Spending a night in the car. Dos, Don'ts and Stories.

Tony Laubach wrote:

Good morning from Ogallala.. yes, it's 6am, but sleeping in your car doesn't allow for a real easy time sleeping in.

This inspirational passage made me wonder what the best way is to spend a night in the car? Thankfully, I am not a seasoned veteran in this area and I'd like to hear your stories and how you get away with it. How do you pull it off? Rest area, truck stop, gas station...where? Any tips on increasing the comfort level and decreasing the violent murder potential?

My only real experience was travellling in Australia. Great country. Myself and two friends had to drive from Mackay, Queensland to Sydney in about 26 hours to catch a flight. We drove all day and into the night. When we all reached our physical limit we pulled over in a rest area (completely empty) for about 4 hours of sleep. We were in a sedan and remarkably I think we all got some sleep. Earlier that day we got the bad news that Australia was switching over to summer time that night. That was a big surprise since it meant one less hour to catch our flight. Yada yada yada...we made it to the airport.
Sleeping in a car for me is no problem, I could easily get some sleep on a pile of bricks :lol: I can sleep anywhere!

As of where, well, when I have no choice, a rest area is a good place or in a parking lot in a spot easily seen by anyone passing by...
I have slept in the car at rest areas on occasion while traveling the country. Just make sure to pick a somewhat well lit area for the safety reason, some protection wouldn't hurt either (not that kind of protection :lol: ). Do not park directly under a streetlamp ( for obvious reasons). One other thing to be real careful about is carbon monoxide poisoning if you run the vehicle for the heater or air conditioning.
Pop for a motel

Personally I stay away from rest stops due to the problem of "transient crime", crime activity that follows the highways and byways across country. These include drug activity, prostitution (just listen to the CB for awhile, you'll hear it too), public sex, assault, panhandling and theft.

I first started avoiding rest stops several years ago when one of main ones on Hwy 80 in Northern California experienced a series of rapes in the public restrooms. Rest stops are a magnet for loitering individuals soliciting sex on the premises, with possible drug, alcohol and needle use. Homeless individuals may also choose rest areas to live in their cars. Of course, homelessness is not a crime, but when I have stopped at rest areas (when out in the remote California desert and there's nothing else), there have been knocks on my window from panhandlers looking for money, or a sale of jewelry or small items.

Please dig around a little for crime stats on rest stops and just be aware & informed that they're not the safest place. Truckers are well informed on this subject, trucking associations may have recommendations for better sleep areas for drivers. Stormchasers drive nice vehicles, carry expensive gear and money for travel, making us appealing targets for thieves. Rest stops wouldn't be my first choice to shut my senses down for awhile.

The only reason I'd stop at a rest area these days is maybe to change a tire. If I had to pull over from driving exhaustion and couldn't find a motel anywhere, I'd choose a populated, well-lit area where it would be difficult to commit a crime without being obvious. Late at night in an unfamiliar town, I might even call the local sheriff's office and ask where would be a better place to pull over, if there were no motels available and not many options. My first choice though is to find a modern, well lit motel with good security.
I'm not one to sleep in the car at a rest stop, never know what kind of pyshco is lurking around waiting for his/her next victim.

But, if it came to having to sleep in my car I'd choose a parking lot at like a gas station, a 24hour fast food place, walmart, or something where there is lots of places... or heck perhaps there's a parking lot across the street from the police dept.. doubt much crime will happen there..
I have crashed in the chase vehicle on numerous occasions in rest stops, truck stop plazas, and walmart parking lots in TX, OK, KS and NE and have never once had any situation that made me feel unsafe. I usually try to park next to an RV that has also stopped there if there is one, but I have even stayed in remote rest stops. This year, Graham and I have done a lot of camping out too which added more fun to the trip as well as saving on costs!
Don' get me wrong, it has been many many years since I have stayed in one. Long before the crimes we have today. Would I do it today, heck no! Not without my 9mm. There are to many other safe places to stay.
Camping would be way more fun, most definitely. I know one of the stormchasers who loves camping so much, he bacame a park ranger! Camping, good idea. Besides, better stars 8)
Originally posted by Susan Strom
Camping would be way more fun, most definitely.

