Car Camping 101: Learn the Basics Before You Head Out [2020]

While most people love the idea of car camping, sometimes it’s impossible to break from their busy schedules. Car camping is a great way to visit some of the best travel spots across the country. 

Camping in your car is a cheaper alternative to using an RV. This is because you are most likely to use your car for your outdoor adventures. Car camping is perfect for someone looking to relax while exploring the outdoors. It also offers you an opportunity to bond with your family by sharing fun activities.

These car camping 101 tips below will teach you how to turn your car into a mobile home. Now let’s enjoy this car camping guide now.

What Does Car Camping Mean Exactly?

Car camping simply means travelling around the city while using your car as a mobile home. You sleep in your car rather than sleeping in a tent. Some people prefer to erect tents near their vehicles and some end up camping in big parking lots. One main thing that makes car camping ideal for most people is the convenience it offers. It can suit whatever adventure you are looking for.

Cars can easily navigate all the main routes and you never have to worry about size restrictions, which is a big issue for those travelling on motor homes. Camping in your car is very affordable and is much safer than sleeping in a tent. You don’t have to spend money on a hotel room and the only cost you incur is the price of gas.

Car Camping Essentials to Set Up

car camping essentials

There are a few essential car camping gear you need to include on your car camping checklist when planning your trip.  

However, when planning for your first car camping road trip, remember that you don’t have to spend a lot to make your trip successful. Although you can buy a few items, you could also use some items you already have in your house. What are some essential car camping equipment for an awesome set-up?

 Here are some basic car camping packing list to ensure your camping adventure is successful.

Waterproof jacket. You should pack a waterproof jacket even if there are no signs of rain. You can never know what nature might send your way.

Stove. If you don’t like the idea of preparing your meals over an open fire, you can bring along a stove. Preparing your meals will be much easier if cooking on open fire stress you out.

Water. Ensure you pack plenty of water before you start your car camping road trip. You should factor in if you have enough water for cleaning dishes, brushing teeth, etc. This is important especially if you are camping in the wild, far from any convenience store.

Hammock. When you are car camping at an open field and the weather is perfect, you can relax on a hammock. It might be a more desirable place to relax than in your car or tent.

Storage container. Protect your car camping food. While camping in your car might make you feel more secure, remember that your car isn’t animal proof. You can safely store your food in ‘’bear boxes’’ or hang your storage container on top of a tree.

First aid kit. You can adopt your first aid kit to suit the surroundings where you will camp at.

Carry trash bins. You can bring along a trash bin and help pick up trash or litter in your surrounding environment.

Games. When car camping in the wild, you can bring along your favorite games to keep you entertained throughout your stay.

Tent. Choose a tent that can offer adequate room for you and your partner. It should have enough space where you can store some of your clothes and other extras. A tent that can fit 3-4 people is appropriate and will be more comfortable when you need to stay inside for a long time when there are heavy rains.

Sleeping bags. Buy a sleeping bag that can protect you from chilly temperatures. As an alternative to buying a sleeping bag, rent one instead. If you are car camping with your family, consider a large double sleeping bag. You can add an inflatable air mattress or extra blankets to make the sleeping bag more comfortable. If you have enough storage room in your car, consider packing a set of pillows as well.

Headlamps and Lanterns. A headlamp is an essential car camping gear that can help you move around the camp at night. On the other hand, a lantern will provide enough lighting inside the tent where you can have your meals. You can also have your meals out in the open while enjoying the breeze at night. A lantern can also help you locate your items.

Here is the downloadable checklist of all camping essentials you will need.

However, there are 2 things you probably trend to not consider but I recommend you know.

#1 Stick to a plan

Before you start a car camping road trip, you should plan ahead on where you intend to camp. Also, you should never park near a highway as this can easily interfere with oncoming traffic.

#2 Remember less is more

Even if you have plenty of storage space in your car, try and avoid packing too much stuff.

Proper planning is important to ensure your camping road trip is successful. Planning ahead will save you the hassle of spending more time researching information during your road trip. Below is a list of some of the best road trip planner apps and tools.   

Road trip planner tools and Apps

Google Maps

Road trip navigation is important for your car camping road trip. Here are a few Google car camping hacks you can try.

