How To Sleep In Your Car In (Relative) Comfort

sleepingSince it’s peak camping and road tripping season and I’m in the midst of moving from Seattle to Boulder, using my car as a motel room, I decided it’s time for an update on car crashing (of the slumbering variety).

Last year, Gadling contributor and musician Elizabeth Seward provided useful tips she’s picked up during her years on the road touring. Like Elizabeth, I feel eminently qualified to discourse on this topic, but for different reasons.

In my mid-20s, I lived in my car for a summer. Not by choice – unless you take into account the fact that I chose to follow my recent ex-boyfriend, at his suggestion, to San Diego, despite my lack of a job, friends or housing. These situations seldom have a positive outcome, which is how I ended up living in my aging Volvo sedan and peeing into a Big Gulp cup at 3 a.m. – more on that in a minute.

I was in good company, however. The cul-de-sac where I parked was located just off a prime surf break, so each night the street would host a line-up of battered VW buses and surf-rack-bedecked, decrepit cars, as homeless surfers pulled in to roost.

The point of this anecdote is that I have a long, if somewhat cramped, history of sleeping in my car. It helps that I’m 5’2″, but I’ve known many men who have also resided in their automobiles (my brother once lived in his pickup for an entire semester of college).car camping I’ve also logged a lot of zzz’s in cars because I travel a lot. I frequently road trip on assignment, but I’ve also made numerous drives to and from the West Coast to the Rockies over the years, for long-term moves and seasonal work.

For the most part, I enjoy sleeping in my car for the spirit of adventure it conjures. Sure, I own a tent, but when I’ve logged 10 hours behind the wheel and the weather is vile, I’d rather just bust out my sleeping bag, tuck a thick blanket over the console between the front seats (if the back seat and rear of my Honda CRV are loaded) and pass out.

For a more restful car-sleep, here are my non-negotiables (Elizabeth covered the need for adequate padding and a sleeping bag in her post):

LED headlamp and extra batteries
Not only is this helpful for middle-of-the-night bathroom trips if you’re in a campground, but it will also save your sanity if you like to read and/or are an insomniac (I fall into both categories). It also prevents draining your car battery by using the overhead light, and won’t attract attention should you be parked somewhere public but not necessarily legal for overnights.

Reading material
See above.

Sleep aid
I’m not advocating pill popping, but it can definitely be helpful to take something if a good night’s rest is crucial. If an iPod does it for you, use that. Drinking alcohol just means having to get up to pee more often, and a dehydrated, puffy-faced morning after.
cup
A large cup
How do I put this delicately? Sometimes, you’re just not parked in a place where it’s feasible, as a woman, to pop a squat. I learned this while “living” in San Diego. All of the homes in the cul-de-sac had motion sensor lights and a lack of shrubbery, making bladder relief extraordinarily complicated. After complaining about my issues peeing in a spotlight, a fellow car-dweller told me, “Dude, you totally need to get a Big Gulp cup.” Dude, it totally solved the problem. Just remember to dump it down a storm drain, and not on someone’s landscaping. You’re not an animal.

A shower plan of action
Depending upon your situation, you can often shower for free at the beach (skip the soap and shampoo or ask a ranger or lifeguard if biodegradable products are okay to use), or pay at a rec center, gym or campground. I confess I’ve snuck into campgrounds before and poached a shower but I try to avoid such nefarious behavior (mainly because I’m afraid of getting caught). Tip: Baby wipes and skin-cleansing towelettes are your best friends on the road. And be sure to keep a clean bath towel in your car at all times for these situations.

Extra supply of drinking water

Do your research
If you’re somewhere urban, be sure to scope out signage so you don’t end up ticketed or towed. It’s a fairly well known fact that most Walmarts allow overnight RV parking; there’s even a locator app for it. It ain’t the Ritz, but it works in a pinch.

Lock your doors, but crack your windows
Don’t compromise your safety, but you do need fresh air.

Be sure your cellphone is charged and within reach
This is useless if you’re in an area without service (if you have an inkling that’s going to be the case, call, text, or email a family member or friend with your approximate location for the night before you get out of range). A phone can prove invaluable if you run into trouble.

