There are a lot of reasons that you might want to attempt sleeping in your van, as experienced van campers we have spent many nights doing this very thing. If you haven’t tried sleeping in a van you might have a lot of questions on how exactly you can do it, in this post I will share some ideas on how to get the perfect nights’ sleep in a van.
Can I sleep in a van? You most definitely can sleep in your van, with a little preparation you can get a good nights’ rest in the security of your own van without any problems. Obviously it won’t be as comfortable as your own bed at home but it works.
Sleeping in your van has certain challenges, but the rewards are worth the effort. The following are some of the issues that you will face preparing for your first night of sleeping in your van.
How do I sleep in a van?
There are different ways you can prepare to sleep in your van, first let’s explore some of the options for what you are going to actually sleep on, and then you can pick which one will best meet your needs.
If you are going on a van road trip you might want to consider building a platform to put your mattress on to raise it up off the van floor. Having your bed on a platform will give you much needed storage space underneath the platform. The platform will also make it easier to get into and out of your bed.
You can use a regular mattress, an air mattress, a mattress that you design yourself with foam and a sleeping pad or a combination of the above on the top of your platform.
However if the van that you are using is the vehicle you use every day having to remove the platform when you aren’t camping or on the road can be tedious.
If you aren’t taking a whole lot of gear with you the most comfortable option would be to just put a regular mattress on the van floor. This will enable you to get a good nights’ sleep and you can easily remove the mattress when you are finished camping.
For weekend camping trips an air mattress is a quick and easy option, they are easy to inflate for the couple of nights you will need it and easy to deflate and store when you are done.
Another option would be to use a sleeping bag on top of a sleeping pad right on the floor of your van. You can’t get much simpler than that.
Now that you have some sleeping options what are some of the other challenges that you will face?
Some nights will be just perfect for sleeping but inevitably you will either be too hot or too cold. For the nights that you are too hot you can use a rechargeable fan that uses a USB port for recharging this will help to create a breeze in the van.
You can also crack the windows of your van, this works best if you have the side window deflectors to keep out rain and the shields make it not so obvious that your windows are open.
If you have a cargo van that you have converted or are using you might want to consider installing a roof vent to help enable the air to circulate in the van better.
Mother Nature is sometimes really hard to predict and it can get chilly at night even on some of the hottest days depending on what part of the country you are camping in.
One trick to staying warm is to incorporate extra blankets into your sleeping base. Right on top of your mattress open a sleeping bag or unfold a blanket or two and store them right there for those cold nights that you weren’t expecting. This will eliminate using up space with folded or rolled blankets.
Okay, now you are ready to get some sleep, but the van is too light and people can look right in and see you sleeping, now what can you do?
You can attach a curtain rod to the van ceiling behind the seats, put up a dark curtain and close it when you are ready to go to sleep. If you have side windows you can also buy material at your local craft store to make curtains or just adapt pre-made curtains to cover the windows.
Another option would be to purchase a windshield sun screen to cover the front window of the van; this will help prevent light from entering and people from being able to see into the van. In addition you can purchase side window shades or curtains.
If the side windows on your van aren’t tinted you might want to consider having them tinted to make the inside of the van darker and to help keep people from seeing in as easily. Local auto glass shops usually can tint the windows for you; however state laws vary from state to state on how dark you can tint them.
Now I lay me down to sleep, but it is so noisy how am I going to get any sleep?
Another thing that can be troublesome is the noise of an unfamiliar place. To help mask the noises of the area where you are trying to sleep, try white noise.
Use a battery operated fan, an app on your phone or even buy a USB rechargeable white noise machine, any one of these ideas will help you to get to sleep and help you not to notice every slight noise around your van.
Other Posts of Interest
- Do You Need An Axe For Camping?
- The 7 Best Screens For Van Camping – And How To Set Them Up
- 19 Tips For Choosing The Best Binoculars For Van Camping
- 9 Tips You Should Know Before Going Camping
Where can I park my van to sleep?
