process (post 2 of 7)

This is a guest post by Joe Buttry and Kim Bagby, Steve and Mimi’s son and daughter-in-law. At Mimi’s invitation, they are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their on-going trip:

So you want to turn your Honda Element into a #hotelement? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for a handy-dandy guide, complete with photos! This post will have a lot of details, so Kim (purple text) and Joe (green text) will be working on it together. No sense in boring everyone with the same post twice, and if anyone is insane enough to try this all of our research will be in one spot (you’re welcome, hippie). Should any of the following text be confusing, we’ve linked two video tours of our Element at the end of the post. Two things to note:

  • All of this is merely suggestion, it’s what’s worked for us.
  • This stuff is EXPENSIVE. We hit up a lot of sales (including a perfectly timed REI Garage Sale for a crazy cheap Thule) and did a ton of bargain shopping. We don’t suggest you pay full price for almost anything on the gear list.

With that said, let’s get started!


K: Step one! Know a bunch of dirty hippies. They love this shit and will be your most valuable resource. Don’t know any hippies? Start eating Non-GMO/organic, drinking kombucha, and using essential oils. Hit up a drum circle. You’ll be on your way in no time.


J: My step one was to figure out where I was going to build our #hotelement. I chose my garage. Step two was to remove all non-essential equipment from the space. I skipped this step and made a giant mess, which will be waiting for me when we get back home.


Phase 1: Research

K: OK for serious – I started this project with a ton of research. Well, as much research as I could get done on the clock while at work. Pintrest and Google image searches were helpful in narrowing down the type of build we wanted to do. YouTube tours were my holy grail. Here are a few great starting points:


There are also a few apps we’ve used that have helped:





Find Me Gluten Free (sorry)

Google Maps (duh)

Instagram (so our families could tell we were still alive)


J: I drew inspiration from my favorite childhood vehicle, the A-Team van. I began my research with Netflix. Additional research indicated I am a tall person. This meant that the bed height had to be as low as possible to make it easier to get in and out.


Phase 1 Summary:

For our build, we made the following overall decisions:

  • Full bed with driver and passenger seats flat to accommodate tall person. Back seats would be removed.
  • Roof cargo would be necessary.
  • Bed platform would have to be tall enough to fit all kitchen and guitar cargo underneath.
  • Blackout windows, Reflectix, and mosquito netting all needed.
  • We would have to buy like a ton of stuff…we don’t camp.


Phase 2 – Build

K: I highly recommend you marry a carpenter that owns both a table saw and a chop saw.


J: As a carpenter, when I design something like this I tend to start by looking at specific challenges I’ll face.


K: I’ve been told I think catastrophically, so this is me in my element (HA IN MY ELEMENT). What if we get a flat? What if we get into an accident? What about clothes for the memorials? HOW DO I CHARGE MY PHONE? We had a lot of topics to address.


J: Let’s start with the bed. It consists of two main components – understructure and bed platform. I used 3/4” ply for everything. Understructure started with a box running crosswise.

Understructure box – secured

This box is not flexible or hinged, it’s secured with ratchet straps to the backseat floor anchors. From this box, all other supports are hinged. This way we can easily access the spare tire. I based the storage compartment measurements off what we planned on storing (guitar, books, water jugs), but these compartments can be any size.


Bird’s eye view of the understructure layout – we might have forgotten to get a real photo of this one


K: Height of the bed platform was also determined by our storage underneath – specifically, the guitar and the stove. Our platform is 15” overall, with 14 ¼” clearance underneath.


J: The bed platform (top) has two pieces – one piece that is secured and unmovable (attached to the box) and a second piece that is hinged to both the other top piece (piano hinge) and the structure below (loose pin hinges). To secure the hinged portions and eliminate road noise, bungees attach the bed platform to the two rear tie-downs. I painted all of the structure and put cheap outdoor grill matting on the top of the platform to protect our mattress.


K: Structure built! High five! Extra points if you color match the bed structure paint to your car trim…which Joe did. I hear that Ikea has mattresses which exactly fit the width of an Element. We found that our futon mattress did as well, and saved money by using what we already had. Ikea was our Plan B.


Full size bed, cargo netting, battery operated lights. Neighbor’s car – he thinks we are crazy


J: We were left with empty space between the guitar and the bed platform. I installed two drawers for kitchen utensils and dishes to utilize the space.