[Photo credits: napper, Flickr user miss pupik; car, Flickr user russelljsmith; cup, Flickr user Bruce W Martin II]

Iconic Road Trips: Weaving Through West Virginia And Maryland On Interstate 68

I’ve driven Interstate 68 more times than I can count. It’s one of the main roads I take any time I’m traveling from the east coast to my hometown (Marietta, Ohio) or the town where my family lives now (Morgantown, West Virginia). I am currently engaged in a longstanding love-hate relationship with this road. I love it because the scenery is outstanding. The rolling hills of Appalachia surround you as you drive through, over and around them. I hate it because it’s a tough road to drive and being a passenger in the car on this road can be a terrible (and scary) experience if the driver isn’t sensible. The hills are steep, the curves are sudden and the cars travel quickly on this road.I once had an engine die on me on this road and, as I sat on the asphalt waiting for the tow truck to arrive, I admitted to myself that I wasn’t surprised. But in regard to a road trip, this is a wonderful road. The fact that it can be a challenging drive makes it more fun if you’re in good company.

If you have the time, stop at Cooper’s Rock State Forest, Cheat Lake, Rocky Gap State Park and Green Ridge State Forest.

Iconic Road Trip: Route 66’s Classic American Countryside

Most people have heard of Route 66. It’s iconic. It’s a classic American highway recognized in pop culture and its expanse covers many U.S. states. The route original passed through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Although officially removed from the United States Highway System in 1985, many portions of the original road are now National Scenic Byways under the name “Historic Route 66.” This route, or any section of it, is a good way to see the countryside of the U.S.A. You’ll see the vast plains that define the term “big sky.” When you drive through the New Mexico and Arizona portions of the road, you’ll see vivid desert colors in the land juxtaposed with perfect pastel colors in the sky. My favorite thing about Route 66 is that it begins and ends with serene water views. Whether you wind up staring off into the Pacific Ocean or Lake Michigan, your journey through the desert can be complemented with a well-deserved swim if that’s what you want.You’ll hit plenty of towns along this route. Among the larger towns you’ll pass through are Chicago, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque and Los Angeles.

Iconic Road Trips: Around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula With US Highway 2

US Highway 2, through Michigan‘s Upper Peninsula, is pristine. This stretch of road is so relatively far out of the way that its untouched beauty is its main attraction. This trip is 290 miles. You’ll want to stop off and take a dip every time you see the waters of Lake Michigan glistening beyond the birch trees, and so you should. That’s what I did when I drove across this portion of Highway 2. The actual US Highway 2 spans from Houlton, Maine, to Rouses Point, New York, in one chunk. In another chunk, it spans from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Everett, Washington. I’ve driven on parts of 2 both east and west of the UP, but the UP section is my favorite. Begin this drive early in the day and be sure to stop for pasties for lunch. Although the water is cold, no beaches I’ve been to in the U.S.A. feel quite as clean as the Great Lakes beaches. Make sure to cross the Mackinac Bridge as part of this trip. Not only is it a beautiful bridge, but parts of the water have the same turquoise glow you’ll see in the Caribbean.You’ll pass through the town of St. Ignace, Sault Ste. Marie State Forest, Shingleton State Forest, Big and Little Bay De Noc, and Green Bay. Many of the beaches you’ll pass on this drive appear to be nameless. Travelers park on the road’s shoulder and walk through tall grass that masks the sandy shores.

Iconic Road Trips: Blue Ridge Parkway Paradise

The Blue Ridge Parkway is famous for a reason. It’s a 469-mile stretch along the Blue Ridge, which is a mountain chain within the Appalachian Mountains. The mountains out west might be more grandeur, but I grew up in the Appalachians, so this drive has a special place in my heart. Contrast to the jagged, towering, snow-capped mountains you’ll see in the western parts of the U.S., the Blue Ridge Mountains are subtler in their majesty. You’ll see rolling hills upon rolling hills all the way into the horizon while driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. The park connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the Shenandoah National Park. When you feel moved to stop and take photos of the jaw-dropping landscape, you’ll find there are plenty of places to pull over and do just that. Buy some homemade jam, salsa or an assortment of other treats when you stop. These kinds of Blue Ridge specialties are widely available along the route and unlike so many gimmicky regional foods many of these offerings are worth the price.In addition to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park, you’ll pass through the Pisgah National Forest, Stone Mountain State Park and George Washington National Forest, among other destinations.