How to Camp in Your Car: The Complete Guide

Have you ever daydreamed about dropping everything and just driving off with no particular destination in mind? When you’re on a road trip, you get to leave day to day obligations behind, disconnect for a while, and enjoy your freedom. But before you throw your sleeping bags in the back and head off, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind to make the experience a safe and enjoyable one. 

To save you hours of research – I’ve put together a quick guide on how to camp in your car.

It should answer all of your questions and give you all of the info you need to know before you ride out.

Man standing at campsite with car next to him

Picking The Right Location To Park 

While the range of locations you’ll have available to you will depend on where you’re planning to go – there are a few “rules of thumb” to take into account. First and foremost is – safety! Whether you’re going to park out in the woods, at a campsite, or even stay the night at a public parking lot, you want to make sure that you’ll spend the night safely.

Parking at a drive-in campsite or outback

If your trip leans more towards the camping side of things – then this one’s definitely for you. Look up some of the campsites that allow drive-ins and go camp out, minus the tent. It’s that simple! However, if you’re considering going out into the wilderness or camping at a BLM (Bureau of Land Management) territory – you should make sure that your car can traverse the terrain. 

The last thing you want is getting a flat tire in the literal middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from any help. With BLM lands, in particular, you should also be careful of fire-bans. As rangers do make occasional patrols and a fine for defying a fire-ban can quickly turn your budget camping trip into the most expensive one you’ll ever take.


View of mountains from the back of a car

What you’ll need to pack

When most of us pack for a camping trip – I generally tend to bring way too much stuff. Camping in your car limits the number of things you can bring and forces you to be conservative – because your vehicle needs to not only have enough space for all of your gear but enough for you to fit comfortably as well.

On that note, plastic bins are an amazingly handy thing to bring with you. They allow you to organize your stuff easily and ultimately create more free space inside of your vehicle. If you need inspiration on how to organize your camping gear using plastic bins, I usually stick to the following checklist:

  • Food bin – containing all of our food and perishables
  • Clothing bin – where I keep the essential clothing I’m bringing along for the trip
  • Toiletries bin – that houses all of the essentials to upkeep personal hygiene as you camp
  • The misc. bin – which contains just about every odd small item such as tissues, flashlights, electronics, flint and the occasional bungee cord as well

After all – it’s not rocket science! Just a bit of Marie Kondo magic, and voila, you’ve got all the space in the world, without being underprepared for your trip. And when it comes to what you should bring – it’s no different than your standard camping checklist.

How to sleep in your car while you camp

If you’ve got a van on your hands (or maybe even an RV), then you’ve got nothing to worry about when it comes to comfort. However, for those of us who plan to make do with our sedans or trucks – here are a few handy tips to get comfy and settle in for a good night’s sleep.

Fold your rear seats down

If your car has the option, putting your rear seats down (or taking them out altogether) creates a lot of extra space to set up a make-shift bed. Which will go quite a long way when it comes to sleeping comfortably throughout your trip.

Wear warm clothing to bed

Even in the summer, temperatures during nighttime can get pretty darn cold. Unfortunately, your car doesn’t exactly have a whole lot of insulation to maintain warmth. So, unless you enjoy sleeping in freezing temperatures – bundle up to make sure you stay cozy throughout the night.

Sleep with your head propped up

When you’re camping in your car, especially if you parked on a hill – it’s a pretty good idea to keep your head elevated a little while you sleep. This prevents you from getting sick and helps you not wake up to a roaring headache on the first night of your trip.

Closing Thoughts

Well, there you have it! Congratulations on graduating from “how to camp in your car 101.” I hope that this guide gave you some new insight, inspired you for your next trip, and, most of all – helped you get ready for the journey ahead. When done right, camping in your car can be pretty fun.

But, it takes careful planning, a little bit of research, and a good deal of preparation to pull it off, make it fun, and leave you feeling refreshed after your trip. You may also find my article on how to plan a camping trip useful as well! A lot of it applies here too.

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