Car Camping

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Car Camping

Postby ryancrowe » Tue Apr 04, 2006 10:04 pm

For some reason or other there is little about this subject in Australia on the Net eventhough it seems from reading the other international sites that this courntry is probably the best suited to it. With its hospitable cllimate and vast open spaces. Most of us associate car camping with the "oldies" - the "Grey Nomads" - or beach bums but the reality is that it has considerably greater appeal than that and is a means of ensuring that your travel or budget accommodation gives you the flexibility that YOU want.

So what is it about car camping that is so appealing? It is cheap and accessible. Most of us out of necessity own a vehicle but few of us are prepared to chose it as a preferred form of accommodation. When we hear somebody is living in their car we know that they have really hit rock bottom. It comes down to perceptioin really because those of us who travel or camp frequently stay in our cars. Nobody scorns at that. Indeed that lifestyle (living in a car while travelling or camping) is often one many of would aspire to even if it was only for short periods.

The truth is that car camping does not have to be for short periods. And the longer the period the more likely the expense although it does not have to be that way. The surfer will accept his panelvan for weekends but the Grey Nomads want their Motorhomes in retirement. There are many and varied reasons for that and ultimately it comes down to personal preference or what YOU can live with and the money you are prepared to spend.

Clearly if you want the top end of the market with all its bells and whistles then this article will not be of much interest to you other than to give you some pervented insight into how the other half (?) live. Car living can take many forms - from a modest car with folding seats, through to campervans like the old Kombis and ultimately the more moderm motorhomes or rolling palaces.

I propose to provide a recipe for those who want to consider more modest car camping in the hope that it can encourage you to think about what YOU want and how YOU can best achieve that. Maybe some of you who are thinking of putting you toe in to feel the water may even get some ideas or encouragement from it. Others will see it as a way of living cheaply that has enormouse potential when you are only on a limited income.

The concept of car camping is not new. It has been around as long as the car has. The best things these days is that the cars are more reliable, easier to purchase and facilities both in terms of roads and creature comforts are so much better. So if car camping ever had appeal there is no way it should be any less popular today other than for the stigma that seems to attach to it in certain circumstances. In the United States it seems to be synonymouse with what they call dumpster diving which thankfully is not (i believe) so obvious or popular here. But the reality is that with spiralling rental costs the car camping option should be more seductive today than ever.

So what sort of car should you consider? Frankly the car you have is probably the best. Its there and available. So long as it is comfortable. I have adapted a VW Golf to take a double bed so it is possible even with small cars. Obviously station wagons and vans or 4WDs are preferable but they all have their pros and cons so ultimately the decision is YOURS.

Probably the first mental hurdle that you have to overcome is whether to buy something to stand up in or not. My answer to that is an overwhelming NO. The main reason that I say that is that if you want to stand up you can go outside and I am not one to encourage people to cook in a vehicle. So really the car only needs to be able to seat and sleep you. Think of those "holes in the wall" that they rent out in Japan. That is all your vehicle should be for unless you have a behemoth of a vehicle which as I said before is a completely different ballgame.

The smell of cooking permeates everything in a vehicle and there is nothing worse than wearing last night's dinner! Cooking should preferably be outside the vehicle and a simpe tarp as a cover can be set up for that so that you are not limited by the weather. In any even you want somewhere to sit during the day so you need the cover anyway. Cookers can be purchased for a pittance and again the preference is YOURS.

You don't really need a fridge either. Long term they drain far too much out of your battery no matter what system you have and it is therefore far better to buy food that keeps and there is plenty of material about that on the Net. Otherwise a simple Esky with ice suffices.

What you do need though and this is imperative is a very comfortable place to sleep. If you can't arrange that then forget the whole car camping thing because it will not work for you. It is not hard to do. Some cars have fold down seats, with others it is just a matter of taking the seats out and desiging and maufacturing what you need with ply or similar timber. I cannot emphasise how important it is though to have a comfortable bed. That is a decent size platform, a good mattress and plenty of warm bedding. The trouble with cars is that they lack insulation. They can get very hot or very cold very quickly and you have to be prepared for that.

