Gulf Islands National Seashore, Okaloosa Area, Fort Walton Beach, FL, 3/1/12

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Prius RV

My 2010 cross-country trip is a car camping trip.  That is, my '04 Prius will be my abode when touring the National Parks.  Before I arrived at this type of camping, I'd considered some other options.  I originally thought about towing our 4.5'x8' teardrop trailer.  But, I find the teardrop too large for me when I camp solo.  Then I thought of building a one-person, lightweight teardrop trailer.  Finally, I realized I could probably fit a bed and gear into my Prius and not deal with a trailer at all.  So, I did some research and found people who travel and live in their vehicles full-time (vandwellers).  I even found a couple of folks who have lived or camped in their Priuses  (,  I learned a lot from this research.  But, I needed to try it out for myself to see if it was going to be a good fit for me.

So, in Oct '09 I outfitted my Prius and headed south to meet up with brother Gary and wife Mary, full-time RV'ers, in Yosemite.  Although I slept on the couch in their 5th Wheel several nights, I actually found the cot-sized bed in my Prius more comfortable. 

My bed is a 1.5" cot mattress with a regular ThermaRest pad underneath for warmth and to "hide" the latch-bump.  It is made up just like a regular bed with sheets and a large down comforter.  I can double the comforter for extra warmth, if needed.  The bed is located behind the front passenger seat.

The seat behind the driver is my "entry way."  It's where I can sit and read before bed, use the laptop, plan the next day's adventure, get ready for bed, or dress for the next day.

I made window coverings out of black fleece.  During the day, the material hides the bed and gear from anyone who might look into the car.  At night, the fleece attached to the headliner with Velcro.  I don't cover the front windows.  Rather, I hang a long black curtain just behind the front seats.  At night, my car feels like a cozy cave.  Also, if the nights are cold, I put Reflectix, cut to size, on all of the back the windows.  Reflextic is bubble wrap with foil on each side.  It's a pretty good insulator.  My coldest night so far was 30F at Lake Tahoe where I was plenty warm.

This paragraph has kind of graphic information, so, if you don't want to read about bathrooms and bathing, you can skip it.  When I was camping with Gary and Mary, I used their bathroom occasionally, and their shower once.  Mostly I used public restrooms and campground showers.  Or, in lieu of a shower, I used unscented baby wipes.  When camping solo, I picked campsites near the restrooms and showers.  But, for those o'dark-thirty nature calls, I learned to "pee in a bottle" which I carried out later in a discrete container for disposal.  Also, I had, but never used a bucket and some Double Doodie Bags.  These bags are made to handle human waste for easy disposal.  Also, a female urinary device (FUD) came in handy while hiking.  "When placed against your body, [it] allows you to relieve your bladder while standing ..."  OK, enough of these details.

The unused half of the Prius' hatchback area held my gear -- butane stove, butane cannisters, cooking and eating utensils, tarp w/rope and stakes, duct tape, bungee cords, trash bags, folding chairs, trekking poles, tire chains, fire extinguisher, and an extra gallon of gasoline (not included on cross-country trip), etc. 

The front passenger seat and floor was where I stored my clothing, coat, towels and shoes (low-top hikers, sandals & thongs for showers).  I used soft sided duffel bags that collapsed inward as I wore the clothing, making room for my growing dirty-clothes bag.  I kept the hatchet, knife, air horn, SPOT, cell phone, etc. within easy reach.  On the floor behind the front passenger seat I stored the bucket w/Double Doodie Bags, hiking boots, and day pack.  The laptop was upfront with me while driving, and secured in back at other times.

Directly behind the drivers seat, I stored anything with a scent -- food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, medications, and water.  When camping in bear country, I moved these to a bear locker before setting up camp.  Otherwise, I moved them to the driver's seat at night.  I didn't use a cooler.  Rather, I purchased any need-to-be-refrigerated foods just before eating them.

