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Will I have to Sleep in the Car???
Your road trip has been going great, but there’s one small hiccup. It’s getting late, and all the hotels are flashing “No Vacancy”. Panic sets in, you can’t possibly sleep in your car! What will you do for a bathroom? Is it even safe? Relax, sleeping in your car during a road trip isn’t the end of the world.
Think about it. Would it really be all that terrible? I don’t think so. In fact, I planned my entire road trip to the Canyons of the Ancients around sleeping in my car! Although sleeping in your car has some limitations, it also has some pretty great advantages!
How Do You Sleep In Your Car on a Road Trip?
Figuring out how to go about car camping is the most difficult part, and I’m sure you have tons of questions about it. Where is it safe to park overnight? Is sleeping in your car dangerous? What should I have with me to make it easier? And most importantly – how do I get comfortable? Those are some pretty important questions to address before you decide to sleep in the car.
One of the biggest cons is that it can be difficult to find that safe place to park. But it’s actually not as bad as you would think (more on that below!). Getting comfortable is actually the hardest part – but it’s always best to have a spare pillow and blanket in the car for this type of emergency. It’s most comfortable to crawl into the backseat and lay down (if you’re short like me!) but I’ve also gotten some shut-eye by tilting the driver’s seatback. It’s not the most comfortable way to sleep, but it will do in a pinch.
Pros and Cons of Sleeping in Your Car During Your Road Trip
I’m sure your dying to know the pros and cons. Is it worthwhile to sleep in the car? Can you get good sleep?
Let’s find out!
Pro: More Money for Adventures!
Gas costs a lot, especially when you are driving across the county. Why pay an extra $100-150 per night to stay in a crappy motel? Even campsites can cost up to $50 per night. You can avoid this altogether if you sleep in the car. It’s technically free! So if you are low on cash and still want to experience some great things that the world has to offer, consider spending your nights in the car. It’s definitely the more cost-effective option.
Con: Is it Safe to Sleep in a Car?
The main question I’m asked when I talk about sleeping in your car is whether it’s safe or not. While it’s true that finding a safe, legal place to park is one of the toughest things about sleeping in your car, it’s not impossible. It’s also completely safe if you stay at the right places. Most truck stops allow overnight parking, and if you are on the federal interstate system (USA), these are pretty common. Check out this handy guide for truck stops on your route!
If you are traveling on state routes and back roads, finding free places can become a little tricky. Most Walmart stores allow overnight parking, especially in smaller rural areas. Walmart stores with overnight parking and truck stops are the safest places to sleep in your car, because there are often others doing the exact same thing. However, in a pinch, you can sleep on roads with residential parking or in other parking lots with lots of cars. On the last night of my road trip, I ended up sleeping in a Day’s Inn parking lot just outside of Zion National Park. I was terrified that I would be found out and towed!
Many hotels frown upon car sleepers, and some even take down license plates to prevent it. However, if it’s just for a night and you wake up early you should avoid detection. Also, the worst thing they will do is try to tow you, but if you are with the car, they will generally just ask you to move. The bottom line is that in a pinch, it’s doable. Safety is also a concern, but as long as you are parked with other cars and keep a low profile, nobody will notice you. You probably won’t get the most restful sleep ever, but it will be enough to get you going the next day.
Although rest stops are everywhere, I decided against sleeping at one. Maybe things are better now, but I’ve heard horrible things about rest areas, and I decided not to risk it. I don’t want to spend the night at a place known for nefarious dealings, even if it was back in the 80s!
Sleeping in the car is a lot easier than setting up a new campsite every night or checking into a hotel. Camp sites are cheaper than hotels, but they take a lot of work. You need to set up the tent, stake it, and get everything ready for the evening. Even checking into a hotel can be a hassle. When you sleep in the car, once you find a safe legal place to park, all you have to do is crawl into your bed. There are no forms to fill out, no lines, no tents to set up, and there are no beds to check for bedbugs…it really is a lot easier.
The back seat of a car doesn’t offer the comforts of a hotel bed. I’m a fairly short person, and I still couldn’t fully stretch out in the back seat of my small SUV. I tried sleeping in the back with the seats down, but that was even more uncomfortable. It was like sleeping on a slightly uneven floor. I didn’t bring enough cushions to make it cozy.
Although the car wasn’t as comfortable as a normal bed, it wasn’t so uncomfortable that I couldn’t sleep. I got between 5-6 hours of good, uninterrupted sleep each night, and was well-rested enough to continue my adventure each morning. And next time, I’ll be sure to bring a sleeping bag and extra pillows.
Pro: Wake up time!
It is not easy to oversleep in the car. I was up each morning when the first rays of sunshine alighted upon my face. Waking up early gave me head start on the day, which gave me time to jam in more fun. Who wants to sleep until noon when the entire world is out there waiting for you to explore it? There’s also very minimal pack-up time, which gave me more time to do cool stuff during the day. Sleeping in your car gives you the gift of time.
All hotels and campsites have easy access to bathrooms and showers so you can do your business, brush your teeth, and keep yourself clean. Most cars don’t have these things (weird, huh?). The worst thing about sleeping in the car (for me) is that I generally have to pee really bad when I first wake up. Because of this annoying fact of my life, I had to find a place to sleep that was close to a toilet. Walmart stores and Truckstops worked the best. I also borrowed their sinks (and random gas station sinks) to brush my teeth. Many truck stops have cheap showers too if you need it (after a few days in the car, trust me, you need it). It’s actually pretty easy to take care of your basic hygiene while sleeping in the car. One pro tip is to bring some wet wipes, so if you are off on a state route or back road, you can keep your most sensitive bits clean if you don’t have access to a shower.
Con: Not Very Family Friendly
If you’re taking a road trip with your little ones, you may want to rethink car sleeping. It will be hard enough to survive a road trip with kids without sleeping on top of one another in the car!
However, sleeping in the car is a great fit for solo travelers or even couples. The number of people riding in the car with you will help you decide whether sleeping in the car is a good fit.
The freedom of sleeping in your car is unlike any I’ve ever experienced. Imagine not being glued to an itinerary. Envision not having to get to that pre-booked room or campsite. Think about how it would feel to be able to stop wherever you want, and be able to change your plans at a moment’s notice. Imagine being free. And imagine not worrying about any no vacancy signs! Experiencing this freedom makes the small discomforts barely noticeable. This immense freedom comes with the small decision to forget about modern conventions and sleep in the car.
I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to plan a road trip around sleeping in my car. I was nervous, and on that last night I even asked about hotel vacancies (there were none, which is why I ended up in the parking lot). I’m glad there was no vacancy though. I’m glad I was forced to stick to my original plan and sleep in the car. I learned that I don’t need a comfy bed every night. I learned to make the best of what I had, and as a bonus, I saved a lot of money. Live free, and do so by sleeping in the car during your next road trip.
And, if you don’t have a car of your own, you can rent one with Travelocity!
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.