Car Camping: An Affordable and Safe Way to Travel The Country Van Life Style

camping, Car Camping, nomad, Road Trip, Van Life

I get a lot of questions on how I life the “Van Life” without having an actual Van or RV. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to find the best ways to live like this, but I have found ways to make it cozy, comfortable and affordable!

I also love that car camping allows you to lock your “bed” while your sleep. My SUV has an alarm too so I always feel at ease when I’m asleep.

Follow me in Instagram for more of my in-the-moment adventures! @maggmountain

Mountain Car Camping with Sleeping bag in Summer 2018

Setting Up the Bed

We spend a lot of time sleeping… well were supposed to anyways… so having a comfortable and safe place to sleep when you’re living on the road is very important.

  1. Start but laying down all of the back seats in your SUV (or whichever vehicle you are using). If it doesn’t lay down completely flat, I would recommend taking the seats out completely and storing them somewhere safe (hey, mom and dad!)
  2. Place some sort of soft pad on the bottom. I bought a 2 inch pad, click here. If you are doing it short term, feel free to grab the one off your bed, just make sure it has a sheet (or maybe two, one for each side) so that it doesn’t get dirty!
  3. If the weather is cold, pack a sleeping bag, If it’s on the warmer side bring blankets so that your body can breath. If you are in the mountains I would recommend always having a sleeping bag, it gets cold at night! Right now I have a regular king sized blanket. I like to get them bigger than my car so that I can bunch them up on the side for extra cushion.
  4. Bring Pillows! I have four pillows, again to add some extra cushion and make it cozier!
  5. Set up battery or solar powered lights inside (I use this waterproof solar lantern). This was a game changer for me to help me relax in the evening after the sun goes down. Having lights in there makes it feel more like home and allows you to read, write and draw! … or to see your beautiful fur babies face!
  6. Face your trunk pointing towards the best view. I love relaxing with the back trunk wide open in bed while enjoying a beautiful view.
  7. Cover with a tarp and pack your things on top of it!

Setting Up Outdoors

My best friend and I do car camping together, we fit two in this Rav4 we rented (I didn’t have an SUV yet) comfortably.
  1. TARPS. I love tarps (outdoor rugs work too!). I set them up outside of every entrance of my car I’m going to use. This allows you to keep your shoes by your door without tracking a bunch of dirt into your car. I put one outside of the trunk and one outside of the back side doors (you can’t open the trunk from the inside so in the morning you have to go out of the side). Amazon basics has some nice and affordable tarps.
  1. Folding table. I have a folding table that lays flat in the back of my car on top of my bed. I usually set it up near the fire pit, since that’s where I prep most of my food. Put it where you are going to cook! Having a table makes a huge difference, you can find some affordable ones online and in store.
  2. If there isn’t any shade, I create some. A lot of people use an easy up, I don’t have one (yet), so I typically open my trunk and use bungee cords to hook a tarp to the top of it and then clip the other side of the tarp to a tree or another car near by! This creates shade just outside of your bed and makes a bigger shelter! I do this when it rains too to give me more dry space.

They also have those really cool tents that you can attach to the back of your open SUV trunk!

SUV Tent, so badass.

4. OPTIONAL. Set up your hammock on your campsite. I love relaxing and taking naps in my hammock, gives a cozy feel to your “home”.

Setting up the tent and unloading the car!

Efficient Packing

You obviously don’t have to pack the way I do, but I’ve learned a lot from others over the year on how to pack efficiently and in a very organized way.

If you aren’t interested in the “Van Life” and just want to go on a little camping trip, skip to step 2!

1. Become a MINIMALIST. This is one of the most challenging parts. We all learn to love and become attached to our belongings. You just need to pull the bandage and DO IT.

I got rid of almost everything, aside from a little bit of clothes and some kitchen and bathroom essentials.

I picked a few “cute” outfits to keep for when I meet up with friends or go out and got rid of the rest! It was hard but I knew I wanted to make the transition into this lifestyle so I did what I had to do.

I have one (shallow) clear tub of pants, one for t-shirts & tanks, one for long sleeve & athletic tops and then a deep large tub or warmer clothes (jacket, sweatshirts, gloves, snow pants).

2. I pack EVERYTHING in clear plastic tubs with lids. Click here for the ones I’m talking about! This is way cheaper than buying in person too. In person they are about $8 a piece. on amazon you can get 6 of the nice ones that have the lids that lock shut for about $30. I mean I put EVERYTHING in them. Underwear, food, shampoo, you name it! I got a lot of this from Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix; she does into a lot of detail as to why packing in clear tubs is important.

Clear tubs allow you to see exactly what’s inside without having to dig through it. They also store and stack nicely if you get uniform ones. I have found that the shallow, but large size are best for staying organized.

3. Pack your food in one, cooking supplies in another, clothing in one, bathroom supplies, etc.! Combine two different things if there’s room.

Setting up the car bed! (Shawn at the end)

How to Find Places to Camp

First, be sure to check my camping section, I’m working on adding more!

There are a ton of campsites all over the United States and Canada, and plenty of them are free! In fact, some of my all time favorite places to stay have been on free sites.

One of the best ways to find free land to camp on is by going onto the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) site and finding free public land. You can stay in these places for up to two weeks and then after your time is up you have to move at least 20 miles to the next BLM spot. These are always free, but they don’t have facilities (water and bathroom) so you need to go extra prepared!

Another great way to find BLM spots on your phone and other FREE spots is through the Boondocking app. It will show you all of the free spots around the United States and also gives you information for each spot.

Another great website/app I use is Ioverlander.com. This site/app will show you all places to camp, free and with ones that cost money. I like this one because it has filters. You can put if you want showers and other amenities.

Lastly, the park4night app is another great resource for finding all different types of places to stay. This one will also show you parking lots that allow you to crash overnight in your Car, SUV or Van. It also has BLM land and campgrounds and typically provides information on each location.

With the van life, if you just need a quick spot to pull over and sleep, Wal mart allows overnight travelers to stay overnight in their parking lot (most locations, double check before). This might sound sketchy, but it is actually one of the safest options. There are security cameras, security, and indoor bathroom.

Stay safe and have fun!

Follow me in Instagram for more of my in-the-moment adventures! @maggmountain

If you have anything to add or ask, please comment or email me! I’d love to chat and get more tips and answer your questions. (enter below)

8 thoughts on “Car Camping: An Affordable and Safe Way to Travel The Country Van Life Style

  1. Wow you have really great idea when it comes to camping, very interesting & intriguing too me… Great pictures very creative seems neat

    Like

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