Car camping is blowing up Instagram accounts from all over the world. Not only is it trendy, but it can be a lot less of a hassle than camping in a tent. There’s very little set up, you can become more conspicuous, and your bed can be located almost anywhere a car can fit. Mentor Travel has your tips on DIY car camping for almost no money.
Type of Vehicle
The type of vehicle you have can make or break your experience. A small sedan will be very hard to sleep comfortably in. Whereas a crossover or SUV will offer a lot more room. We had a 2014 Subaru Crosstrek, that was the perfect size for two people. You can use this guide for any vehicle around that size with a hatch back.
Privacy is a Must
Once you have your car, you’re going to need to make it so no one can see you while you sleep. This helps you stay stealthy, and offers you privacy for your night. The last thing you want is for people to know that your sleeping in your car. This improves safety as well as privacy.
You’ll need to put something up to block the windows. Cheap options include:
You can find all of these items in almost any house hold. Cardboard worked the best for us because you could squeeze it into the window frames without using tape or staples. Cut the cardboard to match the rear end windows in the vehicle – the hatch window, and the two rear side windows. Don’t forget about the little triangle windows at the end of the Crosstrek. We also had a window sun protector that we put up against the back of the front passenger seats that worked almost perfectly.
Now, we move onto the sleeping situation. In our Subaru Crosstrek, we put the back seats down, and moved the front seats as far forward as able. In the Crosstrek, there’s a very uncomfortable bump where it splits from trunk to seat. It’s almost impossible to sleep comfortably. The cheapest way we found to overcome this was with an air mattress. It absorbs the bump and still allows a flat surface to sleep on for DIY car camping.
We actually found a pool floaty in our garage that fit perfectly, so we didn’t need to go out and buy one. With the seats pushed forward, it was easy to sleep on and allowed us to extend our legs even. Mind you, we were a couple of humans standing at 5′ 8” and 5’4″, but it worked well for DIY car camping. A twin size air mattress should work as well.
Regardless of the time of year you decide to car camp, it’s probably going to get cold during the night. Even the Mojave Desert gets down to 33 degrees F during the winter nights. You’ll need to prepare for the cold, because you’ll get absolutely no sleep if you try to tough it out. A well equipped sleeping bag works , but can be an expensive option. A heated blanket with a 12V adapter is a less expensive option. We already had decent sleeping bags, so we used them along with a couple extra blankets and pillows.
Sleeping in your car means a lot of breathing happens in your car. This creates condensation to form, and makes it not-so-fun sleeping conditions. To reduce the fog from forming in your car, you’ll need adequate air circulation. The easiest way to do this for DIY car camping is to crack a window or lift your sun roof. Car ventilators are also a viable option, but can be spendy.
For those of you wondering if you can suffocate from sleeping in your car with the windows rolled up, you can’t. Cars are waterproof, but they don’t have air tight seals. You’ll be fine – I promise.
Know Where You Can Stay
Stealth car camping is a great option because you can park almost anywhere and sleep the night. However, you should be aware of the laws and certain safety tips for finding safe and legal sleeping locations. Make sure you feel comfortable at the location you choose, there’s nothing worse than staying up at night because every little sound scares you. Also, remember to stay near a bathroom if you can’t make it through the night. Here are some good options for you to think of for car camping:
- Campsites – There’s free campsites and paid for sites that are completely legal for car camping. This is the preferred options as it’s set up for this exact situation.
- Business parking lots – This can be a good options because some businesses are open 24/7 and even have security patrols. This can give you peace of mind knowing your area has security or employees nearby if something happens. Cabela’s, Walmart, and fast food restaurants, and casinos are good examples.
- Rest/Truck Stops – These places have frequent over night guests, but it can be loud. Certain rest stops don’t allow overnight parking, so check the rules before you set up camp. I personally prefer this option. It gives me peace of mind knowing that I’m not the only one sleeping in a car.
- Religious buildings – Churches can sometimes offer their parking lot for car campers. It’s always recommended to ask for permission for this.
- Neighborhoods – Cars are always parked overnight in neighborhoods, so it’s easy to blend in. Make sure to check what kind of neighborhood you’re in. High crime neighborhoods have a higher risk for a break in, where as nice neighborhoods may notice a strange car and call the police. It’s not legal, but can be an option when nothing else is available.
The key is to blend in to your surroundings. This is the benefit of sleeping in a car, rather than a motor home or a camper van. It’s obvious people are sleeping in a camper van, whereas it’s not so obvious there someone sleeping in a Subaru Crosstrek.
DIY car camping is a really cheap way to travel the world. You also don’t need the luxuries that people post on Instagram, you can do it with supplies you already have at home. Enjoy the adventure and make the most of your vehicle. Let us know if you have anything to add about car camping in the comments below! Contact us if you have any questions about planning your next trip.