How to Stay Cool When Sleeping in a Car

While planning my summer trip, which I would embark on in my RAV4 camper conversion, I came to terms with the fact I would have to sleep in some of the country’s hottest places. Most of us who go out on extended road trips do so in the summer months for various reasons, and therefore: how to stay cool when sleeping in a car becomes a very important thing to think about. In this article I’ll share some of the techniques and systems I built before leaving to prepare for places still in the 90’s with the sun down.

With just a few strategically placed fans, enough open windows, knowledge on how to cool your own body naturally, and picking proper bedding materials, sleeping in extremely hot and humid places becomes bearable, if not sometimes enjoyable.

Passive vs. Active

Before I start telling you which fans I bought or how to cool your body naturally, let’s get into a little theory which will help explain concepts presented in this article.

And you can trust me on this topic because: I’m a rocket scientist, and I know thermodynamics! Well, actually I’m an aeronautical engineer, meaning atmospheric vehicle designer. “Airplane designer” doesn’t have the same oomph as “rocket scientist” and the two degree paths take the same thermodynamics classes, so give me a break…

There are two fundamental ways we can cool the interior of a car camper: passively and actively. Passive meaning that the air is not cooled directly, and active meaning that air is actively cooled. An example of these could be: a car’s air conditioner unit actively cools the air, and a fan or open window passively allows heat to escape. The fan only moves the air around, but does not add or subtract heat energy. An AC unit pulls heat and humidity from the air and expels that heat outside of the cooled space.

How to stay cool when sleeping in a car

Active systems can obtain nearly any desired temperature, but consume lots of power doing so. While passive systems can usually only equalize the temperatures between two spaces through a boundary. Most of the topics I’ll cover in this article will be passive cooling systems. I’ll talk about one active cooling solution at the end of this article, and why you might not want to use it.


Why should you care? Regardless of outside air temperature, cooling is important for car campers because the human body is a heater. If you keep all the windows closed, the car’s interior can easily reach tens of degrees over the ambient temperature. Personally, I don’t like the sound of the 90° forecast turning into 110° in my car, so what can we do about this?

Well, the first option would be to use the car to actively cool the interior space. But, running your car’s AC and engine all night is… completely impractical. My car burns about a quarter tank every two hours on idle with the AC on. That means in only eight hours I would have an empty tank, and a $50 per night gas bill (using average gas prices). Running your car’s AC or a portable unit is also only possible with a battery the size of every available free space in your car.

Even full sized class A RV’s don’t use battery power to run their AC units, they use generators. Running a generator outside your car in a Walmart parking lot doesn’t lend itself to the word “stealthy.” If your car can do better than mine and you have the money to spend, then go for it! But be aware of the potential security risks of a running car and that some states have made it illegal to sleep in running vehicles.

Now let’s go back to those passive solutions. If we can’t bolt on an AC unit to the car then, as I said above, the best we can do is equalize the interior and exterior temperatures. By cracking windows and using fans to push hot air out of the car this is actually very achievable, but kind of discouraging…

Air Circulation

When I found out the best cooling I could do would be to match the car’s interior to the exterior air temperature, I became discouraged to visit states with high night time temps. Lucky though, there is something else that we can do to lower the perceived temperature without active cooling. Because the body radiates heat, a thin layer of air around the body is always warmer than the surroundings. Even in extreme cold, exposed bare skin can keep significantly warmer than the air if… there is no wind.

Wind chills are what make cold exposure dangerous, because the wind strips this warm air layer away from the skin and exposes the body to full cold. This “feels like” temperature, as it’s often called, is important to look at in winter forecasts, and is extremely useful to us trying to stay cool when sleeping in a car. If we can strip the warm air away from the skin intentionally, then our bodies will perceive the air as about 20° colder than what it really is.

A fan can easily do this. Creating artificial wind not only helps to circulate air and prevent heat pockets from stagnating, but it also lowers our perception of how hot it really is. On really hot nights I direct the fan’s airflow straight onto me. Using this technique while also having a system to expel hot air from the car is what has allowed me to sleep well during extremely hot nights. Now let me show you how I do it.

Vent Fans

Hot air rises. I think everyone knows that. However, when I remind myself of this simple fact, so much makes sense. When designing a car camper for stealthy summer trips, taking a look into the car with this knowledge can reveal a lot. Where’s the highest point in the ceiling? What features of the car can trap heat from escaping? Is cracking open some windows enough?

