The open road entices all adventurers. You can watch the hills rise and fall as you speed down the highway. If you look out the window, you can see a hawk dance through the air in search of prey. The trees are getting denser. You are close. Fortunately for you though, this article, A Beginner’s How to Guide for Car Camping: Learn to Sleep Well, has got you covered.
It is everything you need and more, the ultimate guide so to speak.
Let’s get started.
The Case for Car Camping – Reasons Why
Most people do not go car camping. They prefer a tent for backpacking or regular old camping. Not everyone has a car and it is a lot easier to get a tent, so why even go in the first place?
Since you are sleeping in your car as opposed to a tent, there is little to no set up. Everything is ready-made. You only need to throw everything in your car and then you are off to the races. It does not take much in the way of planning. If your car is big enough, then you can go right now.
It is a stepping stone to bigger and better adventures like serious backpacking and camping. You can get a taste for the wider outdoor adventure world. You can dip your toe in the water before you do a full on cannonball jump. For most people, it is the most comfortable option. If you enjoy yourself, then you can dive into camping and eventually backpacking. It’s a lot safer to sleep in your car than it is a tent.
When it comes to camping and backpacking, the journey can be a bit more stressful. For the former, you have to unload everything and get to your campsite. When it comes to the latter, you have to meticulously think about all the gear you are bringing along with you; everything is on your back after all. Because everything is in your car, you can relax. Nothing has to be unloaded until you get home. You can over prepare and not use all of your gear.
With all this in mind, let us turn to the meat of the article.
Get a Proper Car to Sleep In
Not all cars are equal. It’s a lot easier to sleep in a Toyota Highlander than a Volkswagen Beetle. If you have a smaller car, you need to make more room for you to be able to sleep. Generally speaking, SUVs work best. They have the space to fit you. You can spread out and let your legs relax.
The classic car camper is the Volkswagen van. The box like shape even makes fitting a full mattress possible. It is like a moving house.
If you do not have the option to upgrade to a larger car, then you might want to retrofit your car. This involves taking out the seats and making it more amenable to your needs and wants. You can design your car how you like.
If you still cannot retrofit your car, then you have to make do with what you have.
Like in Real Estate, Location, Location, Location
In the Bay Area, real estate is absurd. A crummy house next to a freeway can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is ridiculous. Because of all the technology companies, high level of wealth, hospitals, excellent schools, and beautiful weather, everyone wants to move there.
What does this have to do with car camping you might ask? Well, you need to understand that the better the location, the more you have to pay.
For example, national parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone charge a high price for people to camp overnight but obviously a lot cheaper than a hotel. You shouldn’t be dissuaded from going to those places of course. You should visit them and enjoy them, but you should be aware of the cost.
AirBnb, Glamping Hub, and Hip Camp are all places you should look at if you want to find a room to sleep in for the night. If it is too dangerous outside, then you should rent a room. This means it’s too cold, too hot, or too sketchy. Most of the time though, you won’t encounter this issue. Most places are relatively safe.
Learn Where You Can Camp for Free
Not all campgrounds are free. It can be expensive to spend ten days in a national park. The costs add up fast when you are on the road. It almost seems like people are trying to swindle the weary traveler. Some places are less expensive than others.
If you want to learn how to camp for free, then you should check out one of my previous articles, Where Are Places I Can Camp for Free in the US and Canada? It is a how to guide for people looking to explore the world on a budget. Not all parking fees are equal. Places like BLM land, Walmart parking lots, small buildings, generous friends, disperse camping, and neighborhood streets are all options to consider.
How Do You Sleep in Your Car?
There are techniques to sleep inside of your car. You do not have to be uncomfortable.
Keep your head elevated. Blood will have slower circulation if you sleep head down on decline. You then risk becoming sick. You do not want this to happen. Generally speaking, the best way to keep your head elevated is with, of course, a pillow. Many cars also incline towards the front of the car. It is best to then keep your head pointed towards the front of your car.
If you want to improve the quality of your sleep, wear a sleeping mask. If you are in the city, the bright lights can wake you up. An eye mask enables you to control when you rise. The sun no longer plays much of a role.
I also recommend you grab some bungee cords and some fabric like clothes or linens to block out the windows. Your car is basically your home now and you want some privacy like any reasonable person.
Even though a car offers more insulation than a regular tent, bundle up to keep the heat in. Cover the top of your head with a beanie and wear socks; they are the key points of heat escape. Your car is just like a tent in the sense they both have thin walls and little insulation. You need to do what you can to keep warm either way.
Sleep on an inflated mattress. They don’t have to be big. You can get one specifically designed for cars.
It might be tempting to just fold down the back seats, grab a sleeping bag, and start snoozing away, but you will not sleep all too well. The hard plastic will dig into your back and you will wake up grabbing your lower back in pain. No one wants that experience. If an inflatable mattress is not an option for you, then grab a pad at a minimum. You need to protect your back.
What Kind of Gear Do You Bring Along with You?
You bring everything you normally would on a camping trip except also lots and lots of bins. These keep you organized. They are essential if you want to have a good time. You can label them and stack them.
If you just have an SUV and bins are not really an option, then just spread out in your car with all of your gear. Bring a cooler, sleeping bag, camp chairs, phone chargers, and what you would ordinarily bring along with you for a camping trip.
My Top 5 Tips to Have a Good Time
1. Keep Your Electronics Charged.
If you want to access your phone to use later, then you should get a solar panel or use your car’s battery while it is running. If you need to use a laptop or your phone, you need electricity.
It is better to not plug your phone into your car overnight or else you will drain your battery. You do not want to have to call AAA because you are unable to start your car in the morning. No one is having a good time when that happens.
2. Fill Your Car Up Well Before You Settle Down for the Night.
Similar to the previous tip, you do not want to wake up in the morning unable to get going because you don’t have enough gas. I get it. You are rushing to the campsite and feeling like you need to get a premium spot. The little things like gas matter though. You cannot get by without it in your car.
3. Get to Your Campsite Early.
Many campgrounds are first come first served. If you arrive anywhere early, life is a lot less stressful. Most people do not feel good if you show up somewhere late. If you show up early, you will have a lot more choice in your campsite. You can ask the ranger for a good spot next to bathrooms or one with an excellent view of the surrounding scenery.
4. Feel Free to Go Deluxe Every Now and Again.
Just because you are sleeping in your car does not mean you have to be uncomfortable. If you want to opt for a nice home for the night, it is alright to book an AirBnB for a time. I won’t judge you. Car camping can get quite cramped. I, for one, cannot sleep in my car all the time. I do like a solid mattress.
Life is short. You should enjoy it and splurge every now and again to feel like the emperor you are.
5. Crack the Window Open to Get Some Air Flow.
You do not want to be all cooped up in your car with dirty air. To get the stink out, let air flow through. As a sweaty guy, I can work up a stink fast. Deodorant is a must. People are stinky, so you need to let off all the steam. Open the windows for a bit. Get a breeze flowing through and you will feel a lot better.
Do You Want to Protect Your Bacon?
You should now be all set to go. You know how to car camp like a beast. Take the time to map out your journey and plan for what is to come. This article is only as good as your use of it. Think ahead and get to it!
If you enjoyed this article, then you should check out one of my previous articles, The Best Ice Coolers for Camping in 2019. (Do not fret if it is 2100 and this article still reads 2019; I update the ‘best of’ articles on an annual basis :)). There are some excellent coolers in there. If you want cold beer and fresh bacon, then you are bound to benefit from a solid cooler. Check it out!
If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, do not hesitate to comment below and please share the article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!