My husband and I took a year out to zigzag across the African continent in an old Landcruiser on a truly epic road trip. If you have road trip aspirations, whether it be exploring your local sites or going abroad, you’ll want to know these car camping hacks I picked up in my year on the road.
Car camping allows you to cover a lot of ground on a budget. You can bring more outdoor gear than traditional camping allows, and you get to go further because you aren’t spending money on hotels. That doesn’t mean you throw a bunch of stuff in the back of your car and head for the hills–you need prepare in order to get the most out of your holiday.
New to Camping?
Take a weekend trip to a campsite near you for a dry run to make sure you have the right camping gear and you know how to use it. If you are going to remote areas and you have gaps in your gear repertoire, there may not be a shop where you can get those missing items. Get an idea of the basics in our camping list here.
This should be your first priority. Have a comprehensive first aid kit, emergency money and water as well as blankets, flashlights and snacks. A reliable water filtration system as well as water purification tablets are also necessary. Bug spray and sunscreen are essential. Check that your spare tire is in good working order and have a backup battery or a solar-panel charger for your phone. Always have a map of your route in case you lose signal or your phone is lost or broken.
Air mattresses and fold-up chairs will make your trip far more enjoyable. You need comfy seating for those starry nights around the fire and a good night’s sleep is a must for long trips. I find my sleeping bag more compact and comfortable than blankets, but you may want a blanket for picnics. I have a table cloth that doubles as my picnic blanket which saves space.
Hammocks – I can’t recommend them enough. Get small, lightweight versions that don’t take up space and that you can easily walk into pristine locations for epic hangs.
If you plan to sleep in your car, it will get hot in the summer. Have window screens that allow you to open the windows without letting the bugs in. Keep your car closed during the day to keep the bugs out.
In cooler weather, crack a window to reduce moisture build-up when you’re sleeping in the car.
Eating in restaurants for three meals a day really adds up and there may not be conveniently-placed eateries for when you get hungry. And let’s face it, that morning coffee in the wild is really going to make your day. Take a small gas stove, fuel, pot, pan and eating utensils. A chopping board with a good knife will come in really handy too. Pack the basics like hot drinks and snacks, dried foods like rice and beans and a couple of bags of instant food so you can make a meal no matter what happens.
Invest in a cooler bag. They fold up nicely when not in use, but you can load them up with ice and beer or food when you drive through town.
Buy firewood and fire lighters in the town closest to your campsite. Firewood should not be transported far for fear of spreading tree diseases and bugs. However, most campsites have been picked dry of wood and it helps to have your own supply.
Have a good repertoire of campfire cooking recipes. You can get all you need on our YouTube channel here.
One of the things I found was that I didn’t have my stuff properly organized which meant that I spent a whole lot of time and energy looking for things in the back of my car. Placing items in bins actually saves space and means you always know where everything is. It keeps things dry and your gear is less likely to get damaged or lost.
Laundry and Showers
You need to have a solution for both of these issues on long trips. I have a big basin that I use for dishes, laundry and washing when the campsite doesn’t have facilities. Use only biodegradable soaps for all your cleaning needs. There are some camping soaps that are great for washing everything from hair to smelly socks and dirty dishes, so make sure you have a good supply.
I have two lids for my big gallon water jug. One has holes in so I can wedge it in a tree and have a shower. I heat water on the fire, pop it in the jug, screw on the lid with holes and… instant shower! I use the non-holey lid for storing water.
A rope that can double as a clothing line is a good idea for drying laundry, wet towels and bathing suits.
You want to keep your favorite natural places pristine, so make sure you have a good supply of garbage bags that you can use to pack out your trash and dispose of it responsibly in the nearest town. Do not burn your garbage.
Bears and other critters often see campsites as an easy way to get free food. Before you hunker own for the night, make sure that all food is securely locked in the car and that your dishes are clean. The scent of some toiletries also attract animals so those are better off in the car too.
If you are hiking in, take a long rope so you can hang your backpack in a tree safely away from your campsite.
Musical instruments, cards, books and other games are a great idea to augment your campsite fun. You can get solar-panel chargers to power electronic devices like phones and tablets, but we suggest you unplug for a while.
Take camping lights and headlights so you can have enough light in your campsite to move around easily. Solar-powered lights are great here too. I use solar-powered garden lights with stakes as tent pegs so I can find my tent without falling over the ropes.
Take functional, practical clothing that can be layered for cooler weather and stripped off when it gets hot. Opt for lighter colors as mosquitoes are attracted to darker hues. Hiking boots and a pair of sandals for around the camp should be all you need for footwear.
Also take a large backpack for hiking expeditions and a smaller day pack for short hikes, picnics and sightseeing.
Take a Break
For longer trips, plan a hotel stay every now and then. You will not believe how amazing a hot shower, clean sheets and room service can feel after a couple of weeks in the wild.
Need camping recipes? Get the Flaming Marshmallow’s Guide to Campfire Cooking here: http://amzn.to/2oxHB2H