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PrettylilTraveler

IDEAS FOR A MORE EFFICIENT CAR CAMPING SET-UP

The Importance of a Well-Organized Car Camping Setup – 

Without a doubt, having a thoughtfully arranged car camping setup is crucial. 

When it comes to your car camping arrangement, I assure you that the more organized you are, the greater your comfort will be.

While embarking on a life on the road can be incredibly liberating, the challenges of car camping can swiftly become apparent if you’re not adequately prepared. With travel, meals, work, living, and sleep all confined to a tight space, enjoying yourself becomes difficult if you’re constantly grappling with misplaced items, disarray, and the need to reconfigure your car just to rest or start your day.

As someone who’s been a road trip enthusiast for over five years, I’ve certainly had my fair share of mishaps, particularly in the realm of staying organized. However, I’ve since honed my car camping setup to perfection, and it’s now essential for me to impart these tips to you. In this blog, I’ll be sharing insights on how I store my clothes, manage food supplies, access my sleeping area, address privacy concerns, and much more.

You might be wondering, what exactly do I mean by “car camping”?

In my understanding, car camping entails setting up a sleeping space within your car, foregoing the need for a tent, rooftop tent, or separate accommodation. I’m not referring to the luxuries of an RV or a converted camper, but rather the scenario where you think, “I want to embark on a two-week road trip, and all I have is my car.”

Pros to Car Camping:

There are numerous advantages to car camping. It offers unparalleled freedom and flexibility in your travel plans. With car camping, there’s no need to worry about booking hotels or campgrounds, nor do you have to adhere to specific arrival times. It’s the most budget-friendly form of travel, and you’ll wake up to breathtaking views. Additionally, I appreciate always being with my belongings, especially when traveling with valuable camera gear, as it provides a sense of security.

Cons to Car Camping:

While camping itself isn’t illegal, sleeping in your car can be frowned upon. Technically, it’s not permitted, and law enforcement may ask you to leave or even issue a citation. It’s crucial to be mindful of areas marked “no overnight camping” and understand the overnight laws for the area or town you’re in, avoiding parking on private property. My advice is to maintain a low-profile presence, whether in town, city, or wilderness.

Safety is another concern. It’s essential to remain aware of your surroundings at all times. I prefer to scout out sleeping locations while it’s still daylight, although that’s not always feasible. Sleeping near a town and ensuring access to cell service for emergencies can enhance feelings of safety.

Car camping isn’t suitable for everyone, but if you’re considering it, here’s my take:

It’s ideal for solo travelers, offering flexibility and a sense of security. It can also work for two people on short trips or with a raised setup, enabling storage beneath the sleeping space. However, it’s important to acknowledge that car camping isn’t glamorous. Restroom facilities may be limited, basic hygiene routines can be challenging, and you may not always enjoy the best night’s sleep. Nevertheless, if you’re seeking adventure and can overlook these minor inconveniences, why not give it a try?

Now for the goods. Ideas on how to create a car camping space that fits your needs…

Window Covers and Privacy

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 window 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

The magnetic window shade protection 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 windows, 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 into the car. I also didn’t love 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. 

Air Mattress Options

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 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 that will occur when you sleep in your car, don’t let comfort be one of them.

Memory Foam Mattress Option

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. 

Bedding

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. 

Clothing Storage

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

Portable 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 to. Daily things that required power:

RESEARCH. This means looking up directions, hikes, things to do in certain areas, and 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 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 spend $20 and get 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, but it also forces you 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.

Cooking On-The-Road

If you want to save money while you are traveling, one of the best ways you can do this is by cooking your 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 quickly. 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 spending money other places.

Living and Relaxation

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. 

OTHER IDEAS BEFORE YOU HIT THE ROAD

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase from one of my links. If you do decide to use these links, thank you so much for your support! I recommend these products because I have experience with them and use them for my own business. 

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