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.

We independently source all of the awesome products and experiences that we feature on Thrillist. If you buy or book from the links on our site, we may receive an affiliate commission — which in turn supports our work.

With road trips becoming the de rigueur way to traverse the U.S., it's no wonder so many Americans have taken up a new -- or renewed -- interest in the beauty and wonder of the 50 States. But we also do it for the freedom, and I'll tell you this: There's no freedom like being on the open road with the windows down as music glares from the car speakers and another adventure writes its way into the book of your life.

And though many seasoned and unseasoned road-trippers alike would prefer the comforts of a hotel room on the road, there's another option: Say screw it and sleep in your car.
 
With a few modest upgrades to your road trip appurtenances, you'll be sleeping comfortably and safely inside the confines of your vehicle. Plus, you'll save a ton of money when you forgo lodging. Here's what you'll need to help get you started.

Mattresses

Sleeping in the back of a Prius will be a much different experience than sleeping in the back of an SUV. As such, you'll need to plan your bedding accordingly. I'd recommend not buying a Prius if this is a lifestyle you'd want to pursue. But hey, do you.

If you take the mattress route, measure and then measure again. You might be able to cram an air mattress in if the dimensions are off by a few inches, but you also want to be sure you're utilizing the most room possible. Here are some options.

Pittman

Backseat mattress from Pittman

Best for: Longer trips solo where you plan to spend a few nights in your car -- in comfort, of course.
Price: $40

Onirii

Onirii Inflatable Car Air Mattress with Back Seat Pump

Best for: SUVs or hatchbacks where you'll need to be sharing a bed for a couple of nights.
Price: $69 for SUV (or $67 for backseat of the car)

Backcountry

ALPS Mountaineering Velocity Air Bed

Best for: The minimalist road warrior who only plans to sleep in their car for a night or two.
Price: $127

Bedding

Almost as important as what you're sleeping on is what you're sleeping under. If you've got the room, throw a comforter and an ultra soft down pillow in the ride 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.

Pendleton

Pendleton Shared Paths Blanket

Best for: Versatility. You can use this to stay cozy at night and then throw it down for a picnic blanket the next day.
Price: $99.95

Big Agnes

Big Agnes Sentinel Double Sleeping Bag

Best for: Long haul experienced couples with an SUV -- or hatchback -- who also have a larger air mattress and might want to camp for a night
Price: $399.95

Brooklinen

Brooklinen's Weighted Comforter

Best for: People who refuse to skimp on comfort and actually have the room to pack up a comforter
Price: $249

Therm-a-Rest

Therm-a-Rest Airhead Down Pillow

Best for: The minimalist who wants excellent comfort AND portability 
Price: $60-$70

The comforts

Ah yes. The comforts. These are the little things that make you sleep a bit more soundly, a tad more securely, and a lot more happily (read: clean and comfortable). Some are rather obvious: a sleeping mask, USB car charger, mouthwash, and body wipes amongst other things. Conversely, some picks aren't as evident. Here are a few products that'll make your sleep that much better.

Amazon

Blackout curtains for your car

Best for: People who really don't want to be woken up by the morning sun
Price: $24 for two

Go Travel

Go Travel Sound Machine

Best for: City dwellers who might need a little extra noise to help them fall asleep
Price: $23

A Full Car Cover

Best for: Those who really wanna go incognito while parked in a low trafficked area
Price: $30 - $50

Petzl

A Comfortable Headlamp

Best for: Light sleepers who might be a little nervous about unwanted visitors
Price: Starting around $20

Tents

This section does not pertain to your commonplace definition of a tent. I'm talking about tents that hook up to your car, either on the roof, attached to the truck bed, or over the hatchback. I will note this might not be ideal for a lot of people as you'll be very obviously sleeping in your car. But if you can find a quiet place in the woods to pull off into, or a cheap campsite, this is an excellent option. Here are a few tents to consider.

Backcountry

Thule x Tepui Ruggedized Kukenam 3

Best for: Those with a very keen sense of adventure who prefer the scenic -- perhaps more rugged -- route 
Price: $2,300

Napier

Napier 57 Series Sportz Truck Tent

Best for: People with pickup trucks, as this will only fit a pickup truck
Price: $280

Rightline

Rightline Gear SUV Tent

Best for: Those with an SUV, wagon, or minivan who could use some extra space sleeping
Price: $300

There are, of course, many other factors to consider when you decide to sleep in your car: location, access to bathrooms/showers, food, access to Internet & phone service, and above all safety.

But with the right stuff and a positive mental attitude, spending a night -- or four -- in your vehicle is as easy as putting the backseat down, firing up that noise machine, and waking up with nothing to do but hit the road. Ah, freedom.

Alex Robinson is a writer & editor for Thrillist. He didn't have any of this stuff when he slept in his car and really wishes he did. Follow him on Instagram @alexanderrobinson
Want to know more about our favorite products and services, and get great deals on cool stuff? Sign up for the weekly Thrillist DealMail.