EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the most common questions I get about car camping is whether or not having a well-thought-out car camping setup is necessary. I agree with the author of this blog post PrettylilTraveler, when she says absolutely! Living on the road or even just car camping for a few days can get really annoying really fast if you’re not sleeping well or constantly misplacing your things. I can’t tell you how many times I misplaced chargers before I finally created a home for them. And once I realized how much easier my life was and how much more I was able to accomplish each day when I wasn’t spending an hour looking for my laptop charger, I then made every area of my car camping setup more efficient such as my kitchen and work space. The more organized you are, the more comfortable you will be on the road. Keep reading to learn more tips about how to have an efficient car camping setup. If you have any questions about your car camping setup, send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d love to help you out!
Is having a well-thought-out car camping setup important? Let me be the first to answer that question… YES!
When it comes to your car camping setup, I promise that the more organized you are, the more comfortable you’ll be.
Although living life on the road may be the most freeing thing you’ll ever do, the pain points of car camping are going to hit you quickly if you are not prepared. You are going to be traveling, eating, working, living, and sleeping in a very tight space. It’s going to be extremely hard for you to enjoy yourself if you are constantly battling with misplacing your stuff, disorganization, and having to completely shift around your car to sleep or start your day.
I’ve been a road trip warrior for almost 5 years, and I’ve definitely made my fair share of mistakes, mostly when it comes to staying organized. But now, I can confidently say that I have perfected my car camping set up so now it’s important for me to share these tips with you. In this blog I am going to be sharing with you how I store my clothes, where I put my food, how I access my sleeping area, what I use to keep peepers out, and more.
So the first question you might be asking yourself is, what do I mean when I say “car camping”.
By my definition, car camping means that you are setting up a sleeping space within your car to sleep without exiting to sleep in a tent, rooftop tent, or a separate accommodation. I’m also not talking about sleeping the luxuries of an RV or a converted camper. I’m talking about “Damn I want to go on a 2-week road trip and I only have a car”.
THE PROS TO CAR CAMPING… There are so many pros to car camping. You will never feel freer and have more flexibility in your travel plans. When you are car camping, you don’t have to worry about booking a hotel or campground. And forget about having to be at a certain place at a certain time. It is the most budget-friendly form of travel, and you’ll wake up with some GORGEOUS views. I also kinda love that I’m always with my stuff. When I am traveling for an extended period of time, especially with a lot of camera gear, I find a little peace in knowing that I’m not leaving my gear unattended.
AND THE CONS… Although camping isn’t illegal, it is still frowned upon. Technically you’e not supposed to sleep in your car, and cops can come to ask you to leave and even cite you with a ticket. You have to be very observant of areas that are posted “no overnight camping”, as well as know the overnight laws for the area/towns, and definitely don’t park on private property. My suggestion is to try to keep a low-key presence whether you be in town, city or wilderness.
Also, safety. Safety might be the biggest concern for people who are thinking about car camping. Like anything, you always have to be aware of your surroundings. There are ways to feel safer on the road. I typically try to scope out where I’m going to sleep while it’s still light outside, however, that’s not always possible. I like to sleep near a town and always try to drive into some sort of cell service in case I need to reach someone quickly.
Car camping is not for everyone. But if you’re wondering if it’s right for you – here’s my opinion on it.
Car camping is perfect for solo travelers because it gives you a little more flexibility and protection than normal camping. It could also be a good option for 2-people on either short trips or if you have a raised set-up, meaning that you build storage under your sleeping space. Car camping is not glamorous. Using the restroom is an issue, brushing your teeth is a challenge and you’re never going to get the best night’s sleep. BUT if you are looking for an adventure and you don’t sweat the little things, might as well give it a try!
Now for the goods. Ideas on how to create a car camping space that fits your needs…
Window covers may be the most important accessory in your car camping lineup. Not only do the right window shades offer a level of privacy and security, but if you choose the right ones, they can also help for better ventilation and airflow. If you purchase anything from this list, start with your shades. I have listed below a few different versions of window covers that I have used and loved.
