camping in veicle

Planning to camp in a vehicle is more accessible than I predicted.  In August 2019, we decided to camp our way down to Long Beach, California and do the entire Highway 101. We initially thought about tenting it, but darn it; I wasn’t very excited about camping on the ground in unknown areas and worried about critters and weather conditions.  We’ve seen Van Campers, but we didn’t own a van; we have an SUV.  So after a few weeks of researching, we decided to use our SUV as the bed. I used many YouTube videos about how people managed to live out of their cars, vans, etc., looking for ideas for us to use, as we knew our trip would be a long adventure.

We have used the back of the SUV a few times over the years, but usually only for a night, and never have attempted to live out a vehicle.

One of my old schoolmates and her boyfriend do several tours a year out of an old chevy van that they revamped, so I went and visited her to get tips as well because, after all its one thing to get ideas and another to hear about what’s good to spend money, and the types of camping you want to do.

So I’ll show you How to Rolled and show you what I have invested in for our next trip, Camping In-Vehicle

Can you sleep in a Jeep?  or SUV?

Yes, We did, and here was our basic setup!


How We Camped in a SUV down the 101 Highway | Camping in SUV

We own a Jeep Grand Cherokee.  It’s our primary vehicle for travelling long distances. The seats fold down flat, giving my husband over 6 ft tall some room and not having to curl up in a ball for the next month.

A tip from our real live  Van Life campers – was they used their couch cushions from a couch they were tossing out.  I thought about our motorhome bed. ( our motorhome is a gas lover, we didn’t want to take it ) and they fit like a glove. Plus, they stack up nicely if we need the back seats, and we didn’t have to inflate and deflate a mattress, which is usually used in some of our camping trips.

We layered with a roll-out foam, two thin sleeping bags and an extra blanket ( to use on picnics and the beach. We chose thin sleeping bags; they are faster to dry out and washing machine friendly.

I didn’t want to invest money into a road trip I had not taken, and well, it’s not like we were leaving civilization altogether, So I was very much into Not wanting to add a bunch of costs to this trip.  So we didn’t purchase a roof rack or anything special that cost money.

So Please Note- You don’t need to buy Jeep or SUV air mattresses to fit unless you want to invest in this type of Camping.

How we Set up for Jeep Camping ( SUV)

frugal camping ideas

We purchased Rubbermaid containers that fit the seats; again, it was about being able to stack because Real Estate is precious when everything is in the vehicle.

We set up Two thin Rubbermaid containers for our groceries and cookware.  It kept everything dry, no worries about moisture, and if anything leaked, it would be contained.

We used Backpacking equipment ideas.  Single flame propane stove, one pot, one frying pan, a multi-spice container from Cabelas, utensils, etc.  We pre-owned all of this stuff, because we do remote camping in a Giant Wall tent during the summer every few years.

What did we pack for equipment?


Kitchen Stuff

  • One small pot
  • One frying pan
  • Backpacker Single Burner
  • Few small propane bottles for the burner
  • Table Cloth
  • 2 plates
  • 2 bowls
  • 2 Travel Mugs
  • 4 spoons, knives, forks
  • 2 dishcloths, and drying towels
  • Rope
  • 4 Liters of drinking water
  • 1 flipper
  • 1 serving spoon
  • Paper Towel
  • Dish soap
  • Crib Board
  • 1 Deck of Cards
  • 2 Headlamps
  • Extra flashlight
  • Dry Matches
  • Extra Lighters
  •  Grocery Store Flyers ( starting a fire)


  • 2 packages of KD
  • 2 packages of instant noodles
  • ketchup and mustard
  • Multi Spice container
  • instant Coffee
  • Dehydrated Hashbrowns found at Costco
  • Minibox set of dry cereal



We packed a small insulated tote bag for our butter, cheese, and refrigerated fruit items.

We also picked a 45 Liter Rubbermaid container for our items, including clothing and books. This kept us both from overpacking with clothing and personal entertainment.

The Secret to Camping out of any car, jeep, or SUV, is Not Packing everything you could use!

Are Jeeps Good for Camping?

Our trip was fantastic, but remember that we own an Overlander, and the seats fold down almost completely flat! We slept well every night with our makeshift bed, which we didn’t buy! We improvised.  If you own a Jeep SUV or Mini Van, you can easily do something similar to our setup!  I wouldn’t say we are experts at the whole camping thing, but we had tented it many times when we were younger, and our bones could handle the hard ground.


How We Camped in a SUV down the 101 Highway | Camping in SUV

We also packed a small pop-up tent to store our stuff when we weren’t in our camping spot.

We did not use the tent to sleep in.

We only used the tent to store all our belongings, hidden from other campers, and less packed and unpacked the SUV while exploring nearby. This also kept out Racoons, in particular, out of our stuff.

sleeping in a jeep or van

Look at this view!  This is one picture taken somewhere on the Washington oceanfront. But with the pop-up tent, we could leave our belongings in the tent, cruise around, and use our jeep to nap at the ocean.

Backpackers can live like kings and queens.

How We Camped in a SUV down the 101 Highway | Camping in SUV

How We Camped in a SUV down the 101 Highway | Camping in SUV

We didn’t pack a big cooler and went grocery shopping almost daily. We always found a little bakery or a farmers market, bought cheese from dairy farms, visited wineries, Seafood markets or whatever we found interesting that day. We saw tons of grocery stores during our 6-week adventure and would pick up something here and there.