Your car could be like mine, where the tops of the window frames are several inches lower than the ceiling. This raised ceiling acts like a bowl for hot air and if not dealt with the hot air will displace the cold causing unnecessary heating throughout the night (this is a good thing in the winter, more on that in a future post!).

If I could, I would cut a huge square hole in the top of my car and install a Fan-tastic Fan, which are the extractor fans seen in RVs and van conversions. But as it is, I don’t want to permanently alter my car. There were two options that I saw to get rid of this hot air: use the sunroof or pull the hot air down and out of the windows.

My 2009 Toyota RAV4 has a sunroof. It can either be opened all the way, or while it’s close the back edge can crack open about three quarters of an inch. Unfortunately, this opening is way too small to let the hot air naturally escape. I wanted to use this feature to get rid of hot air stuck inside, since the sunroof opening was very discreet. I could build a ducted fan to push air from inside the car, out that small slot in the sunroof. Similarly, this could also be put into the side windows if your car doesn’t have a sunroof.

How to stay cool when sleeping in a car

By pushing out hot air from the car these vent fans also pull fresh air through the other open windows, which then sinks and fills the sleeping area. In theory, this kind of fan is probably the most important tool when trying to stay cool when sleeping in a car.

My 3D Printed Vent Fans

I wanted my vent fans to be compact, able to be run off of a USB battery pack, nearly silent, and still be powerful enough to flush out the hot air quickly. I found this set of fans designed to be used to cool a gaming cabinet: Amazon Link. The fans are run off of USB power and had a very low amperage draw of about 1 amp hour. This amp draw meant with my 20,000 mah or 20 amp hour battery pack (Amazon Link) I could run the fans for about 20 hours, plenty for overnight use.

With parts in-hand, I designed shrouds to fit each fan to my car’s sunroof opening:

how to stay cool when sleeping in a car. how to stay cool when sleeping in a car

The design was done in a program called OnShape. It’s a web based, free to use CAD program and it’s also very easy to use. They don’t pay me anything, but I like the software so much I try to promote them a s much as possible, so here’s a link:

Anyway, I had to design the ducts to be printed in halves since they were too big to fit on my 3D printer. Also, they were calculated to use more than 40% of a 1kg roll of plastic, so I decided to print each half in a different color so I could save some of each color for later.

Each half took 7 hours to print, so that’s about 28 hours to print the set (not including setup and filament changing).

Once a print was done, I removed it from the bed and broke out the support material. This was added so the inside walls would be defined and not all droopy from the printing process.

Each half was then screwed onto the fans, which is the main way the two sides were held together. I added some very sticky masking tape to the seam preventing misalignment and air leakage. Then I removed the fans and spray painted the shrouds to match.

Adding the fans back on, you can see that I left the tape on there to help hold the assembly together.

Cleaning up the wires a little with zip ties:

And here’s the finished product! The fans nest together really well, and the cord works great to tie them together. In this view you can also see the extended flange on the top of each shroud. This flange hooks onto the edge of the sunroof frame holding the fans in place (in theory…).

Finally, here’s what the vent fans look like when placed in the sunroof opening, as seen from my DIY RAV4 Conversion Youtube Video.

Some Future Vent Fan Improvements

While these vent fans did work great, I have had some issues with them too. Three main problems were revealed to me shortly after I started sleeping in my car: the material choice was poor, I needed a better way to lock them into the sunroof opening,  and the fans were too big.

I used PLA plastic to print the vent fan shrouds. This is a really nice plastic to print, partially due to its low melting temperature. This also meant that it had a low structural temperature limit. English? The plastic tended to melt from the heat of a car sitting in sunlight. Several times, a found the shrouds all misshapen and had to reform them into a usable shape. One time it was so bad I had to borrow a hair dryer to get them to even fit back into the sunroof opening.

This constant reshaping also contributed to the vent fans falling down from their perch regulartly. A few times one even hit me in the face! That flange that rested against the sunroof window frame was not large enough to ensure the security of the fans. Later in the trip I discovered that I could slowly lower the sunroof and pinch the fans in place. I’d like to avoid this behavior though because I don’t want to but any stress on the window or motors.

