Sleeping in your vehicle while travelling does not only make you save money, but you also gain flexibility. And if it’s a lot easier not to book all the hotels you need during your road trip, there is a bit of work involved in preparing your car so it’s comfortable for sleeping. If you’re travelling to remote places or if you want to save time and money by skipping the restaurants, you’ll also need equipment for cooking and eating.
Why did we choose to sleep in a car rather than in a van? First, we use our car for many other purposes than just travelling, like commuting to work every day. We also wanted a vehicle that’s very fuel efficient. And we could have a younger car for the price of an old van.
This article is based on my experience transforming a wagon (Peugeot 307) into a mini-van for road trips around Australia.
1. Space for sleeping in your car
Not all cars will give you a nice flat surface to create your bed. We opted for a wagon where we can fully collapse the back seats – or even leave them at home – to have a nice flat surface. If you’re not as lucky as us, you may need to be a bit creative and built your own flat surface, using a piece of wood for example.
Once you have your flat surface, you can buy a foam mattress to fit on it. For us, it has been challenging to find something that wasn’t too expensive. I’m a big fan of reusing rather than buying so I opted for a combination of foam mats (yoga mats)* with a mattress pad*.
For some people, this is not enough comfort. Remember the most important parts to protect are your upper body down to your but, so you can fold your mats accordingly.
Two other options to consider for more cosiness:
– a thick foam mattress*: You’ll need this one to be easy to roll or fold as you shouldn’t place anything on top all day, otherwise your mattress will get flat quickly.
We initially had a big air mattress which was super comfortable but a lot less convenient. It is more fragile and you need to blow air into it every night. We had an electric air mattress pump* that we could recharge in the car, but we dropped that solution when we went away longer than one weekend. You don’t want to spend too long preparing your bed every night.
And here’s another option for those who don’t have a wagon: the back seat inflatable mattress*. I have never tried it, but it looks like an interesting idea – although I’m not sure the length of this option is actually comfortable. I also have reserves on air mattresses as explained before as most mattresses don’t last long. You’d need to be careful to deflate it during the day as when the temperature increases, the air takes more space and could damage the mattress.
We cover our mattress, sleeping sheets, pillows and blankets with a tarp* when we’re driving. It ensures that they don’t get wet and dirty if something spills on it. Plus, the tarp can also be used for other purposes if needed.
2. Protection from light and heat – and curious people
We live in a tropical climate, so this is almost as important as the mattress if we want to sleep well. Even during winter, it can quickly get hot if the sun hits the car and the sunrise happens before 7 am.
For the side doors, I opted for window shades that I can slide on the entire door*. It allows opening the window without risking that too many insects come in – which I personally find a lot more comfortable as it can get hot and sticky otherwise. For more darkness and privacy, it is easy to slide a piece of cardboard in or to attach an opaque piece of tissue with clothespins. It was also a lot easier than building customed curtains for the car. Please note the image and the link are provided as an illustration: this is not the product I own and you’d need to make measurements to confirm it fits your car.
I also use a sunshade for the windshield* and the rear window with an easy system to fix them.
You’ll quickly find out that you need to have a towel to wipe your windshield if you plan to drive within the hour after waking up.
3. Organising storage
When you travel and sleep in your car, you have less space than in a van. Having a clever storage is key to keep you sane: every evening, you’ll need to move things from the boot to the front of the car so you can sleep. And do the opposite in the morning – while leaving the things you’ll need during the day easily accessible.
To make this easier, I use boxes. I can easily pile them up, they’re easy to access (no need to open) and solid to be carried around. The big advantage is that if I don’t need them, they take almost no place at all as they fold and collapse. Your life will be easier if you can get different colours or mark them so you can easily differentiate them. Click on the image to get more info.
It’s also important to use all the space you can with organisers that you won’t need to move around: behind the back seats, the sun visors, between the car seats or on the air vent for example. Click on the image to get more info.
4. Kitchen Equipment
For cooking, we use the usual camping equipment: a cooler, a stove, a folding table and folding chairs. Most of our plates, glasses and bowls are collapsible or can fit into one another. I put the essentials in a transparent box (like Tupperware), the one we always need on the table when we are going to eat. A small hard cutting board and at least one good knife will make your life easier. Don’t forget the can opener.
We also carry a small charcoal barbecue that folds completely flat. It’s fun to make a fire and the food tastes delicious. The small espresso maker will be a real treat for those who love their coffee in the morning. That’s how the Italians do it at home!
Clcik on the images for more info.
You also need to think about how you want to light the interior – and the exterior – of your car. It is not recommended to use the lights that are already in the car for a few reasons: they can drain the battery, they get hot as they are not meant to stay on and they are not very comfortable. Our solution was to have a line going from one side of the car to another and we attached a camping lamp up there. When we were in a more relaxed setup and needed less light, we opted for solar charged LED.
6. What if it’s raining?
You need to think about this before a storm hits you. Where can you put your wet items? Can you eat inside the car?
We hang wet items in the car using bungee cords*. We can also use bungee cords to fix the tarp and get a shelter if needed. Wet items can also be placed in dry bags* or in a box, but be aware that they will be smelly and will need to be washed if you choose this option. We’ve also used the tarp as a protection for the bottom of the boxes so we can place wet items, as the tarp is easy and quick to clean.
What about you? Where do you go when it’s raining?
With our car, we can fold the parcel shelf, use it as a table and seat on each side. If it doesn’t work for you, you may consider having some extra equipment like a mini picnic table*. Not the best, but take it as a romantic dinner in bed! Having this option available can also save the evening when you realise you stopped somewhere full of aggressive and annoying mosquitoes.
When the rain is light, the tarp or the boot can be used as a shelter for cooking and dining. But it’s recommended to have some food that does not require any cooking in case the rain is stronger and you need to prepare it all in the car.
Now that you can eat and sleep in your car, you’re almost ready to hit the road. Almost? Well, you still need to plan the itinerary and get some must-have items for a better road trip adventure. Stay tuned for the next articles on the blog!
Have you ever lived in your car during a road trip? What equipment is the most important for you?
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