Why I’m Not Converting Another Citroen Xsara Picasso into a Car Camper

I really loved my Citroen Xsara Picasso as a campervan, especially because you can pretty much do anything to kit it out, and not worry about wrecking it. In December, the famously unreliable French mechanical engineering let me down when the Picasso’s gearbox and engine broke so I had to give it to the scrap merchant for £20, and I bought a Rover 75 because it was cheap. Some plans I’d had for this summer for the Picasso were to put vents in the sides (by drilling holes in the non-petrol side) and to fix the storage situation.

I want to talk today about why I did my car camper conversion the way I did it, why I will probably not buy another Citroen Xsara Picasso to camperify (it was great for what I wanted but it does have a lot of limitations) and I also want to go through some of the considerations you need to think about whilst planning your camper conversion.

When I bought the Citroen Xsara Picasso to convert back in 2014, nobody had done such a thing before and the only mentions of it on the internet were people joking about what a stupid idea it was. I feel proud that I started something that (it turns out) so many people are interested in doing, and I am glad that my posts about how I converted the Citroen Xsara Picasso and my review of the Picasso are helping other people achieve their dream of having a car camper. This did mean though that when I did mine, there was absolutely no information specific to the Citroen Xsara Picasso to give me any idea about how to go about converting it. I took inspiration and ideas mainly from Toyota Previa Delica Lucida conversions, obviously the Citroen Xsara Picasso is much smaller and there’s a limit on how much space 2 human beings (6’2″ and 5’6″ respectively) need. If you are 5’4″ or under, you can convert a Citroen Xsara Picasso and have acres of space because your clothes, shoes, sleeping area etc all take up less space. Even in the most practical Previa Delica Lucida conversion that I’d admired and used as guidance, the tallest occupant was 5’8″, so perhaps car camper conversion is a sport more suited to shortarses rather than longshanks.  We had great times in it, although in hindsight I think we would have had a better shot at a more complex conversion in a Previa Delica Lucida (a Toyota’s a Toyota).

The main stumbling block I came up against (I did everything myself) was we were just too tall for this vehicle to be our ideal camper conversion. Yes, you can fill the back of a Citroen Xsara Picasso with a wooden framed bed, a nice coloured fitted “kitchen” unit etc, but you won’t actually have enough headroom to use this stuff because human beings bend at the middle to sit up. I measured us. I need 83cm to be able to sit up in a vehicle, and my husband needed 91cm. Since my husband is 6 foot 2 inches tall, we needed that length to sleep in, so the Picasso was not long enough for us to add a kitchen unit at the back (so you can cook with the boot open) either. From a ventilation and safety point of view, there was absolutely no point in fitting a kitchen but again if you’re short or single you won’t have this problem, you can kitchen away.

Add to that, when you’re not actually camping (which is most of the time, unless you’re retired, in which case you probably aren’t going to convert a Picasso when you could drive one of those hulking great motorhomes at 20 miles an hour around the Derbyshire Dales), having a kitchen unit in a Picasso is generally stupid for most people. It adds weight and stops you from a) carrying people in your people carrier when you want to and b) using it as a van to transport large items.

The main thing I really loved about the Picasso was its sheer versatility. There was the time I gave a ride to three people with a sick cat they found on the street, who needed to get it to a vet’s across town. There was the time when my dad died 400 miles away and, because his sister has Narcissistic Personality Disorder and thought it was all about her, I had to clear his flat in the dark on a Bank Holiday (when all the van rental places were shut), and if I hadn’t had the Citroen Xsara Picasso I would not have been able to save my antique 1920s wardrobe (four foot wide, six foot long, two foot six inches deep) from my bedroom, the only thing my dad ever bought me; it would have been taken to landfill by the council instead (crammed it in on its side, filled it with mementos, photos etc that we salvaged). There were the (countless) times I needed to take garden waste to the tip, the time my husband decided to take 500 bricks off someone’s hands (thanks Freecycle), all the large pieces of wood we transported home for furniture projects, that all made the ability to have a completely empty loading area an absolute essential. To put it into perspective, last week we bought some new fence panels and had to walk home with them because the Rover 75 blatantly couldn’t fit them inside or on top. If we’d still had the Picasso, we could have either attached them to the roof with rope through the windows (put a big towel on your roof, nothing gets scratched) or crammed them into the back to get them home. If we’d put fixed furniture in the Picasso, its storage space and passenger capacity would have been more limited.

