Every great journey has to start somewhere! And when it comes to car camping, there can be a lot of moving parts. Here are some useful tips when preparing for your first car camping trip.
Keep it local
You don’t have to go far to spend a night sleeping in your car. If you’re hesitant to dive into the world of dispersed camping, exploring nearby parks is a great way to ease into things. Car camping locally offers all of the adventure of a great trip, in familiar surroundings, while maintaining comfortable proximity to home. You can start in your driveway before working your way up to local parks, nearby campsites, and beyond. Whether your destination is just down the street or unincorporated BLM land, you can have a wild time wherever you park. There’s plenty of time to wander a little farther next weekend!
Start on site
One of the best parts of car camping is that it allows travelers to spend the night in a wide variety of locations. State parks are a great destination for first-time car campers as they usually offer their fair share of amenities (see also: indoor plumbing) to ease the transition of spending the night outdoors. Some parks have toilets and hot showers on-site for a more comfortable stay. Additionally, the general store at a state park has saved many a weary traveler in desperate search of a toothbrush.
A day trip offers all the fun of an outdoor getaway without the commitment of an overnight stay. If a full-blown car camping expedition is not quite your fancy yet, you can always spend dawn to dusk outdoors to test the waters. Enjoy car camping’s greatest hits with a long day of hiking followed by a barbecue, sunset, and s’mores before you hop into bed at home. Play around with organizing gear and even preparing lunch out of the back of your car.
Sleeping in your car for the first time can be an intimidating, foreign experience, and day trips are a great way to get used to your car as a home base. Hit the road early and stay out until sunset to enjoy a full day of adventure.
Run a dress rehearsal
So you’ve triple-checked your checklist but still can’t shake that nagging feeling that you’re forgetting something. Ease your worries by doing a little practice run in the sanctuary of your own backyard. Roll out your whole set up and test your gear to ensure a smooth run for the real deal. A solid dress rehearsal will ensure that you’ve got all the parts and pieces you need for your upcoming trip. It’s also a good idea to make sure that all batteries are locked, loaded, with a replacement packed just in case!
Double check your packing list with our packing list to ensure you have everything you need. Practice makes perfect when it comes to car camping so make those first steps towards hitting the road.
Start your grab bag
If you’re looking at making car camping a full-time hobby, then a grab bag (or bin) is a great investment. Start compiling your travel essentials in a container that you won’t need to unpack once you return home. This way, you can keep some travel gear ready to go. A first aid kit, tarp, and trash bags are all great examples of grab bag gear that you’ll want to take on every trip and won’t need to unpack to use at home.
Keep it short and sweet
Your first car camping trip doesn’t need to be an epic week-long journey. A four-day trip isn’t necessarily four times more fun than a single day. If you decide that the four-day trip you planned is all done after day one, then so be it. There is absolutely no shame in heading home early! Stay flexible. Keep an open mind. Be ready for plans to change. Plans always change. Plus, your whole campsite is conveniently on wheels so you can pack it all in and head home whenever you want.
Rugged isn’t always right
Everyone is obsessed with getting the most lightweight and compact equipment possible these days. The stigma around “glamping” makes it seem as though only the bare essentials are permitted for spending the night outdoors. But less is not always more... Don’t buy into the idea that all camping has to be rugged.
Sleeping in your car allows you to enjoy a good night’s rest, in the safety of your car, atop a Luno Air Mattress, surrounded by all the equipment you can fit into your trunk. Unlike backpacking, there is no concern about the weight or volume of supplies so you are free to bring whatever your heart desires (and trunk can hold). If you want to bring a wool quilt or battery-powered air conditioner go right ahead. There is no shame in overpacking.
All the power to backpackers who want to lug their gear up the side of a mountain. That’s just not everyone’s destiny. Car camping allows you to bring extra creature comforts with you on your trip.
Know the rules of the road
From novice campers to expert overlanders, every outdoor explorer knows that research is a crucial step of trip prep. We strongly urge every traveler to read up on-site regulations prior to arrival, as well as look into wildlife and weather warnings to ensure a safe trip. Finally, always tell someone the specific location of your destination before you head into the wild. Set a “turn around time” and enlist a back-up plan. Know where your extra key is and have some emergency cash for gas.
The car camping community is full of passionate, adventurous explorers who are looking to share the road with fellow travelers. There are a ton of online websites, resources, and forums dedicated entirely to the art of car camping. This reading material is particularly useful for new car campers as they learn to navigate the terrain.
Here are a few of our favorite car camping:
Just like every great trip, the journey matters more than the destination so feel free to take baby steps as you venture into the wild.