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When it comes to saving money on travel, I’m all about it! Many people ask me how I afford to travel so cheaply. Most of the time, the answer isn’t something they want to hear – I cut comforts. One aspect of cheap travel is sleeping in my car or camping instead of spending a grand on a hotel or Airbnb. But don’t worry, here are 10 tips for more a comfortable night of sleep in your car.
Before I get into the tips, I need to tell you about my experiences. First, I’m a solo traveler so when I give tips, I’m generally speaking from living out of my car as a single person. I also don’t have a big car, but I’m only 5’5’’ so I fit perfectly in the back with the front seat scooted forward. I drive a Honda HRV and love it. It is on the smaller end of SUVs. But like I said, I’m the only person, usually with my dog, so it works.
I did sleep in the back one night with my best friend and dog, and we slept very comfortably. It was really cold that night and we were super toasty warm in the car with three bodies. But you may not want that in the summer.
However, you can take these tips and adjust them to fit your lifestyle. The first thing, is you want to make sure you are in a place that allows camping.
1. A light-colored car with tinted windows
I realize if you are trying to save money and are going to sleep in your car, then you probably are not in the market for a new vehicle. A lighter-colored vehicle definitely helps keep your car cool during the day. I currently own a white car, which replaced my dark gray car. I specifically told the salesman I didn’t want white because my sister has the exact same vehicle and hers is white.
Well, I ended up with white. A month after I bought it, I road-tripped through Utah…in August, and I noticed a significant difference in the temperature of the inside of my white vehicle than my dark gray.
Another way you can help keep the temperature cooler is by tinting your windows. Another aspect I wasn’t thrilled about when I purchased my vehicle, but after driving around and sleeping in my car in the August heat, I was glad they were tented.
2. Use a sunshade to keep inside cooler during the day
Don’t have a white car or want tented windows? No worries. Be sure to use a sunshade (like this one) in your windshield and windows to keep the hot sun from roasting your vehicle. By keeping the inside of your vehicle from heating up as much in the day, it will take much less time and energy to cool it off.
And in the evening, when you want to climb into the back of your car for a good night of sleep, you’ll be glad it has cooled down quickly.
5. Window screens keep the bugs at bay
Another problem with sleeping in your car when it’s warm outside is when you crack the windows for airflow or ventilation, you might get bugs too, And they will, well, bug you. You can purchase mesh window covering from Amazon (like these).
These slip over your door so you can roll the windows down for nice airflow and ventilation and keep the bugs out. If there is a chance of rain, you can purchase them with an awning to help keep the rain from falling in on you.
4. Pre-warm your sleeping bag with your vehicle
OK, so those are great tips for warm or hot weather sleeping, but what if it’s cold? One great thing about sleeping in your car is that you can turn it on for a little bit and run the heat. It’s glorious and helps you get comfortable before going to bed.
But one thing to remember is your sleeping bag is designed to insulate the air inside it. Sleeping bags trap body heat, but also can trap the cold air when not used. So when you pre-warm your vehicle, you’ll want to open your sleeping bag so the warm air from your heater can be trapped in the bag. Then when you crawl into it, you don’t have to use your precious body heat to warm it up.
Want a pro-tip? Keep a trekking pole in your driver’s seat. That way, you can depress the brake to start the vehicle without having to get into the driver’s seat.
5. Eat a snack just before bed
Another tip to help you get comfy warm when going to sleep is to eat a snack. Now, normally I would never advise bringing food into your tent. It can attract bears at the worst, or mice that eat holes in your tent at the least.
But in your vehicle, your food is stored properly. And when sleeping in your car, it’s right at hand! I do need to note, that food is only stored properly in a hardshell vehicle, meaning no soft-top convertibles or Jeeps. Also, this tip is for winter or cooler temperatures when you’ll have your windows up.
6. Keep it comfy and easy
When you sleep in your car, things can get cramped and uncomfortable. You really want to keep it comfy and easy if you are going to be living out of your car for a week or so. One way I do this is by making up my bed in the back of my vehicle and just leaving like so for the entire trip.
This way, I don’t have to rearrange things or make up my bed every night or when I want to nap. Make sure you have enough room and your bedding is soft. I make mine as much as my bed at home so I don’t dread crawling in the back to sleep. I use the door handle and pock on the door as my side table. I also use the pocket on the back of my passenger seat to store my book, phone, and headlamp.
7. Keep the back organized and compartmentalized
You will also want to keep your living area organized and compartmentalized. Find a way that it works for you and try not to let it get messy or unorganized. Remember when you are at home you don’t take the remote from the living room to the bathroom, right? I know, I get spacey too sometimes and carry it in there on accident. But normally we don’t.
So you know how frustrating it is to find that remote, just think if you looking for something in a tightly confined space. One frustrating thing for me is that my belongings are piled in bags and storage cubs so when I have to dig for something, I usually have to unpack and then repack when I find it.
It’s super frustrating, but by keeping it organized, tidy, and compartmentalized, I, fortunately, don’t have to do it too often.
8. But…forget keeping the front seat tidy. Think of it as your junk drawer.
However, with that said, forget about keeping the front seat tidy. Just think of this space as your junk drawer. When I road trip, I usually eat my lunch, snack, look at maps, look at brochures, and all those kinds of things from the driver’s seat. My extra layers, hats, etc. also usually end up there. This causes my front passenger seat to pile up. I just let it go, and don’t worry about it.
If you are not traveling solo, you can use the space right behind the front seat for this area. But if you do this, you might want a square tote or box (like these) to keep it all collected.
9. Seats don’t fold flat? Add plywood to keep your bed level
I am fortunate that my car’s backseats fold completely flat. However, most vehicles don’t, which can make a night of sleep in your car a little uncomfortable. Consider using plywood along with something underneath it like a rolled-up towel to even out your bed area.
An extra thick inflatable sleeping pad or even an air mattress can hide the unevenness as well.
10. Use a chair or something to even out or lean against if you are stuck on a hill
Now, there have been a few nights where I couldn’t find a flat place to park. This stinks! Sleeping on an incline is no fun. So sometimes I use my camp chair or an extra sleeping mat to stuff under the mat I’m sleeping on. I stuff it under one side or place it alongside me so that I can lean on it.
Doing things like this has been a big lifesaver for many nights.
Sleeping in your car
Living out of your car for a week isn’t nearly as uncomfortable as it sounds. My nephew and I took a long trip and arrived at our destination late. Because there were four of us on the trip, we had to set up two tents. This is where sleeping in your car has big advantages. If had it set up, I could have just crawled into the back and gone to bed.
Another time I was extremely exhausted on my way back from Colorado. The campsite was pretty expensive and I highly considered getting a hotel because it wasn’t much more. But it was just so much easier to climb in my backseat than to find all my stuff, get out and walk in and register for a room. So I just opted for the car.
Thank you Mara.
I found this article most helpful.
I actually have a question or two for you regarding how you organize your clothing and food supplies all year round?
On one tent camping trip with friends in the mountains of North Carolina, we put all our food in my van, as the park was right next to a bear sanctuary. Next morning I discovered I hadn’t even closed the van door! But nothing was disturbed. I guess my guardian angel was sitting in the door, daring any bears to mess with my vehicle. 🙂
Oh my goodness! I would say so 😅