#1 Google car camping hack

Start the directions/navigation and ensure you keep the app running even when you reach your destination. That way, when you have low cell-service range, your GPS tracker will remain active. This allows you to get to your destination safely even if you are lost. Just ensure your phone has enough charge.

#2 Google car camping hack

When you get a suggestion on Google Map about a place, mark the location as a visual remainder. You can search for the location’s address or name and then add it on your ‘’saved’’ folder. Better yet, organize them into ‘’want to visit’’ places or ‘’favorites places’’ to visit in the future.

RoadTrippers

This app will help you plan the perfect car camping road trip on the go. It allows you to create a list of all the places you would like to visit and then suggests an ideal route between your favorite places. You can also get an estimate on the number of miles you expect to cover on your road trip. It also gives you an estimate on how much you will spend on fuel as well. RoadTrippers also allows you to save trip routes.

Travel and outdoors blogs

You can rely on travel blogs as they are an excellent resource for information about car camping ideas. When researching for places to visit, reading travel blogs will offer you many opinions and perspectives.

Facebook

You can turn to Facebook to get recommendations on places to visit or sights to see when you visit a certain route. People enjoy sharing their vacation experiences on Facebook and you might find this information useful when planning a road trip. You may even have the chance of making new friends on your road trip.

Fun Activities to Do on Your Car Camping Road Trip

Spending hours on the road during your road trip can likely lead to boredom. To keep you lively and entertained during your road trip, here are something relax and interesting you can do.

Listen to music

Bring along your favorite album and listen to it during your car camping road trip without skipping tracks. Listening to your favorite music is a great way to kill boredom. Months later, when you hear one of those road trips songs in a bar or at the grocery store, you will recall the great times you had on your road trip.

Play games with your partner

You can play board games with your partner/family to help pass the time. Alternatively, you can re-cast some of your favorite movie scenes with your partner. Besides playing games, you can try making new friends to make your trip more enjoyable.

Consider scrapbooking

Get a blank photo album and as you stop to take pictures during your trip, list down some memories alongside these pictures. You can read your favorite novel when you stop for lunch or in the evening after having supper.

How to Find the Best Location for Car Camping?

car camping tips

Finding the best location is essential when sleeping in your car. It is important to find a safe place where you can sleep comfortably without being disturbed. There are many options you can consider from large parking lots to backcountry camping sites. Here are some resources you can use to find a free camping locations to stay when camping in your car.

Stay with friends

You can ask your friends if they can offer you a place to sleep. If you prefer sleeping in your car, ask if they can allow you to park near their house.

Car camping in Small businesses and religious buildings

When you are unable to find a safe place to park your car for the night, you can consider small businesses or local religious buildings. You can introduce yourself during the day and ask for permission to park your car in front of their building. Ensure you are presentable and move along when they decline. If they accept your request, you should find a good spot to park that will not interfere with their normal business traffic.

Disperse car camping

Disperse camping or wild camping is the term used for camping on public land outside a designated campground. With disperse car camping, you don’t have access to any type of amenities. That means you have to look for a gas station to do your cleaning before you find a place to park for the night. If you park near a forest road ensure you don’t block traffic from either direction.

Research on Forums

Many people today use forums to share knowledge on some of the areas where you can camp in your car for free. You can try Facebook groups, FreeCampsites, or Allstays.com. You should exercise caution when you use these options because they may have outdated information. Ensure you confirm that the conversations are relevant and up-to-date.

Car Camping on a residential street

Car camping in a residential street should be your last option. If you decide to park near a residential neighborhood, ensure you are extremely quiet and respectful. It is advisable to arrive at night and leave early in the morning. In case you have doubts about a specific location, you can sleep in your regular clothes. That way, a police officer passing by will assume you are just taking a nap.

Tips to Get Your Destination Safely

Camping on the car is amazing and a lightweight road trip saving energy from a heavy backpack. But car camping can also be a nightmare if you are on danger. Here are eight tips that can help you enjoy your adventure and keep safe as well.

