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What Does Car Camping Mean?

View of the green meadow from the bed in camper van.
  • Car camping can literally mean sleeping in your car, but it does not have to. 
  • There are many benefits to choosing car camping over other types of camping. There are specific places where you can car camp safely. 
  • Before you consider car camping, you should understand all the ways you can make it safe for yourself and your fellow campers. 

Car camping or van camping is a different way to camp and appeals to a specific type of person. It can literally be camping or sleeping in your car, but it does not have to be. Some people are willing to camp out just about anywhere, but others are particular about the places they will camp. No matter what style of camping is essential for you, check out this article that tells you all about what does car camping mean. 

What is Car Camping?

Camper van and tent near the lake during sunrise.

Car camping is an alternative to Recreational Vehicle camping. It can literally mean camping or sleeping in your car. However, when you dig in a little further, it also means sleeping in a tent or backpack after packing all your camping gear in your car and driving it to a campsite. While car camping has two different meanings, depending on which path you choose, you may need different types of equipment. You also need to find a different place to sleep. 

Where Can You Car Camp in Your Car?

If you are opting to be a car camper and sleep in your car, there are some important tips to keep in mind. First, where can you safely sleep in your car? There are some places where you can sleep in your car, some of which may be a little surprising.

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You can sleep at any rest stop or truck stop. You can also sleep at a campground. You can also sleep in a Walmart parking lot. They will allow you to stay in their lot for overnight parking. There are some things you need to know about these various options.

Rest Stops

Woman relaxing inside car trunk and looking out the sea.

While a rest stop is a nice place to stop, use the restroom, and stretch your legs, not all of them will allow you to park and camp for the night. There are about six states that allow you to stay overnight. You want to check in with the state highway for each stay before you go; otherwise, you risk getting a ticket. 

Walmart Store Parking Lot

Parking lots at the Walmart store.

Many Walmart stores provide you the ability to park overnight. Check to make sure there is not a sign stating otherwise. If no sign, you are good to go.

If you do stay in a Walmart parking lot, stay close to a well-lit area, but also towards the back of the parking lot. The store is allowing you to stay there, do not be rude and take up a valuable parking space close to the store. You can check the Walmart app because it does tell you which stores allow you to park overnight. 

Truck Stops

Top view of the truck stop.

Truck stops allow you to stay overnight and even offer things like showers and Wi-Fi. This may be a noisy place to try to rest because these trucks are loud. You may want to consider having earplugs with you.

Camp Site

A couple sitting by the bonfire in a campsite.

A camp site is a place where you can be safe, but not all campgrounds allow you just to show up and sleep in your car or pickup truck. Most times, you have to make a reservation and actually camp. You should consider calling any camp site in which you are interested just to make sure. 

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Where Can You Car Camp in a Tent?

When you car camp with the plans to pull up to a campsite and pitch a tent on your tent pad, you want to make sure you have everything you need to be packed in your car. This type of camping is also known as base camping, except you are camping close to your vehicle. You can typically camp this way at a state park, local park, designated campground, or national park.

Dispersed camping is an option, so you can also find a dispersed campsite and camp there. There are places that are more geared towards rivers, but that does not mean you cannot camp there. You can find places where you really rough it because all they have is a fire pit and a picnic table. Or you can find a place that provides a little more luxury.

You can find a campground with showers, Wi-Fi, indoor flush toilets, and a place to do your laundry. 

Benefits to Car Camping

Man sleeping inside car trunk.

There are many benefits to car camping. You do not have to put a large investment into it. You already have your car, and you may need to get some camping gear. You do not have to invest in a RV. Not only do you not have to invest in an RV, but your car, van, or truck is easier to maneuver, especially if you want to do backcountry camping.

You will not have to worry about size restrictions, parking, or going under low bridges. Sleeping in your car may be safer than sleeping in a tent because you can lock the doors. It can save you money on staying in a hotel. 

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What Do You Need to Car Camp Effectively?

If you are planning to car camp, there are some items you want to have with you to make your camping trip more fun. You do not have to worry about hiking from your car to your campsite. You want to make sure that you have specific camping equipment, which includes an air mattress, propane stove, and coolers of food and drinks.

You want to make sure you have a sleeping bag or blankets and pillows. It would be best if you also considered dishes and utensils, including cooking utensils. You want a flashlight and some other lighting capability. You want to make sure you have some way to charge your items, including your cell phone. 

Tips for Car Camping

Aerial view of couple drinking tea near campfire.

Before you run out and take your first or your next car camping trip, there are some essential tips to keep in mind for your safety. You can go car camping safely, but you must be smart about it to protect yourself. 

If you are planning to sleep in your car, you want to either crack a window or use damprid in your vehicle to prevent condensation. 

You want to put up a curtain or some type of fabric to give you privacy. You do not want to forget an eye mask and ear plugs because it could be loud where you are staying.

You want to park out of the way so you are not interfering with regular business but remain in a well-lit and safe area. You should check in to make sure that you check where you can park before you plan to park in a specific area.

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You want to sleep with your head at the front of the car. You also want to position yourself, so your head is above your feet. This gives you more room to sleep.

Tips for Car Camping at a Campground

Some additional tips that you want to consider regardless if you are sleeping in your car or at a campground. You want to make sure that all your electronics are charged as much as possible, all the time. You want to keep your food in your car and in a cooler. It would be best if you stayed as clean as possible. Shower whenever you can, and make sure you have a full toiletry kit with you, especially for the times when you cannot shower. 


Is Car Camping Safe?

Yes, it is relatively safe to sleep in your car, but it is important to be mindful of some things. it is best if you know before you go when it comes to finding a safe and welcoming place to sleep in your car. 

What is Boondocking?

Boondocking is when you have a RV and you opt to stay in a remote area where you are not connected to any amenities. You do not connect your RV to any plumbing or electrical connections. It gives you the ability to travel to any place you want, no matter how remote or off the grid it really is. 

Can You Stay Warmer in Your Car or a Tent?

While it may seem like sleeping in your car will be warmer than sleeping in a tent, your car is still going to get cold. The car is more enclosed and protects you from wind, snow and, rain. However, cold air can still get into the sides of your car. You want to make sure that you have an insulated sleeping bag in which to sleep, even if you are in your car. 

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Can I Sleep in a RV at a Rest Stop?

Some states are funny about staying overnight at a rest stop. If you are in an RV, some would argue that you are camping. However, if you sleep inside your RV without connecting it to any services, you are technically just sleeping in your vehicle.