What You Need to Sleep Comfortably in Your Car on Road Trips
With a few upgrades for safety and comfort, sleeping in your car can actually be a great alternative to hotels.
The itinerary is laid out. You’ve got your maps, checked the oil and tire pressure, and now all that stands in between you and the ultimate road trip is a never-ending sea of asphalt punctuated by gas station visits and rest stop breaks. But one question lingers on—where will you sleep?
While many road-trippers (seasoned and unseasoned alike) would prefer the comforts of a hotel room, you shouldn't ignore the other, much less expensive accommodation option: Say screw it, and sleep in your car.
With a few modest upgrades to your road trip supplies, it's possible to enjoy a safe, comfortable sleep inside the confines of your vehicle. While your ordinary vehicle is never going to feel like a custom-built van life build, it truly can feel soft, private, and even genuinely homey. Plus, you really will save a ton of money by forgoing formal lodging. Here's what you'll need to help get you started.
Sleeping in the back of a Subaru is slightly different than sleeping in a Sprinter van, and for this reason, your sleeping surface will need to be different, too.
If you take the air mattress route, measure once… then measure again. You might be able to cram a mattress into the back of your car if the dimensions are off by a few inches, but there are no promises, and you’ll want to be positive you're utilizing the space as efficiently as possible. Here are some options.
Best for: Solo trips when you don’t want to shell out for a hotel, or car camping if tents simply aren’t your thing
Best for: SUVs and hatchbacks, especially if you want to spread out or if your car is sleeping two people.
Best for: The minimalist road tripper who favors function over flash. It’ll inflate quickly and pack down small.
Once you've figured out what you'll be sleeping on, it's time to consider what you'll be sleeping under. If you've got the room, throw a comforter and an ultra-soft down pillow into the trunk and call it a day. However, most will prefer the ease and compactness of a sleeping bag or packable blanket. Here are a few excellent options.
Best for: Peerless versatility. You can use this stylish blanket to stay cozy at night and then throw it down as a picnic blanket the next day at a scenic rest stop.
Best for: Couples who are comfy in small spaces together and think that bringing an air mattress borders on glamping.
Best for: Replacing that old sweater you’ve been using as a pillow on road trips.
Best for: Those with highway anxiety, those who put ultimate comfort above all else, and those who actually have the room to haul a weighted comforter along.
You’re already sleeping in your car. You’d be doing yourself a disservice by not treating yourself just a little, right? These are the things that’ll help you sleep a little more soundly, a tad more securely, and a lot more comfortably. You'll want the more obvious items in this category, too, like a sleeping mask, USB car charger, mouthwash, and body wipes, among other things. But we're here to recommend the items that aren't as evident. Here are a few products that'll help you sleep so much better in your car.
Best for: People who value their absolute privacy, and those who like to sleep in (or nap during the day).
Best for: City dwellers and problem sleepers who can’t catch a wink unless there’s white noise in the background
Best for: The incognito traveler who wants to keep a low profile. This method is especially good for parking on city streets overnight, so long as you don’t stay for more than one night.
Best for: Light sleepers and those who loathe the dome light, or anyone who always has to get up to pee in the middle of the night.
I'm not talking about your standard, run-of-the-mill tent. I'm talking about tents that hook up to your vehicle, whether on the roof, attached to the truck bed, or over the tailgate. I know this might not be ideal for a lot of people, as it'll make it clear to any passers-by that you are, in fact, sleeping in your car. You'll want to steer clear of doing this in parking lots or city streets, but this is the most comfortable option if you can find a quiet place in the woods to pull off into, or a cheap campsite. Here are a few tents to consider.
Best for: The asphalt adventure seeker who prefers the scenic—perhaps more rugged—route
Best for: People with pickup trucks, plain & simple.
Best for: Those with a crossover, SUV, or wagon. Basically any vehicle with a tailgate that isn’t a pickup.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, as you’ll have many other factors to consider when you decide to sleep in your car: location, access to bathrooms and showers, food, access to Internet and phone service, and above all, safety.
But equipped with the best gear and a positive mental attitude, spending a night—or week—in your vehicle is as easy as putting the backseat down, turning on that noise machine, blacking out the windows, and waking up with nothing to do but hit the road. And if the long driving hours do something to your back that even an air mattress can't fix? We've got recommendations for that, too.