Luno Car Window Screens – What I love about the Luno car screens is that they easily slide over your vehicle’s rear window frame, allowing you to sleep in comfort. Crack your window and enjoy the cool summer breeze without worrying about bugs flying in. These window screens are easy to put on and store.
Magnetic Window Shade Protection – This option might be a little more practical for longer road trips. The pros to these are that you can attach and remove them easily. So if you forget to take the magnetic shades off before you start driving, you can quickly reach back and pull them down without having to get out of your car. The cons to these magnetic shades are that since they connect from the inside and they aren’t the best option for a little airflow. While you can roll down your window, I don’t think they are going to stop the bugs from coming in and you definitely want to think about only cracking your windows to make it more difficult for people to reach in.
Window Guards – Another option is to put window guards on your windows. This probably won’t help keep out bugs, but will give you the option to crack the top of your window without worrying about someone being able to reach in. If you go this route, make sure you buy ones that fit the make and model of your vehicle.
I I quickly learned that privacy was key to a successful night’s sleep. Covering your rear side windows is definitely a must, but it’s also just as important to add some type of covering to the back and front to prevent anyone from being able to see inside.
Front and Rear Window Shades – For the front and back window, in the past, I’ve just used an expandable shade (like you would find at your local Auto Parts store). While it was a good option for the back, I found that the front had gaps where people could still see in. I also didn’t like the visual look of covering my front windows (it looked so obvious and the last thing I wanted was for it to look like someone was potentially sleeping in the car). I’ve since upgraded to what I find is a much better solution, the Luno Privacy Curtain. It’s the perfect way to add some privacy and sun-blocking protection to your next adventure without obstructing your front window view.
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Anytime I am solo car camping, having a fixed sleeping space is a must. You do not want to go through the hassle of setting up a space every night. Why? Safety and convenience. If you’re arriving at your location after dark, the last thing you want to do is draw attention to yourself by having to exit your car to set up your bed. Don’t make it obvious that you are car camping unless you are on a property campsite, dispersed camping area, or public lands.
The next thing you should invest in is a good mattress or sleeping pad. If you are on a budget, you really can just use a bunch of blankets or something you have around the house. But if you can afford to upgrade your space, I would highly suggest purchasing a mattress. Below are some options that might make sense.
Luno Air Mattress – The Luno Air Mattress inflates in just a few minutes to create a comfortable sleeping surface in your vehicle. It’s big enough for two people or you can choose to inflate just one side for solo travelers who are looking for a little more car space. This mattress is beyond comfortable and it’s designed to fit the size of your car. It also comes with gap fillers that fit between the back seats and the floor space to balance your mattress for the perfect night’s sleep.
Inflatable Sleeping Pad – If you already have an inflatable sleeping pad (like the kind you would use tent camping), you’re already ahead of the game. Inflatable sleeping pads add loads of support, plus they will fit nicely along the side of your tailgate or in your backseat of your vehicle. Another great reason for you to use a backpacking pad instead of a mattress is that it will reduce the number of items you’ll have to pack if you’re planning on tent camping while on your trip. The Nemo Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad is the pad that I use for backpacking because it weighs about 1lb 3oz. It’s also incredibly easy to inflate, one of the most comfortable of the ultra-light options out there right now and packs up super small. The Exped MagaMat has great ratings on REI, and was suggested to me as a great option for larger men or people who have really want that extra padding. Lastly, a cheaper option is the REI Air Rail. You can typically find these for dirt cheap at the REI garage sale. I’ve used this pad for about 5 years now and it still works great for warmer or cold weather. The downfall is that it packs up a little larger and it’s weighs closer to 2 lbs.
In all honesty, your sleeping space is most likely going to be stationary so unless you are a huge backpacker and really need that ultralight, ultra small pad, get something that is going to be comfortable. With all of the other distractions at night will occur when you sleep in your car, don’t let comfort be one of them.
