Building a $40 Budget Escape Campervan Rig for Traveling or Living on the Road

Living in an SUV, the seat of luxury, right!? Well, if you’re like us than yes, it really is luxury. The luxury is in the time. Time to live, time to travel. Living in your SUV can be a great way to save money, get out of debt, and live a more adventurous life of freedom to explore!

We lived on the road for several years in a converted Ford Escape that cost under $100 bucks! And you might be thinking, how did we complete a bed build in an SUV for such a small price tag? Well, we didn’t need anything too fancy and we’re known for being thrifty. So, take it from me, it can be done. If you want to live on the road on a budget or just have a more comfortable car camping experience, a cheap campervan build into an SUV, van or small RV rig is in your hands.

Why Did You Live in Your SUV?

Okay, let me just start by giving a little background on why we, or anyone, would want to live in their car full time! Are we crazy? Well, yes perhaps. But our reasoning for road life in a small SUV runs deeper than that. Many people have many different reasons for road life adventures. Some are retired and get the big RV. Some like the idea of a project and simply want to compete a DIY van build or bus conversion. Then, there’s us. The budget nomad, “I just really want to live while I’m alive,” not-a-millionaire type! We have to do things cheap and thrifty, but we also are now living proof that anyone can live on the road without having to be super rich or aged & comfortably retired. In fact, we advocate strongly for people to consider some form of a simpler lifestyle that’s often achieved with the road life before they age! Why? Because tomorrow is very uncertain. It always has been, but it seems now more than ever tomorrow is shaky ground, especially to rest your dreams upon. The stock market, retirement, work, and our planet is set to look very different over the next coming decades. We don’t have a second to waste. Besides, once you realize how amazing life is and how beautiful this planet is, you just want to get out there and LIVE! And with that mindset, suddenly living out of an SUV and car camping across the country doesn’t sound so bad. For some of us, it might even be the dream – achieved!

So, How Do I Get Out There ASAP? Give Me a Cheap Fast Car Bed Build

If you’re getting inspired to get out there after reading that tale, well good news. It can be done cheap, even free in some cases. Yes, you could build a campervan build for free. You’d just have to accumulate some resources. We have done two camper bed builds in our SUV. For reference, both simple camper builds were in a Ford Escape and both were well under $100 builds. Did I mention we’re frugal?

One thing you’ll want to throw out the window, if you really want to be a budget nomad (and I strongly suggest making and sticking to a budget while living on the road), is that image of VanLife in Luxury. It’s not really reality unless you have a lot of money to work with. You won’t always be sitting there in your van build with the back doors open, beachside view, perfect weather, wine glass in hand, in your bikini. Might sound nice, but behind every perfect image is typically an eye-popping price tag. Just remember that, and you’ll be okay. Go out there for your own reasons, your own passions. For instance, we love that road life gives us more time for us, more time to read and hike and spend time together and with our dogs. It turns out road life as a couple isn’t so bad after all. We’re closer than ever thanks to the authentic lifestyle that budget nomad life forces upon us. We’re open, honest, energetic and happy. Dogs benefit from a life on the road, too! If you’re thinking about getting or bringing Fido on a road trip (long or lifetime), it’s a great idea. As long as your hobbies and work while on the road don’t mean you’ll have to leave your dog in the car alone.

Now that you’re convinced life on the road will make you happier, and you’ve thrown out the illusions of luxury of van life, and you don’t mind being simple and just want to get out there, here’s how we did it.

I dreamed of driving to Alaska. Without a big budget, I imagined sleeping in my car, camping in British Columbia, living the road life across Canada and the US. And I just knew it could be done. We’d just need a few cheap materials.

Accumulate Materials for a DIY Camper Van Build

We started collecting material from yard sales, thrift stores, people giving stuff away, Craigslist and Facebook. There’s ALOT of stuff being thrown out or given away, so don’t be shy in accumulating as much free material as you can for your campervan build. Gather many different random parts and pieces. You never know what will come in handy. We ended up using two mismatched drawer handles. But who cares? Function over fashion with your conversion build! The handled worked and actually gave our camper drawers a sort of character I think!

Consider Your Basic Needs for Car Camping: Do You Need a Camp Kitchen, Slide Out Drawers, or a Camp Shower

Now, make a wish list. Consider all of the things you think you want. Separate your list into a must have necessities and a would like to have luxuries. For example, you might absolutely need a slide out steer system in an SUV because of limited space. It really makes a lot of sense. So, that’s a necessity in your build. But you also might be considering a shower or maybe some sort of simple camper kitchen setup built into the conversion. These things aren’t necessary but make nice luxuries.

Sketch Your DIY Van Build or SUV Conversion & Collect DIY Ideas First

Do a Trial Run in Your SUV Camper First, and Again

I’d recommend first going camping in an SUV. If you already have the SUV Or Van you’re planning to convert into a campervan, great! Use it. Go camping and while your out there start making a list of those needs and wants. Do this before you ever start any of the conversion build at all.

Then, see if you can throw in your build and go camping again. Do this before you are on the road full-time or far away from home. That way you can once again take note of what works and what doesn’t. Everyone will have slightly different needs so I promise you no single DIY conversion build will match your specific needs. Trial run and keep it simple and cheap at first! Some of the bells and whistles you see online from other road lifers might look good but not actually make practical sense. Remember, some people use it for a weekend tripper, some live on the road full time in it, some use their rig to work out of and a mobile office build might make sense, some have dogs to travel with in their rigs, some prefer cooking on fires while others prefect a mini camp kitchen setup, some need to worry about space or weight more than others. You see? Many different considerations. That’s why I said to jot down your specific needs first. Then, you can use a build as a guide but modify it to fit you exact needs. It will save you money on mistakes and the headache of rebuilding your camper conversion over and over or worse yet being stuck with some campervan conversion that looks cool but totally sucks!

Finally, Complete the Campervan Build, Once & For All!

Now that your know exactly how you want to roll, you can decide if you want to keep the campervan build you’ve completed as-is or make some changes.