Finally, while designing these I realized the fans were too big, but continued anyway. When designing a duct like this, you want to keep the input and output areas the same to ensure good airflow. The largest I could make the sunroof side of the duct would be 27″ by 0.75″, that’s 20.25 square inches. Dividing that area in half is 10.125 square inches, and the diameter of a circle with that same area is 3.6″. The fans I chose have a diameter of 4.7″. This means I could have used smaller fans to get the same airflow with less power and sound. I realized this after feeling a lot of back pressure escape around the fan blades while the vent operated. The fans were forcing in 70% more air then the ducts could actually pass through. This is a bit nit picky, but something I will probably update in the future.

I’m currently working on a version of these vent fans that can be built by hand with readily available materials. I’ll release plans and instruction to this website once I’m done, so be sure to check back here or join my mailing list to receive updates.

Interior Fans

When searching for a fan to accompany me inside my car camper, I had a few requirements in mind. The fan needed to be quiet, so I could sleep easily. It also needed to be powerful, to get air moving fast. Through my experiences at several summer camps, I also knew I wanted a fan that was rechargeable opposed to lugging along boxes of D cell batteries

Luckily, I was able to find a fan that met all those criteria: the O2COOL 10 inch Smart Power Fan (Amazon Link). It has an internal 5 hour duration rechargeable battery and can be loaded with a handful of D cells for a total of 56 hours of runtime off the alkalines. It comes with a 12V car adaptor for charging. The fan is very powerful and quiet enough that I never had a problem while sleeping with it.

5 hours doesn’t sound great for the rechargeable, but the smart power feature automatically switches between the batteries when one becomes low. The fan will always use the rechargeable battery first and then switch to the D cells. Similarly, if the fan is plugged into the DC power supply then it’ll use that to run the fan and recharge the batteries at the same time.

I was able to charge the fan everyday which meant I only used 3 hours of the alkalines per night instead of 8 hours. Also, the 5 hour rating is for the high setting, when I ran the fan on low, the rechargeable lasted about 8 hours. This feature allowed me to fill the fan with a set of D cells that lasted months, I carried along a second set and never touched them on my travels.

I do have a few gripes with this fan that I think are important to share. The indicator lights are brighter than the sun! So, I simply put a layer of gaffers tape over them all and that fixed that.

My other gripe: the fan can sometimes drain its rechargeable battery without being on. There is a four position mode switch on the side, from bottom up it reads: OFF, SLOW, STOP (which is the position used to charge the batteries without the fan running), and FAST. If the switch is on OFF while the adaptor is plugged in then it won’t charge. And if you accidentally leave the fan in STOP, the USB port on the side used for charging external devices will drain the rechargeable battery. I’ve forgotten about it several times and found the rechargeable battery never charged, or it drained after I left it in STOP for too long. Now that I know these things though, I am more careful and they rarely happens.

If you don’t want to mess with the rechargeability, O2COOL also makes roughly the same 10 inch fan that is just battery powered which is also a great option (Amazon Link).


One aspect of staying cool while sleeping in a car that I totally overlooked was how I set up my bed. Personally I don’t like sleeping with just a sheet on me, I’d rather just not have anything, so I only brought a blanket. But, the much more important consideration I overlooked was the fabric choice I went with for my bedding. I used a set of cotton jersey sheets and pillowcases, terrible terrible idea.

Jersey fabric is a knit fabric used for T-Shirts. The fabric is very soft, comfortable, and warm! The texture of your bedding plays a big role on how hot you will be in it. Soft fabrics like knits, microfibers, fleece are all great insulators, which is exactly what we don’t want. Try finding some 500 to 600 thread count or higher sheets that you like. These will be smoother, less grabby, and feel colder than the previously mentioned insulators.

I don’t have any product suggestion to show you since it’s all personal preference. But, I would recommend finding a set of Twin sheets you like and using safety pins to fix it to your cot size mattress (Amazon Link) instead of trying to find a cot sized set, which are hard to find and more expensive.

Personal Preparations

As I mentioned above, there are several simple things that can be done prior to crawling into bed to help keep the human body cool while sleeping in a car. The first of these concerns dinner. Eating a small dinner or skipping the meal entirely will decrease your bodies ability to warm itself. The digestive system is a very powerful heater and needs to be considered on those especially hot nights.

