Spontaneously driving off in a camper one evening and waking up the next day in a stunning mountain location is something many outdoor enthusiasts crave. We all fancy a bit of the VanLife. But with the cost of buying, converting or even renting a campervan being fairly eye-watering, to get a slice of the lifestyle, sometimes you have to be a little creative...
Will Renwick: Anna, we hear you've converted your car. What kind of car is it, and how have you converted it?
Anna Blackwell: You've heard correctly! It's a VW Golf named Freddie. I've gone for a rough-and-ready conversion: to start with, I cut insulation for the windows from a large roll of Thermawrap general purpose insulation. Come evening, these pieces are easily fitted into the windows, rear window and windscreen (with the sun visors down to keep it in place). They provide warmth and have the added bonus of extra privacy.
Next was constructing a bed frame for the boot; as Freddie is a hatchback and not an estate, the back seats don't fold flat, meaning it was necessary to build something that would level this out for sleeping on. Keen to keep costs down, I raided my dad's shed and managed to scavenge the remains of a wooden pallet that proved to be the perfect depth. My woodwork skills currently leave something to be desired, so all I dared do was take a panel saw to the pallet and yank out any extra nails with a hammer. Across the top of these pieces I laid old bed slats and voila: a bed frame that could be left intact even when the back seats were up again.
The finishing touches were simply hauling my lovely memory foam mattress topper off my bed and into the car (something that rolls up fairly well into the boot space, thus leaving the back seats free) and stringing up some fairy lights to create a cosy ambience.
To make life a bit easier I borrowed a roof box and could pack as much as I needed, without having to worry too much about where in the car I would fit it once the bed was fully assembled.
What was the motivation?
A large proportion of my Instagram and Pinterest feeds are van conversions and I dream of one day buying my own van to convert to live in. I viewed this as an opportunity to trial-run living in a vehicle (albeit a much smaller one and for a significantly shorter amount of time).
Have you tried it out yet?
I have: in early January I drove from Oxford up to the mountains for a few days and I can happily report back that it was a huge success. I was joined on the first night by one of my best friends, Athena Mellor and we both nestled down for the night with plenty of space and feeling very comfy and cosy. We ended up having a proper 'girls night in': a yummy dinner (cooked on a camping stove by the car in near-freezing temperatures), wine, chocolate and surf film Under an Arctic Sky.
Were there any teething troubles?
On that first night we faced some winds that were gusting so strongly the car was being rocked! Rather than the motion lulling us to sleep, we both found ourselves wide awake at 2am, in fear of the roof box being ripped off the car by the wind, or the car itself being blown over. Needless to say, neither of these things happened...
The second night, when I was sleeping in Freddie alone, the temperatures dropped below freezing. I was perfectly snug in my lovely winter sleeping bag, but when I woke up the following morning I discovered the inside of the windows were adorned with a layer of ice where the condensation had frozen. Thankfully, this didn't cause any issues but it did leave me feeling grateful that I'd taken the time to cut the insulation!
Where else do you hope to take it?
I think next on the list is Scotland: I've got some fantastic images in my mind of opening the boot to scenes of lochs and mountains. After that, maybe Scandinavia...
Anything else (other than car camping) planned for the year?
In April I'm heading off on my next major expedition, Kayaking the Continent. A friend and I will be tandem kayaking 4000km from England to the Black Sea, a world first journey that will see us paddle through thirteen countries and four capital cities. Through the expedition we are raising money for Pancreatic Cancer Action and collecting data and water samples for FreshWater Watch. You can read more about it - and sponsor us - on our website, kayakingthecontinent.com.