Who doesn’t love the allure of the open road? There’s something amazing about putting two hands behind a wheel and driving off in search of adventure. Car camping can broaden the horizons of your road trips even further. By sleeping in your car, you can expand your adventures on multi-day trips, all whilst keeping your budget in check. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to a top of the range camper van, and most travelers don’t want to stay in hotels when on a road trip. The widely-accepted definition for car camping is when you camp anywhere you can drive your car. However, many people debate whether you actually have to sleep in your car to consider it car camping.
Car camping offers a compromise between both these worlds budget and freedom! So is car camping for you? Let’s look and see. To get started, here are 5 ways to make car camping your best adventure yet:
To kick off your road trip, you’ll need to modify your vehicle. There’s a subtle art to car camping that needs to be mastered. At the most basic level, you can recline the passenger seat and fall asleep. But with only a little work, you can turn your car into a slick mobile home! The best tactic is to be creative and consider how to optimize the available space. The number one priority should be to make a good sleeping area. You can recline the back seats to make a bed area or even remove them entirely. Before your trip, practice lying down to find a comfortable position.
Choosing the right mattress or sleeping pad for this is key. This isn’t a situation where you want one of those super-cushy, double-high mattresses: you’ll lose too much height in the vehicle’s interior.
What you will want to invest in is a good air pump, perhaps even a powered one, especially if you’ll be packing up every morning to hit the road. A vinyl patch kit is another essential item so you can repair any surprise punctures. Next, think about how you want to cook. You could open the trunk and try tailgating. This works great if you’re in warm weather but is less appealing for cold conditions. You might want storage boxes to keep clothes and miscellaneous items – where will they fit? How about netting and pouches fastened to the walls? Get out a toolbox and embrace the DIY aspect – that’s the only way to tailor your conversion to your liking!
2. Plan your Camping Spots
One of the challenging things about car camping is knowing where to sleep each night. For an easy and secure option, you can drive to a campsite and sleep there. You can even bring a tent with you to skip having to sleep in your car. This gives you access to toilets, showers, and other basic facilities. However, it can be surprisingly expensive. Another option is roadside camping, but the rules vary from country to country. Most places allow travelers to sleep at gas stations and rest stops but where’s the fun in that? Using an app like iOverlander provides you with a list of locations other car campers have already tried and tested.
If you want to find a quiet place to sleep, away from towns and main roads, make sure you begin searching before dark. You want plenty of time to suss out an area to make sure it feels secure and safe. As a last resort, you can stealth camp on a standard street parking slot. Although this should only be done in a pinch.
3. Bring Warm Layers
It can get surprisingly cold when you are car camping. A lot of heat is lost through the windows and most cars don’t have good insulation. Try to pack a similar kit for car camping as if you were pitching a tent. Have a warm fleece, a hat, and some comfy clothes to sleep in. Bring a sleeping bag, some blankets and a car sleeping pad to turn your vehicle into a soft bed. Pack plenty of pillows to stuff around you and try inflating a blow-up mattress. Wedging one between the seats can actually result in a pretty good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, whatever you do it’s going to be a little cramped but that’s all part of the adventure!
One of the big challenges with car camping is having no access to electronics. When the engine switches off, you can’t use lights or charge any electronics without draining the battery. Fortunately, there are a few solutions. The simplest choice involves no DIY or electrical work whatsoever. You just use a head torch and battery-powered lamps to light your car. Then, to charge electronics, use power banks and portable batteries (members of the car camping community often opt for a brand like Jackery). A cool box with some ice in it is your best bet for keeping any food or drinks cold.
If you’re confident with wiring, there are a few options to attempt. You can connect a deep-cycle battery to the car alternator which will charge while you drive. From here, you can then build a circuit that links to power sockets, lights, an electric fridge, and heaters. However, this is expensive, and it can be challenging if you’ve never attempted any electrical work before. Alternatively, buy solar panels and fasten them to the roof. Then use this eco-power to charge a battery! Don’t be afraid of trying a few tactics. If one doesn’t work, move on to another until you’ve found a solution that works for you.
5. Cover the Windows
One thing that takes a while to get used to when car camping is the exposure. At first, you can feel pretty on edge in the dark. Surrounded by windows, headlights and outside noises can keep you up all night. A quick fix is to cover the windows before you go to sleep. This transforms the car into a cocoon and makes it feel much safer. For a simple fix, buy a sun shield for the windows. Alternatively, buy some blackout material from a hardware store. Using Velcro strips, you can then design your own removable blinds!
Get it right and sleeping in your car or van can be a lot more comfortable than in a tent. You’re protected from the wind and rain, it’s more soundproofed and you’re off the ground
Car camping gets you outside while still offering the option of lockable dry shelter and climate control. And while #VanLife has inundated the camping space and is modeled as an ideal adventure machine, in reality, the vehicle you already have is perfect for getting out and creating memories. Ultimately, car camping should be fun and stress-free. You might have to spend a bit of money to get up and running but it will pay off in the long run. Yes, it’s probably going to be more uncomfortable than a hotel bed, but it’s the freedom that you’re really after.
Just remember, the amount of work you put in is exactly what you get back. If you want to fully invest in a DIY conversion, you’ll have to be willing to put in some time and effort. But isn’t that all part of the fun? There’s huge interest in keeping camping simple, cheap and spontaneous. So, time to turn your suv (or small van) into a part-time camper and start exploring.