I routinely camp when I am out storm chasing. It has a few downsides (sometimes a lack of showers, often just pit toilets or, in general, nasty bathrooms, no high-speed data), but it certainly has great benefits (cheap, fun, beautiful, etc.,). Some of my best experiences on storm chase vacations in the past have been while I was camping. A lot of great stories seem to develop during those nights in the middle of Nowhere, Great Plains. Funny how I remember the camping nights more than the nights I spend in some standard Super 8, Days Inn, or Mom and Pop Inn.

Of course, I tend to camp in federal and state lands. A lot of the private campgrounds (e.g., KOA) can be expensive and noisy.

Btw, I use AAA's camp books. They are a great resource for finding camp grounds throughout the US. Plus, with your membership, they are free.

I have slept in a rest area once. I did not have any problems, but would not do it again. I was dead tired and literally could not drive one more mile.

Ahhh...there is always truckstops for showers and hi speed net access. :wink: PLUS a number of TX reststops are now beginning to have WIFI access!
I have to agree with David Drummond -- I've never had a problem finding a place to pull over to rest. Finding a safe place is astoundingly easy on the wide open Great Plains. The only area you do have to be careful with is Interstate rest stops and/or in cities, where I agree that a little sixth sense is needed.

Shannon and I have slept in the car at Interstate rest stops in rural Ohio and Indiana doing cross-country runs to New York and have never felt unsafe in any way. One time in Illinois when we weren't sure, we found a huge parking lot in the middle of nowhere in pitch blackness, turned off all the lights, and we were so well hidden that we could see any activity long before they'd see us. No problems.

Out on the Great Plains, you have it sweet. Just find a deserted ranch road, find a turnout, and enjoy sleeping underneath the starry sky. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

Susan mentions Marty Feely... he's certainly got the right idea. :)

I wonder if anyone has thought of camperizing a van,it could be a chase
van to sleep in.Might cut down the cost of staying at a hotel.I haven't
slept in a tent in years since i staked one on an ant hill in central
British Columbia.I have heard some tales about the fire ants down there
One of my dream cars would be a VW campervan. The new ones are so ugly but they have so many fun gadgets. The pop-up roof, swivel chairs, tables, fridge, stove, storage for everything, pretty much everything including the kitchen sink. They're fun to go play with at the dealer.
Well since my post started this thread, I guess I oughta pop in m two cents, eh..

My 1999 Mercury Tracer doesn't allow for much room to sprawl out. Although I have managed to squeeze myself and a partner in the car once at the same time, so it can't be too bad.

I can sleep anywhere, though! However, as of late, I have chosen 1 of 2 places; an interstate rest stop or a truck plaza area with WiFi access.

In Ogallala, I was able to access WiFi from my vehicle in the parking lot, so when I did wake up, not only could I pop open the lappy from the backseat without so much as stirring out of the car, but if I chose, I could pop into the building and get a cup of caffine and a donut and browse.

Interstate rest stops have been pretty good to me.. I've spent at least a dozen nights in my car at them this chase season, and its worked well. I tend to pack along my comforter and a pair of pillows just to add some comfort.

As for sleeping on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere, I haven't done that yet, although the thought of sleeping beneath the wide open night sky is quite tempting, but that would have me yearning for a tent. Perhaps that'll be my next piece of chase equipment! :)

I don't mind it.. sleeping overnight in the parking lot of a truck stop has basically all the needs that a cheap hotel room would offer; access to bathroom and shower, internet (via WiFi), a place to rest, and quick access to food/drink. For a cost cutting chaser like myself, its hard to argue with the price of sleeping out of the backseat. I figure as long as I can sleep anywhere, I will! :D
Some of the replies in this thread say a lot about the climate of fear Americans seem to live in (Ever see Moore's 'Bowling for Columbine??')...

