More Tips for Sleeping in Your Car While Traveling

best way to sleep in a car

Today is the first post in a new occasional series offering Road Trip Tips. Future installments will focus on traveling on a $7/day food budget and finding must-have gadgets for the road.

For today, I want to revisit a topic I first wrote about on Matador Abroad – how to sleep in your car while traveling – and to provide an introduction to vandwelling. This post is obviously directed to road-trippers who do not own an RV. If you’ve got an RV, you’re five steps ahead.

Sleeping in your vehicle is not glamorous. But it’s a great way to stretch your budget. I won’t rehash the tips I mentioned in the Matador article. Instead, I’ll offer a few additional tips and answer some FAQs.

And if you’re taking a road trip, make sure to have road trip necessities like an emergency car repair kit, dash cam, and plenty of chargers.

What is vandwelling?

safe place to sleep in your car

Sleeping in your car can be safer and more comfortable than you’d think.


Vandwelling is the basic term to describe living, traveling and/or sleeping in vehicles. There are numerous vandwelling blogs and resources out there. The documentary ‘Rubber Tramps‘ is a great profile of vandwellers who have pimped out their rides to the point that they become home.

For the average person, it’s not necessary to go to those lengths. I traveled in a simple conversion van with a couch that folded into a bed. I wasn’t a true vandweller since my experience was temporary, but I did spend a few months sleeping in my car.

How do you go to the bathroom in your vehicle?

Since you’re not in an RV, you won’t have a toilet inside your vehicle. So where to answer nature’s call?

I always try to use department stores or fast food bathrooms. At some point, though, you’ll need relief in the middle of the night, in which case, the pee bottle is your friend. Believe it or not, this works for the ladies, too. You can find portable female urinals on Amazon.

As for going #2, vandwellers sometimes fashion what could be described as “human litter boxes,” but that was a bit extreme for me. I stuck to public restrooms for that purpose. Find the nearest public park, gas station, fast food chain, or Walmart.

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vandwelling road trip

How can you get comfortable sleeping in your vehicle?

You’ve got to have a car with enough space to lie down, obviously. Conversion vans are great because they have seats that turn into beds. If you’re in an SUV or regular car, your work is much more difficult. Fortunately, most new cars have seats that go back really far nowadays.

The one time I had to sleep in a compact car came when I arrived at a campground in Colorado really late and found that the ground was rock-hard. I couldn’t get any tent pegs in the soil.

So I decided to just recline the front seat as far as I possibly could. It wasn’t the most restful night of sleep, but I did get several hours of rest. That can work in an emergency. I wouldn’t try sleep like that every night, though.

Here are some tips for organizing the inside of the vehicle to make room for all your stuff.

Where’s the best place to park?

sleeping overnight in van

I touched on how to find legal places to sleep in your car in the Matador article. The process of finding safe places to sleep in a vehicle can be tricky, but you can sleep most anywhere if you are careful.

The best place is a busy neighborhood with lots of on-street parking. You want to be in an area that is crowded enough that your new vehicle won’t stand out.

Large shopping malls usually have security vehicles that drive around the lot at night, but smaller strip malls typically do not, so they can be a good option. Walmarts sometimes work, as well.

Other useful info: Keeping a budget

Check out my post on traveling on a budget for some additional money-saving ideas while you’re on the road. You may want to have a cooler so you can store drinks and keep stuff like lunch meats and cheese fresh.

Another way to save money is by bringing your own food instead of eating out all the time. Here’s my guide to the best road trip foods and snacks to bring along. Think apples, nuts, raisins, granola bars, and a few other items that may surprise you.

Other links for sleeping in your car

You can find a ton of interesting resources for vandwelling and sleeping in your vehicles. A couple that I followed regularly: A Year in a Car, and Cheap RV Living.

Eating Cheaply in Iceland: How I Spent Less Than $150 on Food in Nine Days

And check out our many road trip-related posts, such as:

Taking a Road Trip Through the Canadian Prairies

Visiting the RV Hall of Fame

A Mini Road Trip in the Chevy Trax

Route 66 Road Trip in Oklahoma

The Best Road Trip Songs: 18 Songs About Travel

Need more USA road trip ideas? Check out my full post.

About Quirky Travel Guy

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based freelance writer & fan of indie rock, road trips, ice cream, squirrels on power lines, runaway shopping carts, and six-way intersections. Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, which may earn me a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.

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  1. That bed looks extremely comfortable. Nice setup. Yes, I wish I had the luxuries an rv or camper van have but not the gas or the worries that come with driving such a big vehicle.

  2. Recently I’ve looked into doing this as well. The hammocks would definitely save on space. Last week I read an article about sleeping in hammocks and I learned that not only is it just as comfortable, but it’s also better for your back & body.

    1. I think that’s why many people use Walmart parking lots – at least they have 24-hour bathroom access if necessary.

  3. We’re thinking of getting a van to drive around Europe in (or New Zealand or wherever), as having your own home – even a tiny one – is so nice on the road. I saw a van in Austin that had two hammocks inside… do you know if that’s a common sleeping arrangement in vans? It seemed pretty cool and would save a lot of space.

    1. Hmm, I haven’t heard of that but it would definitely save space! I’ve never slept in a hammock so I’m not sure what the comfort level would be.

    2. Hello!
      I’ve been a rubber tramp of late to cut down on college expenses, and I can attest to the comfort of a hammock, although I have some stipulations. Do not get an American hammock, by which I mean something made of rope with two stabilizing bars. There is a reason they flip. Try something like the stuff you can find at Trek light, or any of the Mexican/Latin American/ Asian styled hammocks. Also, if you’re looking to hook it up inside the van, check out this video. A buddy of mind drilled bolts into his van’s roof and it’s forever leaking. This idea is much better.

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