  • Always ensure you keep your Phone accessible and fully charged in case of an emergency.
  • Always try and leave the front seat empty when car camping. It prevents break-ins and allows you to drive away quickly if you spot danger.
  • If you feel uneasy about a particular spot, just try and find another location. You can never get decent sleep when you are feeling nervous.
  • When camping in your car, always ensure your keys are accessible so that you can easily drive away if you sense danger.
  • When car camping, ensure you lock all the doors.
  • A bright torch is an essential car camping equipment you need to have. You can use it to scare away intruders or wild animals.
  • Always be keen of your surroundings. Be cautious of strangers and avoid offering free rides to hitchhikers.
  • Always be alert when travelling into an area where you are likely to have an encounter with wild animals.

Car Camping Meals

car camping guide
Source: columbia

Car camping with your kids is a great way to have fun outdoors during the holidays. When car camping, it is often tempting to indulge in fast foods but over time it can get boring. It is therefore important to create car camping recipes to ensure you only eat healthy meals.

Also, you should avoid using fuel to start camp fire. It is important to avoid making hasty decisions when car camping. You should never use car fuel to start a camp fire. Using gasoline to start a camp fire is dangerous and can easily cause an explosion. When you are low on supplies while car camping, find the nearest convenience store and replenish your supplies.

Here are some camping menu that will help you cook delicious food to enjoy your car camping meals.

Tips to Sleep Well on Car Camping

sleeping in your car
Source: Dean Bertoncelj

The best thing about car camping is that you have many options as there are many free campgrounds where you can camp. You should arrive at the campground before sunset to secure a decent spot. When you arrive after sunset, you will likely find the campsite a bit overcrowded. It is therefore important to locate the right spot during the day and arrive on time.

There are two common options for you to sleep. But it depends on which way you like better.

Option 1. Set up a tent if you don’t sleep in the car

Setting up a car camping tent is quite easy. First, you need to invest in stakes and a mallet. You can use a rake to clear the ground where you plan to put the tent. To set up the tent, unpack it and then extend it on the ground. Once you decide where to place it, hammer in the stakes into the ground to prevent the tent from flying away. Lastly, slide the poles into place and now your tent is ready for use.

Sleep in your car

If you are camping in a smaller car, you can make room at the front seat and sleep there. But in a larger camping van, you have plenty of room at the back where you can sleep.

Keep your head elevated when sleeping.

Sleeping with your head elevated can help improve your overall quality of sleep. It can also prevent you from falling sick. If you want to save on space, you can use your clothes as a pillow. Before you sleep, lower down the windows to ensure you breathe in quality air.

If you decide to sleep in a busy city, you might have street lights reflecting on your windows all night. On the other hand, you might find the bright morning sun quite a nuisance. You can wear a sleeping mask to block off that extra light.

When car camping in freezing weather, you should always ensure you have a set of warm clothes. You can invest in a warm blanket and a pair of warm coats.

Hacks of Car Camping in the Rain

car camping tips
Source: seanryanphotography

What do you do when you learn that heavy rain is on your way? Should you cancel the road trip? Or postpone the trip to a later date? You should never allow rain to ruin your road trip. Camping outdoors when it’s raining can be extremely fun for your kids. Here are essential tips to help you have the best experience while camping in the rain.

Wear the right camp shoes

You should bring along a pair of waterproof boots with you to your trip as they are an essential car camping gear. Ideally, the boots should help to keep mud out of your tent.

Camp on a higher ground

Whenever possible, you should avoid erecting your camping tent at the bottom of a slope. Rain water flowing downhill can easily flood your tent and carry away your belongings. Erect your tent on higher ground where the rain water will be flowing downhill.

Don’t wear clothes made of cotton

Avoid wearing clothes made of cotton as they often take more time to dry when they get damp. Instead, go for clothes with synthetic fabrics that dry quickly.

Tips on Car Camping in Winter

car camping tips
Source: coloradoski

You might assume that people don’t camp during the winter. But that isn’t the case. People do enjoy car camping outdoors when it’s snowing. Winter offers a beautiful landscape and you can enjoy the cold outdoors with your family. It is important to have the right gear to make your camping more enjoyable. Here are useful tips to make your camping experience memorable.

Consider your limitations

When choosing a car camping spot for your winter road trip, consider your expectations and limitations. Do you enjoy sleeping outdoors in the snow? Can cold weather affect your health? In case you don’t enjoy freezing weather conditions, you can find a destination with a more favorable climate.

