In this article, I’ve compiled the 5 tips that have saved me during my time living out of my car. Here they are:
1. Find a Safe Location
No matter the reason for sleeping in your car, it’s important to plan ahead where you plan on parking your car.
Personally, I always like to have a backup in case I don’t feel safe at the first location.
It’s crucial to use common sense and trust your gut. Be smart and avoid sketchy areas of town. Leave immediately if you feel unsafe.
How To Find Free Places To Park
Bureau of Land Management
This is a category of public land in the United States managed for things such as conservation, recreation, and resource development.
BLM lands are most prevalent in Western states and offer huge areas of natural landscapes where people can camp at no cost.
To find BLM land near you, check out the BLM Interactive Map.
Forest Service Land (USFS)
Dispersed camping is allowed at every national forest unless stated otherwise. To discover which locations permit dispersed camping, it’s smart to get in touch with the Forest Service office closest to where you want to camp. Generally, dispersed camping is prohibited near established camping sites or trailheads.
Like BLM camping, forest camping is usually very primitive. There are rarely any amenities like water, toilets, or trash services. You’ll need to bring everything you need, including water, food, and a way to dispose of waste.
To find national forests near you, check out the USFS Interactive map.
Other Free Spots
- Rest Stops– You can sleep in your car at rest stops for a total of 8 hours in any 24-hour period. While it’s not an ideal camping site, it can come in handy if you’re tired and don’t know where else to go. For more information on rest stops, check out this website.
- Neighborhoods– It’s essential to research and abide by local laws related to overnight parking. Once you find the spot you’d like to park at, prioritize locations that are safe, well-lit, and not intrusive to residents, such as near public parks or on quieter streets.
- Planet Fitness– Planet Fitness is known to allow anyone to park overnight. I have stayed at a few Planet Fitnesses and each time there are a few other fellow car campers I see!
Apps and Websites
The easiest way to find free campsites near you is to download one of the following apps. I swear by them. They will allow you to find a free spot to sleep within a few seconds.
- The Dyrt (my favorite)
- Free Roam
2. Pack Lightly
When packing for car camping, it’s so important to pack lightly to save space. Limited space in a car means that every item you bring can impact where you sleep and how comfortable that sleep will be.
Start by listing essentials and opt for multi-functional items and clothing that can be layered instead of bulky, single-use items. Use soft bags or drawers instead of hard suitcases as they can be more easily squeezed into tight spaces.
Packing lightly also allows for better organization, making it easier to find what you need without clutter. This approach not only frees up valuable space for sleeping but also contributes to a more stress-free and enjoyable camping experience.
3. Privacy and Security
The best way to maintain privacy while sleeping out of your car is to invest in some window coverings. I got my window covers from WeatherTech and I absolutely love them.
As for security, I keep pepper spray, a knife, a flashlight, and a taser on my right by my head as I sleep in case of emergencies.
If you’d like to stay extra cautious, or you are a solo female traveler, I would suggest investing in a 360-degree camera for your car.
More obvious but important ways to stay safe include locking your doors and keeping valuables out of sight. If you are to choose a safe location in the first place, you are already ahead of the game on safety.
Cracking your windows open (no more than an inch or two for safety reasons) is essential for a few different reasons.
Ventilation is a crucial aspect of car camping, both for comfort and safety. Proper ventilation ensures a steady flow of fresh air, which is essential for several reasons:
- Prevents Condensation: In a closed car, your breath releases moisture, leading to condensation on windows and even on the interior of the car. This can make the environment damp and uncomfortable, and can also lead to mold or mildew if left unchecked.
- Regulates Temperature: A well-ventilated car can help maintain a comfortable temperature. In warm weather, it allows hot, stale air to escape and cooler air to circulate. In cooler weather, though, you’ll want to balance ventilation with warmth.
- Ensures Fresh Air: Constant fresh air circulation is vital for good health. It ensures you’re not breathing in the same air all night, which can become low in oxygen and high in carbon dioxide, especially in a small, closed space.
If you are cracking your windows at night with your car turned off, you are most likely safe. If you are over-prepared and a worrier like me, you can purchase a Carbon Monoxide Detector on Amazon for pretty cheap.
5. Learn How To Tetris
Being organized greatly impacts the amount of space you have.
By learning to “Tetris” my car, I was able to pack more of my belongings while being able to feel less cramped.