While travelers are rediscovering car camping as a terrific budget-friendly alternative for travel, many people still have concerns about sleeping safely on the road.
Trust me; I’ve been there. For five years, I’ve lived an adventurer’s dream *cue the sound of complete freedom*.
I’ve done all of the genres of camping – pitching a tent in the wilderness, sleeping in a rooftop tent, and on an air mattress in the back of my SUV. All types of adventure travel have their advantages and disadvantages. A tent option is excellent when I travel with my partner or have a fully packed car. But when solo traveling, I feel much safer and more comfortable sleeping in the back of my locked vehicle.
In this blog, let’s touch on a few fears you might experience while car-camping on the road and some steps you can take to overcome those fears.
The first question everyone always asks is – why would anyone want to sleep in their car?
While I can think of dozens of reasons, I think the top three reasons that come to mind are:
Car camping is one of the most liberating ways to travel on a budget as long as you know your surroundings and are savvy about specific safety protocols. Car camping allows you to manage your budget by avoiding often-expensive accommodations for a night’s rest. However, the best aspect of the car-camping road trip is the absolute flexibility – you’re in total control of your destinations without timelines or commitments. Let’s get into these a little more…
I don’t think anyone is arguing that sleeping in your car is the safest option. But suppose you’re looking at a more adventurous lifestyle where you are arriving at places late, getting up early, on the road with flexible plans, in destinations without options for accommodations, or you don’t want to spend the money on a room that you’re hardly doing to be staying in. In that case, your sleeping options are decreasing, leaving pretty much some tent or car camping.
So then the question is – do you feel safer in a zipped tent or in a car that can be locked?
We can all agree that car camping is probably the cheapest option. Outside of having a car, car camping requires a minimal cost to set up a comfortable sleeping space. And while you’re out on your adventure, sleeping in your car opens a lot more options than if you have to pitch a tent. We’ll get into boondocking, and where it’s legal to sleep further on.
Imagine never having to worry about pre-booking a hotel or arriving by a certain time to check-in. When you’re car camping, you are in the driver’s seat with complete freedom to decide where you should go, and what your adventure looks like for you.
Complete flexibility is my favorite part of car camping. I can randomly decide that I want to go hiking, to another state, or even on a long-distance road trip without having to plan it day by day. If I drive by a lake that is absolutely epic and I want to spend the day there – I can. I don’t have to worry about getting somewhere before dark to check in. Car camping has opened the door for me to go to some pretty incredible places.
6 Tips For Feeling Safer When Sleeping On The Road
One way to feel more comfortable sleeping on the road is to cover up and protect your privacy. If you can see out of your car – outsiders may be able to see in. Using window screens will give you the privacy you’ll need to car-camp with more peace. There are various options, including slip-on, adhesive, and magnetic window shades. Find what works best for your car and your sleeping situation, but remember to remove all coverings before driving.
Your side windows aren’t the only spaces you should consider covering. You should also consider protecting your back and front windows and other gaps. For a budget friendly-option, consider using a sun shade for the front and rear windows. Sunshades are easy to install, and take down and look standard for people parking their cars. I personally really like a privacy curtain to use between the front and back seats. It’s a little less conspicuous; you can keep it up full-time.
Another excellent use for privacy coverings is when you’re away from your car. I even like to put up my window coverings at trailheads and urban areas to keep my gear from being out in plain sight.
When it comes to your car camping setup, I promise that the more organized you are, the more comfortable you’ll be and the safer you’ll feel. Check out my some of my Ideas For A More Efficient Car Camping Set-Up.
Be Smart About Where You Sleep
While car camping will give you the most flexibility in your travel plans, it’s still important to be smart about where you sleep. Scouting for potential sleeping locations will prevent you from searching for a safe, comfortable, and legal place to sleep late at night. It can help to create a list of public and private campgrounds, dispersed camping locations on public lands, or even some large retail parking lots that allow overnight parking.
The safest option is staying at campgrounds, which can quickly get expensive. Finding dispersed camping on public lands is free but requires you to be fully self-sufficient and has more safety concerns. While campgrounds and dispersed camping are always options, car camping allows you to pull over and rest in more urban and residential locations such as park n’ rides, rest stops, and even sure parking lots. I always sleep somewhere well-lit, nearby other cars, or off the road with easy access. Always remember to check for signage prohibiting you from being there.
At first, when I started car camping, I mostly stealth camped, which means camping in areas where you’re not necessarily supposed to be, like hotel parking lots or city streets. Although I checked the signage to ensure I wasn’t disobeying any regulations, I never felt comfortable. Cities are a means to an end and sometimes a necessity for traveling from place to place. If you are traveling through towns or cities, there are places you can stay for a night or two that are typically fine; rest stops, truck stops, WalMarts, or park-n-rides.
Some great apps are out there for finding free or nearly camping sites. My favorite apps are iOverlander and The Dyrt. iOverlander because it helps me find boondocking spots. The Dyrt is excellent for finding nearby campgrounds, reading reviews, and sorting by amenities. Free Roam is another popular app for finding boondocking sites, and you can always check out freecampsites.net.
Communication Is Key
Try to make sure you have access to good cell service wherever you end up sleeping. Send a text before committing to your location to ensure it works. Communicate your location with a family member or friend. For extra security, purchase a satellite communication device to send and receive messages, navigate, track, and share your location, and, if necessary, trigger an SOS to a 24/7 staffed global emergency response coordination center without having cell service.
Make An Exit Plan
Safety experts will tell you that the first thing you should do when you enter a new location is to look around and make an exit plan. This should be no different. My most important rule is always to leave my driver’s seat open, bag-free, and accessible
It’s Okay To Be High Maintenance
When your car becomes home, staying up-to-date on car maintenance is essential. When you run into an issue, address it as soon as possible. And if something happens while you are on the road, AAA’s got you covered. With 24-hour roadside assistance, AAA is there if you need a tow or a jump start, lock your keys in your car or get a flat tire. Plus, AAA offers comprehensive auto coverage so you can get the help you need if something goes wrong on the road.
Enjoy The Ride
Car camping has genuinely changed the way I’ve been able to travel and see the world. I’ve gone from spending a few days on the road to month-long road trips through some of the most beautiful places in the United States. Stop waiting for your adventure to begin. It’s time to create your adventure for yourself!
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