Here’s a list of places for parking your van to sleep, some locations will be better than others and if you find the first choice doesn’t work out you can simply just move your van.
- Commercial campgrounds offer the security of being someplace where other campers are and the campground itself controls unauthorized access so you won’t have to worry so much about crime. Campgrounds most of the time will be a lot quieter than some of the choices listed further down on the list. However you will have to pay for a site. Usually campgrounds will offer Wi-Fi, have bathrooms, showers and other amenities.
- Truck stops are another place where you can park for the night; they usually will have a designated area for parking. They have the added benefit of when you wake up you can go right into the restaurant for breakfast, use the Wi-Fi and gas up. Plus if you are getting a little grungy from the road some of them will even have showers to use and a number of them will have a laundromat.
- Rest areas offer another option for staying the night; however some of them do not allow overnight parking so you will have to check at the one that you are planning to stay at. The benefits of rest areas are they usually have bathrooms, picnic tables and some places even have outdoor grills or something similar. Plus they offer you another free camping option; however they tend to be noisy.
- National, state and local parks are a good place to park your van for the night. Parks will usually have a campground, dispersed camping (which is camping without any hookups) or even trailheads that offer a place to park. Rules and regulations will vary between the parks so check in with the ranger station or read the posted rules. The campgrounds will usually be fairly quiet and the dispersed sites quieter yet.
- Retail stores like Cabela’s, Walmart and Cracker Barrel also allow overnight parking however this will vary between locations, so you will have to check with the manager at the location you where you want to park. These locations offer well lit areas and again will save you on camping fees, however if they are open 24/7 it might be kind of busy and noisy.
- Visitor centers will oftentimes have places for overnight parking too and again they are free. Depending on where they are they will sometimes also have free Wi-Fi.
Once you get to know what you are looking for you will be able to come up with lots of choices, there are also websites and apps that offer you a lot of help locating places to stay.
Why would I want to sleep in my van?
One of the main reasons people sleep in their van is to save money on expenses. The costs of staying in campgrounds and motels when you are on a road trip add up quickly, sleeping in the van eliminates this big travel expense.
I like to sleep in a van while traveling because I feel more comfortable in my own bed, with my own stuff. It is also convenient because I don’t have to haul my clothes and everything else back and forth to a motel.
It is also really handy for when you have been on the road a while and are getting tired, all you have to do is pull over and you are able to take a quick nap to refresh before returning to the road.
We always keep a change of clothes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant and anything else we need to stay overnight all the time right in the van, even when we are not planning to camp. This gives us the option of when we go someplace intending to just go for the day and then we find other things that we want to do, we don’t have to hurry back home. Since we have “home” with us, we can just sleep in the van.
Another reason to sleep in a van is that for some people it is their home on wheels, people convert vans to live in for long periods of time while they travel around the county, sometimes for years at a stretch.
Is it dangerous to sleep in a van?
It is not any more dangerous to sleep in a van than when sleeping in an RV or tenting, stay aware of your surroundings, don’t park in the less desirable parts of town, just use common sense. Secure all belongings that might be outside of your van for example bikes or luggage on a roof rack.
Don’t forget to lock up your vehicle! Sometimes when people are on the inside of their vehicles they forget to lock the doors for the night.
Make sure you don’t camp somewhere prone to flash flooding, I don’t know about you but I certainly wouldn’t want to wake up floating down a river somewhere.
Sleeping in your van takes a little getting used to but it offers the feeling of being at home while on the road or while camping. Plus sleeping in your van gives you the convenience of being able to pull off and sleep when you are tired on a road trip. Van camping is also easy on your travel or camping budget.
What is stealth van camping? Stealth van camping is when you camp someplace people normally wouldn’t camp and you remain undetected. Parking locations for stealth camping include retail store parking lots, side streets, hospital parking lots or similar locations.
What is boondocking? Boondocking is when you camp where there are no facilities, in a remote, undeveloped area. If you are interested in learning more check out our post about boondocking here.