Memory Foam Mattress Options – You can always go the route of a foam pad. The benefits are that you can probably find a foam pad for cheap, and I think it’s probably more comfortable than an inflatable pad option. The cons are that foam pads take up a lot of room and if you do not have fixed sleeping space, you are going to lose out on a lot of space in your car when this is packed up. Below I’ve included two foam pad options, but as I mention – just get something cheap and cut it to size.
Related Post: 10 Best Free Campsites in Colorado
Your bedding should be easy, pack whatever you have. Don’t forget a pillow, blankets and I would suggest a sleeping bag. Having a sleeping bag is a great solution to adding a little more padding to your bed set-up, and so helpful on colder nights. Even when I’ve traveled with a warmer blanket or comforter, I’ve still found that I had to climb into my sleeping bag a few nights because it was too cold. Remember, you are not going to have heat.
This might be something that you already have at home, but I swear by using a 3-tier storage container to help keep you organized on the road. I typically place mine in the back seat with the drawers facing outward so I can access my stuff quickly. I would recommend using this for your clothes, but obviously, you can use it for whatever makes the most sense for you! Shoes I just keep accessible on the floor of my back seat and I’ll keep trash bags handy so I can keep the dirt from my shoes away from the rest of my stuff.
Power is critical out on the road if you are planning on using any sort of electronics, especially when you need to charge cameras and computers. I used my computer way more than I expected too. Daily things that required power: RESEARCH. This means looking up directions, hikes, things to do in certain areas, times that that places are open. One of the biggest mistakes I made on my road trips was not having enough power so I could do this research near my car. I was constantly looking for restaurants or coffee shops that I could plug in and grab some wifi. Most of the time, I would just end up wasting hours of my day struggling with finding a place to plug in and I would have to spend a lot of money buying drinks and food that I really didn’t need. Now I bring power with me. If you have the funds to make the investment, purchase something with a lot of watts that can charge your computer. Having a solar option is also smart so you can charge while you’re working.
Now that you have your battery bank, you’ll need something to recharge your portable charger so I recommend you spending $20 and getting yourself a power inverter so you can recharge your power banks while you are driving. If you choose to not purchase a power bank, you can also use the inverter to charge your cameras and computers but you will have to leave your car running while they charging which is not the best solution. Not only is leaving your car idle bad for the environment, it also forces you to have to stay in your car while you work and trust me, the last thing you want to do after being stuck in your car for such a long time already.
If you want to save money while you are traveling, one of the best ways you can do this is buy cooking your own food on the road. Depending on how long you are going to be traveling for, you might be able to get away with just just eating cold foods like sandwiches, cereal, and food like that, but that’s going to get old quick. I would suggest purchasing a little stovetop and bringing some cooking supplies so that you will WANT to make food on the road. Having food that you want to make on the road will save you from stopping at fast food and spend money other places.
Fridge and Cooler Options:
Don’t forget your:
Links (If Available)
Pots and Pans
Anything you have available
Paper Towels, Plates, Bowls, Utensils
Anything you have available
Can Opener, Wine Opener, Lighter
Anything you have available
Bag Of Condiments, Salt, Pepper, Seasonings
Anything you have available
Cutting Knife and Small Cutting Board
Anything you have available
Rounding off this list with things that will make car camping a little more enjoyable. Remember that while you are car camping, you are going to be hanging out in some pretty incredible spots so get out and enjoy the view. I’ve added these items because I love sitting outside and being able to set up a little working station near my car. Some of these things you might already have at home like chairs and tables, but remember that you’ll want to reduce the amount of space each item takes up in your car so, if possible, get packable and space reducing gear for outside your vehicle as well.
Click here to read more blog posts about life as a full time solo traveler. If you want to make traveling more of a priority this year, watch my free webinar that will teach you how you too can travel full time. And lastly, connect with us on Instagram! We’d love to get to know you! Happy traveling!