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13 Car Camping Tips for a Safe and Fun Getaway

A woman sitting on the open tailgate of a vehicle, holding a camping mug.

Camping is an excellent idea for anyone looking to take a more isolated vacation. If the idea of sleeping in a tent doesn’t thrill you, though, you might want to try car camping and just sleep in your vehicle.

If you do it right, car camping can be more comfortable than sleeping in a tent. It’s also really fun! Camping is an ideal way to connect with nature and relax. Plus, it’s an easy way to vacation and social distance, which is why many people are choosing it while the weather’s nice.

We’ll get you started on your car-camping adventure!

Plan Ahead

Don’t just hop in your car with some stuff, drive somewhere cool, and hope you can find a spot to park and sleep. Just like camping in a tent, car camping often requires either reservations or a permit.

Research the location you want to visit and find out what you need to do to make it happen. Opt for a spot with some hiking trails or a lake nearby so you’ll have plenty to do.

Bring a Sanitizing Kit

Just because you’re socially distancing in your car doesn’t mean hygiene can go out the window. If you’re near a legitimate campsite, you might still be using a public restroom, and every camper knows those can be less than clean.

If you’re really roughing it without a restroom, you’ll have to bring your own supplies. Pack some hand soap and sanitizer, and other necessary toiletries. It’s also not a bad idea to bring your own disinfectant wipes or spray to clean up whenever you feel a bit dirty.

Pack a Portable or Solar Battery Charger

You’re sleeping in a car, not a hotel, which means you’ll need to bring some backup to keep your cell phone and other devices charged. A portable battery charger will definitely come in handy. Keep in mind, though, it’ll have to be charged at some point, too.

We like the Anker Solar Panel for spending time outdoors. Sitting under direct sunlight, it can charge two devices simultaneously. It’s also very durable and folds up to a compact size for easy storage.

You can also easily attach it to a vehicle, tent, or tree.

Make Sure Your Vehicle Is Well-Lit

Unless you plan to leave your vehicle running and drain the battery, it’s going to get pretty dark as soon as the sun goes down. To add some light and ambiance, try hanging a few lanterns in your car.

These Vont Camping Lanterns have a collapsible brightness control so you can easily it to exactly what you want. These will keep your car well-lit, so you can read or relax without sitting in pitch-black darkness.

Sleep with the Windows Slightly Open

It’s never a good idea to sleep in a car with all the windows tightly shut. Leave them open just a bit so the air can circulate.

Not only will this ventilate the car, but it will also prevent condensation from fogging up the windows.

Add Some Privacy with Window Screens

If you’re freaked out about the idea of someone walking by your car and just looking at you through the window, you can make things more private with window screens.

These Shade Sox Universal Car Window Shades are made of a super fine, stretchy mesh that easily fits over your car window. You can still roll your windows down to let in some air, too.

These also provide UV protection so your vehicle won’t get as warm, and they also prevent bugs from getting in your car.

Bring Your Own Shower

Even if you’re at a public campground with a restroom, the shower area might be closed. Even if it isn’t, you might not want to risk using it. Of course, none of this changes the fact that camping and spending time outdoors can leave you pretty smelly.

A portable shower is the perfect solution! The Ivation Portable Outdoor Shower is basically a battery-powered nozzle that turns a sink or bucket of water into a little shower. You can hold it or attach it to a tree.

If you’re looking for more privacy, this Abco Tech Pop-Up Tent is a great space to hang your portable shower. You can also use it as a changing room or toilet area. It folds up to a compact size and is really easy to use.

Make Your Bed as Comfortable as Possible

Let’s be honest: sleeping in your vehicle probably doesn’t sound like the most comfortable thing in the world. Instead of just reclining a seat, though, try to make it comfier by moving the back seats out of the way, if possible, and using something like this Wey&Fly SUV Air Mattress.

Made with SUV space in mind, this air mattress has four different inflation segments, so you can inflate it to the proper one to make it fit almost anywhere. It’s easy to use and can withstand various weather conditions, heat, or cold. It’s much more comfortable than just a sleeping bag!

Use Your Roof for Storage

If you’re worried about how you’re going to store your bags, food, and other items while also comfortably sleeping in your car, take advantage of the roof space. Something like this Keeper Waterproof Roof-Top Cargo Bag is ideal.

It offers 15 cubic feet for storing the things you don’t immediately need. It’s also much easier to get up there than something harder or bulkier. The waterproof design means you won’t have to worry about anything getting ruined by the elements. It also folds up into a compact shape and, most importantly, will give you more space in your car.

Keeper 07203-1 Weatherproof Rooftop Cargo Bag, 15 Cubic Feet

Make more space in your vehicle with this waterproof, spacious bag.

Keep Food in the Car at All Times

Speaking of packing things up, be sure to keep all food stored safely in a cooler inside your vehicle at all times. Leaving food outside attracts bugs and wildlife, including bears, and you definitely don’t want that! Make space for it in your car and leave it there.

It’s preferable to pack dry goods and other foods that don’t require refrigeration. If you do want to keep drinks cold or bring perishables to cook, invest in a high-quality cooler, like this one by YETI. It’ll keep your food ice-cold and safe for the duration of your trip.

YETI Tundra 35 Cooler, White

Keep perishables safe and cold.

Use a Car Tent for More Space

If your vehicle is on the small side, or you simply don’t have enough space for everyone, you can extend the size of your vehicle with a car tent. These attach to the back of your vehicle.

Something like the Napier Sportz Awning Tent will provide more shade and protection while eating or hanging out, but it’s not something you’d want to sleep under.

The Sportz Family SUV Tent, on the other hand, while considerably more expensive, offers a lot more. You can attach this to the back of your car with the trunk open, and then use it like a regular tent. It can also be closed up completely so someone can safely sleep in it.

This allows some people to sleep in the car and others in a tent, but all in one connected space.

Stay Cool with a Fan

Even though most camping sites in the woods tend to get pretty chilly at night, even in the middle of the summer, it’s never a bad idea to bring a fan on hand. It might get really warm—especially sleeping in a vehicle.

This Amacool Portable Camping Fan is battery-powered and should last for at least 40 hours. It provides strong airflow to keep you nice and cool and also has an LED light you can use as a lantern. Hang it from the roof of the car or a seat, or just set it down inside.

Bring Your Own Grill

If you’re car camping at a legitimate campsite, chances are there’ll be a little firepit where you can cook. If you end up in the middle of nowhere, though, you might be left to your own devices. That’s when a Coleman Gas Camping Stove will definitely come in handy.

This one is small, but it’s good enough to cook up some food quickly and easily. With wind block panels and two adjustable burners, it’s perfect for making the basics.

Car camping offers a nice compromise between sleeping on the ground in a flimsy tent and going all out in an RV. With a few products and a little planning, you can enjoy a vacation outdoors—no sleeping on rocky ground required.

Jessica Booth Jessica Booth
Jessica Booth is a freelance writer for LifeSavvy. She has been working in the editorial world as a freelance writer for over two years and previously worked as an editor for over eight years.  Jessica writes about travel, beauty, wellness, health, food, home decor, and parenting, and has reviewed and tested out products for all of those verticals over the course of her career. Read Full Bio »
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