Sleeping in a car might not sound very appealing if you are used to the comfort of your home or cozy accommodations, but there are some benefits to doing so if you have no choice, if you simply want to take a different approach, or if you want to save money. No matter what your reasons might be I’ll tell you everything you need to know about sleeping in a car while traveling because you can turn it into an enjoyable experience.
Why should I sleep in my car?
Because it’s the budget-friendly way to get some rest, and it gives you the flexibility to do it when you need it, without having to make reservations and deal with check-ins. If you thought about hitting the road alone or with a loved one, sleeping in your car during a road trip is not much different from camping in a tent, but with a little less room to stretch. You might not have the same amount of space, but you’ll be safer, warmer, and you won’t have to spend a lot of time packing up to continue your journey.
However, there are many aspects you must keep in mind if you want to be safe, comfortable, and legal.
How to sleep in your car
It all depends on the season. The number one rule is not to leave your car running for warmth or AC, as you are in danger of getting intoxicated with carbon monoxide. How you make your bed will be the determining factor of how good your sleep will end up being. It greatly depends on the type of vehicle you’re traveling in. You can sleep in the front seat by folding down the seats, or you can sleep in the back seat.
But what if you’re tall? One option is to remove the back seats completely, so you have as much space as you can get and sleep diagonally. Some minivans, SUVs, and wagons have back seats that fold down to the floor of the car, and you can use them like that.
When it comes to comfort you can get really cozy using a camping sleeping bag such as this one. You can even use a camping mat for some extra padding. It is always good to take an extra blanket or two, especially in winter, and a pillow. If you’re afraid of running out of oxygen it won’t happen, but if the outside temperature allows, you can crack open one of the front windows for ventilation. If you know you have to sleep in the car during winter you can use insulation material around the windows. Besides that, thermal clothes are never a bad idea when sleeping in your car overnight during winter.
Privacy is very important to us all, and that doesn’t change while sleeping in the car. Block the windows on the inside with dark opaque curtains or shades. Sometimes you can use a tarp, but you should still use curtains, as anyone can lift the tarp from the outside. The tarp is useful if you’re planning on sleeping in a camping spot, but if you decide to use a public parking spot in a town it might attract unwanted attention from people who might think there’s nobody inside.
Keeping the outside of your car squeaky clean is also a good idea if you don’t want it to attract attention. Muddy or very dusty cars might look empty to those who don’t mean well.
I know sometimes it’s impossible to set the time you get tired, but the best time to sleep in your car, especially in a neighborhood is after 10-11 PM when the streets empty out. There’s always a chance you will be disturbed, but if that happens all you can do is be polite and move on to a new spot.
Is it legal to sleep in the car?
It highly depends on the area you’re in. In the US there is no nationwide law that states it’s illegal to sleep in your car, however, some towns, cities, and states have local laws which don’t allow it. You will have to do some quick research before stopping. If you live in another country it is imperative to look up the laws where you are, or you will risk having a police officer knock at your window during a great dream.
Finding the right place where you can sleep in your car is quite easy. Most Walmart stores in the US allow overnight parking, and if you don’t use a tarp you shouldn’t attract too much attention. Taking road trips is one of the most common vacation activities in the US, so the country itself is pretty lenient when it comes to this. Walmart’s stores have locations all over the country, and you will have a bathroom nearby to freshen up, as well as a way to get a ready-to-eat breakfast. Walmart is actually the best free overnight parking you can find in the US.
Even if most Walmart stores allow overnight parking, some have signs stating the contrary. If you manage to score a good parking spot you will enjoy the extra security and plenty of light, as well as free Wi-Fi.
Besides that, casinos are also open 24/7 and have overnight parking and similar benefits. Other 24/7 stores might give the same parking freedom, but if you are not sure, there’s no harm in asking. You might be lucky to find a 24-hour gym or a hospital that allows it.
If you don’t mind paying for stopping or if you have no choice, there are some other options available, such as truck stops and camping grounds. Many cities have parking with an hourly fee which might work if the city allows it.
How to stay safe while sleeping in your car
The more you do it, the easier it will get, but the first few times it can be quite nerve-wracking, and you might feel like someone is watching you constantly. Of course, covering all your windows is essential, but there are some other things you must keep in mind when trying to find a safe space to sleep in your car.
Again…NEVER leave your car running!
You don’t just have to think about others harming you, your health is also important. Don’t pack perishable items, so you don’t risk getting indigestion. If you must do so, make sure you invest in a good cooler. Your essentials should always include at least a big bottle of water.
Stick to the essentials. Don’t take any valuables if you don’t need to. Your laptop, camera, and phone don’t count, instead, leave the jewelry at home and try to use a debit card instead of cash.
Get a road trip companion (other than a small dog) but if that’s not possible make sure to let your loved ones know where you are. Google Maps allows you to share your live location with whomever you choose, but any other app that works the same would work.
Always charge your phone before going to sleep. Live location works while your phone is on and connected to data or Wi-Fi, but if you need to call the emergency services you must have your phone near you and usable.
Turn the lights off as fast as you can, so you don’t attract attention, especially if you’re in an urban area.
Never park on the side of the road. You’d be at risk for accidents and serious injury or even worse. Not only that, but you might wake up to your car being loaded onto a tow truck.
If you have to sleep in your car during winter, it will get cold no matter what you do. Protect your feet and hands, as those are the first ones to be affected by low temperatures. Insulated gloves and socks are essential.
Don’t leave your windows or doors open even if you sleep in a remote area with no traffic. You might not be at risk of getting robbed, but wild animals are always looking for food and they might attack.
If you’re planning to stop in a neighborhood, Googling the crime rate in the area would be the best option to avoid unwanted surprises.
Stay safe from insect bites with nets you can stick over the cracked windows. Mosquitoes carry diseases and possible allergies should never be neglected.
You don’t need all of them at once but all these items are essential depending on the season and the type of trip you’re taking. Of course, you won’t need a portable grill if you’re only planning to stop in Walmart’s parking lot for one night.
I am sure that following my advice and resources will help you sleep better, stay safer, and be more comfortable while sleeping in your car.