Where To Sleep During A Long-Haul Road Trip: Putting A Price On Your Safety

As you may have gathered from my last few posts, I spent the second half of July and first week of August living out of my car during a relocation from Seattle to Boulder. En route, I had a family vacation on the Klamath River in Northern California, and business trips to the Bay Area and North Carolina, which is why I was in limbo.

I’ve road-tripped and relocated across the West many times, and love the time alone with my thoughts and enjoying the scenery. Now that I’m in my early 40s, however, I’ve become more wary about where I choose to spend the night. I’m still on a tight budget, but this increasing awareness is a direct result of life experience, and my obsession with TV shows like “Forensic Files.”

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, someone who is truly fearful wouldn’t travel or drive cross-country alone. They certainly wouldn’t elect to drive Nevada’s notorious Highway 50, aka “The Loneliest Road in America,” but that’s what I did last week (anything to avoid the mind-numbing hell that is Highway 80). Allegedly, less than 200 drivers a day pass on this route, so one needs to plan accordingly.

Highway 50 is mostly high desert landscape, broken up by a handful of historic mining towns like the curiously appealing Austin. Located seven hours east of the Bay Area, this is where I chose to spend the first night of the final leg of my journey, in the rustic but comfortable Cozy Mountain Motel.

Although I was desperate to save money (my room was $60, and of the three motels in town, it had the best reviews … I also use the term “town” loosely), I didn’t feel safe camping alone in such a desolate region. It’s a shame, because the nearby primitive Bob Scott Campground, in the sagebrush and Piñon pines of the Toiyabe National Forest, is a beauty. Yet, due to its isolation and handful of sites, it wasn’t the place for an exhausted, solo female to spend the night.The next day, I had a grueling ten hours on the road before I hit Green River, Utah. Green River isn’t the most savory place, but it’s a popular jumping-off point to Moab/Lake Powell/Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks.

I was so wiped out when I arrived that I chose the first campground I saw: a KOA, which is the type of place I usually go to great lengths to avoid. At that point, all I cared about was a shower and rest, and because it was a glorious, hot desert night, I planned to sleep under the stars. Expediency meant more to me than dealing with setting up a tent in a less generic campground.

I walked into the office and asked the very friendly girl behind the counter for a tent site. Upon driving to the location, I discovered several things that didn’t thrill me. It abutted a vacant lot separated only by some sparse vegetation. Next to the lot was a rundown Motel 6. To my right were a few unoccupied, dusty campsites and open highway. Um, no thank you.

I scouted the mostly empty campground (which was primarily RV, and not tent, sites) and chose a location between two motorhomes, which was backed by a chain-link fence. Then I returned to the office and explained that I didn’t feel safe in my assigned site, and could I please have X or X location?

No problem. The receptionist said she understood, and proceeded to tell me a horrifying story about a recent encounter her mother had had in the town park with a drug-addled freak. She didn’t even charge me the higher RV rate.

An hour later, I was sprawled happily on my sleeping bag, reading, when the receptionist and her employer, a crotchety old man, whizzed up in a golf cart. She looked uncomfortable as he sniped at me for being in an “unauthorized site” because I was in a car. I was ordered to come to the office to rectify the situation immediately. Sigh.

Back behind the counter, the poor receptionist apologized profusely, and I shrugged it off, saying I’d rather pay more to ensure my safety. A manager was needed to get into the system and charge me accordingly, and when he showed up at the office, she explained the situation. He was clearly more interested in returning to his happy hour, so I was permitted to remain in my present location, free of extra charge.

Needless to say, I remained unmolested during the night, and although I was embarrassed by the musical campsites, the entire experience reinforced that it’s best to listen to your gut. Always insist upon putting your safety first.

[Photo credits: tent, Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography; Arches NP, Flickr user Fikret Onal; Jason, Flickr user Stinkie Pinkie]

How To Sleep In Your Car In (Relative) Comfort

Since 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). 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.

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]

Road trip tip: How to sleep comfortably in your car

I have slept in a car once on a road trip. When I drove from Odense, Denmark to Paris where people are smiling more than when I was there, my friend and I pulled off of the road somewhere to sleep. We could have been in France. I can’t remember. What I do remember is that it was not comfortable. We were in a Peugeot station wagon, so space wasn’t the problem, but we didn’t have enough bedding and it became light too soon. By the time I finally fell asleep, there I was waking up again.

Yesterday’s video road trip tip was about how to stay awake while driving. This one is about how to sleep comfortably. After watching this video you might think why get a hotel room when there’s a Walmart parking lot? Sleeping in a Walmark parking lot is a budget travel idea for sure. This video has demonstrations and some great ideas. The main idea is to plan to stay in your car.

How not to get car-jacked

Here is a startling story that has me feeling jumpy. On last night’s news there was a report about a man who left Berea, Ohio for Cleveland Friday night to visit a sick relative and never made it. Instead, he left a note at a highway rest stop off I-71 near the exit that goes to Wooster. The note, found at 10 am by a rest stop cleaner, said that he was car jacked, was in trouble, and to please let his wife know.

Why this caught my attention, more than other car jack stories, is that:

  • #1. My husband is from Berea, Ohio and just two weeks ago we drove from Berea to Cleveland. I know the route well. Berea is just minutes from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
  • #2. We have stopped at the rest stop mentioned in the report.
  • #3. Just over a month ago, I interviewed a man who is an expert in self defense for a magazine article. He gave me tips on how to avoid a car jacking, among other things.

One of the main tips he told me that I had not heard of before is that when you are stopped at an intersection, you should be able to see the entire back tires of the car in front of you. This will leave you enough room so that if someone is trying to get in your car, you can pull out and get away. If you’re too close to the car in front of you, you’re stuck.

Here’s a list of other tips to keep in mind to ensure that when you head out in your car–or a rental you’re traveling safely. Personally, I’m not one of those people who worry a lot. I tend to see the world as a safe place, but when stories come up about places I’ve traveled to my mind puts me there. This time I remembered the create a gap tip and wanted to pass it on.

Car Seats for Your Pets

If you are one who doesn’t like to leave your pet at home on a car trip, but worry about pet safety, here are two options I saw in an article about the latest pet travel gear. They may be slightly over the top, but this is an area of the travel accessory business that’s booming.

If your pet gets cold during car rides, why not consider a bed called a Sleepypod? It heats up when you plug its adapter into your car lighter. And, like a baby car seat carrier, you can take it with you when you leave the car. On the Web site there is a photo of a couple dining at an outdoor cafe with the carrier resting on a chair. There is another of someone waiting in a hotel lobby with the carrier on the floor. And still another of a couple with the carrier between them on a park bench. The photos rotate, so who knows what you’ll see.Another pet car seat for a dog is one that looks like a huge stuffed animal. The stuffed animal seat is called a Bed Pal. It fastens to the backseat of a car with a seat belt. Somehow you buckle your dog into it. There is even a pocket for a dog toy.

I’m sure that my son would love to put our dog Josie in the frog version of this seat. Whenever we travel and take Josie with us, she sits on an old towel on the backseat to keep the dog hair off. (The towel method does not work that well, sad to say.) If a person has a toddler and a dog, I can just see how the toddler might be a bit upset that his or her own car seat is just so darned dull–so utilitarian and not an enormous teddy bear.