Joe showing off his kitchen drawers


K: We tried to keep the rest of our kitchen supplies near the back of the car so cooking would be convenient. We ended up storing our clothes and packs towards the interior, with our food/cooler/stove/dog food to the rear.


Kitchen layout – cooler, stove, drawers. power supply (in empty guitar storage area)

J: Let’s talk storage. Our biggest challenge was transporting our clothes for my dad’s memorials.


K: We discussed several options, and decided we couldn’t properly transport formal clothes without some type of rooftop cargo box. This space has proved invaluable. Initially purchased specifically for our suit/dress/shoes, it’s become home to our cold weather gear, extra dog food, and a catch all for rarely needed supplies (tool box, extra Reflectix, portable dog crate etc.).

#hotelement with thule

One of our hippie van dwelling advisors (thank you, Karolina) suggested cargo netting for the interior of the Element as well. We purchased two bicycle cargo nets and used sash cord to rig them to the interior roof. The nets reach from the rear of the car to just behind the front seats. We’ve found this space to be most useful holding our bath towels, pajamas, and basically anything you’d need going to bed or waking up. Also great for keeping paper towels easily accessible.


J: I found the door storage pockets convenient for human and dog toiletries.


K: One of our biggest and continued challenges was/are the windows. We experimented with several options for blackout panels and mosquito netting. I’ll cut to the chase – Reflectix was by far the fastest and most effective way to block the windows. We started out with black duvetene around the Reflectix. It was fabulous – total blackout, basically no gaps. And then we slept in the car for the first time and realized how heavily duvetene is fire treated.


J: There was a smell issue. It was, for once, not dog-related.


K: I was able to sleep about two hours before it made me sick. The covers we had so lovingly sewn were torn up and thrown away not even halfway into our first night. Perfect blackout product, completely unusable. We haven’t worked on a better blackout solution yet.

Mosquito netting was one of the items we ran out of time for. We purchased several cheap dollar store mosquito nets and cut them to window size with about 2” of excess on all sides. When we want to sleep with the windows open, we throw the netting up with some magnets. Each net is stored in each door’s storage pocket. There are definitely better solutions for this, but we haven’t had time to find them.


Reflectix and mosquito netting – a horrifically ugly solution, but a solution nonetheless


J: Once we figured out how to blackout the car, we had to figure out how to light it.


K: I had two runs of battery operated LED wire string lights that I had purchased for my office at Christmas. I zip-tied the battery packs to the “oh shit handles” over the rear seats. The lights wound to the rear roof tie downs and back to the driver/passenger “oh shit handles.” BOOM! Done. It was enough light and we each had a string for our own side of the car. It was probably the fastest project undertaken on this build.


J: One of the YouTube video tours listed above discussed fans and power supplies, which turned out to be total necessities. We found a fan that could be powered by both battery and USB. One has worked for us, but two would have been better. We also purchased a GoalZero Yeti 150 power supply to charge our phones and laptop on days we don’t drive.


K: This power supply is awesome because you can charge it with 110V (normal outlet in your house), 12V (cigarette lighter), or add a solar panel. In theory, this is the perfect solution for our power needs. However, it’s brand new and doesn’t seem to be keeping a charge very well. Further investigation into this will happen when we get home…


Phase 2 Summary:

Make sure your bed structure is flexible enough you can access your spare tire, and secure enough that it won’t go anywhere in case of an accident. We based our entire build off our cargo needs. Various window coverings are a must. A power supply isn’t necessary, but sure is (should be) awesome.”


Phase 3: Gear List



Stove – Coleman Classic Propane Stove (2 burner)

Cooler – Stanley Adventure Cooler, 16Qt

Water storage – WaterBrick 3.5 gallon (with spigot)

Dog food – OXO Good Grip POP Containers

Various bins, dishes, cookware, and kitchen utensils – either previously owned or purchased to fit our drawer size


Grill matting – Cheap from any hardware store

Mattress – standard futon size with washable cover

Sleeping bags – evrgrn Crash Sack (Kim) and Ozark Trail Deluxe XL Warm Weather (Joe)

