Car camping essentials
We just came back from an eight day road trip where we used our car camping essentials, our fourth grader’s national park pass and drove our 15 passenger van.
Many Southern California families don’t drive this size of vehicle, but the hubby and I have seven kids so we need a HUGE van. Yes, you read that right… seven kids between the ages of 14 years old to 6 months. This is why road trips are the most budget friendly way of traveling for our family.
What is Car Camping?
Car camping is when you sleep in your vehicle. It has become more popular now with COVID-19 because people are more weary of staying in hotels while traveling.
Our family car camped two years ago and learned a few essential tips that we put to use this time around.
And while car camping may not be for everyone, it can be a huge money saving tool if you’re willing to brave the process.
Car Camping Essentials
You will need somewhere to go when nature calls. We found this great idea of a bucket with a pool noodle around. It was a genius hack!
I went a step further and bought small trash bags from Dollar Tree to place inside bucket before using it. It made clean up super easy. We only had to use the pee bucket a couple of times but it was a blessing to have. This is probably the hardest part of car camping to be honest.
We learned that having a fan is a must from our last road trip experience. Check the weather at night where you stay. If it will be over 65 degrees then plan on needing a fan.
Check the wattage on your fan and ensure that your converter has enough power.
Car Window Sun Shade Cover
This one is super simple to do and it makes such a big difference. Rest stops or truck stops have light posts in their overnight parking spots. Having a car window sun shade helps block the light.
It is difficult to get a good night’s sleep, or nap, with a bright light coming in through your windshield. It will also give you a little more privacy. Trust me – just get one.
Speaking of blocking out light, curtains are a great help.
We learned the hard way from our last trip that when the sun comes up at 5:30am, the kids think it’s time to wake up.
If you’re vehicle doesn’t already have sun shade retractors for the back passenger windows, you should also consider purchasing some for the rest of the windows or do what we did – create some makeshift curtains.
Curtains will help keep the inside of the car darker longer in morning, plus it offers you privacy.
We made our own out of old bed sheets, string, clothespins and clips. We found all these supplies at the Dollar Tree and spent $5 (other than the bed sheets that we had already).
To make the curtains, we hooked the clips to the clothes hangers in our van. Then passed the string through it and tied it to the visors. Using the clothespins we pinned the bed sheets to the string.
It was super cheap and easy to make these curtains. We did find car window curtains and shades on Amazon if it works better for you. We have a large van and this was the most convenient and budget-friendly.
Having many people enclosed in a vehicle will lead to foggy windows. You’ll need to open your windows to let air circulate.
Now, the issue is you don’t want bugs and/or insects flying in at night (and also for safety reasons). We found a hack to help with that!
Purchase a roll of window screen from local hardware store or online. We found some at Home Depot for $7.
Then, cut out a piece the size of window and tape it to car door frame using masking tape. This was the best hack we found and it was super useful.
Alternatively, you could purchase a window tent that goes around your vehicle door.
Once the sun goes down, you won’t want to deal with turning on and off the inside lights. We found that flashlights or workshop battery operated lights work best.
Keep them handy since nothing is worst than rummaging in the dark through baby’s diaper bag for formula.
When traveling we always check the morning weather but when you’re car camping you should also check the weather at nighttime.
We forgot to check the night weather near Yellowstone and it was a chilly 44 degrees. We should have worn our warm pj’s and socks.
And because it was so cold, we didn’t need to lower the windows or bring out the portable fans.
It was the complete opposite at Zion National Park where it was 75 degrees. We slept in shorts, used our fan and lowered the windows. It’s best to have all your car camping essentials prepared for hot and cold nights.
The biggest issue with car camping is where to find overnight parking.
The two easiest are highway rest stops and truck/travel centers. These two options have restrooms and are designated for sleeping in your vehicle.
Travel centers have plenty of parking, gas stations, restrooms, convenient stores and fast food options. We like travel centers like Love’s, Flying J and TA because these have showers and laundry services.
Another option is finding a 24-hour Walmart.
Apps like Trucker Path and All Stays make it easy to find nearby locations for overnight parking. All Stays has different apps depending on what type of sleeping site you are looking to use during your trip.
Why car camp?
We are a large family and it makes more sense for our budget because the most expensive part of our road trip would be a hotel or Airbnb costs.
Because we chose to camp in our car, we were able to extend our trip farther and longer because we slept in our van half of our vacation days.
Another big reason is the hubby and I like to drive in the late evening to our next stop. It doesn’t make sense to get a hotel at 12am and get back on the road at 7am.
During this year’s national parks road trip, we planned it so that we would sleep two nights in our van, then one at a hotel, and so on. This gives us an opportunity to get a good night’s sleep, wash clothes and take a good shower.
We realize car camping is not for everyone, and you do have to make some sacrifices. At the end of the day, car camping has to be worth it for your family.
Funny enough, our kids remember sleeping in our old suburban the most from our past road trip.
Happy car camping, and if you have any questions about our list of car camping essentials let us know in the comments below.