Your One Stop Guide to Car Camping
Camping is a favorite American summer pastime, and it’s not unusual for travelers to race to their cars and flock to campgrounds once the weather warms up!
Interest in camping as a leisure activity began back in 1906 when T. H. Holding, a British camping enthusiast, published a book called The Camper’s Handbook. This interest was further motivated by the founding of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts organizations. Later, the Boy Scout’s Handbook was published and post-World War ll culture led to millions of Americans pitching tents and getting out to enjoy the great outdoors.
Today, camping is more popular than ever–especially among millennials. Camping not only offers new and educational experiences outdoors, but it is also proven to have an impact on lowering stress, as well as being extremely affordable and, at times, free!
Even those who may not have been interested in traditional camping before have found alternative ways to enjoy the outdoors–one of those alternatives being car camping.
What is it?
Car camping is exactly what it sounds like, cutting out the middleman of a tent and sleeping bag, and sleeping in the vehicle that is carrying all of your things (including you) from point A to point B. This style of camping still offers most of the benefits of traditional camping, such as enjoying the outdoors, being surrounded by nature, and participating in outdoor activities and experiences. The only difference is sleeping in the car instead of in a tent–this can be a more inexpensive and accessible way for individuals who feel safer staying in the car overnight and keeping their personal belongings within the car as well. Car camping can be especially favorable if a camper is planning a road trip with stops at multiple campgrounds in different locations.
Where to stay?
Finding a safe place to sleep overnight in your car is the most important part of planning your car camping trip. Plenty of campgrounds allow visitors to park with the proper permits or a small fee. There are also a surprising amount of places that allow you to park your car overnight for free, but always do your research and be sure it is legal to do so in the state you’re camping in!
Depending on your location, do a quick this resource is great to search for locations that allow overnight parking.
The United States Forest Service offers “dispersed camping” which is free camping outside of designated camping spots. Unless otherwise posted, all National Forest land is free to camp on. The only drawback is that campers would be further from others and access to certain amenities and aid. Regulations must be followed when staying further from a campsite, such as holding a fire permit and practicing the “leave no trace” principle. Again, check on the location before staying, as some dispersed camping spots may charge for parking.
If you’re in between campgrounds for the night and would rather find a place to car camp overnight instead of renting a room, most Wal-Marts are RV and car camping friendly. Just be sure to take proper safety precautions and take it up with management if you’re not sure on that particular location’s policies.
Don’t forget to crack the windows before you turn in for the night for proper ventilation!
What to pack?
A good packing list for staying in your car may vary only slightly from the one used for traditional camping in a tent. Comfortable sleeping pads and blankets are a must, while some air mattresses are specially designed for cars to make car campers as comfy as possible. Plastic storage bins are a great way to organize and transport personal belongings and gear, and coolers are ideal to keep food and drinks cold. If you’re not a camper who is interested in “unplugging” for your trip, don’t forget plenty of charging cables for electronics!
Remember, unless you’re staying at a campsite with proper amenities, you may not have access to things such as a bathroom, shower, or even a trash can. Make sure to plan ahead with your packing list and think about what you’ll need in regards to hygiene: hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and plenty of trash bags, just to name a few.
Want to know more?
Here are a few great resources for anyone who wants to try out car camping!
- Outside Online lists “The Seven Things You Need to Start Car Camping”
- REI gives “11 Tips for Sleeping in Your Car”
- Roadtrippers magazine explains “How to Rock at Camping Out in Your Car”
- KOA has essential “Camping Safety Tips” that apply to any camping style.
Have you ever been car camping, or have been planning to try it? Let us know your experience and any pro tips you have!