It is a lot easier though if you are comfortable and capable of pulling the blankets over you to keep out the cold. It seems easy enough but try sleeping in the car some time and you will know what I am talking about.

So you have the bed, the cooker and the tarp for cover. Ok so you will need non perishable food if you do not have a frig or a good power source for the frige if you have kept your food in there. There's no rocket science in any of that. However I will say when you are considering your frig or other power needs be very careful of the draw (how many amps each thing takes) of all the appliances that you connect. The standard batteries in cars are made to crank the motor over and while they store electricity thet are not that good at it and certainly do not like being run down.

There is plenty of information about that on the net so I won't dwell on that other than to say make sure you wise your self up on those things. Otherwise you are destined to be stranded without a battery sometime. There are plenty of alternatives like solar but you have to know what you are buying and frankly I prefer to keep things simple so that is why I don't have a frig. They are power suckers - make no mistake. You can cut down your electricity draw by efficient appliances and diodes etc for lightling but there's no frig yet that merely sips power.

Having just a car can be an advantage over a van because apart from its cost and better driveability the car is easier and lesss noticable (read less of a standout) if you are illegally camping. Some people even go to the trouble of taping black over the windows so that the light inside cannit be seen but I have never gone to that extreme.

So that then gets me to the nitty gritty, showering and sh**tting etc.

With a car you don't have room for a shower. So use baby wipes or similar between showers. There are also solar bags and the like but they are not very robust and I prefer to stick with the wipes and the odd proper shower whenever I can get it. I have a garden sprayer that I have modified for a handheld shower - cost bugger all too- but I rarely use it. I even went to the trouble of painting it black to ensure that I could warm it up in the sun as well. On cold days I heat up the water on the stove. The garden sprayer only takes 5 litres and lasts 5 minutes. Then there's the special towels - the ones the divers use. Get one - they save enormously on space.

Finally the old one two three. No three really as we all know but something has to be done to accommodate the one two thing. Ok peeing is simple enough -its around the corner or in a cut down plastic container with a handle that makes it easy to manouver. I also use the same plastic container for the solids. It has been designed to catch poop while I am squatting. Simple enough. Then you simply dispose of it in plastic bags. Of course that is only when I am caught short. Otherwise I use public facilities.

Actually I have to tell you an interesting scenario to that before I go. Some years ago while I was in Africa I was talking to a local about toilet facilities (no I am not always fixated that way!) and he explained to me that they had a flying toilet. When quizzed about that he said they dumped in plastic bags and then flung it - hence the description flying toilet. Hmmmmm

Now I am not recommending that here. But just reinforcing that the problem is universal. Somehow we all have to get rid of the waste. Sure you can have complicated sytems to avoid having to get involved but unfortunately that is not so easy in a vehicle. Also if you want to keep things simple as I always recommend then the less complication the better.

I hope that had given you some ideas. More importantly maybe made you realise that car camping or living can be a legitiate lifestyle. It is certainly cheap enough. In fact it is probably better with an old car that has less complicated computer wizardry aboard (as one who fixes cars I can vouch for that) and if you are with the RAC even if the damned thing breaks down (which it inevitably does - and that happens with new cars too) then it is just a phone call and you have a tow.

If you want to take computers and all that stuff with you then car camping is not for you. Unless you have a motorhome keep it simple. The less systems the better (read cheaper too). You can connect to the Net at most libraries. Shower facilities are widely available and as long as you have a tarp as an awning where you can stand up to dress in private and then cook and just sit back and enjoy the day believe me you wont want the car itself to be like a moving home. That is not what it is really all about anyway.

No need for the big van or pop top. A car will do. Just make sure that bed is comfortable and that you are not going to freeze. If you think the heat could be a problem put a tarp over yoru vehicle too during the day so that air can circulate between it and the top of the vehicle - that way you will still have a nice cool place to sleep in at night.