Previously owned sheets, pillows, one heavy blanket



Roof – Tuhle Force (Large), 50” square bars with 460 feet and 3109 fit kit

Interior ceiling – Topeak bicycle cargo net (2)



Power supply – GoalZero Yeti 150 Power Station

Fan – Honeywell Turbo On the Go Fan

Lighting – Cheap Walgreens battery operated LED strings



Windshield – ACE Hardware Solar Shield reflective mylar sun shade

All other windows – Combo of Reflectix and black fabric

Windows capable of opening – dollar store mosquito netting



Fire Extinguisher – First Alert Rechargeable

Carbon Monoxide detector – Kidde Battery Operated

First Aid Kit – Sportsman Series Big Horn medical kit



Chairs – Moon Lence Outdoor Ultralight Camp Chair (Joe) and Compaclite Oversize Folding Chair (Kim)

Bath Towels – Gaiam Microfiber Yoga Towels

Dog Crate – Nature’s Miracle 26” Port-A-Crate

Tool Kit – made from our own tools, including screwgun, pliers, multi bit screwdriver, channel locks, electrician’s scissors, mat knife, super glue, assorted bed hardware, webbing, carabiners


Phase 3 Summary:

Buy whatever it is you think you need, these are just the items that worked for us. We feel that we’re using everything we have and that we are not missing anything major.


Our #hotelement video tours:


  1. Drive Mode
  2. Sleep Mode



K: I did the majority of the research, but Joe did the majority of the building. He did an amazing job and will be accepting future offers for Honda Element conversion work. I’d recommend giving yourself more than 4-5 days to do a project of this size. We probably wouldn’t have needed the Thule if we didn’t have the guitar and formal clothes, so look for it on a Craigslist near you soon. A 45° sleeping bag is surprisingly warm (good to 28° so far) with one Yorkie added. Overall, the build was pretty fun – I got to exercise skills I haven’t used in 15 years (turns out, I do remember how to thread a bobbin). Our Element has been super comfortable, I’d call our build a success…just don’t ask me about going to my first REI Garage Sale.


J: This type of construction and problem solving plays to my strengths. I got that from both of my grandfathers. I took over the construction of any prefab furniture at the age of 12. My father had almost endless patience, but it was no match for cheap pressboard and allen wrenches. I have a great appreciation for the efficiency required for a trip like this to happen. There isn’t much room for clutter. Just about everything must have a place and it must be in that place. Now I just need to spread that into my garage…



the decision (post 1 of 7)

This is a guest post by Kim Bagby, Steve and Mimi’s daughter-in-law. At Mimi’s invitation, she and her husband, Joe, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their on-going trip:


It’s been a hard year.


It’s been a hard year and I’m not a writer. I don’t know the first thing about telling a story people want to hear. I wish Steve was still here, he could probably give me a pointer or two. But if he was here, I suppose we wouldn’t be living in my car right now. I might be a bit ahead of myself already (the first of what I’m sure are to be numerous writing blunders).


Well ok, I’m definitely ahead of myself, but that’s how I roll. Fifteen steps ahead, hypervigilant, mapping out A, B, and C choices for each and every detail. Nevermind that we can’t finalize any details until we get to them, I’m still mapping out our options. I like love well-laid plans. Apologies for how that translates to my writing (or if you end up playing in any part of this journey).


I am (We are?) such a cliché. Mid to late thirties, so done with our jobs. I had taken a chance with a job outside of my industry in a position for which I seemed quite well suited. It turned out that the position was not well suited for me. It had been a year of struggle, preceded by three years of entertainment struggle that led me to search outside the industry in the first place. Steve’s precarious health situations had always been woven into our life together. He’d long since recovered from his first round of cancer when Joe and I met. The lymphoma diagnosis came, and Steve’s path through it was brutal. He made it, though. We barely had time to catch our breath and pancreatic cancer struck. Another good friend of mine had been living with pancreatic cancer. It hadn’t ever seemed like a walk in the park, but still. He’d been living. So maybe that’s partially why my ever-cynical outlook turned hopeful. That was always Steve, defiant in the face of looming threat. He seemed ok at Thanksgiving. Not great, definitely not robust, but ok.


It was terminal.


An unassuming question became the theme for our next few months: now what? Joe had just quit his job to go full time with our own lighting company. I was the adult with health insurance and a regular paycheck, and I was miserable. We were about to leave on a trip; we had to make a decision within days.


