How to Safely Camp in Your Car

Learning to sleep comfortably and safely in your car is a handy strategy if you’re road-tripping on a budget or you enjoy the flexibility that comes with sleeping wherever you park. Being able to cozy up in the back in your car is especially convenient if the weather is poor and setting up the tent would be a challenge or if you’re arriving at camp late in the evening and just want to hit the sack.

Being able to sleep in your car opens up a whole new world of travel possibilities and you don’t need to have a tricked out campervan in order to comfortably do it. All you need is a sleeping bag and to follow our essential car sleeping tips

But comfort isn’t your only concern when sleeping in your car, it’s also about finding a safe place to camp for the night. You won’t get a good night’s sleep if you’re worried about your safety, so here are some safety tips we’ve learned along the way to ensure a restful night’s sleep.

Only Camp in Your Car Where It is Safe and Legal To Do So

forest trees vehicle road

Rules vary by city and state, but sleeping in your car is typically legal on public lands and in national forests. Find a roomy pull-out or a dispersed campsite and make sure you’re not blocking the road for others. Avoid camping on the side of the road.

Trailheads can make great spots for camping in your car too. Just make sure to check the posted signage to make sure overnight parking allowed. 

Generally, it is only legal to sleep in your car at designated campgrounds in national parks. Disregard this rule and you may be up for a rude awakening in the middle of the night.

Illegal car camping in places like Yosemite National Park has become a real problem and rangers often patrol the pull-outs and trailheads for car campers at night. 

Highway rest areas and Walmart parking lots tend to allow overnight parking if you find yourself near an urban area. Other safe options for overnight parking in cities include church parking lots, 24-hour gyms, hotels, and truck stops if it is legal to do so.

Always Let Someone Know Where You’re Staying the Night

Whether you’re camping in a designated site in a national park or a long way down a dirt road in a remote section of a national forest, it is always a good idea to let someone know where you are camping and when they should expect you back.

It’s also good to let them know whether or not you expect to have cell phone reception and a time when they should expect you to check in with them. 

It may seem like overkill to keep someone updated on your whereabouts or about any last-minute changes to your plans, but you’ll be grateful you did if you end up needing any assistance. 

Choose a Fairly Populated Area Over a Remote Locale

flat tire car camping

This may sound counterintuitive, but camping in your car in a more populated area can actually be and feel a lot safer than camping somewhere off the beaten track. If you run into a problem, you can usually find people willing to help. 

Once I wound up with two flat tires while camping solo in my car in Montana, sixty miles from the nearest town and with no cell phone reception. Thankfully, I wasn’t too far from a popular camping area so I was able to get the help that I needed. Had I been in a super remote area, I’m not quite sure what I would have done.

Plus, if you’re the only car around rather than near a lot of parked cars, you’ll stick out. You don’t want to do anything to unnecessarily draw attention to yourself, such as being the only car parked in an empty parking lot.

Always Listen To Your Gut

If you’ve got a bad vibe about where you’ve parked for the night, there is probably a good reason. Listen to your gut and find somewhere else to camp. If you’re concerned about your safety, you won’t get a great night of sleeping anyway so you’re better off finding a different spot even if the actual threat is low. Always lock your car doors and keep the driver’s seat clear in case you need to scoot up front and make a quick getaway.

Sleep With Your Keys Within Reach

This is one of my favorite hacks for feeling safe while sleeping in my car. I always keep my key fob nearby, if not in my hand, while sleeping. If for some reason, someone was to approach your car in the middle of the night or you feel creeped out for any reason, you can easily hit the panic button to deter someone or some animal from getting any closer. If you don’t have a car alarm system, you can keep your cell phone nearby and any self-defense items you have to make you feel safer. 

READ MORE: Cold Weather Camping Tips

Camp Somewhere You’re Already Familiar With

lake campground rv park

If the idea of camping in your car makes you a little nervous, try camping somewhere you’re already comfortable with first. This is an excellent idea if you’re traveling solo. All those random noises you may hear in the night will be a lot creepier if you’re alone and in someplace unfamiliar. You’ll feel a bit safer in familiar territory.

Create Some Privacy By Covering the Windows

I woke up to a man staring at me in a truck once and I do admit it was a little creepy. Rigging up some window coverings with sheets, towels, or blankets can give you a little extra privacy, plus it can help keep the early morning sun out too. You can secure the coverings with bungee cords or clips; just make sure to leave a little opening for ventilation.

Never Leave Home Without The Ten Essentials

The Ten Essentials are a list of safety items that everyone should have on hand when venturing into the wilderness. These survival items are just as important to have on the road as out on the trail, so make sure to pack them for every trip. These items include a map, a headlamp with spare batteries, sun protection, a first-aid kit, a knife, fire starting supplies, shelter, extra food, extra water, and extra clothing. A good road-trip kit should also include a cell phone charger, jumper cables, and signal flares.

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