How to Comfortably and Safely Sleep in a ‘Van Down by the River’ — or Car, Truck, or SUV

Whether you’re on a camping trip, escaping work, or facing financial constraints, sleeping in a car doesn’t have to be an awful and unpleasant experience. Find out how to comfortably and safely sleep in a car, a truck, SUV, or a “van down by the river.”

Safety tips for sleeping in a car

Chris Farley as Matt Foley character in SNL sketch talking about living and sleeping in a van down by the river
Chris Farley as Matt Foley character in SNL Van Down by the River sketch | Saturday Night Live via YouTube

You’ll never get a good night’s sleep if you have to worry about your safety while sleeping in the car. However, you can take various precautions. Let someone know the location of your car. Park in a safe location, and never on the side of the road. Also, never leave your car running while you sleep, for you could breathe in harmful emissions or burn through gasoline. 

Additionally, only open the windows a crack, for if the windows are wide open, it could be an invitation for car thieves. Furthermore, if possible, create a sleeping surface that is long and flat. You don’t want to sleep in a curled-up sleeping position, which can cause health problems.

Bedding supplies for sleeping in a car

To make the most of sleeping in a car, ensure that your car is adequately stocked with bedding supplies. This includes a sleeping bag, blankets, sheets, pillows, and a sleeping pad. For some extra privacy, you can get a shade for the windows or just tie up some sheets or blankets. If you really want to make your car homely, you can cuddle with your favorite stuffed animal or bring along some photos of loved ones. 

Where can I legally and safely sleep in a car?: Sleeping locations

Another important consideration for sleeping is the location where you park your car, as detailed by The Drive. You don’t want to run afoul of the law and illegally sleep in a restricted area or private property. You also want to sleep in a location that is safe.

Fortunately, there are many locations in which you can legally and safely sleep in your car. This includes:

  • Rest stops and truck stops
  • Walmart parking lots
  • Campsites
  • National and state parks
  • Hospital parking lots
  • Hotel parking lots
  • Church parking lots
  • 24-hour gym parking lots

The laws and restrictions for these sleeping spots vary by location. To be on the safe side, be sure to confirm the legality of sleeping in a specific location before you take a snooze.

Comfort tips for sleeping in a car

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Orient your “bed” for sleeping according to the type of car that you drive. The easiest vehicle for sleeping is a pickup truck, for you can just sleep right in the truck bed. Also, many vehicles have seats that you can fold down flat to create a long sleeping surface. This includes SUVs, crossovers, minivans, vans, wagons, and hatchbacks. 

If you drive a sedan or coupe, then you can recline the seat as far as possible. Also, some sedans have rear seats that fold down and create an opening to the trunk. If your sedan is like this, then you can sleep with your head on the folded rear seats and your legs tucked into the trunk.

For making your bed, smooth over the bedding materials to adequately cover any protrusions in the car interior. If you have a sleeping pad, place it flat on the cabin floor for your ideal sleeping position. If you don’t have a sleeping pad, place extra blankets on the floor for added comfort. Also, you should bring along at least two pillows, for a second pillow may be necessary to cover any gaps in the sleeping area. Additionally, crack open the window a little (or sunroof or moonroof) for some ventilation while you sleep.

Sweet dreams and have a good night of sleeping in your car. May you sleep like a baby — even if it’s in a “van down by the river.”

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