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How I Turned my Honda Fit into a Home and Drove Across the Country

That’s me, at a rest-stop somewhere between Austin, Texas and South Carolina, eating ramen with a plastic spork as I lean against the car holding everything I need to live. I took this photo a quarter of the way through a cross-country road trip in a shoebox camper that I built myself. Here’s how I did it.

Research

Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube were gold mines for researching car-dwelling set ups. I watched over a 100 hours on YouTube and scrolled through countless other photos of Priuses, Honda Elements, Jeeps, and more. I also found blueprints for a Honda Fit build deep in the forums of fitfreak.net, and I used these as the starting point.

I also used YouTube to achieve a basic level of construction competence, such as how to use an electric saw without cutting off my hand.

Design

Originally I planned to build the base out of PVC, because a friend had a ton left over that she graciously gifted to me. This plan turned out to not work so well.

Our PVC frame falling apart

So we found some scrap wood in the garage and built the frame out of that instead.

The wooden frame.
The frame with the bed panel on top, complete with our “garage” loaded up with gear!

Beta-Testing

The first design was nice and simple. We took it on the road trip and put a good 7500 miles of use on the home, filling it with (a lot) of sweat, and only a little blood and tears.

But during this first excursion, we found a lot of things that needed fixing.

  1. The curtains that we attempted to hang and velcro over the windows kept falling down, causing us to lose sleep by waking up to ductape the curtains shut every half hour.
  2. It was so easy to get disorganized. With just a flat bed on top, clothes got thrown around, items got lost or accidentally kicked out of the car (including our National Park Pass), and the car was never tidy.
  3. Cooking out of the back of the car required shoving everything on top of the bed backwards to make a clean surface, and food items kept in the rear storage were almost inaccessible while cooking.

Re-Design

After the road trip, I drew up bigger dreams for the backseat adventure-mobile.

The first priority was building a better curtain solution, so I made blackout curtains that fit into the shape of each window from insulation and a black sheet.

Functionality over beauty for the window curtains!

Then, I wanted to make the car comfier, homier, and more organized. I built shelves and a sink by making a cardboard template first, then cutting and sanding the wood down until it fit.

I found some mattress toppers from friends who no longer used them, and I bought some good ol’ twinkle lights for ambience.

The Details

These are some small features I added to make the build more unique and functional.

I lined the ceiling with a rope tied to two carabiners clipped into the frame at the back of the car. This holds the twinkle lights, front curtains, and is a nice way to clip items like keys to the ceiling, so they don’t get lost.

Not all campsites have tables, or even large enough rocks to function as a table, so I wanted some sort of cooking surface that didn’t require folding the bed in half. I added this slide out table to the back of the car, and it just barely fits our stove!

All of the pieces can be removed and the seats re-installed to the car’s original condition, and no pieces required drilling into or modifying the frame of the car.

My friend Rachel made this short portrait documentary about my build process.

Future Prototypes

For long term travel, I’d install a solar system to run a 12V fridge and USB ports, along with a roof rack for extra gear storage. But for now, I have everything I need for a couple weeks of low-cost travel on the road.

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