The plan was relatively simple. It went something like this;
- Step 1: Finish jobs in early August
- Step 2: Trade in car and buy sweet camper van
- Step 3: Book Chunnel ticket
- Step 4: Spend two months travelling Europe while eating lots of food, drinking lots of coffee, beer and wine, and riding sweet mountain bike trails
My wife and I had been thinking about this trip for a while. We’d notified our respective workplaces when we’d be finishing up work, and we’d also purchased our one-way flight back to Australia, so the trip had its bookends. We just needed to fill in the middle bits.
Then we found out about insurance.
Turns out that as a couple of Aussies living in the UK with only a year or two’s history on their British driving licenses, we’re not particularly favoured by insurance companies – especially if we wanted to buy a commercial vehicle. In fact, the first quote I got for insurance on a second hand Volkswagen Caddy was £4800. I am not kidding.
With August fast-approaching, we scanned the internets for other *ahem* more affordable options. With our limited savings, we couldn’t afford to buy a ready-to-travel campervan – that option was definitely out. Converting an MPV rather than a commercial van was a potential solution to our campervan desires, but we were still having the same trouble with ridiculous insurance quotes for Japanese imports like Mazda Bongos and Nissan Serenas. And by the time we added on the cost of things like insulation, curtains, a bed, and all that other crap you need to live comfortably inside a vehicle, we were basically looking at nine weeks of fasting. With Italy on our itinerary, there was no way I was going to let that happen.
“Camping!” I proposed to my wife Suzie with convincing enthusiasm. “We’ll borrow a tent, some sleeping bags, mats. You love camping right?”
Suzie does love camping, as do I. But we really wanted to do the campervan thing. That’s what we’d envisaged the whole time. And could we really camp comfortably for nine weeks straight through a European summer?
It was kind of a rhetorical question though. As far as I was concerned, our bank account was going to make the decision for us.
And so we set on adapting our current car – a 2004 Renault Kangoo that did not have air conditioning.
We’d owned the Kangoo for a couple of years, and it had proven to be a brilliant little van in that time. It had a fold-up back seat that provided loads of room in the boot for carrying bikes, along with a nice big tailgate for sheltering under when it was pouring with rain. The inside of our Kangoo was all hard plastic, making it easy to clean out all the mud and crap that accumulates after a weekend of wet-weather mountain biking.
Though it was too small to use as a dedicated campervan, we were ok with the idea of driving it around Europe for a couple of months and camping along the way instead. Except for the no-air-conditioning thing. Guess we’d be using good ol’ fashioned Yorkshire Air Conditioning™ (read: winding the windows down).
The only thing I was nervous about was having an expensive bike sitting in the back of it. The car is safe enough, but with the large windows providing 360° panoramic views into the boot, it wouldn’t take a detective to spot a colourful and expensive pushbike inside.
And so with only a fortnight before our scheduled departure date, we set out to make some modifications to the Kangoo to get it road trip-ready.
Having since completed our trip, and having had a cracking time doing so, there are plenty of lessons that we learnt along the way. Such as how not to drive a car on a narrow mountain pass (Italy), why air conditioning in a car is actually a great idea (Spain), and if you’re going to stop your car for one animal, be prepared to wait for the entire zoo to follow (Portugal).
With that in mind here’s a look into the modifications we made to the Kangoo to get it ready for our trip. This isn’t a fully fledged ‘how to’ guide, but rather a list of helpful tips and pointers we picked up from our experience of living out of a car for nine weeks straight, which you might find useful for your future road trip adventure.
1. Tinted Windows
To address my main concern about the Kangoo’s greenhouse impression, we decided to get the windows tinted. This would hopefully provide a bit more security for our stuff in the back of the van, while also giving a bit more protection against the sun.
We went for the blackest tint you can possibly get for the rear five windows, and it’s basically impossible to see through them, unless it’s at night and there’s a light on inside the car. We got the darkest tint you can legally get for the two front windows and windscreen, which is decent but nowhere near as blacked out. Even with the tinting, I didn’t have any issues seeing out the windows while driving, which is kinda important, especially when you’re on the wrong side of the road.
I’m pretty happy with the results, and I reckon it looks swish too. I think the full job cost about £200 or so, and it was done in an afternoon.
2. Maximising Interior Space
To give us a bit more room in the Kangoo, we removed the back rear seats completely. Admittedly they don’t take up a lot of room when folded up, but we wanted to maximise every bit we had. All it took was a spanner and six bolts to remove, and the whole assembly popped out of the car.
With the back seats removed, there’s enough length in the car to lay down a sleeping mat and bag – if we were stuck in a pinch. There was also now enough length in the car to fit the bike in more easily, which brings me to my next bodgy tip…
3. The Custom Bike Box
Even with the tinted windows, I was keen to keep the bike out of sight as much as possible. I also wanted to shield it from the rest of our crap to avoid any silly damage. A disc rotor can be surprisingly easy to bend with the right (wrong) force applied, but it’s also easily avoided if you take care with how your bike is transported.
To do so, I cut out a section of a bike box that would work as the main cover for the stashed bike. Oh, logos go on the inside of the box – don’t need to give more clues for those wandering eyes!
With the length of our Kangoo, the Scott Ransom test bike I had with me (admittedly a big travel 29er) wasn’t going to fit in square with either of the wheels left on the bike. So, both the wheels and the pedals came off, allowing it to slot it quite neatly up against the left side of the boot.
Because we’d be driving around Europe and parking on the right side of the road, we wanted the right sliding door to be accessible. Thought of everything didn’t we?
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Travelling and riding over the colder months of the year? Then make sure you check out Amanda’s informative gear guide; ‘9 Creature Comforts To Make Winter Riding Better‘.