travel

Guide to Car Camping

If you’ve ever attempted to do a budget road trip, camping has probably crossed your mind. Perhaps, if you’re like me, even car camping has been an option. I recently went on a road trip and actually tried out car camping for the first time! Here’s how you can do it too:

How To

Decide which car you’ll be sleeping in and make a place to sleep 

We had a 2012 Ford Focus to work with. One of the first things you’ll want to figure out is what you’re going to be sleeping on.

Air mattress

At first, we thought that an air mattress was the obvious answer. We couldn’t find a size that could fully inflate in the back without folding up on the corners. We didn’t want to risk a leak or deal with the mattress going flat, so this wasn’t the option for us

Thick foam

You can get thick pieces of foam from stores like hobby lobby, but be prepared to pay quite a bit for it. We were trying to get by as cheap as possible, so this wasn’t the option for us either

Pull out couch mattress

We had an old pull out couch and decided to see if the mattress would fit in the car. It fit nearly perfectly! We were even able to bend it up during the times we were driving in order to store our things.

While we slept, we folded up the front seats and put all of our luggage and other camping equipment in the dash and in the seats. It was a little tight up there, but it worked! Just be sure not to over pack!

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Find a way to keep out the light and prevent people from seeing in

Luckily, our car already had pretty well tinted windows, so people seeing in wasn’t a huge issue. We put a window cover in the front, and simply taped dark garbage bags over the other windows that we were concerned about

In order to have the breeze from outside coming in, we slightly cracked the windows and taped a thin mesh sheet over them with the garbage bags over. This allowed the breeze to come in without the light coming in.

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Where to sleep for free

Walmart

There are a whole lot of Walmart’s that will allow you to sleep in their parking lots for free. If you see RVs, it’s more than likely ok for you to stay there too. I recommend parking near any RVs to separate yourself from other cars going in and out.

Truck stops like Pilot or Flying J

Truck drivers stay here a lot at night, and the staff generally doesn’t care if you stay the night in your car. I like truck stops because of the fact that they are open 24 hours, so if you need anything, you can just step inside.

Rest stops

Some rest stops don’t allow overnight parking, so you’ll want to check with each one that you are considering. I also wouldn’t recommend staying at one that doesn’t offer overnight security, just to  be safe.

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Showering

This was honestly the part that I was the most concerned about when I thought about sleeping in a car. Here is where the truck stops come in again. You pay the $10 or so for a shower and towels. If you are traveling with a partner, they will generally give you extra towels and both of you can shower for no extra fees! And despite what you may have heard, I found these showers to be extremely clean and well maintained!

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Other things to consider

-A small battery powered fan to help with the heat is a good idea.

-Try to figure out where the sun will be coming up and park facing away from it. This will save you from potentially waking up to the bright sun in your eyes.

-Don’t over pack! If you want to sleep comfortably, you’ll need some room.

-Consider the weather. If it is too hot, no fan in the car will make you comfortable.

-If possible, consider removing your backseats (or part of them.) It could potentially make your mattress lay flatter, resulting in a more comfortable sleep!

 

Have you car camped? Do you have any useful tips to add?

-Haley

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23 replies »

  1. All great ideas Haley. I remember when we arrived at a campsite in the pouring rain and decided to sleep inside our station wagon, rather than be miserably wet putting up the tent. Not the best sleep, but being dry made it all worthwhile. 40 years later and we again have a station wagon. My wife assures me we will not be camping in this one, but who knows. Our neighbours slept in the back of their SUV on their trip across Canada last year.

    • Being dry was well worth it, I’m sure! I bet your neighbors were pretty comfortable since they had the room of an SUV to work with. If you do end up sleeping in your station wagon, at least you’ll have another story to tell! 🙂

  2. Good tips. I haven’t car camped since college days. I like that you mentioned the rest stop issues – legal and security. Very good post. Thanks!

  3. I haven’t car camped in 20 years. my uncle drives to arizona every year from tn. and sleeps in his suv on the way there and back. he likes to take his time. sleeping in his car means he does not have to plan hotels stops.

  4. Cool article. I’ve truck camped…sleeping in the bed of the truck, it had a canopy on it and we left the back down so it would be cooler. The dog slept with us and all the ‘stuff’ went in the cab of the truck. Worked very well.

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