If you’ve ever done a massive road trip, thought hotels were way too expensive, or wanted to save on rent, you’ve probably had the urge to call your car home. Whether it’s a long day or a long year, sleeping in your car comfortably can be a valuable life skill. Once you’ve scoped out the perfect spot, with a little creativity you can be snoozing the night away.
Preparing for the Night
For cold temperatures, buy a sleeping bag (or two). What you need for a good night’s sleep in the car depends on your location and the weather. In subzero temperatures, you’ll probably benefit from a couple of sleeping bags (one inside the other), in addition to a blanket and a beanie for your head. A $60 sleeping bag will keep you warm in weather outside. In a car you can get by with a sleeping bag. If it gets colder, then just add an extra layer of clothing to your sleeping attire.
Bring a safety pin with you to keep your sleeping bag closed, if it does not draw tightly around your head. If you toss and turn in the middle of the night, it could come undone and you could wind up awake and freezing.
A knit hat (knit cap, toque, ski hat, and so on) will keep you much warmer at night. Also, you can pull it over your eyes for additional darkness.
A sleep mask can help you sleep more soundly. In a pinch, you can blindfold yourself with a bandanna, tie a scarf around your eyes, use a hat, and so forth. Otherwise you may find yourself up at the crack of dawn, as it is hard to darken a car completely.
For hot temperatures, circulate air without letting in bugs. If it is hot, you may need a thin cloth to hang in the windows to keep bugs out and to let air in. The weather is the most important thing to consider when in this situation. Hot weather can actually be worse than cold, as you could wake up in the morning feeling sticky, gross, and covered in mosquito bites. Try opening the windows just an inch or so to find a happy medium. You can also buy mesh to place in your windows (or sun roof) if mosquitoes are a problem or you need air flow to stay cool.
Get everything you need for a comfortable night. This likely means a few snacks, a liter of water, a flashlight (to find the bathroom later on), a pillow, and whatever else your situation calls for. Try to think ahead, especially if you plan on spending more than one or two nights in your car. If you are in the car with others or with cargo, you will likely be sleeping sitting up. Sleeping in the car seat is not exactly the best place to sleep, but if you have to, use a travel pillow that supports your head and neck. You’ll wake up in the morning much happier.
Keep your car clean. All the supplies you really need are some essential tools, like a flashlight, water, a backpack for one set of clothes (unless you are traveling), and a towel. Anything more than that and it’s just going to get in your way. A clean car is a pleasure to sleep in – a large space to sleep provides a surprising amount of comforts. If it’s dirty and smelly, it’ll be much more difficult to fall asleep.
A cleaner car also attracts less attention, especially if it’s clean on the outside. If your car is presentable, few people will think to ask questions.
Consider getting a tarp. Tarps are pretty inexpensive and will keep prying eyes away – it’s unlikely that someone would see the tarp and suspect that someone is sleeping in their car, unless the windows are fogged. A tarp is also stiff enough to allow for ample ventilation.
This is best used in residential areas for only a night. If a mysterious car shows up that’s covered, a resident may call the cops to get it towed. If you go this route, keep on the move.
Choosing the Perfect Spot
Find somewhere that you won’t get ticketed. Unfortunately, sleeping in your car is illegal in many places. Here are a few ideas where you likely won’t get accosted:
Stores like Wal-Mart or 24 hour gyms. It is hard to tell who’s sleeping in their cars and who’s just parked while shopping or working out. The downside is that passersby quite often – though this can be a form of security as well.
Churches and other sanctuary-like establishments. Very often these buildings are quiet most of the week. If someone finds you, hopefully they will be kind enough to just continue on their merry way.
Back roads and under overpasses. These are incredibly low-volume areas where you may not be found – just make sure the area is as unpopulated as you think it is.
Residential areas that allow street parking. In this situation, your car will just blend in on the side of the road. Just don’t stay for too long or your vehicle may appear suspicious.
Take into account what your spot will look like during the day as well as at nighttime, and weekday versus weekend. Many locations may be quiet and relatively safe one day, and not another.
Example: An empty parking lot next to a soccer field. During the middle of Friday night, no one is around, there are portable toilets, and it is seemingly perfect. Next morning, there are a thousand screaming 6-year-olds ready for Little League and their mothers are peering suspiciously in the direction of your car.
Example: During the day, the industrial district of your town is a great place to park your car and go about your day. At night, however, the streets empty except for people that seem rather suspect.
The same goes for back roads, and, well, just about anywhere. Even if it seems perfect at night, consider what could happen in the morning. Will your back road become the trek for farm vehicles? The church parking lot you’re in start service early in the morning?
Face your car in the right direction. Consider two things:
Face your car in the direction where it would be most difficult for people to spy on you or look in the windows to see you there. Corners are good, too.
Face your car in the direction you want for the morning. Face it east if you want to wake with the sun and west if you want to stay snoozing.
Pick somewhere with bathrooms. This is just good sense: You’re likely going to have to pee at some point, so choose somewhere that has a nearby bathroom. If you are going in the summer, public beaches are a great place to shower. You can always urinate outside if you must, but be sure no one’s going to creep up on you, resulting in a public urination fee.
