As soon as you start to plan a long term (or even short term) roadtrip the question of where you are going to sleep comes to mind. If you don’t want to stay in hotels or apartments and want to save a little money, camping might be an option for you. So lets talk about about the pro’s and con’s of different options that you have.
Setting off with a normal ground tent is usually the cheapest and easiest way if you already own one. They are fairly light and, if you want to spend the night away from your car, you can take it with you and pitch it wherever you want. The downside is that you also have to take an air mattress and a sleeping bag with you which takes a lot of space and the whole process of setting up every night and packing it back up in the morning costs a lot time and can quickly become a nuisance. We consider us to be lazy which was one of the main reasons for us to simply use our ample space and build a bed into our car.
Sleeping Inside The Car
So instead of setting up a ground tent time and time again you’ve got the comfy option of sleeping inside your car (given that you own a car which is big enough to fit a comfortable bed). When we bought Harry he was almost empty in the back so we had a lot of free room when it came to planning out storage and bedding. Having a comfortable bed and a lot of storage was a priority for us – especially considering the length of our adventure. In order to maximise storage space we decided to have a big cupboard on the right side which lead to our bed being very narrow at only 1 meter wide. Sleeeping on 1x2m is very snug. I don’t know if every couple wants to sleep THAT close every night for almost nine months but it never really bothered us much (only in the really hot and humid, mozzie ridden nights). You can get all sorts of custom camping mattresses and have everything specially fitted for your vehicle, but as we were on a budget and wanted to build everything ourselves, we bought a standard 14cm thick 140x200cm IKEA mattress and repurposed it ourselves. We didn’t want to use sleeping bags on a daily basis so we simply brought our blanket from home with us which was absolutely worth it.
Another point that speaks for sleeping in your car is safety. Especially if you cruize around third world countries with a high crime rate or a lot of dangerous animals around it just feels good to know that you can always just slip behind the wheel, start the engine and drive off.
We never felt unsafe during our trip (!) but if it comes to elephants, lions and other animals sneaking around you at night, we’d rather lie in a car than in a tent. We guess you’d agree with us on that point (not that it’s necessarily dangerous to sleep in a tent).
The downside of sleeping in the car (in Africa) is that it can get hot – really hot. You’ll have to spend nights in a tin can that radiates heat from the engine and gearbox for hours after you parked it (at least an old land rover will do that). So without a lot of ventilation and mozzies ruining your plans to open every window you’ll sweat. If thats okay alright with you – go for it! If not, then be advised to preplan ventilation and mozzieproofing.
For an easy fix: We made Harry semi-mozzie-proof with some mosquito net from a market and used tape, a stapler and velcro to attach it to the windows that we wanted to open.
Additionally Lukas bought a couple of old pc-fans that coincidentally run off 12V and connected them to the car battery so we got some air flow. The first draft was truly ugly (as you can see in the picture above) and a little inefficient (buy bigger diameter to lower rpm and noise while keeping airflow high) but it worked just fine and has since been replaced by an optimized version, yippie!
photo by claudi from travellittleone.com
If you don’t want the hassle of building your own bed inside the car, a rooftop tent is the luxury camping version for every road trip. We had our eye on one the minute we planned the trip but we didn’t buy one right away because we simply didn’t have enough money. There are basically two different kinds of rooftop tents. There are the flip tents that look like a normal tent when pitched up and the hardshell tents that look like big boxes. I guess it’s a matter of taste which one you should get but I think the flip tents look a lot cooler and more adventurous but the hardshell tents are easier and faster to set up and usually more comfy.
When we were almost done with your trip we found a company called BUNDUTEC. They are a small south african company and they develop their own systems that differ from the regular tents in being easier faster and more convenient – perfect for us. We decided to buy the BUNDUTOP after admiring one that was fitted to a south african couple’s Hilux. If you find yourself planning to start your trip in SA and you still need a tent, don’t buy it in your home country. The prices abroad are just ridiculous because its considered special camping equipment and the market is just not there. In South Africa almost every camper has got one which improves the products and drives down the prices. The one that we’ve got is even attached to the battery and goes up and down by the press of a button in only 12 seconds – lazy peoples heaven and something that is not even available with european products. Go have a look at their website if you want everyones jaw to drop once you rock up at a campsite and simply erect your tent by the press of a button while everyone else has to go through the hassle of setting up. A true looker!