Car camping can be such a fun experience. You can make up your own little space in the car and easily head out on adventures for the weekend or extended road trips! You can camp in more places in a car than a tent and be more sheltered from the elements. You can also get into more places than an RV by being in a smaller vehicle. So many options!
If you’ve never car camped before, you might be wondering… “Where do you park when you sleep in a car?” I’ll teach you the ins and outs on this topic by showing you where to NOT sleep in your car while car camping.
Factors to Consider While Car Camping
Where to park (or not to park) will depend on a few factors, such as your own comfort/safety level and whether you are traveling alone or with someone else. When I travel alone, I am much more cautious about where I sleep in my car. Even if I have a friend parked next to me in a car or RV, I still avoid truck stops and rest stops when I’m in my car alone.
It’s also good to keep these safety tips in mind when car camping:
- Cover your windows (you do not want anyone peeking in at you while you are sleeping)
- Have an alarm (on your car keys or separate)
- Carry something to protect yourself such as pepper spray or a taser (watch out for laws in the local areas you’ll be traveling in)
Don’t Park Anywhere That Says “No Overnight Parking”
You’ll see these signs on city streets and in parking lots of various businesses.
Some businesses do allow overnight camping—such as Walmart, Cracker Barrel, and some 24-hour gyms. Each business has its own rules, so ask at each location about the overnight parking rules.
Businesses that do not want you sleeping in their parking lot will say so. They post obvious “No overnight parking” signs around the parking lot. This is a pretty good indication that you should NOT sleep there (though not always). Sometimes there aren’t signs and you still might get a knock on the window in the middle of the night.
Try to scope out the parking lot before going to bed. Are there other people who appear to be camping (vans or RVs?) Do you see any signs that threaten to tow?
Unless you really like to sleep in parking lots and wake up to the sun rising over the Walmart, you’ll probably only consider this option during a drive day or when traveling through a city. Otherwise, you’re better off at a campsite where you can enjoy camping and nature.
Don’t Park Anywhere You Feel Unsafe
The next place you should NOT sleep in your car while car camping is anywhere you feel unsafe. There have been a few times where I felt unsafe about camping in a free campsite or neighborhood, but stayed anyway. Luckily, nothing happened, but I was paranoid the whole night and didn’t get much sleep.
If you feel unsafe for ANY reason, move to a different location. There is nothing wrong with being afraid. You’re out car camping, which means you are incredibly cool and brave. No need to take unnecessary risks. If you have to pay for a campground at the last minute, do it. Your safety is most important.
Use Your Own Judgment—Truck Stops, Rest Stops, and Neighborhoods
Each of these places to park can sometimes work for car camping, but you’ll need to use your own judgment. Based on previous experiences, I wouldn’t want to camp alone at even the nicest truck stop or rest stop. Again, your comfort level could be completely different.
Some neighborhoods may be okay for car camping, especially in areas with populated street parking. Be respectful of homeowners in neighborhoods. If you’re in a suburban neighborhood, you might scare some families into calling the police on you, just by parking in front of their house. Also, avoid areas that say “no overnight parking” or “parking for residents only”.
When in Doubt…
If you’re ever unsure about where to sleep in your car while car camping, find a campground or a business that will allow you to park overnight. You can still keep camping costs low by looking for state parks or city campgrounds.
Before it gets dark, look ahead for several options in the area you’ll be staying that night. It’s much easier to save money and stay safe when you are prepared with several options. It will also make your car camping trip that much more enjoyable!
Do you have any other suggestions for where to NOT sleep in your car while car camping? Comment below!