots of woodchips in the car. Then I looked at MDF sheets, but they were also quite heavy. The winner? Simple cottonwood plywood. You might find different types of wood better for you, I chose cottonwood, as it’s very light and easy to work with.
60cm x 120cm (24” x 48”) is the standard size, the thickness should depend on the structure that supports it underneath. As my wooden crates have partitions, the whole sheet is well supported, so I could opt for a thinner one – 6mm (0.24” – 1/4 of an inch).
The width of 60cm is perfect as the entire boot length is well over 200cm, so 3 x sheet = 180cm (5.9ft), plenty room to sleep on, including some gaps between the sheets, see below.
The last thing I did was to join the three sheets + give them handles (so when you take them out, you can carry them like a suitcase). The handles aren’t necessary, but joining them makes sense, they are much easier to handle this way (when you lift one, it doesn’t get misplaced by the movement). I chose soft material – simple heavy duty straps (you find in ratchets, but can buy separate, without the ratchet or hooks in any hardware store, or even cut up an old belt) cut into short pieces and joined with a staple gun. Or you can use polypropylene rope too. The length of the pieces depends on how big a gap you need between the plywood sheets.
You will need to cut the sheets to the required length – each car is different, my Sharan’s width is about 109cm (3.57ft), so I cut them to about 105cm (3.44ft) to leave some wiggle room, but not too much. You don’t want the sheets to rub against your car upholstery, but you don’t want to have big holes on each side either.
Sharan camper conversion cost so far: 81 EUR / 95 USD
4 x wooden crate @ 15 EUR each
3 x plywood sheets @ 7 EUR each
There, now we have a car bed base to throw a mattress or any inflatable bed on. As I was still testing, I decided to go for a simple foam rubber option until I’m happy with the final solution. There’s various types – the soft one you roll up or rebonded foam sheets – a bit more sturdy, but also durable.
The rest is up to you – put a sleeping mat on it, decorate however you please to feel comfortable – the main and most important thing is ready for you – a bed to sleep on anywhere you go + good storage spage.
There is no need to hold anything in place by fixing it to the car – it stays where it is, held in place by it’s own weight + there’s not much room for the plywood sheets to move around as they are cut roughly to the width of the car – not much wiggle room.
Sharan microcamper conversion total cost: 106 EUR / 125 USD
4 x wooden crate @ 15 EUR each
3 x plywood sheets @ 6.50 EUR each
1 x rebonded foam sheets @ 25 EUR per pack of two (1x1m each)
And the result…
Now all that’s left is to enjoy moments like these:
So what do you think? Are you going to make something like this yourself? Or have you created something better?
Let me know in the comments!