Classless Travel: A Guide to Sleeping in Cars – Part 1
Sleeping in your car is a great way to save money, avoid talking to hotel clerks, and prevent over sleeping. Its also a great status symbol. It also may help ward off resort timeshare salespeople, as shown in this example:
Resort Salesman: And the last time you went on vacation, where did you stay? In a hotel?
Me: Well.. we stayed in some motels, and sometimes we slept in our car.
Resort Salesman: Wouldn’t it be great if you could always know that you’d be staying in the same, comfortable place when you go on vacation?
Thom: (looking incredulous, in a growling voice) I don’t know man. You’re talking to the people who just said they sleep in the car.
Car sleeping also has lesser known benefits, such as its usage as a beauty aid. Car sleeping is great for the complexion, and also adds to your aura of personal glamour.
Aside from all these benefits, sometimes sleeping in the car is simply better than the alternative, which might be sleeping on a picnic table, or being in the car, not asleep.
Choosing a Car to Sleep In
The best car to sleep in is always a car that you own. If a car that you own is not available, try to choose a car that you have rented, or a car owned by someone you know. Avoid sleeping in cars owned by strangers, or in cars of unknown ownership. Never sleep in a car without permission from the owner – even if the owner is a friend.
If you do not yet own a car, you may wish to choose one with features that enhance the sleeping experience. Cars without lingering odors are best. Its also good to have a car with plenty of legroom, seats that recline fully, and/or a bench seat. Car sleeping is also the only situation in which heated seats are particularly useful.
Cars I Have Sleeptested:
2012 Subaru Forester: Our current vehicle is also the best sleeping vehicle I have experienced. It has non-factory leather seats that are so much softer than the standard Subaru leather, and the front seats recline to the point of almost laying flat. The legroom with the seats reclined is also great. Heated seats are useless 90% of the time (98% of the time within the state of Texas), but they have proved useful when sleeping in the car in desert environments, and also on one random night sleeping in the car somewhere near St. Clair, Missouri. A moon roof also makes car sleeping more romantic, particularly if done as far from civilization as possible.
Testing conditions: various types of desert in New Mexico and Arizona, parking garages in the Dallas metroplex, a parking lot in Missouri.
2002 Hyundai Elantra: The Elantra is rated “well.. if its all we’ve got…” for car sleeping. The legroom isn’t great even just for driving, and that car was notorious for inflicting unremedy-able ass pains after an hour or so driving. The seats did recline almost sufficiently, however. The stale smell of cigarettes, stuffiness, and general ill treatment was not a serious impediment to sleep, and could be gotten used to fairly quickly. In praise of the Hyundai, it was waterproof, and the heater and air conditioner did work. Catching a quick nap in the Hyundai in between engagements probably did actually save my life more than once back when my life involved bar closing shifts and early morning auditions in random locations. But trying to acquire a full nights’ sleep in that car was always a challenge.
Testing conditions: a windswept beach of the Gulf of Mexico, a gas station parking lot somewhere between Dallas and Shreeveport, various Love’s parking lots, various other random parking lots and garages. I drove the Hyundai during the point in my life where my schedule was sometimes horribly opposed to my well being, so I caught naps in it in varied locations.
2010? Chevy Impala: We rented this car for a driving trip to Roswell, before we bought the Subaru. At the time, I thought sleeping in it was pretty awesome, but at the time I usually slept in cars in the Hyundai, so my point of reference may have been skewed. I remember thinking that it had sufficient leg room, and the seats were comfortable.
Testing conditions: New mexico desert, early spring.
1994 Buick Park Avenue: The Park Av is probably the second best car I have ever slept in. I loved that once state-of-the-art grandma mobile for its driving comfort, and it had sleeping potential too. The Buick took the other approach to sleep – instead of having seats that laid back really well like the Subaru, it had bench seats. The bench seats were acceptable laid back, but really the best all night sleeping configuration was probably sleeping across the bench seat. This meant that when sleeping as the only person in the car, it was pretty great, but when sleeping multiple people, it got a bit less comfortable. The other issue with the Park Avenue was that for some reason, it retained heat like no other car I have ever driven. This meant that in Southern Illinois and Missouri, where I did most of my sleeping in this car, the car would become a humid cesspool of stale air on summer nights. Cracking a window would alleviate the heat a little, but would let in more humidity. Sleeping in this car for long periods of time required periodically turning on the heat or AC, and the AC did not function the entire time I owned the car.
Testing conditions: Hot nights in Southern Illinois, along the Eleven Point River in Missouri in the summer, fall/winter/spring in student parking lots at SIUC, at least one miserable soaking wet night in Missouri.
1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra called Brutus, and the blue 1992 Cutlass Cierra that followed: Both of the Cutlasses had a very similar sleeping experience. The seats were almost exactly the same – cloth covered, roomy but not huge, reclining sufficiently. Brutus had a permanent smell of Dr. Pepper due to a gas station sized soda that my brother spilled on the floorboards, and this became more apparent in the rain – which could lead to waking up confused, craving Dr. Pepper. Brutus also had somewhat of a leak around the edge of the doors, which although not enough to soak the interior of the car, was enough to give the car a cold clammy feeling in the rain. The blue Cutlass had one distinct feature which was advantageous for sleeping – it had rain guards on the windows, which enabled cracking a window even in the rain. In general the Cutlasses were sufficient for sleeping in decent weather. They both failed miserably at winter sleeping however (Brutus when I refused to abandon my stuck-in-the-snow car, and the other when I wrongly believed that my parents had intentionally locked me out of the house.) Not even periodically running the heater could make those cars sleepable in Illinois winter.
Testing conditions: Hard rain, Dieterich High School parking lot in mild weather, December in Illinois, along the Eleven Point River.
Coming Soon: What to bring when sleeping in the car, and where to put your car when sleeping.