TirNaNog Salad

If you can’t bare not eating, try to consume cold, light foods and do so several hours before bed. For example, salads, sandwiches, celery or carrots (The image above is a kale and turnip salad with avocado vinaigrette dressing I made while WWOOFing with Tir-na-nOg farms in Maine.). Snacks and sustenance like these will prevent the furnace of the body from firing up and keep you cool through the night.

Another preparation that saved me several times while sleeping in my car was: taking a shower before bed. I would keep a gym membership while traveling through populous areas and their showers there were always a welcome sight. I’ll talk in depth on how to find showers while on the road in a future post.

Getting clean right before bed makings your bedding feel all the more comfortable and inviting. The leftover moisture on skin and hair will also evaporate slowly which will create additional cooling. And when you wake up, you’re ready for the next day!

Finally, I would usually keep some chilled water in my cooler which I could dump into my HydroFlask (Amazon Link) to keep the water cold through the night. Taking sips of this while starting to fall asleep does a lot to cool off the body. Of course drinking too much causes other problems that have to be dealt with later on in the night, but a few sips go a long way.

With all these preparations, I never sweated on even the hottest nights. Especially with taking a shower right before bed, I would only feel a sensation of warmth similar to being under a blanket, but it wasn’t enough to make me sweat. This feeling of warmth was actually very enjoyable and I came to appreciate sleeping on those especially hot nights. I find these intentionalities highly overlooked and invaluable to know.

Evaporative Coolers

Now we finally get to the only active cooling option of this post. You’ve probably heard of evaporative coolers, also known as a “swamp cooler”. They cool the air by pulling it through a moist sponge material that adds water to the air. The act of evaporating water from the evaporation pad, cooles the air at various rates. A swamp cooler can knock down the air temperature by up to 20 degrees at optimal conditions, and the same unit can humidify and heat the air in most other conditions, let me explain.

Evaporative coolers only work really well if the air doesn’t already contain water. If it’s really dry, adding a bit of humidity to the air will pleasantly cool there air while also taking off that edge of dryness. Conversely, swamp coolers can’t add more water to air that’s fully saturated already. Running an evaporative cooler when the ambient humidity is close to 100% (as it routinely gets to at night on the east coast) will only feel like a fan since no water can be evaporated from the evaporation pad.

So if you’re planning a trip to a destination with a hot and dry climate then you should definitely get an evaporative cooler! Well, not so fast. There’s one other caveat to this active system. These units don’t act like air conditioners. If operated in a closed space, the ambient humidity will just keep increasing. Water vapor is a great insulator and will immediately start heating the space, while the swamp cooler is no longer able to produce cold air, and the interior walls are getting soaked with condensation. To avoid this scenario, lots of airflow in and out of the space is required to keep the air’s humidity down, so the evaporative cooler can stay effective.

I have not added a swamp cooler to my setup yet, maybe I will if I take some trips to the desert… But, if you think having an evaporative cooler is still useful to you, here’s the best portable unit I’ve seen so far: Amazon Link.


I hope that I’ve shown in this article that it’s possible to get through the really hot nights of a summer road trip with a handful of preparations. By opening your windows as much as you can, using some kind of vent fan, having a good interior fan, preparing your body by showering, eating light, and drinking cold water, even the hottest most humid nights can still be bearable. Alternatively, you could follow the advice from my How to Sleep Comfortably in A Car Article, where I suggest planning trips to climates you’d like to be in. Even so, at least you are now prepared for the worst!

One last piece of advice: There will be nights that are just too hot to get a full nights sleep from. No matter how well you prepare, you will probably miss some sleep. For this reason, I kept a hammock in my car at all times. The thin breathable nylon allows full air circulation above and below the body. Setting this up below a shady tree in the middle of the day, I’ve taken some much needed naps outside my solar powered oven of a car. I highly recommend these to people thinking of living out of a car because a hammock can give you a larger sense of living space. Anyway, here the setup I use: ENO Double Nest (Amazon Link) and ENO Atlas Chroma Hammock Straps (Amazon Link) (Pst.. they have more colors than just red, so you can get one to match your car too!)