I quit the week after Thanksgiving.


I went back to freelance trade show coordination. I committed to a massive show in the spring, a show big enough that we could pad the bank accounts and secure health care for the rest of the year. I would end up vested in my pension. All of the adult boxes were checked, which pleases me so, and like that (poof!) we were going to leave Las Vegas for Baton Rouge. We would help Joe’s mom and dad, we’d take the dogs and get an apartment. Joe could spend those last few invaluable months, weeks, days with his dad. Like I said, fifteen steps ahead with A, B, and C options. I’ve read Joe’s companion post to mine and – spoiler alert – his words are impolite yet precise: “Cancer does not give a shit about your plans.”


Before my show went onsite, Steve was gone. The speed both merciful and cruel, a devastating relief.


For at least the second time in three months, now what? Joe stayed in Baton Rouge to help sort the “things” of death. I was thrown into 14-16 hour days for weeks on end. We both emerged foggy. We’d quit our jobs (stupid?). We’d saved a bunch of money (smart!). We could take a few weeks, months, whatever without freelance work if we so chose (questionable?).


Joe was ready to go back to work. I was done. I needed to be away. We’ve spent our years in Las Vegas working unbelievable hours, multiple jobs, and creating our own company. The last year was rough in a new way and I’d reached a limit.


But again, now what? What a rare occurrence, to possess both free time and money saved (although both in finite amounts). We’re childfree, still 100% able to be irresponsible adults. We do have dogs. Those sweet, loving, irritating creatures cost a fortune to board, so they’d need to come along.


Looking at us, you might think Joe possesses more dirty-van-dwelling-hippie friends. WRONG! The results of a quick, unscientific count: Joe (0) Kim (at least 5). Not only was I aware that people willingly drove around the country living in their vans, I knew people that had done it (and 4 of those 5 people took their dogs!). But we, in the exact words of one dirty-van-dwelling-hippie friend, “are NOT van people.” If we tried it, it would be unlike any trip we’ve ever taken. I owned a vehicle that lent itself to the project (shout out to all those Honda Element owners – ugly but versatile!). It already had its own hashtag on Instagram, FFS. Let’s recreate that first conversation:

Kim: “You know, we could build a bed in my car and drive around the country for a month or so. The dogs could come.”

Joe: “No.”

In his defense, the man is 6’4” and has a bad back. But something stuck. The next day, Joe had found a luxury van (he gets me) with kitchen, bathroom, king sized bed, the whole nine. DONE DEAL. Yeah, what is that saying about champagne van taste on a Honda Element budget? Further research proved RVs were cheaper…but neither of us were ready to commit to being 75-year-old retirees just yet (no judgement, just not ready for that step at 35). We researched, we ended up out of options. But somewhere along the line, Joe’s hard no became a soft yes. He started talking about #hotelement life more frequently, he seemed to settle into the idea. A few days later, an actual yes. I was, and continue to be, dumbfounded. I grabbed a calendar – we did have a few work commitments lined up, along with a group trip to New Orleans and two memorials for Steve. This left us one week to figure out how to do it – how to build it, what to pack in it, how to live in it, and where we were going.


So here we are, as I so frequently find myself – with an overall plan, back up plans A-B-C (more like A through M), unable to finalize any of the details until the last second. Still asking “Now what?” on the daily, along with the slight variation of “Now where?”, dragging you kind readers along with my mediocre (at best) blogging skills. I’ll at least try to include some pretty pictures ( ), and to park in as few of your driveways as possible.




the decision (post 1 of 7)

This is a guest post by Joe Buttry, Steve and Mimi’s middle son. At Mimi’s invitation, he and his wife, Kim, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their on-going trip:

I probably wouldn’t have turned my wife’s SUV into a camper and driven five thousand miles with my dogs if FEDex hadn’t broken my guitar.

Sure, taking a turn as a guest blogger is a good way to honor my late father who died seven weeks ago from pancreatic cancer. But I could have found a way to do that without googling “Walmart overnight parking”. (Many allow it.) And my brothers and I are already planning a trip to a Royals game. Every time any of us watch a game we will think of the time we spent at games with our Dad. (It is unclear if we will be sleeping in our cars.) I could have (and still may) gone with the memorial tattoo. Some little symbol that holds a meaning that few would understand. I could throw myself into religion, or drugs, or therapy, or working out. But none of those sound that appealing, and they don’t solve the problem of my guitar.

