How to Sleep in Your Car to Save Money on Accommodation Costs

by | Aug 2, 2022 | Live - Accommodation, Live Work Play Travel | 9 comments

This is me sleeping in my car to save on accommodation costs

 

It was by accident, or really lack of planning, that I first slept in my car overnight while on a road trip driving from Melbourne to Sydney. What I discovered that night is I am not alone when it comes to sleeping in my car. And lots of other people are doing it too. So if you heading off on a road trip, here’s how you can sleep in your car to save money on accommodation costs.

 

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Firstly, My Story of How It Happened

 

The drive is usually 11 hours between Melbourne and Sydney, but on this occasion I deviated from the main road to do some sightseeing. As afternoon came and went, I was no where near where I needed to be so after having dinner I decided I couldn’t drive any more and began to look for accommodation for the night. Usually I can drive into a town and find a room in a motel, but not this night. Australia was now out of covid lockdown and everyone was travelling. Everywhere I went had a No Vacancy sign. Even the caravan park was overflowing. Not sure what to do, I went to the service centre on the highway and had a cup of coffee in McDonalds. I noticed there were lots of trucks and cars parked and this is when I got the idea to sleep in my car. Scouring the parking area I found a spot to park my car, laid the seat back, threw a blanket over me, locked all the doors and dozed off. Reflecting on the night I realised I could sleep in my car to save on accommodation costs when I travel. It needs more planning that what I did. So here are my best tips and tricks on how you can sleep in your car to save money on accommodation costs.

 

Pros and Cons to Sleeping In Your Car Overnight to Save Money

 

I believe there is only one pro of sleeping in your car and that is it will save you on accommodation costs. It can save you heaps if you are travelling on a tight budget. The money you save can then be spent elsewhere or even allow you to travel for longer. Sounds good so far!

The biggest disadvantage to sleeping in your car is that it isn’t that comfortable. Plus, it can be scary when you aren’t use to it and it isn’t that private either. The best way to overcoming the disadvantages is to be prepared for spending a night in your car. When you are prepared, it can become a more enjoyable experience.

 

Be Prepared for Spending a Night in Your Car

 

My biggest tip for sleeping in your car is to be prepared for it. I wasn’t prepared for my first time, but I am now. Before any road trip I think about whether I need to spend the night in my car or will book accommodation. If I decide to sleep in my car I am sure I am ready by packing some essential items.

 

What Part of the Car Should You Sleep In?

 

Before I went to sleep I considered the best part of the car to sleep. My car is a sedan, so I was limited. Should I lay across the back seat? Maybe sleep in the passenger seat so I had more leg room without a steering wheel? Should I see if the back seats fold down opening up the boot (trunk) of the car? However, the best place I decided to sleep was in the driver’s seat. I chose this for safety reasons thinking if anyone tried to get into the car while I was inside, I could easily start the engine and drive off. Thankfully, this didn’t happen and in the future I still think I will sleep in the driver’s seat. But the choice is yours as to where you choose to sleep. If you prefer to sleep across the back seat you might want to invest in a mattress, such as these.

 

How to Make Your Car Safe and Private

 

I don’t think you can make your car more safe than locking the doors. For privacy though, you have more options. You could hang curtains along the windows. However, having tinted windows, the darker the better, is a great privacy option. Having tinted windows can also help keep your car cool on a hot day and warmer on a cold night. I would only do these things if you are planning to sleep in your car regularly or live in it. In my case, I only sleep in my car on long road trips. Like I said, it is a long 11 hour drive from Melbourne to Sydney and I often don’t make it in the one go which is why I sleep in the car to save on accommodation costs.