The fact that your chances of getting raped or murdered in your car being very low (though indeed, likely higher than in a motel) notwithstanding, it is a good idea to take some precautions.

1.) Try to cover your windows where people might see you. For me, this is psychological, I live alone yet still close my bedroom door at night. I don't want to be seen while sleeping.

2.) Rest areas- I have to wonder how much of the 'rest area crimes' is an urban legend. Even so, you can always pick a rest area where there are a lot of trucks spending the night.

3.) Walmart parking lots? Many are filled with RVs at the end of their lots.

4.) Truckstops- my first choice. Wifi access, showers*, food. Open 24 hours, lots of people about, but usually large enough to find a dim corner of the lot where you won't be disturbed.

I look at the Outback as sort of a camping-type vehicle. When you put the passenger-side back seat portion down, you're left with a generous flat bed on which to roll out a sleeping bag, some sheets and pillows. I'm not sure where the 'taboo' of sleeping in a vehicle comes from. It is usually a more sturdy structure than a tent, and will likely be my "motel" of choice when out in Arizona and New Mexico this Monsoon season.

* - I've heard that some truckstops only allow showers to truckers who gas up with tons of fuel first. I heard this from a friend who once tried showering at an AmBest truck center. I've had no problems at a Flying J and a Petro truck stop. Anyone else ever been denied cleanliness?

Mike---I have an Outback too. The passenger seat folding down is pretty cool. I leave it in that configuration when I am chasing (assuming I am alone). It makes a great cradle for my laptop and paper maps and even with leather seats the sliding isn't a problem. Not to mention the Outback has a built in weather band radio and in my model an outdoor thermometer. BTW, I took off my factory rack last chase and was getting 28mpg's....well above advertised for the 3 liter. It wasn't just the rack that improved my mileage, I used a lot of other techniques.

Some of the replies in this thread say a lot about the climate of fear Americans seem to live in (Ever see Moore's 'Bowling for Columbine??')...

I'm not a big fan of Moore but I loved that movie. I'm not a fearful person in general. I know a lot about mathematics, statistics, and reality. For those people living in constant fear I think "Bowling For Columbine" is the right prescription. It points out how ridiculous the media is and how they just feed on people's fear. One last thing, Moore failed to mention that the USA has 14 times as many people than Canada, kind of an imprortant detail.
Mike wrote -
climate of fear Americans seem to live in (Ever see Moore's 'Bowling for Columbine??'

Hmm. Interesting. I am not familiar - is it a worthwhile film?

Have to interject though that I don't agree that Americans live in a climate of "fear". Vigilance, perhaps, but not fear. Americans are pretty rational and discerning. Most know that TV and media hype is just that.

My feeling is that perceptions (to avoid crime, such as in rest areas) are influenced by where you live, where you grow up. Some of us have spent our whole lives in big cities (for me San Francisco, Sacramento, then Phoenix, now the 5th largest city in the country). With that comes an awareness of urban surroundings and things that go on. Personal experiences teach a person (like what it's like to be chased on a downtown street or locked in a Wells Fargo during a holdup, which I have). That doesn't cause "fear" though, just more of an urban acuity to the realities of life in a high population area.

"Fear", in the context of simple animal instinct, can be honed as a tool, which can help a person avoid becoming the victim of a crime. In other words, if you don't like what you "feel", you can obey your gut instinct and get out. If you don't like the vibes you might be sensing from a rest area at night, don't park there. If you don't like what you see on an elevator, don't get on. You may have just avoided a crime.

Something I enjoy, I'm a production volunteer in my local police department's crime prevention winter program. The classes we do are "Self-Awareness" (development of gut instinct 'street smart' skills) and "Night Detective" (crime assessment/witness ID and trial). The PD does a really good job teaching them (they're actually interactive classes). I enjoy helping, even if it's a small role and I can only do it after work.

