Sleeping in the car is a budget, flexible alternative to car camping in which you actually sleep in your vehicle instead of setting up a tent outdoors. It’s an adventure, but always consider the safety of your environment when relaxing in the back of the car for a good night’s sleep.
Road trips are an epic and enjoyable way to explore a new place. Having the option of a warm, cozy bed whilst car sleeping opens up a world of possibilities.
You might even find yourself settling down for the night in your vehicle whilst it’s on the driveway!
In this guide, I will cover top tips, where to park, equipment, safety, legal aspects, comfort, best vehicles, and much more.
Read this guide to learn how to sleep in a car whilst being as comfortable and safe as possible. Please use the contents to navigate to the section you need!
Sleeping In The Car Top Tips
Here are my top 5 tips for sleeping in the car.
Do not leave the AC/engine running as there is a risk of poor air quality or even carbon monoxide poisoning (worst case).
Cover the windows for privacy but leave a small opening for ventilation
Check out our equipment guide to make a cozy bed and have all the car essentials you need.
Follow our safety tips and info on where to park to sleep in the car
Always lock the doors and NEVER park on the side of a road.
A few other notes before we get started. Your aim whilst car sleeping is to be as discreet and respectful as possible.
Make sure your car is clean and tidy and that you are presentable. You don’t want anyone to give the car a second glance!
If you do get disturbed it’s better if it’s an authority figure than someone who might do you harm.
Safety always comes first.
Don’t leave rubbish behind and aim to use the bathroom before you get set up for the night.
If you are looking to sleep in your car in the USA then that answer is, it depends. The rules vary from state to state and many cities have specifically banned sleeping in your car.
Before you try it, it is important to know if it is illegal to sleep in your car.
I would recommend googling whether it is legal in the specific location you are in. You should continue to do so if you are planning to move from state to state.
It’s always important to remember that if you do choose to do this then you must park legally. In addition, do not sleep in the car whilst intoxicated as you may be charged with DUI.
Can you sleep in your car at Walmart?
Walmart can be an excellent option for an overnight sleeping spot. Walmart is also a great place to go inside and pick up any essentials that you may have forgotten for your night in a vehicle.
Many Walmart locations allow free overnight parking. If you arrive at a Walmart near a national park it’s common to see RVs parked there. This is a good indication that there is free overnight parking.
However, you should always check the signage as rules may change from site to site.
You can use this page on Allstays to find a suitable location! They also have a downloadable app for your smartphone.
It’s also a good spot to go inside and use the bathroom/freshen up before you get your head down for the night!
Walmart also ranks highly in terms of safety because of security and lighting.
Always do your own risk assessment!
Can you sleep in your car in the UK?
Yes, it is legal to sleep in your car in the UK. That being said, this is contingent on you following rules regarding parking restrictions.
It is not legal to sleep in the car if you are not parked legally.
Can you sleep in your car in Europe?
Yes, you can sleep in your car whilst driving around Europe. As usual, make sure you are parked legally.
When searching on RentalCars you can filter for Estate cars and SUVs which will have the largest areas for you to sleep on. It’s also worth seeing if you can get tinted windows for additional privacy.
How To Sleep In Your Car Comfortably
When you are thinking about how to sleep in your car your two primary concerns will be safety and comfort. We will cover both of those in this article but this section is centered around comfort.
Being comfortable when sleeping in the car is all about preparation and planning.
You need to make sure you have the right equipment but also follow the rules in this article to make sure you are set up correctly for a relaxed night’s rest.
This section will give you the rundown of all the gear you need to make it a pleasant experience.
Read on to learn how to sleep in your car.
How to stay warm whilst sleeping in a car
There are three main ways to stay warm whilst sleeping in the car.
Make a warm bed with a mattress, sleeping bag and pillow
Wear multiple layers when sleeping (thermal in winter)
Insulate the car by putting insulation material on the windows.
Staying warm whilst sleeping in the car will involve having a nice cozy bed to sleep in at night.
For this we recommend:
A great quality summer sleeping bag or winter sleeping bag
A portable/camping pillow
An inflatable sleeping mattress or camping matt.
Even with a really warm sleeping bag, if its a cold time of year I would recommend wearing multiple layers.
you want clothing that is warm breathable. Thin layers are great as you can easily take one or two off during the night if you get too hot.
Insulating The Windows
You can buy this material off Amazon and cut it to size. You can use tape to stick it to the windows.
The insulative material doubles up as a great way to get extra privacy.
NOTE: Even if you insulate the car it will still get very cold in the winter! The absolutely most important thing is to have a warm bed and lots of layers.
It’s important to have the ability to charge electronic devices. The main options for doing this are:
An in-car charger that uses the car battery to charge devices
A power bank that you charge and use as an extra supply.
A solar panel which is used during the day to charge a battery/electronic devices.
Be careful charging devices up when the engine is turned off. If you overdo it you could have trouble starting the car the following morning!
Headlamps and Lanterns
A headlamp or lantern is a must-have for any road trip camper so you can see what you are doing both in the vehicle or in case you need to wander around outside.
They are also great if you want to sit and relax outside on a camping chair without lighting a fire.
Washing after sleeping in the car
If you are planning on sleeping in the car for multiple nights you will need to consider washing and keeping clean. Walmart is a great option as a place to use the bathroom to freshen up.
You can also go to a campground or even stay natural in a river!