 

Making Yourself Comfortable in the Front Seat

 

It was going to be a cool night for my night in the car so I put on some leggings and sox – and I’m glad I did, because my feet got cold and I wish I had thicker sox. I put the keys in the console so I could easily reach them. I wound down the back passenger window by 1cm (half an inch) so there was a little air getting into the car – thank goodness it wasn’t raining! I reclined the seat as far as it would go. Surprising, my driver’s seat in my Audi A4 reclined a long way and I was almost flat. I then had my pillow to lay my head on and I had my blanket over me to keep me warm. I also had a hoodie on and I strategically moved it over my face which helped to block out the light. I adapted what I could to ensure I was warm and comfortable.

 

How to Choose the Right Spot to Park?

 

The biggest question that I have found when sleeping in a car overnight is finding somewhere safe to park the car. I drove around for a while trying to find somewhere that looked safe. I drove along residential streets, near parks, down the main street of the town and had a look at shopping centre car parks. Here are the safest and most convenient places I have found to sleep in my car overnight.

 

  • Truck Stops / Service Centres

 

If you are driving along a major highway, like I was, I found a truck stop or service centre were great to sleep at. At the particular service centre I stopped at there was a petrol (fuel) station, a McDonalds Restaurant as well as a KFC and there were public toilets plus loads of car spots. I parked up not directly under a light but near a light. There were a few cars around which I think belonged to workers. I felt quite safe parking here. It did get a bit noisy at times with the cars and trucks stopping to get fuel.

 

  • Highway Rest Stops

 

Highway rest stops are my second choice to sleep in my car overnight at. Although a little on the dark side, there is access to toilets and mostly there are lights. I have mostly slept in rest stops during the day when I need to as I prefer a truck stop or service centre as there are more people around. 

 

  • Residential Street

 

The third place I would suggest to park your car up for the night is in a residential street. I do prefer if the house I stop in front of has a high fence or a tree in front because it makes me feel more comfortable that the home owner won’t call the Police. I usually wait until it is dark before parking in a residential street as it will be less likely residents will be looking outside at that time.

 

  • Other Places to Park Your Car to Sleep Overnight

 

I haven’t tried these myself (yet) but other places to park are in supermarket car parks, park and rides and places that have activity. I think when choosing where to park, you need to consider your safety first. You want to feel comfortable (and safe) in your car so you can actually sleep. Also consider Free Camps. There are a number of apps available such as Wikicamps that can advise you where the nearest free camping area is. These areas will mostly have others, sleeping in their cars, vans and tents.

 

TIP: Evaluate each place before you park up for the night. Ensure you feel comfortable, private and safe in the place you choose. Be sure to check if there are any signs about ‘no overnight parking’ before you hunker down for the night. 

 

  • Places I would not Park my Car to Sleep in Overnight

 

I would not park at dark public parks or in national parks, unless there was lighting. I wouldn’t go off-road either as it may look suspicious.

 

What About Going to the Toilet?

 

Guys have an advantage here, they can use an empty bottle to pee in without having to get out of the car. Don’t forget to put the lid on the bottle as you don’t want any urine spilling throughout the car! Girls, well – it’s not fair really but what can we do. This is why I like to park where I know I can access a toilet if I need to. What I did though my first night sleeping in my car was not drink anything after 6pm. Then I went to the toilet and emptied the bladder. These two things helped me get through the night without needing to go until morning. I have heard some girls wear special leakage pants that they dispose of in the morning. Others use a sheewee and a bottle. I haven’t tried a sheewee myself, but I hear they work wonders! Check out these sheewees.

 

What about Showering When Sleeping in Your Car?

 

Personal hygiene needs to be attended to know matter where you are living. If you don’t have access to a shower you can wash in a hand basin with a wash cloth and dry yourself with a towel. I have found some public toilets have a shower, particularly those at beaches. You may be able to join a gym that has many branches in a particular country and use the showering facilities. Also consider travelling with wipes. These handy things are great for personal hygiene and clean yourself after spills.

 

Are You Ready to Sleep in Your Car to Save Money on Accommodation?

