We've slept in a rental car for 20 days straight and now plan to do it more often in our Toyota Highlander.
Some people are terrified of the idea of car camping but from our experience, it's a great way to save money and experience more while on the road.
Of course, we love checking in to a beautiful hotel room and jumping into a big bed of fluffy sheets and unlimited pillows but when you have lots to see and a budget to follow, car camping is perfect.
We often get questions about car camping and how it works, what we bring and what is crucial to know, so we compiled some tips and hacks of how we car camp and what we have learned while on the road.
ONLY PACK THE ESSENTIALS BUT BE AS PREPARED AS POSSIBLE
When we went on our 20-day road trip through the states, Cierra had the idea to be extra prepared and bring our kettle and blender so we could make smoothies and ramen on the road. Although this sounded like a great idea, it was a huge inconvenience for packing in the car every night, moving things around and being careful to not scratch our favourite kitchen appliances.
You want to think about where you are going, what the weather will be in the day and at night, how you're going to eat, how will you store your food, do showers matter to you?, what your budget is.
Another mistake we made is that we brought a big huge suitcase that we constantly had to move around and configure in the car. If we would have packed only essential clothes depending on weather and packed them in a soft bag we could have so much more room for activities. (that's a joke, but you get what we mean, pack less, more room)
Coolers are great but they take up a lot of room, so decide how you are going to eat, if it's realistic and decide if you have the room.
We brought one and stored it behind our seat so it was never really in the way.
Things to Remember:
Bring only clothes you are going to wear
Pack for rain or shine
Try to pack so that everything can fit behind your driver and passenger seat so you don't have to move everything to the front at night.
Pack strategically so you have more room. (roll clothes and pack in a soft bag for squishing in small places, put socks in an easy to get place in case the ones you are wearing get wet)
Pack minimal shoes.
One jacket that is good for all weather.
Put toiletries: toothbrush, medications, vitamins, etc into a small bag and keep accessible at all times.
Food should be stored in a safe place that is handy to get to. Put things that could break or squish in hard containers like bread or crackers. Minimize bringing bulky packages and try to shop for a couple of days while on the road.
Bring reusable water bottles and fill them up at rest stops/Walmarts/Starbucks etc.
Bring towels, utensils, first aid kit, garbage bags for spills, accidents and messes.
SAFETY is KEY
Feeling safe in where we sleep is so important and even though we slept at Walmarts, rest stops and went boondocking (park free on public land in the middle of nowhere) we always followed our intuition and researched where we were staying and the city surrounding.
No matter what, back into your parking spot and keep the keys in your pocket or in the door next to you. This is important in case you have to make a quick getaway and throw her into sport mode. We only did this once and it was on the last night of our USA trip. We also brought a kitchen knife to cut veggies but kept it close when sleeping just incase.
Being prepared is key here.
Things to remember:
Use the app Ioverlander to scope out your camping spot. They show you reviews of Walmarts, boondocking areas and rest spots. They have other features to so make sure to check out all the great features.
If in doubt, ask Walmart Customer service or drive to the next place.
Follow your intuition
Google the area you are in to make sure it's safe
If you see other campers, RVs, vans, chances are, you're going to be just fine.
Always back into your campsite.
Keep your keys by you at all times.
Have a weapon or bear spray handy.
Send your coordinates to a friend or family member. If you don't have a fancy satellite device that sends your information every 10 minutes to your social circle, (we're saving up for one of these) send a text or hop on wifi to send your emergency contact your whereabouts. Not that anything is going to happen but being prepared is crucial.
Print out (yes on paper), maps, health card information, passport information and if you have pets with you, their medical information. Having paper copies in case something happens is important and if you want a backup to a backup put everything in a google drive document so you can access from anywhere.
Get a GPS or download offline maps.
If you're boondocking - Try your hardest to not park at night. It's very hard to see public land spots in the dark because there are no lights. We ended getting stuck in the mud in one place at night and Mike tried to push us out but it didn't budge. We had to call a tow truck in the morning and it was something we didn't expect would happen.