I am not a fearful person either, but urban awareness from living in big cities always goes with me even if I'm spending the night in a town where people don't lock their doors.
Originally posted by B Ozanne
Mike---I have an Outback too. The passenger seat folding down is pretty cool. I leave it in that configuration when I am chasing (assuming I am alone). It makes a great cradle for my laptop and paper maps and even with leather seats the sliding isn't a problem.

Ah, I think you're talking about something different, but it is a good idea. I was talking about how the rear seats fold forwards- it's not simply half and half, the right side of the rear seat fold-down is wider than the right side, so you don't need to fold the whole back seat down to have sleeping room.

Interesting thought about the front seat, though. Never thought of that. I constantly have maps on top of the laptop and all over the place, but that sounds like a good space-saving idea.

I've only camped out in the car a few times, but no problems so far. I like to be able to rearrange the gear so I can put down the back seat and have a space for a sleeping bag. Usually lock the vehicle, crack the windows and open the moon roof. Also - if the option is available and I know the frontal boundary, I try to go to the backside of any fronts to get into the cooler air (hoping they don't retreat much during the night) ... it's just more comfortable. Since I'm chasing anyway, chances are that the front has passed during the course of the day. Just can't sleep in a stuffy car ... also have a little battery-operated fan for camping that I bring with me.
Most truck stops that have showers rent them out, no reason to deny them, tho if you fill up 500 gallons of fuel they might toss in a shower as a premium :lol:
I have slept in vehicles more times than I can count. In my younger days, it was camping and the Grateful Dead, these days it's still camping, and road trips (my chasing is usaully day chasing, can't get enough time off at work).
I've slpet in compact cars (bad for the back), the ubiquitous VW microbus, custom conversion vans, and pickups with caps (that one's my fave. I had an inflatable port to seal the gap between the cab and cap window, and ran vacccuum hose from the vents to bring A/C into the bed for comfy summer slumber)

Never had a problem in almost 20 years of trvelling. Although these days, I enjoy the company of Mr. Mossberg or Mr. Remington on the long road trips. Never had to even think about digging him out of his cubby, bit it's nice for piece of mind.

And, if it's a real bust day, grab a thrower and shoot some skeet, it beats riding around a cornfield singing "Oh what a beautiful morning" =)

"Fear", in the context of simple animal instinct, can be honed as a tool, which can help a person avoid becoming the victim of a crime. In other words, if you don't like what you "feel", you can obey your gut instinct

I am not a fearful person either, but urban awareness from living in big cities always goes with me even if I'm spending the night in a town where people don't lock their doors.[/quote]

I had never lived in a metro area until moving here. Fear, big time. I have learned to rationalize it and turn it into more of a "watch your back" type of awareness. Even while living in Smallville, USA I did lock my doors everynight. Crime is everywhere, not just in the higher populated areas. And I agree about the gut instict, if it don't feel right...
I can tell you the best spot ever to spend the night in the car where absolutely 100% no one will ever bug you or attack you. (or come to the rescue for that matter!) Rock Road just 1/2 mile west of Highway 81 in N. KS. (just south of Belleville, KS) During a chase there in May, I managed to get stuck in some mud on the bottom of the hill there. 9 hours later I finally got a tow truck in there to get me out. It was rather frustrating to be stuck there during all the excitement, but I did manage to get a little bit of sleep. But yeah, I didn't have any worries about the bad guys or people watching me sleep. So you might try that sometime if you're strapped for cash. :)

Up here in South Dakota rest areas are generally a GOOD place to stop, since about 50% have Highway Patrol squad stations at them. Those seem to be the good ones to pick. Other than those, here in SD there really haven't been many crimes at rest areas. I think the only bad thing I can remember is about 6 years ago there were a series of thefts on I-90, but that dude was apprehended in WY somewhere.
Ya know whats horrifying is being awoke by a police officer rapping on your window with his flashlight when your sawing logs.. lol..
i can imagine what hes thinking too with the wild hair and the drool .. lol