I’d like to add something about effort vs benefit because a lot of people lose sight of this when they’re spending 6 months to a year converting a vehicle (during which time they don’t go anywhere on holiday in it). Allowing for the possibility that there are people in the world small enough to fit in the vehicle afterwards, it still takes a lot of effort to build a bed/storage unit and a kitchen/storage unit because you have to custom size it all to the vehicle and it has to be safely attached somehow so you don’t kill everyone in the vehicle in a crash.  Unless you very specifically want that exact vehicle for many years to come, you are putting a lot of work into making custom camper furniture for a car that you probably won’t be cooking in very often, or storing camping equipment in, compared to the number of times you will drive it to work (in our case we had it for 15 months, August 2014 to November 2015, and used it for four different long-distance holidays, where we slept in it for more than two nights apiece. We would have used it for more trips but I was a bit preoccupied with my parents both dying last year). I decided that since we bought the Picasso as an experiment in the fusion between Bangernomics and Campernomics, and that it was only going to run to its next MOT, there was no point in going to that much expense, effort, and time, to do something to a vehicle that was going to be scrapped in a year. I did want to work out how to put air vents into it before I scrapped it, but I was very ill at the time, in and out of hospital, so that never happened (2015 was a shit year. But I did buy the plastic air vents from Homebase and find out how to do it, although there’s no schematics to confirm that I wouldn’t have drilled through a wire or something). I also wanted to put a roof rack on top, but when I tried to get one fitted on the day I had to clear my dad’s flat, Halfords kept me waiting for ages then said it was too late in the day and that I should come back tomorrow. The store was empty of customers the whole time. I got let down at a time when something terrible was happening, so I didn’t bother going back. I’ll spend my money elsewhere thanks.

Other important considerations are a) the law b) visibility c) weight distribution/fuel consumption and d) access to and from doors.
a) I have talked about international window tinting laws for driving around the world previously. They haven’t changed, and they do also apply to any obstructions to visibility. I drove my car camper to Rome and this year I’m going to drive (whatever vehicle I end up with by July) to Spain. For me, putting anything in the back of the Picasso that would affect visibility is a hard “no.” Additionally, there’s no point making a camper that sleeps more people than it seats with a seat belt. Where are these extra people going to come from? How are you all going to breathe?

b) Visibility. The positioning of those front driver pillars (and the fact that there’s two of them) is really stupid. The car looks lovely from the outside but from the inside? Really hard to see where you’re going. In the blazing sun in Italy, the reflection from the top of the dashboard made it virtually impossible to see out of the front window. The heat was over 40 degrees celsius and my car’s fans were blowing even hotter than the ambient air because my car was a scrapper. If I hadn’t been able to see clearly out of my back and side windows, I would have had an accident. That means the only place to put a fixed kitchen/storage unit would have been behind the driver’s seat (where I can’t see anyway) and it would have had to come no higher than the window for aforementioned legal reasons.

c)The petrol tank is on the driver’s side, then it goes under the vehicle on that same side. It takes 40 litres. If there’s a fixed heavy piece of furniture behind the driver, that’s another 10-30 kilograms of weight on the same side. An uneven load distribution, being driven around in the same place all the time, in addition to anyone or anything else you put in the car, is going to affect the car mechanically.

d) I wanted all the doors to be openable and to permit access to the vehicle. This meant I wasn’t limited about how/where I parked and there were two examples of this being invaluable: firstly, when I couldn’t stop vomiting on my first day in the Highlands in August 2015, I was *really* glad of this because I could just open the door, do my vomiting, close the door, without having to disturb my husband who was trying to get to sleep. Secondly, when we came across an unexpected nudist beach in Belgium, we were able to park the car and change into swimwear whilst avoiding getting our shoes in the back of the car by opening the door behind the driver seat.