Adventure is our middle name but when you're in a new place and maybe in the dark and you're not familiar with the people, culture or community, don't push your limits. We love living outside of our comfort zone but sometimes you have to play it safe to stay safe.
When it came to bedtime, Mike would take Buni for a quick walk and then I would set up the car. This made it so much easier to manoeuvre blankets, move our stuff into the front seat and get comfy. (note here: on our next trip to Vancouver, we didn't have to move any items to the front seat, we learned our lesson and packed better so we could just set up our blankets)
Things to remember:
Invest in foam for the back of the trunk and for the sake of your back. If you're sleeping one night in your car, you should be fine but more than one night your back will be very mad at you. Foam is not that expensive and can be found at Walmarts or other box stores. This will help with any cracks or bumps in your trunk and allow you to sleep more comfortably.
Bring blankets or sleeping bags but whatever you do, make sure you have enough for the night temperatures. When we went to the states it would be fairly hot in the day but at night brrrrrr.
If you're worried about privacy bring towels to put inside your windows.
don't forget pillows. Pillows take up space but they are worth the comfort. You need a pillow and if there are two of you, bring two pillows.
If you're bringing a dog or dogs with you, make sure you position everyone so there is enough room for your legs and comfort. And if it does get cold at night, make sure your pup has a blanket or is under the blankets with you. You don't want to wake up to a shivering pup.
If you have Netflix or Disney plus, you can download the app on your phone and download some shows or movies onto your device for a movie night. You will need data or wifi to initially download but to watch you can be offline.
Travelling with Pets
Bringing Buni with us to the states was amazing. She was incredible, loved every minute of the adventure and hiking has become her favourite activity. While having your companion can be fun, you want to make sure you're prepared.
Bring all health, vet, shot certification. To enter into the states we had to show Buni's rabies documents. We also printed out all her vet information just in case.
If you're travelling across the US border, keep their food in original packaging and don't pack anything with lamb or goat meat. If you're travelling within your country, pack their food in whichever way is effective ie, baggies or containers. Also, MAKE SURE TO PACK A FEW EXTRA DAYS WORTH OF FOOD! If you decide to stay an extra day or if traffic is brutal and your trip gets delayed, at least Fido will have enough food until you get home.
Bring a towel for your dog and purchase a hammock to protect your seats. When it rains it pours and the trip must go on. If you hike like us, you know what it's like hiking on a trail when its raining, mud gets everywhere. The towel will remove access water and dirt from your pup and the hammock will protect your back from getting filthy.
Bring a crate if you have room. When we went to the states we brought Buni's crate and it helped us a lot when travelling in stressful situations, when she was covered in mud or when we had to run in somewhere (it was never hot out when we did this) We did, however, have limited space so sometimes the crate went under our car if we had no energy to place it properly in the back. Just remember that your backseat has to transform into a bed at night so whatever you pack back there must fit somewhere else.
Treats and 2 toys. We made sure to bring treats and snacks (carrots) for Buni to reward good behaviour and just because we love her. We also made sure to play with her toys during the day. Dogs have a lot of energy and need time to play and explore. If you're driving for long periods you want to make sure you stop and allow the pups to get their energy out.
Bring a water bottle specifically for your dog so you can track how much water you have and how much water they have.
Pack a raincoat or winter coat in case of weather change.
Pack an extra leash, collar, harness and carabiner. Buni got off her leash twice and the second time was super scary because her leash broke. We ended up having to create a secondary safety on her leash with a clip because there wasn't a store near us to buy a new leash.
Make sure your dog wears a tag with your correct information on it. In case something happens your dog can be found by a local who can call or text you.
And most importantly, have fun.
If you take on a car camping experience, let us know or if you have any more tips share with us. We are always looking for ways to make our trips better.
Cierra, Mike, Buni and Blu