Consider camouflaging yourself. If you’re worried you’ll be found, consider making it so you can’t really be seen. You can either do this with a tarp, by putting a whole bunch of goods in your car blocking you from view, or by sleeping underneath a pile of linens.
Make sure to visit the bathroom before you turn in. You’ll never get a good night’s sleep with a full bladder, especially if you’re sleeping in a car. Park your car in your spot for the night, and make a visit to the bathroom beforehand. You’ll be glad you did.
And probably before you head out, too. It’s a good idea to keep on the move so you don’t attract attention.
Consider cracking the windows. Again, this depends on the climate you’re in. However, it’s going to get stuffy regardless of the temperature (within reason, of course), so consider cracking the window ever so slightly. If you’re under a pile of blankets in the cold, it might actually feel good. Don’t crack it too much, though, for security purposes. And if there are mosquitoes, crack it even less. A half an inch or less (1.25 cm) is plenty.
Take an aspirin. If you have problems sleeping in less than perfect conditions or your body has a tendency to “wake up” achy, pop an aspirin before hitting the sack. It’ll be easier to fall asleep, easier to stay asleep, and you’ll feel less sore in the morning.
That is, in certain vehicles. If you can pop out the backseat and sprawl out to your heart’s content, you likely won’t have a problem. But if you’re curled up in the fetal position, an aspirin is a fine idea.
Adjust the seats. As much as possible, that is. If you’re in the backseat, move the front seats forward to get the most space possible. Tuck in the seat belt clips so they don’t end up jabbing you in the back.
If the back seats turn down, do so. You could also pop open the back so you can put your legs (or head) in the trunk area.
Get into the appropriate amount of layers, but stay in comfortable clothes. On the off chance someone comes knocking on your door, you want to be wearing clothes, and acceptable clothes at that. So get comfortable, but stay dressed. Workout-esque clothes are best. This way you can also turn your bed into a getaway car at a moment’s notice if need be.
And account for the weather, too. If it’s cold, make sure your head is covered to keep heat from escaping. If necessary, put on several layers. If it’s hot, a t-shirt and shorts will do just fine. You could also wet them beforehand to stay cool.
Don’t forget to lock your doors!
Don’t keep any valuable items out in the open in your car. It may tempt thieves. Store them out of sight.
If you are somewhere without shower facilities, some moist wipes can help you get that fresh feeling. Look in the travel toiletries section of your favorite big box store; many will sell a resealable pack the size of an envelope for around $1.
Keep a map so you know where to find these places in whatever town you are in, and try to plan ahead, so you save gas and time.
Don’t lean your neck on the seat belt, because it can cause irritation and red neck lines.
Bring a black washcloth and spray bottle during the summer. When you wake up, moisten the towel and spread it out on the dashboard. After about an hour of driving, it will heat up. This will also work during the winter if you put the towel on your heating vents.
Don’t keep your car or bluetooth on.
Can’t fall asleep for some reason? Wearing noise reducing ear-muffs will help exponentially and allows you to sleep anywhere, even at an airport or train-station. If they work in those locations, they can definitely work in your car.
Some possible places to sleep:
The parking lot of Wal-Mart. A lot of stuff goes on in Wal-Mart, it’s open 24 hours so there will always be cars there, and it’s relatively safe. Park near the back, but not in the middle of nowhere, blend in with the employee cars. The tarp should be sufficient for privacy.
Any 24 hour shopping center is nice — Hannaford’s, Price Chopper, etc. — any place that does inventory at night. People who work third shift are pretty cool in general.
Stay away from hotels — cops tend to make rounds there up to twice a night. They might bother you if they see fogged windows. Plus, hotels sometimes take license plates numbers to check their guest list.
A library is nice too — under the rationale that you were reading a book and went out for a nap — plus, a library is a great place to spend a day. The key is to think of some stories or situations where you wouldn’t just be a hobo.
Truck stops are usually safe places to sleep – well lit, open all night with restrooms, park in the auto lot to stay out of the way of big rigs. Quite often you will find people in motor homes doing the same thing.
Safety should be your top priority, and this is by far the most important safety measure: always be sure to lock all of your doors.
A car cover will provide protection against the cold, and it will provide privacy. However, if it is hot outside, do not use one without good ventilation. Also, never run your car while it is covered as you could get carbon monoxide poisoning.
Avoid purchasing a cold air respirator. These are usually difficult to sleep with and a waste of money. There is no easy way to sleep in sub-zero temperatures, but a source of warm air might cause you to wake up with a sore throat. It might be helpful to compromise (between fresh air and warm air) and make a “tent” out of a heavy blanket near your face. If you have a beanie that is long enough you can just pull it over your face also.
Things You’ll Need
A mid to large-sized vehicle
A decent sleeping bag
Ear plugs, blindfolds, etc.
A 6′ x 8′ tarp
A pillow or other similar item
Sources & Citations
How to Take a Road Trip
How to Be Comfortable on a Long Airplane Trip
How to Sleep Better
How to Ride the Bus Safely and Enjoy Yourself
How to Sleep Comfortably