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Planning to camp in a vehicle is easier than I predicted. In August of 2019, we decided to camp our way down to Long Beach, California and do the entire Highway 101. We originally thought about tenting it, but darn it; I wasn’t very excited about camping on the ground in unknown areas and worry 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 lots of 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 school mates 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
We own a Jeep Grand Cherokee. It’s our main 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 nice 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 completely, 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 costed money.
How we camped in a vehicle
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, and 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 packed a small insulated tote bag for our refrigerated items for butter, cheese, fruit.
We also each picked a 45 Liter Rubbermaid container for our personal items, including clothing and books. This kept us both from overpacking with clothing and personal entertainment.
We also packed a small pop up tent we had for our kids. We only used the tent to store all our belongings, hidden from other campers, and less packing and unpacking the SUV while we explored nearby. This also kept out Racoons, in particular, out of our stuff.
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, and cruise around and use our jeep as a place to nap at the ocean.
Backpackers can live like kings and queens.
We didn’t pack a big cooler, and we actually went grocery shopping almost daily. We always found a little bakery or a farmers market ate at cheese farms, visited wineries, Seafood markets or whatever we found interesting that day. We visited tons of grocery stores during our 6-week adventure and would pick up something here and there.
We never planned much and really 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 We seen every beach town on Highway 101, and I have personally seen every lighthouse on that route. We visited so many cool shops, and the only thing we bought was stickers from random shops or towns. We met some great people throughout our stops, and seen lots of cool setups for Tear-drop trailers, Live in vans and met some awesome 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 and finding things to see or do in the area, or deciding how far to travel and sometimes book a campsite ahead for the weekend. We brought a crib board and a deck of cards, some 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 a Vehicle
We used Air B&B for a yard space in Seattle for one night and got to use their house for laundry, bathroom, etc. It was clean, young guys were friendly, and 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 Oregan with a Tiny Hobit home on the premises. Nate and Heather invited all the campers over for fish tacos and a small get together after bringing us cherry tomatoes. It was so beautiful and private with big trees, 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 really wish I took a picture of their outdoor shower set up. It had a huge cedar floor and tin walls with no ceiling; it was minimalistic but had a wow factor.
We camped near some Nudist Hot springs, got lost coming down a mountain, We went to a real state fair, a real living ghost town, and 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 a place for 3 to 4 days, other days we did about 3-6 hours of driving.
We had Fabulous weather down to Long Beach and suffered through some heat waves In California and again in Nevada.
Sleeping While Camping in Vehicle
The sun shining in the morning is a big drag, and 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 actually used a dark-out curtain and used folder clips and bungee cords with the sun visors’ 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 table cloth to get these side windows as well a few nights when it was damp, and we didn’t want damp towels in the morning.
We didn’t have any problems with insects, but we did carry some cutout screen and magnets if needed to add a screen to the windows.
We always about an inch of the front windows open to ventilate the jeep, and 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 black construction poster board and actually left them in for the trip duration.
Camping in Vehicle in the Rain
We didn’t do it! We actually ended up hotelling it 4 nights during 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 want to do hopefully in 2022
Self-sufficient Vehicle 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 too much “camping,” but my husband is an avid outdoors guy, has a full 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 full behind trailer or a full pick up to haul all that gear,
This year 2020, we purchased as pictured Base Camp Propane Battery operated shower. We purchased ours via an auction, but it’s currently missing the water pump, so we are waiting for parts. But since it arrived, I have found the same model via Amazon, and it is not that badly priced, and we should have done more research and purchased a new one, instead of trying to cheap out used.
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 definitely use this during fishing season when we are remote.
Getting out of Dodge Camping In Vehicle
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 Jeep liberty, and she went purchased all the proper Jeep gear for hers, and she only used it for a weekend for 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, plug-in cooler and 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 the 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 full renovation to make it her home away from home.