Frugal Road Tripping – Car Sleeping

This past fall Chris and I took a month off work and drove to California. The main objective of the trip was for Chris to go to Yosemite to climb El Cap, but it had been a long-time dream of mine to drive across the US so we decided to add that to the trip, along with a few stops at climbing areas in Arizona and Utah.

Being frugal by nature, and recognizing how much a month-long trip could cost us if we stayed in hotels every night, we decided to sleep in the car as much as we could.

Our car is a four-door Honda Fit hatchback.  It’s a small car, but you can fit an amazing amount of stuff in it. For sleeping, Chris devised a great simple system for us.  He rigged up cords that would hold together three pieces of plywood for us to sleep on (A,B, and C). The cords would also be clipped to the hand rails on the front doors and by the back windows.

The three plywood pieces rested on two large plastic tote boxes (the back seats fold down flat so we get a large flat area behind the front seats).  In sleep-mode, the front seats would be pushed all the way forward.  In drive-mode the front seats would be in their normal positions and the three pieces of plywood would be stacked on top of each other.

Once we pulled into our night’s destination, it would only take us 15 minutes to set up the car for sleeping. We slept amazingly well – even Chris at 6 feet could stretch out! For air circulation, we would close the trunk, but leave the front windows cracked open a little.  We had bug netting that we could put over the windows (attached with magnets) if we were in a buggy area.

In total we spent 15 nights sleeping in the car.  Eight of those were at commercial campgrounds (St. Louis, MO; Yosemite, CA; Davenport, IA; Seneca Falls, NY); four were in Wal-Mart parking lots (Winslow, AZ; Flagstaff, AZ; Salt Lake City, UT; Sterling, CO), and three nights were in a National Forest (near Winslow, AZ and Moab, UT).

We could have slept in a tent when we were in commercial campgrounds, but as we were often getting there late at night and leaving early in the morning, it made more sense to us to do the quick car conversion.

We did spent five nights tent camping at the Indian Creek climbing area in Utah (near Moab).  We had the use of our friend’s tent for those five nights, but both agreed that the car was a far more comfortable and warm place to sleep.

The rest of the trip I spent in hostels along the California coast while Chris climbed in Yosemite. We also treated ourselves to a nice hotel in Albuquerque, NM for our anniversary and we had an unexpected hotel stay in Sacramento, CA because of a major snow storm (in October!).

I realize that car camping is not for everyone, and that not all cars can be converted as easily as the Honda Fit, but I loved it, and would do it again for another road trip.  Now we just have to figure out where the (hoped-for) baby will fit!

Next post I’ll write about frugal eating on a road trip.

Have you used your car for camping?

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8 thoughts on “Frugal Road Tripping – Car Sleeping

  1. The baby can sleep on the floor behind the front seats, under you guys. Car camping is fun and this story was a great read. Thanks for sharing!

  2. This looks like SO much fun. Sometimes I wish we would have waited a little longer to have kids so we could do this stuff too….I suppose it’ll be just more of a challenge when they get a little older and we try it WITH them, lol.

    • It was a ton of fun! I’m sure you’ll find lots of adventures like this to do with your kids too, when they all get a little older. Or, you could take one kid by themselves this summer and go car camping for a night 🙂

  3. Thanks so much Marcelle for sharing this! I loved the details (and my favourite picture is the car on the beach!)…very serene!

    It is amazing how much room that little ‘Fit’ has. I don’t think my golf would have been so convertible! I’m sure baby henni-bomb will fit just about anywhere his little seat will go.

    I’m really looking forward to the frugal eating segment! You’re an inspiration…maybe I CAN afford a road trip with the girls after all 🙂 hehe – I need a Wesy again!

    • Thanks Stacey! The picture at the beach is one of my favorites too. It was at a beach near Monterey around sunset time – just beautiful.

      Yes to an affordable road trip with your girls! Even with tent camping, we found that there were lots of National Forests around where you could camp for free. And your girls seem pretty easygoing and up for any adventure!

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