Another thing to be aware of is cabin fever, especially on a long trip to Europe or further afield. You will want to be able to go to sleep with more than two inches between yourself and the person next to you.

I think when looking at converting a Citroen Xsara Picasso, or any other smaller vehicle, into a campervan, it’s important to keep perspective of the best possible function and use of the vehicle, rather than being able to go “ooh ooh look at me it looks like a real caravan inside I designed it to be popular on PINTEREST” (seriously, why do people do this) whilst compromising on the most important things in any vehicle you sleep in – bed length and comfort, privacy and safe air flow.

Things I didn’t like about the Citroen Xsara Picasso:
1. There’s nowhere to put a freaking drink on the driver’s side, and seemingly nowhere to attach a place to put a drink because every surface is curvy and “futuristic” (from the Picasso’s design vision in the late ’90s).

2. Ours was petrol. I liked the 1.6 litre engine, but I disliked the really tiny petrol tank that was NOT designed for long distance journeys, and I really disliked having nowhere (in the curvy futuristic exterior of the vehichle) to store a jerry can. Add to that, some countries don’t allow you to carry petrol but everywhere lets you take diesel. You don’t want to sleep in the vicinity of a petrol can (I’ve done this, it’s horrible) leaking fumes everywhere, so it has to go outside the vehicle, but there’s nowhere on the Picasso to put it. This means you’re forced to fill where you can, which means sometimes you’re pushing the car to the petrol pump, and always you have the knowledge that you didn’t get a good price on fuel.

3. The lights on the Picasso we had just never worked properly. By the time I scrapped it, one headlight would not even do a side light let alone anything else and the suspension was terrible. Yes, you can fix these things, but there’s only so many times you can get it “fixed” before you just want a different car.

4. The spare wheel being under the boot seems like a great idea but it reduces the ground clearance – which in general was not shockingly bad (not a lowrider) but wasn’t fantastic either.

5. The fans blowing air didn’t work at all and the temperature control didn’t work, so when the ambient temperature was hot, the car was hot, and when the ambient temperature was cold, the car was cold. You may remember cars of the 80’s often had this problem, and this might make you think “who cares?” but when it’s 40 degrees in Rome when you wake up and sub zero in the Alps when you go to sleep, it really is important to have some sort of controllable warm/cold air coming into the car.

6. The off road capabilities were less than impressive, the cruising speed was sub-par which especially pissed me off in Germany where I wanted to be going at over 90 mph and was stuck at 75, and the brakes were nowhere near as good as on the VW Golf.  Adding weight of a full-on camper conversion to make it look like a Citroen Romahome on the inside will ONLY make this worse.

I did a hell of a lot of research into a lot of different vehicles before I bought the Picasso, and it was the perfect car to get some experience of campering with.  If you’ve never converted a vehicle and you’re not tall and you don’t buy a £600 category-C write off, you’ll probably have many happy years in this.  As for me, I am hoping that this summer I can buy a Land Rover to convert, so I’ve got a vehicle that’s a) wide enough for actual luggage storage and b) has 4 wheel drive capacity for when we’re campervanning in the snow or end up off-road both of which happened in the Highlands and in Austria. I want to take it to the Sahara (amongst other places), after all, and a Picasso was never going to be appropriate for that.  I also like the fact the Landie has a flat roof with excellent potential for luggage storage.

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Download 2015 Day One: Slipknot

Friday started off so well.  It was sunshiny as my best friend and I packed the car up, my teepee/tipi had arrived and I’d sprayed it with Solarproof waterproof spray to keep it extra dry.  I’d got my patches on the way for the bands I’ve already seen (new sewing project).  Everything was set to make it a memorable summery weekend of relaxation, good music and great company.

It started to go wrong when we got off the M1 motorway, and E’s car suddenly slipped out of gear, doing a strange thing which meant we coasted a bit and the gears wouldn’t engage.  The car conked out, and we had to fiddle with it to get it to go again.

We hoped this would be the end of our troubles.  It was only the beginning of one of the longest days of my life.

