Car camping is the perfect way to ease into the hobby if you’ve never done it before or are a little apprehensive about ditching society and backpacking into the mountains like a survivalist. Some people may assume car camping literally means sleeping in your car at a campsite, but this is a common misconception. Instead, you pack up your car — don’t forget the tent — and pull into a designated site to set up your camp next to your vehicle with no excess hiking involved. 

This camping strategy works whether you’re at a San Diego camping area or anywhere in else in the world. Most parks and campsites will have toilets and shower stations available to campers. And in case of an unsolvable emergency, you can easily pack up and drive back to town. Here are some tips to ensure your first — or next — car camping experience is a total success. 

  1. Make a List of Items

Before you start loading your car, sit down and make a list of items you think you might need for your trip. You will not have the comforts of home or your necessary items at your fingertips on your car camping trip unless you bring them. Granted, you will not need most of the items you use at home, but you will likely need some things. If you take the time to make a list, you’ll reduce the risk of getting to your destination and discovering that you should have packed something that you didn’t. 

  1. Pack Everything Into Your Car

Think of your car as a big backpack. Although you have more room than you would if you were backpacking to your campsite, you’ll still want to remain as organized as possible. If everything you take has a designated place in the car, it will make it a lot easier on everyone involved to set up camp in a minimum of time. Packing up to go will also be easier if you already know how everything fits back into the car.

  1. Bring Lots of Water

Since you aren’t lugging anything through the woods with this style of camping, bring lots of water. As a good rule of thumb try to bring twice the amount of water you think you are going to need. It’s always better to have too much water than not enough. 

  1. Have Fun with Your Space

The right vehicle can be a fun added space for dining, relaxing in the shade or simply socializing. Secure a tarp or sheet with bungee cords over your car as a makeshift porch. Boost up the tarp with two poles or sticks and enjoy the added shelter.

  1. Be Safe and Respectful

Like with all camping trips, notify your close friends and family members where you’re headed and plan a route to your car camping destination. Be aware of your surroundings and other campers. Try and camp in grounds that require registration. And always lock your car doors and keep valuables out of plain sight. It’s also important to respect others privacy and any camp rules or quiet hours.

  1. Adventure in Luxury

The lack of constraints on weight and space when car camping can allow for a bit of added ease and comfort. For example, pack an air mattress, your favorite pillow and a two-burner stove. Your guitar, a good book or your child’s favorite toy just might make the trip that much more memorable.

  1. Keep the Food in the Car

Keeping your goodies and cooking utensils in the car prevents curious wildlife from joining you at your campsite. Keep foodstuffs tightly wrapped in coolers or sealed containers to keep them fresh and suppress any inviting scents.

  1. Prepare for the Worst

With good organization and planning, car camping allows you to take as many precautions as possible. Bad weather is notorious for ruining camping trips and pesky mosquitoes can be even worse. Pack mosquito repellent and a first aid kit so you won’t need to pack up camp if mosquitoes descend or someone has a minor accident that needs to be treated and bandaged.

  1. Keep Your Camp Clean

Properly dispose of trash in designated areas or in sealed bags in the car. Even though you might think a bag of trash is okay to leave outside, smelly garbage can attract scavengers like mice, ants, squirrels or raccoons.

Everyone who wants to give camping a try shouldn’t be afraid to do a trial car camping trip. There’s no right way to experience nature, but hopefully, these tips will make going off the grid a bit less daunting. Once you get the hang of what works best for you, car camping can be a peaceful, easily accessible and affordable way to relax and experience the outdoors. 

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Emily Muelford

Emily is a British writer whose love of car culture is augmented by a fascination with both the European and American automotive markets. Her perspective is uniquely fish and chips.

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