We never planned much and winged it a lot of the time; we might plan a few days, mostly during weekends, to have a campsite due to campsites filling up fast. But I can honestly say that we saw every beach town on Highway 101, and I have seen every lighthouse on that route. We visited many excellent shops, and we only bought stickers from random shops or towns. We met some great people throughout our stops, saw lots of cool setups for Tear-drop trailers, and Live in vans and met some fantastic Campsite owners.

My husband enjoyed book reading and would exchange his books, or we would purchase a used book or two at a random garage sale, flea market, or Campsite book exchange.   I used up lots of data on my cellphone, reading travel blogs via Pinterest, finding things to see or do in the area, deciding how far to travel, and sometimes booking a campsite ahead for the weekend. We brought a crib board and a deck of cards; at times, we made fast friends and would stand around chatting amongst strangers; sometimes, we would take a walk or sit by the fire and discuss the day.

Unique places we went While Camping In an SUV

We used Air B&B for a yard space in Seattle for one night and used their house for laundry, bathroom, etc.  It was clean, the young guys were friendly, and it had a Frat House feeling, but it was unique.  It worked; we were tired and needed a break that late afternoon with a nap after seeing the Seattle flea market and Gum wall.  They were good hosts and told us about a lake pier 10 minutes away.

Dew Valley Ranch Bandon Oregan 

We stayed at a Hip Camp in Oregon with a Tiny Hobit home. After bringing cherry tomatoes, Nate and Heather invited all the campers for fish tacos and a small get-together. It was so beautiful and private, with big trees and horses to pet; they did a lot of work on their ranch to give a Glamping Experience even if you sleep in a tent. I wish I had taken a picture of their outdoor shower setup. It had a considerable cedar floor and tin walls with no ceiling; minimalistic but had a wow factor.

ocean camping

We camped near some Nudist Hot springs, got lost coming down a mountain; we went to an actual state fair,  a real living ghost town, took pictures at every roadside turnout, and did numerous miles per day of walking and exploring nature and checking out whatever floated our boat.  Some days we would only drive 20 miles; some times, we stayed at a place for 3 to 4 days; other days, we did about 3-6 hours of driving.

We had Fabulous weather down in Long Beach and suffered through some heat waves In California and Nevada.

Sleeping While Camping in an SUV

No light in Jeep How We Camped in a SUV down the 101 Highway | Camping in SUV

The sun shining in the morning is a significant drag; for us, it meant waking up at whatever time the sun came up, whether it was 4 am or 530 am.

We couldn’t find a window cover that fit the dashboard before we headed out on our adventure; I used a dark-out curtain and used folder clips and bungee cords with sun visors’ to help keep the majority of the sunlight coming in from the front. For the back windows, sometimes we hung our towels in the windows or the door and left an inch open in the front to let fresh air in. Or we used a dark tablecloth to get these side windows a few nights when it was damp, and we didn’t want wet towels in the morning.

We didn’t have any problems with insects, but we did carry some cutout screens and magnets to add a screen to the windows.

We always open about an inch of the front windows to ventilate the jeep, so there would be no condensation in the morning.

Here’s a video I found of something similar I did for the rear hatch windows, but I used a black construction poster board and left them in for the trip duration.

Camping in an SUV in the Rain

camping in the rain

We didn’t do it! We ended up hotelling it four nights on our way home from Forks, Washington, till we hit a home base.  It was a complete downpour rainstorm that wouldn’t let up.  We did a lot of driving and not much site seeing during those days.

We didn’t want to bring our big outdoor tent on that trip; We decided to drive where the sunshine would be as a worse case senior. No, that didn’t work on our way home.

We’re now actually going to purchase roof racks ( $500 estimate) and start bringing our 10x 10 Tent for miserable weather preparation, especially for our trip across Canada, which we wanted to do hopefully in 2022

Self-sufficient SUV Camping

it’s 2021, and with the current lockdowns of no public showers allowed in campsites.  We have a beautiful lake lot, and we have a close second home there, so we tend not to do too much “camping,” but my husband is an avid outdoors guy, has an entire wall tent, and goes hunting and fishing in the middle nowhere in the winter.  But a wall tent is a lot of gear and needs almost a complete behind trailer or a full pickup to haul all that gear,

Base Camping shower batery

This year 2020, we purchased, as pictured Base Camp Propane Battery operated shower. We bought ours via an auction, but it’s currently missing the water pump, so we are waiting for the parts. But since it arrived, I have found the same model via Amazon, which is not that badly priced, and we should have done more research and purchased a new one instead of trying to cheap out used one.

It’s heated by propane and uses D-cell batteries for power. It has a switch, and you can control the temperature.

We usually go fishing remotely for a week or 10 days when we can arrange it via my husband’s health, so we’ll use this during the fishing season when we are remote.

Getting out of Dodge Camping In SUV

Jeep in a tree

I felt so cheap and frugal when we decided on our Highway 101 trip. We have since inspired family members to do it, and they have.

My sister has a Jeep liberty, and she purchased all the proper Jeep gear for hers, and she only used it for a weekend or two so far because she felt during 2020, she needed to get out of Dodge! She purchased a jeep mattress, proper-cut window screens, sleeping bags, a plug-in cooler and a coffee pot.

Our Nephew had a short vacation, and it was so windy at their lake lot; they decided to find some sunshine, and they camped in their SUV as well but had to get a hotel room to shower the odd night.

Our Neice now uses her Mini Van to visit her parents when they go camping at their lake lot for an extra bed.

Our one friend has been sleeping in her minivan for years and just purchased a 15-passenger van to begin a complete renovation to make it her home away from home.