1. Queueing for entry: We had taken a sizeable armload of stuff so we could hurry to the campsite, pitch up and get set up quickly.  We were then left holding it for an hour and a half while we waited to get into the campsite.  Festival security was pretending to be stringent while not really bothering, and they only had half of the gates open.  Why they were bothering was beyond me – there were plenty of people inside selling things they shouldn’t be, and the staff didn’t check my handbag (the logical place to stash anything) but patted down my sleeping bag and tent.  Next time, I would recommend gaining an entry wristband, then going straight back to the car for the equipment.  We thought it had been a long walk with our stuff but the journey from the entry gate to our campsite was about twice that same distance again.

2. Campsite full – pitched on nettles.  We actually got the very last pitch in  the quiet camping – no-one else wanted it because it was covered in nettles and thistles.  Other people were turned away and told to camp even further away in the furthest campsite.  I worried a little about my tent because I got stung by nettles through the groundsheet, but it was sunny and I thought it would be fine as long as it remained sunny.

3. Once the tents were pitched, we went to the arena, which was a phenomenal walk – I missed Lacuna Coil because it took so long to get in and pitch the tent at the campsite.

4. It started to rain a bit.

5. Lost E. when she wanted to see some random band and dragged me away from Judas Priest.  Rain got worse.

6. Gave up looking for her.  Rain got worse.

7. Went to see Slipknot.  They were actually pretty good, the 2 drummers both played on a revolving drum kit each side of the stage, and they did all the classic favourites.  They officially christened this festival “Downpour 2015” which was pretty apt.  Rain got worse.

8. Went back to tent.  Rain got worse.

9. My tent was absolutely flooded.  Turns out they had used the most non-watertight zips in the history of tent zip production, so while the panels were keeping the water out (due to the spray I had used), the water was streaming in through every zipped area (which was 4 of the 6 panels).  From hers, I could hear that she was not alone.  Rain got worse.  Unfortunately, waterproof spray only works on things which were waterproof in the first place.

This was the floor of my tent.  One of many puddles.  The sleeve here was absolutely sodden and the water just kept coming.
This was the floor of my tent. One of many puddles. The sleeve here was absolutely sodden and the water just kept coming.  Behind it is another puddle in the background.

10. I went to bed in a wet tent, thinking it couldn’t get worse.    All I could do was cower in my sleeping bag and try to protect my phone and cuddly unicorn.  Thankfully, they both survived.

This was another puddle that I tried to bail out with a cup but it wasn't making a dent in this thing.
This was another puddle that I tried to bail out with a cup but it wasn’t making a dent in this thing.

11. I was awakened by a drip on the head.  The waterproof spray had capitulated and the whole tent was raining water over me and my belongings.  Luckily, she was awake and alone again by now, so I could at least get my less wet belongings into her less flooded tent…

Another puddle in my tent that didn't go away when I spent ages trying to bail it out.
Another puddle in my tent that didn’t go away when I spent ages trying to bail it out.

…As a comparison, on the day we left, we only tipped about a litre of water out of hers.  That was after it had 2 days to dry out under a gazebo.  Mine was worse.  We left it there because it had failed in its basic function as a tent.  I was heartbroken because it had looked so awesome.  All across the campsite, people with the same tent as me took them down on Saturday morning; I guess they either shared with someone who had a fit-for-purpose tent (like I did), went home, or checked into a hotel.  I would imagine that tent will get a few bad reviews now.  The brand was Yellowstone and the tent was the Yellowstone Festival TiPi.  I have no faith in this brand now, because it started to flood long before it reasonably should have.  I would link to it on Amazon but I’ve come home to find they’ve axed my Amazon Associates account because it didn’t generate any sales in 6 months.  Oh well, it was clearly a huge waste of time anyway.

Find Download Festival 2015 Review Day 2 here…

See what’s on the rest of my Bands Bucket list
Other concerts I’ve reviewed.