Buy a gym membership that allows you to use the showers and gym. This is great if you are long term sleeping in the car.
Wash in the ocean
Use your network to stop off at a friend of families house and get cleaned up
wet wipes, dry shampoo, and deodorant!
Public toilets such as Walmart or Macdonalds
Toiletries and showering
There are portable shower kits if you choose to do that. Dry shampoo is also a great item to bring along as well as some roll-on deodorant and wet wipes.
Pay to use the showers at a local campsite
Go old school and wash in a lake or stream.
Budget Portable Shower
It’s possible to set up a budget portable shower. Be prepared for a cold shower though unless you plan on boiling some water and adding it into the mix!
Equipment For Sleeping In The Car
When you sleep in the car your main option is to put down/remove the back seats and sleep with your feet toward the back of the vehicle. This will give you more room due to the wheel wells.
It is far better to sleep lying down than on the front passenger seat, but that is also an option.
Equipment Quick List
Here is the equipment quick list with links to Amazon for each item.
Residential areas are OK as long as you are not blocking anyone and are polite. Try to leave fairly early so you are not disturbed.
A good place to start is googling “best neighborhoods in X city” before you set off for that location. You can also use Google street view to see if it looks like a good place to park up.
When your planning on sleeping in neighbourhoods there are a bunch of rules that are important to follow. It’s best to go unnoticed and arrive late, preferably after 10 pm. If someone sees you getting into the back of the car early in the evening you are more likely to get a knock on the window.
If you’re disturbed then its usually best to just move on. Be polite and have a reason for being there perhaps you will get some advice from the locals on another suitable location.
Your safety is absolutely the most important thing when deciding to sleep in the car.
This section details how to ensure you are safe, what the risks are, and how you can minimize them.
What are the dangers of sleeping in a car overnight?
When sleeping in the car most of the danger will arise from outside of the car itself.
Car rolling away or another vehicle colliding with you.
Issues with the police if sleeping in the car is considered vagrancy
Poor air quality from bad ventilation
Being visible to someone that may wish to rob you or do you harm
carbon monoxide poisoning
Read this section on how to cover the windows when sleeping in the car. This will prevent you from being visible.
Park in a secure location to avoid a collision as described in this section on where to park when sleeping in the car
Leave the window/sunroof slightly open for ventilation as discussed in this section.
Ensure you have a good sleeping bag or blanket as discussed in the equipment section, to keep warm.
DO NOT sleep in the car with the engine/AC running. More info in this article.
Try to make your car stand out as little as possible. Remove any stickers or markings and give it a good clean.
Is it safe to sleep in the car with the engine running?
NO, don’t do it.
If you sleep in the car with the windows closed and the AC on there is a risk of the same air being recycled and/or engine fumes entering the cabin.
This is a big risk because carbon monoxide is odorless and can cause death if too much is inhaled.
It’s also worth remembering that you would be paying for fuel if you leave the engine running overnight.
Keep a couple of windows slightly open whilst sleeping in the car
Use a sleeping bag or blanket to stay warm
Covering the Car Windows for Sleeping
It’s important to try and cover the windows/not be visible when sleeping in the car. This is for safety reasons and also because cars are terrible at blocking out light and sound.
You can cover the windows use string, bungees and some material such as cheap black bedsheets. You may also want to get an eye cover and/or earplugs so you can wake up when you want to.
Additionally, you can put your belongings against the windows or trap some material by closing the window on it, hanging it appropriately
Insulating the car for winter car camping
If you are sleeping in the car during winter then you may consider buying some insulative material and cutting it to size.
You can then use tape to cover the windows and keep the heat in during the night.
Opening the windows when sleeping in the car
In order to create adequate ventilation, I recommend leaving a few windows slightly open to allow airflow.
If you have a sunroof then this can be a great way to get some ventilation without attracting attention. It’s better to open a few windows a small amount each than attract attention with a big gap in one window.
Do not use the AC or leave the engine running.
Is it safe to sleep in the car with the windows up?
As temperatures drop at night, it’s difficult to stay warm when sleeping in the car.
However, to ensure there is good circulation of air you should still leave a small gap in the windows.
I would not sleep with the windows down too far as this is a security risk!
What is the best car for sleeping in?
To get the best nights sleep it’s important you can lie down on a properly constructed bed. This is usually going to involve putting the back seats down flat.
If you are looking to buy a car for a road trip that you plan on sleeping in check out our article on the best cars to sleep in.
The key points are
Ability to lie down flat
Ability to block out the windows either with tinting, material or insulative material
Sunroof if possible for discreet ventilation
Best Rental Cars to Sleep in
The great thing about sleeping in a rental car is the flexibility to choose one with enough space to lie down as flat as possible.
If you are tall like me then usually it involves sleeping at an angle however some big cars can allow even me to lie flat.
Here are a few examples of rental cars you can sleep in which are available often on RentalCars.com
A large estate car such as a VW Golf Sportwagen
A large SUV such as a Chevrolet Equinox or Toyota Rav 4
A minivan such as a Toyota Sienna
Entertainment Whilst Sleeping In The Car
Here are a few examples of things to keep you busy whilst having a night sleeping in the car
Download movies onto your smart device when you have wifi
Podcasts, audiobooks, and music
Pick up a Kindle on Amazon and download some awesome books.
Grab some camp chairs and a cooking stove from our camping gear page and have a cookout under the stars.