Could You Live in Your Car If You Had to?

Think of it as a cross between camping and being homeless.

Imagine you are driving, just a few minutes from returning home, when suddenly the roads are blocked and the authorities will not let you pass. It could be for many reasons – natural or manmade – storm damage, flooding, fire, chemical leak, train derailment, bombing.

The result is the same. It will be a few days before you can go home and all you have for survival is what is with you in the car.

From there, it’s not difficult to imagine emergency centers and motels filled and your only shelter having four wheels instead of four walls. But with a little mental preparation and designated trunk space for supplies, your vehicle can contain what you need to survive. 

Where to Park

The real estate rule of thumb applies here: location, location, location. A well-chosen parking spot is a key element to sleeping well in a vehicle. Look for an area that is safe, but also lets you blend in enough to stay under the radar.

Position the vehicle with the path of the sun in mind, particularly at sunrise and the hottest part of the day. Shade trees are a plus in summer, while a structure that blocks the wind is good in winter. Don’t box yourself in. You want to be able to drive off quickly in the event of unwelcome company.

Public Land

Public lands such as national parks, forest preserves and similar areas are one of our country’s greatest treasures. Nearly every state has them and they offer some of the best hiking, climbing, fishing and hunting around.

They are also a great spot for a good night’s rest and the occasional shower and bathroom facility.

Retail Parking Lots

In an urban setting, a 24-hour superstore is generally a safe place to sleep. It may be a gray area legally, but many people do it and a security patrol might be sympathetic to your plight.

Highway Rest Stops

These are great places to stop for the night or a nap. Many have restrooms, making them ideal for freshening up.

Truck Stops

Not the most scenic, but certainly friendly to drivers looking for a place to rest.

Sleeping Arrangements

A comfortable bed is the key to car camping. The core components are, obviously, a pillow, blanket and padding to act as a mattress. What isn’t always obvious is arranging them in the vehicle.

A bit of acrobatics may be called for to find the sweet spot where one can stretch out between seat belts, armrests and other obstacles. Towels and blankets can be placed strategically to soften these.

If the seats don’t recline enough, consider folding the back seat forward and extending your available space into the trunk. SUV seats fold down to create a good sleeping surface.

Dark tinted windows offer privacy. For clear windows, black poster board can be cut to fit snugly in window frames. Dark towels can be tucked into windows to provide privacy and shade without advertising your presence.

Once you have your sleeping spot, keep it uncluttered and tidy. Drape a blanket over the back seat and the two front seats to block light and people’s views.

In winter, add a sleeping bag to your vehicle. Dress warmly inside the bag. Thermal underwear is best. Cover your head with a hat, scarf or hoodie.


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