Handy tips for living out of your car during a road trip

Luxury takes on new meaning when one attempts to live out of one’s car and, on road trips, it can be especially tricky to navigate your increasingly shrinking living space.

But master a few simple rules of the road and you’ll save both time and money so you can get where you’re going faster — and enjoy the road how it’s meant to be enjoyed: by car.

Here, a few suggestions for making the most of your auto-shelter:

Bring along the baby wipes and dryer sheets

The first thing to go on a road trip? That fresh, just-showered scent. Baby wipes are a cheap and portable shower alternative that can effectively fend off body odor for a few days.

Use them to refresh feet, hands and armpits, and give your face a good wiping before you hit the hay so your pillow will stay clean. Slip dryer sheets into your suitcase and inside of empty shoes to prevent any other smells from seeping in.

Designate a trash bag (and dump it often)

road trip
There’s almost no limit to how much you can fit into a well-planned car during a road trip. Photo: Johnie Gall
Trash can spread quickly during road trips and make you feel like you have less space than you actually do, so instead of tossing your disposables under the seat, plop them in a plastic bag.

Take out the trash nightly before you go to bed if you can.

Invest in air mattresses

A quality, inflatable air mattress or sleeping pad may be the best road trip investment you make. Look in the sale section of sporting good stories for deals, or use your bouldering crash pad in lieu of the real thing.

Just make sure there is something between your sleeping bag and the hard floor of the car — you’ll stay warmer, too.

Have a “wet” bin

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A wet bin protects the interior of your car during a road trip. Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Scherzberg
Pick up a plastic storage bin from the dollar store to stash wet towels, wetsuits, neoprene booties and damp or muddy hiking boots while you drive — it’ll save the interior of your car.

Bonus points if the bin comes with a lid: You’ll prevent that moldy smell from setting in. Just make sure you try to dry these items in the sun whenever you get the chance.

Buy a cooler

To save money on food while on the road, pick up a cheap Styrofoam cooler and a bag of ice from Walmart before you do your grocery shopping.

This should keep food cold for a few days if you keep the bin packed to the top and continue draining melted water as you go.

Bring a tarp and bungee cords

If you have a smaller car or truck, pack along some supplies to protect your suitcases and bags in the event of rain. When it’s time to sleep, hoist anything you don’t need immediately onto the roof of you car and secure it there with a tarp and bungee cords.

This frees up space inside for your air mattress and for changing into fresh clothes.

Research your destination

Living out of your car during a road trip has its perks; photo by Brandon Scherzberg
Living out of your car during a road trip has its perks. Photo: Courtesy of Brandon Scherzberg
There are plenty of campsites out there, but not all of them are free (and many fill up quickly). Call around to park offices before you leave to figure out when you’ll need to arrive, how much cash you’ll need and if campsites offer running water.

Have a back-up plan (that includes AAA)

Even smaller cars can make for comfortable accommodations during road trips; photo by Johnie Gall
Even smaller cars can make for comfortable accommodations during road trips. Photo: Johnie Gall
Flat tires. Torrential downpours. Car accidents. Closed roads. We like to be optimistic but things are bound to happen on the road, so it’s best to be prepared — you could end up spending more than you saved otherwise.

Get a AAA membership or find out if your car rental service or insurance company offers roadside assistance, know phone numbers of friends in the area in case you need to crash on their couches, and most important, buy a map (a real, paper map).