Ensure you pack appropriate clothing

Warm boots, warm socks and a warm coat are all essential when car camping in winter. Dressing appropriately for cold weather is the best way to avoid getting a cold. You can also buy an extra set of blankets to sleep warm at night.

Pack enough firewood in your car

Car camping in winter can be challenging as it might be difficult to find dry wood on the ground. The firewood will come in handy if you want to have a campfire at night as you enjoy the breeze. It also makes cooking outdoors more pleasant.

Tips on Car Camping with Kids

Camping with your kids can be enjoyable but you need to put a few things in mind to ensure they are safe. Since kids are quite adventurous and always like trying out new things, here are some tips to help you have the best first camping experience with your kids.

Watch out for bugs

While camping with kids can be a great experience for your family, you need to guard them against bug bites. You should apply bug repellant on their skin but use it sparingly. Monitor your toddler or baby if they have any reaction to the spray.

Consider the campground

You can read reviews online to get recommendations on some of the best camp sites for families. Consider the sun and shade of your site, which may sound unimportant, but is certainly a big deal. If you choose a site that is overly shaded, you might encounter mosquitoes and bugs.

Pack the right gear

You can never be too careful when car camping with your kids. Having the right gear can make a huge difference. While camping with your baby, you want to ensure you bring with you plenty of wet wipes. You should also remember to carry a bag with you to dispose off your diapers and wet wipes.

Tips on Car Camping with Dogs

car camping tips
Source: chewy

Dogs are the best companion and can make your camping more enjoyable. To ensure your dog has the best experience, check out these tips on car camping with dogs.

Find a dog-friendly site

What can you do when you arrive at your campsite and find a No Pets Allowed sign? For that reason, it is always important to research online for dog-friendly trails and campsites. The other thing you need to remember is that some campsites only allow entry after you restrain your dog

Pack enough poop bags

Most people often overlook packing enough poop bags when going car camping with their dog. When you take your furry friend on a short walk at home, you always pick up their poop and dispose it off. You should also remember to watch after them when camping to ensure you keep their trail clean.

Practice proper campsite etiquette

When you arrive at the campsite, it’s essential to be considerate of your fellow campers. You can use a leash to prevent your dog from trespassing in other people campsites. Also remember to pick up your dog’s waste and properly dispose of it.

Final Verdict: Are You Ready for Road Trip?

One of the best things about camping in your car is deciding what you can do to make your trip worthwhile. Perhaps you will set up camp and then plan a long hike up the mountains. Regardless of what you decide to do, these car camping 101 tips listed above will help you plan your trip accordingly.

If playing board games or playing cards helps you pass time, then go for it. If there’s a river nearby, you can enjoy an afternoon swim, or just sit in your vehicle and enjoy the scenery. Car camping simply allows you to escape from your busy life and enjoy nature to its fullest. It offers a truly amazing experience that will liven up your spirits.

Regardless of age, anyone can enjoy car camping. It is also a great way to bond with your family while exploring the outdoors. It will help you create memories that will last a lifetime.

Quick Answers to FAQ about Car Camping

Should I go car camping alone or join a community/club as a beginner?

If you are a beginner, you should keep it simple and start with an overnight campout.

Is it illegal to live In Your Car Overnight?

While a few states allow overnight parking at rest stops, the majority do not.

How do I find legal car campsite near me?

You can research online as there are many free camping locations.

What are the best car camping site across America?

Some of the best car camping site in America include;

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Acadia

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. …

Yosemite National Park, California. …

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina. …

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan. …

Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska.

Is it safe to sleep in a car with the windows up?

If you are alone in your car, sleeping with the windows up keeps the car warmer on cold nights.

Can you die from sleeping in your car?

You cannot die from sleeping in your car. If you sleep inside your car and there is no ventilation, and the car is still running, then you can die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Is it a good idea of car camping for seniors?

Car camping is ideal for seniors as it enables them to enjoy the fresh air of the outdoors.

How much does it cost to camp with an RV?

In general, it costs between $20 and $70 per night depending on the location, and the size of the space.

Should I store food in my car when camping in bear Country?

You can store your food in bear boxes to prevent wild animals from eating them.

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