I could go on and tell you how to save money and keep it simple but I am sure anyone who can access this site can get that information for him or herself. The bottom line is though car camping is a great way to go and if you have the right attitude and make sure you do not live like a hobo your life will be all the better for it. it certainly beats rent and all the other charges that come with normal living.

I've now lived in my car for two years. I cannot imagine changing either but then I am staring 60 in the face and I guess with my very hands on practical background that may have a big bearing on why I do it. Anyway YOU make up your own mind and f##k the stereotype.

I acknowledge it takes a while to get used to the lifestyle but I have now made so many friends and contacts that I never have any problem finding a place to park. You'll find that too in time. I wouldn't be dead for quids!!!!!! See you soon........

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Postby Kramer » Wed Apr 05, 2006 10:03 am

Hmm.. Interesting, it can be done but I don't think its for me, I like to have my own bathroom, a bit of space and room to sleep (I am 6' 2").

I think the reason you don't see much of this anymore is because caravans and campers are becoming so cheap, I can buy a little flip top camper new for about 5 to 6 thousand dollars, they are really light you only need a four cylinder to tow them, or the other side where on-site vans can be rented for about $40 a week in some places (Benaraby for example).

I lived out of a car for 4 weeks on a trip up to cape york, sleeping in the car, on the ground or in a tent any longer and I would have gone insane (not really too much of a nice place for that!) but it was really good to get home to my own bed.
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Postby Ozzycamperboy » Thu Apr 06, 2006 12:04 am

Good grief man, Longest post evaaaaaar :shock:

You ROCK :mrgreen: !!! Your pushin 60 and living in your car :shock: , onya mate, I have friends who are just under 30 and cant stand staying in a cabin @ a carvan park for more than a few days :roll: wooses :lol:

Personally, I like the car camping thing, but as you mentioned, you have to be well setup and keep it simple. I plan on extending my 'bed' one day(make it a double, or king size 8) ), but this is sufficient for the time being (i'm on the left)


As for showers, $25 from supercheap gets you a decent one that plugs into your car ciggy socket, a worthwile investment, then all you need is a bucket of hot water and some privacy. Since I usually camp in remote areas, toilet time means 'take a shovel' for me, I couldn't handle washing out a bucket :? :shock:

Since that pic was taken I've bought a swag so the tarp rarely goes up unless it looks like its going to rain. I recently spent a week near condobolin and the aboriginal kids(and my friends) had a great ol laugh that I was sleeping on my roof :lol: (seems perfectly normal to me :? ) The rack is actually very comfortable.

A fridge needent be all that bad, though it is expensive, with a good dual battery system you could run it for atleast 3 days without a worry for starting your car, and you can get 3 way powered ones (Gas/12v/24v), but I still use and icebox.

Wherabouts do you/are you staying mostly??
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car camping

Postby ryancrowe » Thu Apr 06, 2006 12:05 am

It was interesting to read your response Kramer.

I am your size and I agree that it is important to have a good confortable bed. The worst place I encounteredd was sleeping out on the Nullabor.I'll never do that again!

I agree the car camping is not for everyone but the point of the post was to indicate its availability. Not everyone wants to tow a van and I for one think it is unnecessary.

Unfortunately not all camping sites are as cheap as you indicate and the reality is with so many people out there with limited sites the prices are escalating. If it was only $40 per week for an onsite van we'd all be doing that. The fact is that is not the norm. I am not prepared to pay the rates that are presently being charged and I am not alone in that.

A fellow traveller was quite chuffed when he told me recently that he had secured a site at Landsborough for $150 a week. That's in the middle of nowhere. And frankly as far as I am concerned a rip off. Note that it was only for a site and not an onsite van.

