By Violet Knight
Hopefully, if you wind up camping in your car, it’s as a part of a planned experience on an adventure filled with wonder. Exploring our beautiful planet is twice as magical when you can do it with ease, and car camping has made that option a reality. There are loads of excellent tips, tricks, DIYs, and hacks on the internet which detail the intricacies and instructions behind these ideas, so let’s introduce you to all of your top options.
The secret to success when it comes to camping in your car is planning ahead. Being clever as an afterthought is rarely likely to help in a moment of great camping need; it’s important to remember that nature is far more powerful than we tend to give her credit for, and accidents happen because, well, they’re unpredictable in these situations. Comfortable and safe car camping absolutely relies on smart, strategic planning.
The first order of business is to consider the details of your camping experience. Is this an extended trip or a one- to two-night stay? Your needs will undoubtedly vary based on the duration of your trip, how often you will be in isolated areas, and how many nights you’ll be sleeping in your car. Consider making a visual chart or text note to list days, nights, activities, and any important or helpful route markers.
There are plenty of great sites on the internet (and now also apps) to help determine suitable overnight parking spaces. Some areas may require permits, so you’ll want to verify all of your planned parking places ahead of time. If you’ve no solid reasoning behind where to stop, consider the fact that ideal overnight parking areas will be flat and offer some shade. You may be able to better identify where to stop based on the topography of your intended route.
Once you’ve secured the sleeping arrangements for each night, it’s time to start making the trip a reality!
As mentioned, camping in your car requires some crafty forethought. If you’re contending with potential unknown weather and environmental conditions, you may need to bring even more “just in case” gear than camping already requires. In short: efficiency is key!
Do your best to assign double-duty to as many items as possible, including storage and stowing solutions. Again, many of these solutions are detailed beautifully online, and include common, brilliant hacks for many of the most common camping necessities such as: light sources, basic tools and multitools, water, ice, matches, utensils and culinary accessories, sanitization stations, toiletries, and even for creating light and sound pollution solutions for a full night’s sleep in the car.
When it comes to bringing and cooking food on your car camping trip, be sure to do plenty of research about bears and other potentially harmful wildlife in your destination area beforehand. How you should handle food and cooking will vary greatly based on potential threats in your area, with bears commonly being the most notable foe. For those who will be safely cooking out and eating along the way, research some of the ingenious ideas for storing, cooking, and properly disposing of kitchen goods (including bringing along an excellent car vacuum).
It’s important to remember our impact on the planet as we are exploring it. Plenty of reputable websites also can help us decipher how to best take trips that cause minimal harm along the way, which is especially important to help offset the inevitable pollutants of our vehicles. Even day trips can cause notable damage—and think about how many folks are making them all at the same time! These details can be included in your grand plans and may even help provide some extra, unthought-of tips for your specific type of excursion.
Getting back to more immediate impacts, a separate list for packing will be the nicest thing you’ve ever done for yourself. Along with the aforementioned items, consider the following: electronics and a charging station with portable batteries, sleeping bags, pads, and/or a blow-up mattress (with power source if needed), sleeping pillows, a lumbar support, a comfy neck pillow, a hot plate, hygiene, first aid, and emergency roadside kits, a mirror, and any other vanity products desired.
A few logistical items absolutely must be taken into account when car camping, as well. As mentioned, it would be best if the car was parked in a relatively flat space; however, this isn’t always an option, so if the car must be on an angle overnight, be sure that you’re falling asleep with your head at the higher elevation and your feet at the lower. When parking your car, also consider if there are wheel-wells on the interior that will make sleeping in one direction or the other more spacious and comfortable.
Now that we’ve established how to park on your given terrain, we should finish discussing the factors influencing what constitutes a good parking spot. As car camping denotes sleeping within said vehicle, there are going to be some predetermined or calculable realities to contend with, heat and light being two of them. A well-shaded area will keep your vehicle cooler longer, and darker, too.
That being said, if the weather is or will become formidable (snowstorm, thunderstorm, strong winds, etc.) throughout your sleeping hours, parking beneath trees or other natural elements that could fall or otherwise make forcible contact with your vehicle and could cause serious injury is not at all recommended. For this reason, having some means of blocking window light and providing privacy is usually a choice idea regardless. Be sure to compensate appropriately with sleepwear if this may create a frigid sleeping environment.
One More Thing
Lastly, car camping 101 can’t fail to mention that sleeping with all the car windows rolled all the way up leads to a major bummer of a condensation problem inside the vehicle come morning time. To avoid damage to your vehicle and uncomfortable sleeping conditions, ventilation is a must. Of course, this might expose you to unwanted pests, but thankfully these can easily be stopped by way of magnetic, fine mesh bug screens that you can attach to the outside of the car before cozying up inside.
Need that Instagram moment? Spend a few bucks on a solar-powered or battery-powered light string and hang it to frame your rear interior and then just kick back and wait for sunset!