Travel Tuesday: On the Trail of the Holy Grail: Doune Castle

This post is copyright to Invoke Delight.  If you are reading this at a site other than https://invokedelight.wordpress.com then you are reading stolen content that is taking my hard work and presenting it as their own so they get the amazing Google search rankings that I have worked very hard to optimize.  I am aware of two such incidences, the latest being today, both times involved my travel articles.  You should redirect now.

You may or may not have heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

They were a comedy ensemble who, from the late 1960s onwards, blazed a trail of innovative comedy that directly challenged society, television tropes, audience-assumptions, gender roles, and continually pushed the boundaries far beyond that which was deemed “appropriate” at the time they were making it.

Their original BBC series prompted three films, one “And Now for Something Completely Different” was a compilation of clips from their TV show.  “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” was their first attempt at a feature film, and was more about challenging the traditional way in which medieval Britain was portrayed in modern media than it was about the actual story of the Holy Grail.  “The Life Of Brian” was their story about another bloke who lived in the same town as Jesus and who was not the messiah.  That one ruffled a few feathers at the Vatican and I believe a bishop had a televised argument with John Cleese about it on channel 4 (ready the popcorn and cups of tea, it’s over an hour long).

Life of Brian was filmed in Jordan, which is somewhere in Africa. I didn’t really have the budget, bodyguards or bulletproof car required to go to Jordan safely. Instead, I decided to go to Doune Castle in Scotland, where almost all of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed.  Also we were in the area, and the road to the Highlands was closed due to heavy snow.

Doune Castle doubled up as the filming location for the following castles in Holy Grail: Camelot, Swamp Castle, Castle Anthrax, and that French castle at the beginning. It was a private castle when they filmed, and the reason it was chosen was because The National Trust for Scotland (as Historic Scotland was known at the time) refused to allow Monty Python to use any of their castles to film (and they’d booked separate ones for each castle in the script) – but the National Trust for Scotland only informed them of this two weeks before they were due to start filming, so they had a last minute struggle to find a privately owned castle that was open enough to the public to actually film in there. Thankfully, Doune Castle fitted the bill perfectly. The castle, originally built in the 13th century, was in excellent preservation condition and had a lot of original features without any visibly different “restoration” (some restoration has been done but it’s surprisingly sensitive for a Victorian repair). It had enough rooms that were visibly different to one another that it could easily be used for the location of the several castles the script required.

We overnighted in the layby in front of the castle in our car camper, making this the first castle we spent the night at during our Scotland trip (before we reached the Mercure Barony Castle Hotel in Peebles), and I have never felt so secure sleeping in the car before.  It was nice to get a full night’s sleep without any disturbances from traffic or construction workers either, unlike the previous night.  We chose not to overnight in the castle car park as this would have been a) definitely trespassing and b) bad manners.  We might have been car gypsies, but we didn’t need to act uncivilised and go round taking advantage of poor defenceless car parks.  A bonus of using the layby was that it was on a public road so it was legal to park overnight in Scotland, and it meant we awoke with a beautiful view of the castle in the morning.  We left at 7am and drove to Stirling for an early breakfast at McDonald’s before coming back at 9am when the castle was open, because it makes good sense to not be in an obviously wildcamping car at the time of day when all the members of staff are arriving to start their day.  I feel very strongly that one must be careful when wildcamping in any vehicle or tent because if the law is abused, it will get taken away, as has happened on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which is why we had to park and sleep over an hour away from Ben Lomond on our first night in Scotland.  Thanks to the asshats who took advantage, there’s now a bylaw that no vehicle can be occupied overnight (and no tents can be pitched) on that side of Loch Lomond, except in the one paid campsite, and the police drive round and check, and you can get fined and lose your vehicle.

I made a film of my visit to Doune Castle, which you can see here:

Take me to Youtube instead, I don’t want to watch an embedded version! (click if this is what you are thinking).

Sorry about the bad sound, I didn’t have a camera crew with me to re-record, it was all shot in one go on a mobile phone, and my video editing software is about as good as getting a panda to chew the ends of files and stick them back together with eucalyptus gum.  The best I could do was play a piccolo over it all afterwards.
I did have to reduce the resolution on this film because Youtube failed to upload it three times, after taking over 18 hours apiece, and I’ve been trying to upload it since Friday, which is unfortunate but I’m hoping it’s still watchable because I’ve been dying to show you all since I got back.

