Heading out on a cross-country road trip? Whether riding shotgun or taking the wheel, you’ll need to catch some Z’s along the way.
Sleeping in the car isn’t always ideal, but it’s often convenient and affordable. This guide offers tips for passengers who want to nap in motion or drivers who want to sleep overnight in a parked car.
How to sleep in a car: comfort and safety tips
Whether snoozing in the back seat or pulling over somewhere safe to sleep overnight, these tips can help you feel more comfortable and secure on the road.
1. Keep the seatbelt on when in motion
No matter how sleepy you feel, staying properly restrained is essential. That means keeping the lap belt snug across your hips and the shoulder belt across your chest. If you don’t wear your seatbelt correctly, then you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to severe, even fatal, injuries in the event of a crash.
2. Use a sleep mask
The science is clear: Light interferes with your ability to fall asleep. Sleep masks to the rescue! A great sleep mask is comfortable, soft on the delicate skin around your eyes, and fits the contours of your face to block as much light as possible.
3. Block out noise
Too much noise can keep you awake all night long. Earplugs can help. Or, if you prefer to offset road noise with a calming soundtrack of your own, then put on noise-canceling headphones and listen to soothing sleep sounds, white noise, or green noise.
4. Get a travel pillow
Whether you’re napping in the passenger seat or planning to camp out in your car after nightfall, it’s wise to pack a travel pillow. Most travel pillows are U-shaped to offer neck support without taking up as much space as a standard bed pillow. Keeping your neck in a safe, neutral position can help you feel more comfortable sleeping upright with the seatbelt on.
5. Encourage airflow
“Always crack at least one window to avoid condensation on the inside of the windows from your breath,” recommends outdoor writer and editor Danielle Taylor Phillippi. To stay safe, don’t leave a crack large enough for a person to reach inside the car. Even the smallest crack can help with airflow.
6. Consider a portable window screen
Don’t repeat travel writer Kaeli Conforti’s first car camping experience. “It was too hot, so I kept opening the doors or window, which let the mosquitos in, so [my boyfriend] kept closing everything,” she recalls. She only later learned that most car campers put screens in their windows for bug-free ventilation.
7. Find a safe, free place to park
“In the US, truck stops, Cracker Barrels, and Walmarts are known for generally being friendly to road-trippers needing a place to park and sleep for the night,” says Phillippi. Still, she prefers the darker, calmer parking lots of churches, parks, and cemeteries.
Ultimately, taking stock of your surroundings before drifting off for the night is up to you. If you’re in a place that doesn’t instinctually feel safe for sleeping, don’t stay. Drive for a few minutes until you find someplace better.
8. Get recommendations from fellow car campers
“I spent nearly six months road-tripping across the US and used peer-reviewed websites [and] apples like freecampsites.net, Campendium, the Dyrt, and iOverlander to find legal (and safe!) places to camp,” says Cassie Wilkins, writer and founder of Wild & Free Roadtrips.
9. Check local laws before car camping
Some states and cities have laws against overnight parking without a permit. Stay safe—and legal!—by looking up local laws and ordinances before camping in your car.
One of the easiest ways to ensure you’re legally parked for sleeping? Drive to public lands, says Wilkins. Find more information about dispersed camping (camping on public land not explicitly designated as a campground) at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
10. Download offline maps
“Another top tip would be to download offline maps on your phone before your trip, so you can always find your way even when you don’t have any service,” says Wilkins.
If you’re car camping in remote places, then chances are high that you’ll have spotty cell phone coverage. Locate a few possible car camping spots in advance, then have a map handy.
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Is it safe to sleep in a car overnight?
If they stay buckled up correctly, then it’s safe for passengers to sleep in a moving car overnight. It’s also safe to sleep in a parked car overnight if you prepare by finding a safe, legal parking spot and ensuring you can regulate temperature and airflow.
What’s the best way to sleep in a car?
Just like in your bedroom, minimizing light and noise are the best ways to fall asleep in a car. If you plan to go car camping for prolonged periods, then Phillippi and Wilkins suggest using a vehicle with room for a foam mattress in the back.
How do you cover car windows for sleeping?
If you don’t have access to ready-made car window sunshades, then you can block light and gain privacy by creating a window covering with cut cardboard and tape or blackout curtains with pins or velcro affixed to the sides and ceiling.
Prefer traveling by train? Check out our guide to how to sleep on a train for advice on doing so safely and comfortably. View Options