I understand your comments about the trip to Cape York. We have all been there and thoroughly depised the experience. That's why I indicated how important it is to have a good bed. After being on the road for as long as I have I know what you are talking about and the bottom line is once that bed is in your vehicle ithe rest does not matter.

Camping is not always what we expect but once you know what is involved and how to make it work for you then it gets a lot easier. My home and my bed iare in my car and believe me that is what it is all about.

In that sense I agree with you. The trouble is that most people do not ensure that they have a comfortable bed and I was hoping to make sure they understood that. The rest id a matter of personal choice.

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car camping

Postby ryancrowe » Thu Apr 06, 2006 1:05 am


Sorry mate that the post was that long but it had to be said and I thought it was time somebody did it. There's nothing in it for me but I had some time to spare at the library so I gave it the max.

You know I thought about a bed on the roof but I ditched ithe idea because it was too high and my thinking was if I could arrange a bed otherwise why would I want to do that. Also I have arranged things so that I can sleep in the car when I am in a built up area without drawing attention. Beleive me there are times when that is necessary. I have a 4WD but I still camp in the burbs on occasions.

I have a Supercheap shower too but I don't use it. When I mentioned a buicket I was talking about laundry. If I did not make that clear then that iwas my mistake.

Ok so if we are into friges then let me explain. I only have one battery. It is 90 amp hours and a cranking battery at that. Batteries don't like being drained below 60% of their capacity and a frig even conservatively will take about 2.5 amps per hour. Now for a 24 hour period that works out to 60 amps and that is more than I want to drain out of the battery for the reasons that I have mentioned. So rather than have hassles with that I have elected to do without.

I understand that most people have a second battery to cover for that but again you need to make sure that you have a recharge source for that and that is not the the way that I live. Yes, friges are expensive too and that makes them even less attractive. I guess it depends on whether you live in your car long term or not. If I was only doing it for weekends then yes I would get a frig too. I don't think though that most people do the sums to know.

In relation to your other comments, I was trying to explaiin to people that the car camping cum living is a real option without all the stigma attaching to it. To do that you have to make certain sacrifices which run against conventional thinking and it is a matter for the readers of this post to decide whether that is viable. for them.

Hey but I loved the pics and what you had to say will only help those people thinking about taking the plunge. By giving them alternatives.

To answer your query about where I stay mostly. I can say I used to look for places where I felt comfortable like marinas and boat harbours but over time with the friendships I have developed I now stay on the property of friends. That is something that has come about throuh the network that I have developed. There is a lot of friends to be made out there and unless you take the time (as I have) you can easily miss that opportunity.

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car camping

Postby wilbur » Thu Apr 13, 2006 10:42 am

Hey I agree that was soooome post.

Interesting. I am just wondering whether car camping gets a bit hairy at times depending on where you park. If you are just in the back of your car where you can't really sit and watch even TV what the hell do you do if you are in a spot where you don't want to be spotted? Lie there and just wait for sunrise? Bummer.

I get the impression you are trying a bit too hard to justify what you are doing. Sorry but whatever you might think car camping or whatever it is that you are into is not for everyone. I travelled up the East Coast of Oz once years ago with a girlfriend in the back of a Torana Hatchback with the ubeat little tent that came with it. While it was comfortable - it was still very sqeezt. Even then which was some years ago it was hard to find places to park so we just did it illegally. We didn't have a tarp or some way of sitting outside the car so yeah we did it tough. Fun tho.

You've put an interesting spin on it all. Sounds like it works for you too. Don't think too many women would accept the life though. But then you have not suggested that either. Most of us could prob do it 4 short periods of camping and more likely travelling but the rest ......Hmmmmm. From what I see most of the people who live in vehicles for long periods are usually set up with more room and there is probably good reason for that - its too cramped long term any other way.

Still you gave me plenty to think about and I read the full post too so obviously it kept my interest. IWhat you said made a lot of sense and it was comprehensive too. It may just be a wasted post here. Post is somewheres you can get more exposure and publicity. A lot of people could learn something.

Have a good one
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