Have you been to Doune Castle?  What did you think of it?

How to build an igloo

So with all the boxing day snow we’ve been having, I decided to show you how to build an igloo; we built this in our drive in 2013:

1. Get some large plastic boxes:  Recycling boxes or storage boxes will do just fine for igloo building.  A packing crate isn’t very good as it’s not very strong and the sides are full of holes so the snow falls out instead of making solid igloo ice blocks.

This is the sort of box we used for the first layer - it's a 70 litre plastic box.  The lid wasn't much use.
This is the sort of box we used for the first layer of igloo ice blocks – it’s a 70 litre plastic box. The lid wasn’t much use.

2. Fill the boxes with snow.  Pack the snow down in the box to make giant bricks of ice.  You will need to repeat steps 2 and 3 a lot to make an igloo.

These are the stronger plastic boxes we used to make the bricks from the 2nd layer upwards.  I don't know where they're from - my OH was using them to store Lego before this.
These are the stronger plastic boxes we used to make the bricks from the 2nd layer upwards. I don’t know where they’re from – my OH was using them to store Lego before this.

3. Tip the boxes upside down in a circle (leave room for an igloo door) and pat the bottom to get the snow-bricks out (see picture):

This was the first layer from a different angle.  We left loads of room for the doorway.
This was the first layer of blocks for the igloo from a different angle. As you can see our first box cracked and we used a smaller one for the igloo’s other layers (which made our igloo really strong). We left loads of room for the doorway.

4. Once you have a complete layer, do the same above – but don’t line the bricks up (think about how brick walls are built), and make sure the ice blocks are facing slightly inwards so your bricks eventually meet at the top.

This was what our igloo looked like at our halfway point.  The igloo doorway was improved with bricks set at a different angle for structural stability.
This was what our igloo looked like at our halfway point. The igloo doorway was improved with ice bricks set at a different angle for structural stability.

5. At the top of the igloo, you have two choices – some people prefer to build a capstone out of ice, to stop everything from falling apart.  Otherwise, leave a hole in the top to let air in.  We left a hole in the top of ours.

This is what it looked like when it was nearly finished.  The MDF at the front was used as a door when we camped out in it over night and to keep cats out while we were building.
This is what our igloo looked like when it was nearly finished. The MDF at the front was used as a door when we camped out in the igloo overnight and to keep foxes out while we were building.

6. We used polystyrene and wire mesh to support the door of our igloo because the size of our ice blocks (and the ambient temperature being only -5 or so) meant the whole structure may have collapsed if we hadn’t used any support.  Smaller boxes (than 70 litres) or hardening the blocks of ice using cold water would have both prevented this problem, but it wasn’t cold enough for water-hardening the ice blocks and they just melted when we tried it.    For the amount of time we put into building this igloo, I was very happy to complete it and didn’t worry too much about it being 100% Eskimo-worthy.  Whether you end up with a perfect building made only of ice or not, you will feel damn proud when you go inside your finished igloo.

This is what the finished igloo looked like.  It took us about 5 hours to build, including a break every hour or so when we went indoors to defrost.
This is what the finished igloo looked like. It took us about 5 hours to build, including a break every hour or so when we went indoors to defrost.

7. Now admire your igloo.  Can you sleep in an igloo?  Definitely!  We camped out in ours with some roll mats and a double sleeping bag and it was surprisingly cosy (although we did this wearing serious layers).  It also confused the neighbours which was hilarious.

This is the finished result.  We had a LOT of fun in this igloo last year.  Hope it snows as much this year so we can build another one in our new house (and get some better pics)!
This is the finished igloo. We had a LOT of fun in this igloo last year. Hope it snows as much this year so we can build another igloo in our new house (and get some better pics)!

8.  Take plenty of photos and share them with me via Twitter @invokedelight so I can see your awesome creations!

Have you built an igloo?  Share your igloo pics with me on Twitter!  Who needs an expensive package holiday to Iceland?  You can do this in your own front garden!