Oh, the guitar. It’s a long story. And here it is. I play left-handed guitar. It stems from a deep seeded desire to be a little bit different. It was a horrible decision. Left-handed guitars are hard to find. There is, however, a store in Houston that sells nothing but leftys. It’s a thing in the left-handed guitarist community. Last October my wife and I went to Austin for Halloween with some friends, but we decided to move our departure from Las Vegas ahead a few days and surprise my Dad for his birthday. We then drove from Baton Rouge to Austin through Houston, stopping at Southpaw Guitars. And I bought a guitar. It is a nicer guitar than a musician of my talent deserves. Jim Duncan, who started the shop in 1980, told me he could ship it to me and even waited until I got home from Austin to do so. About a week after my return, I got the package, immediately unboxed it and strummed a chord. And something was wrong. I had never really heard an acoustic guitar do what this one was doing. I flipped it over and discovered that perpendicular to the neck, just below the headstock was a crack. Not a hairline, “probably nothing” crack. It was a “is this guitar just pretty firewood” crack. Just to underscore the point, the crack ran right through the Gibson Custom Shop logo as if to say “well, it was a custom shop instrument …..”
I called up Jim, sent him pictures and he had it shipped back immediately. (For what it’s worth, anyone looking to buy a lefty guitar should do it from Jim at Southpaw Guitars.) His in-house guitar tech fixed it (no small feat), even hand painting the spots in the custom shop logo. The only problem left to solve was that neither of us felt safe shipping it. It languished in the shop for several months.
I ended up driving from Baton Rouge to pick it up almost a week after Dad died. It had been an intense week and I felt like some time alone in a car would do me good. So I drove from Baton Rouge to Houston and back in a single day. The next problem was getting the guitar from Louisiana to my home in Las Vegas.
Which brings us back to how we made the decision to turn my wife’s car into a camper, which is without a doubt the weirdest of my life. We had planned to spend a significant portion of our time (think months) in Baton Rouge to support my Mom and Dad. But one thing that anyone who has dealt closely with cancer can tell you is that cancer does not give a shit about your plans. So, when Dad’s death came sooner than we had steeled ourselves for, we were left with choice. We could either try to return to life as normal or we could take that time and do something with it.
A quick side note: “Life as Normal” for us is not actually normal at all. We both work freelance which means we work in brief sprints that send our life into upheaval followed by periods of relative calm. We already had sprints planned that would make space in our lives for a long stretch of calm. We each had gigs that we had committed to back in Las Vegas (Kim’s much larger and draining than mine) before anything could commence. And they gave us time to figure out what that “anything” would be.
The other big thing we had to consider were actually two small things; Leeroy and Harry. Leeroy and Harry are two Yorkshire terriers (Harry weighing in at 8lbs, Leeroy tipping the scales at a robust 10lbs) who dominate entirely too much of our lives. They both can be a handful. They both have their issues. We could not, in good conscience, foist these issues onto a friend who offered to watch them. And the vet charging us a fortune to board them is a different problem. When we travel we can end up spending a lot on boarding dogs (for which they never seem grateful). The original “move to Baton Rouge for a while” plan included the caveat that we would have to bring the dogs with us. So, for a new plan to work financially, the “anything” would have to include the 2 dogs.
The clear answer was an RV. We could rent one and it would have everything we needed. We would have all of the space for all of the guitars and yorkies that one could dream of. I even found a large van that was outfitted as a small RV. It was perfect. At least it was before we learned that they charge more for mileage than they do to rent the vehicle. We looked at the budget we had set and it became clear that we would have to come up with another plan. Kim’s internet research had already revealed an option that I immediately shot down. YouTube is full of videos of people showing off their #hotelements. (Yes, her solution was an effing pun.) Turn her Honda Element into a hotel. Hotelement.
Yet it seemed that the only feasible option. It was decided. We would get an Instagram, buy a bunch of plywood and turn my wife’s 2009 Honda Element into a rolling pun/camper for the two of us. And our dogs. And a guitar. For a month.