Not only did I find that camping in my Prius was a good fit for me, but it worked better than imagined.  I enjoyed being able to set-up and break-up camp in a matter of minutes.  I was glad to have a mini galley area under the hatch for the stove when I didn't have a table or when it was raining or windy.  I appreciated using the hybrid system to efficiently power my electronic gear, fan, and heater (like a generator that only runs to recharge the battery).  I loved touring in a vehicle that gets great gas millage, has an integrated GPS and hands-free bluetooth.  The only things that would make it more perfect, is if I could sit up straight in bed and stand completely upright to dress.

A Prius makes a great RV!


  1. Hi Suanne,

    I met you in Spruce Pine, N. C. at Upper Street Cafe with Margaret. I've just started reading your blog. Your Prius RV is ingenious. I look forward to following your trip and wish you good health and many happy miles ahead.

    Warm regards, Pat Turner Mitchell

  2. Thanks Pat! I'm glad you found my blog. I've started your book. I'm enjoying learning about your heritage in story form. Take good care.

  3. Hi Susanne,

    I just joined Jennifer's Yahoo Group, and now I'm stalking the other members. I'm impressed with your ingenious outfitting of the Prius, and now I feel sheepish that we'll just be towing ours.

  4. I've got a Prius and often imagined how to do this. I was thinking a futon cut to size to fit the entire back seat for a "full" bed. I was also thinking a pop-up "out-house/changing room" tent and toilet system. (I do a lot of thinking.) I wish I could get my 81-year old mother to do along with this! Maybe if I set up the futon for her and use my tent-kot for me? Oh, well... thanks for the blog and the ideas!

  5. I'm going to be traveling from the East to West coast and back this Summer. I'll probably be living in my prius most of that time, except when I visit friends. I was wondering about sleeping on the area above the battery. Do you think that the weight, aprox. 175 lbs. would hurt the battery. Another question. Is it safe to spend so much time near the battery. Could this cause health problems or side affects?

  6. you inspire me so so much. i dream of doing this one day, just trying to figure out how to make moeny enough to live this way! (if you have any ideas, pls email me:)

  7. I knew I was not alone! I drove to arkansa from nebraska and only spent 80 on gas. I got to thinking. I could see the world from my Prius. Everyone thinks I'm crazy. Now I'm ready to build it. My husband and I both can fit I think. We need to take a boat too. Send more tips our way.

  8. Hi Suanne,
    I've enjoyed reading your blog, as it has given me new ideas. I have a 2009 Prius that I traveled in for 59 days summer of 2010. I stayed with friends and family along the way, but also spent 16 days camping in my Prius. It was great! Since that trip, I've bought a piece of foam, cut to fit the back of the car, and it's even more comfy. That's how I camped for 14 days this past summer, and occasional weekends otherwise. One of these days I may also do a blog, as I love to travel!

  9. It's great hearing your stories. :) Warms my heart and I am glad it is inspiring other folks to think outside the box like you did. Happy travels!


  10. Hi Suanne, I've enjoyed reading your blog and am setting up to do something similar. I have one practical question though - how did you hang your curtains? I'm trying to figure out a way that doesn't damage my car but can't seem to get the tension right using 3M hooks.

    Any advice you can give will be greatly appreciated...

    1. Tania, I've have done my curtains in several ways. So, I did a post, which is fairly lengthy, that you can see my various efforts. It's here:

  11. Hi Suanne, wonderful article. I used many of your ideas in a recent car camping trip thru the southwest. The only major changes were to removing the front passenger seat to fit a cooler for camping food, and putting in an extension platform for the bed area. The Prius was reasonable comfortable both in hot and cold climates. But, the combination of the free-to-$24/night dry-camping fees and the 45 MPG makes the Prius a very economical way to tour the US.

    1. bentang, So good to hear that you are enjoying your Prius for travel! In the future, you might want to check with Toyota regarding removing the front passenger seat. I had heard that it disabled all of the air bags if removed. Many more happy travels to you!


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