 

As I said, it was purely an accident the first time I slept in my car. What I realised though, that if I do, I can save loads of money on accommodation costs as I travel. And having done it a few times now, I am learning each time extra things I can do to make my night more enjoyable and restful. Now as you know, the cost of accommodation is the most expensive part of our travels because we need to sleep somewhere. So if you are looking to reduce your accommodation costs, consider sleeping in your car as an option. If you do this already, I would love to hear from you in the comments following. If you have any questions don’t hesitate ask away in the comments section also.

 

YOU MAY LIKE TO READ

8 Simple Car Checks Before Leaving on a Road Trip
18 of the Best American Road Trips to Drive
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Thanks for sharing!

Useful Travel Resources for Your Next Adventure!

 

Accommodation: Where Will You Sleep Tonight? If you want a bed in a hostel dorm find a great deal with HostelWorld. I mostly stay in hotels now, Booking.com is my favourite site for booking hotels from budget to ‘I feel like splurging’. For something completely different I house and pet sitting through Trusted Housesitters – this has saved me thousands on accommodation, no joke!

Flights: I always head to Skyscanner first to find a cheap and flexible flight.

Car Rental: When I need to rent a car I turn to RentalCars.

Train Travel: I love riding the train rails and get the best value from Eurail and Interrail Passes. And Japan has a great one too – JapanRail Pass.

Bus Travel: Check out Busbud for bus tickets.

Pre-organised Tours: I’ve been on a few in my time with Contiki being my first and favourite. if you are 18-35 years of age you should check them out.

Jump-the-queue entrance tickets: I don’t enjoy standing in long queues which is why I book my entrance tickets and day trips in advance. My favourite website to book them in advance is GetYourGuide.

Travel Insurance. There are a number of reasons why travel insurance is important and I never travel without having bought a policy as you never know when something might happen. World Nomads is great for general travel insurance while SafetyWing is great digital nomads and long-term travellers.

Need something else? Check out my Resources page.

 

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Hi. Sharyn here, the face behind Live Work Play Travel. I’ve been travelling all my life thanks to my dad who worked for an airline. My aim with this blog is to help you work abroad or work online and travel the world.   Read more.

 

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Hi, Sharyn here. I’m the face behind Live Work Play Travel. I’ve travelled all my life thanks to my dad who worked for an airline – thanks dad! I’ve been a travel writer/blogger and living a location independent lifestyle since 1993. My aim with Live Work Play Travel is to provide you with the info to start living, working and travelling around the world like I do. I currently live in Melbourne with my partner and 2 kids. 

9 Comments

  1. Leah

    This is such great advice! I have never slept in my car before but I would definitely consider it if I could find a safe enough spot!

    Reply
  2. Lisa

    I’ve never slept in my car, and hope I never have to, but thanks for the tips just in case!

    Reply
  3. Pamm

    I did that for about 10 months as I drove around Europe (I was in college in France). Two nights in the car and then a hotel.

    The places that I parked in were hospital parking lots (where the staff parked) and in upmarket hotel parking lots.

    Thanks for reminding me of those days!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Yes I think if you mix it with other accommodation it isn’t so bad. I don’t know I would do it every night, but a couple of nights and then a hotel as you say is a good idea.

      Reply
  4. ANUKRATI DOSI

    I am not sure if it is a comfortable option. But, I am sure it could save someone quite a lot of bucks.

    Reply
  5. Patricia

    Not only is sleeping in your car a way to save money but also when you find yourself in a situation in which you have no other choice, especially if road tripping. I found it a very interesting read, thanks!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      I’m glad you found it interesting. I had no choice the first time, but now, if I feel comfortable I will do it. As long as I am prepared.

      Reply
  6. Alma

    Great advice, not that I would consider sleeping in a car in our country, because of crime, but some great tips here. The mattress seems like a great idea if you are going to do it regularly, but at my age, I am not so sure about it.

    Reply
  7. Linnea

    It’s definitely easier if you come prepared! These are really great tips!

    Reply

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