How do you keep cool when sleeping in your car? Did I miss something? Comment below, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Make The Best Privacy Window Covers – Complete Guide

Privacy Window Cover

Privacy was probably my number one concern when considering living out of my car. I didn’t want anyone to be able to look through my windows and see me lying in there, for reasons of safety and of not being caught and asked to leave wherever I was parked. I also didn’t want to be woken up by excess light coming from passing cars or even the rising sun. So all together, I needed privacy window covers that blocked out all light, were easy to setup, simple to store, and were difficult for anyone outside to know they were in place. And that’s exactly what I made!

In this post I’ll discuss in detail what I made, how I did it, some problems I had, and what I did to solve them. Of everything I’ve learned about sleeping in a car, these privacy window covers are probably the thing I’m most excited to share since I think it’s so important and so equally overlooked. Let’s get started!

The Idea

I had a general idea of what I wanted to make. I knew I was going to use a material called Reflectix (basically a metallic bubble-wrap used in housing insulation, Here’s a link to the one I bought) and I would wrap the Reflectix in some kind of fabric to make it more appealing to look at from the inside and indistinguishable from the window from the outside. I was planning to use a spray adhesive like 3M’s Super 77 (Amazon Link), but I wasn’t sure how to affix the edges of the fabric, either sewing them or using two layers of Reflectix and trapping the raw edges between the two panels. Besides figuring these details out, I had some other concerns.

The Problem with Reflectix

As an engineer, I had to look at all of these materials to see if they would work for my application. I wanted to use Reflectix because it’s what everyone else was using to insulate their vans and car campers. But, I found that it’s actually not very good for this application.

Reflectix is a composite insulation system usually used in basement ceilings and between roof trusses. It only has an insulative “R” value when it is allowed to have an air gap between two panels of the material. This trapped air is how the insulation works. In our application as vehicle dwellers, placing this right up against the hot metal walls of a van or against a window, it only acts as a radiation barrier and doesn’t actually do much to prevent heat from passing right through from either side.

That all being said, I couldn’t think of another material rigid and yet flexible for pushing these into the window sills of my car and then storing them. I could have used foam board, but those would have broken after a few uses and any other rigid material wouldn’t contour to the window’s curves. So even though I knew I wouldn’t get as much insulation as I could from this material, I continued to use Reflectix through this project.


Okay, with all that planning stuffs for these privacy window covers out of the way, my first step was to go out to my car and make paper templates of the windows. I happen to have a giant roll of brown paper which made this easy, but you could use poster board, flattened out paper shopping bags, or piecemeal printer paper. The goal is to get an accurate template of each window shape in the car. And since the two door and back side windows are symmetric I only had to take one template of each.

Privacy Window Cover

If you look closely, you might notice that I didn’t take a template of the front windshield. This was intentional. I already have a reflective cover for my windshield, and so I didn’t feel the need to make my own. And more importantly, people expect to see those kinds of window covers already, it would be strange to see a cars entire front window blacked out by my privacy window cover.

Anyway, now it was time to buy all of the material. I used the paper templates to measure the size of fabric I would need to cover the pieces and headed over to JoAnn Fabrics. Originally, I wanted to purchase felt because it would have great light absorbing properties, and I still think it would be a great choice. But, JoAnn’s had some fleece on sale at the time for about half the price of the felt. I purchased a couple yards of black (for the outward facing side) and an equal amount of white (for the inside).

Privacy Window Cover

Before I started making all the covers, I wanted to test out my idea. So, I took the smallest window template in the car and cut out a few Reflectix panels that matched the template, and then cut out each fabric color with about an inch of overlap. Then came the trial and error part…

Remember how I said I wanted to sew these? Well I actually tried it. Wrapped the fabric around a single layer of Reflectix and tucked the edges of the white fabric and placed that on top of the open edges of black fabric and the exposed Reflectix. If your keeping score, that’s now four layers of heavy fleece and a layer of Reflectix. Which my sewing machine didn’t want anything to do with. The stack was way to thick and too squishy to be moved through the feed-dogs of my machine. So, I had to scrap that idea and moved to plan B.

Taking two layers of reflectix now, I used the Super 77 spray adhesive to attach the fabric to each separate piece of Reflectix. Then, I again used the spray adhesive to attach the two panels together, trapping the raw edges of the fabric between the panels. This looked much cleaner and was surprisingly sturdy, not feeling like it would fall apart.

Privacy Window Cover

Now with one finished, I couldn’t help myself from taking it out to my car and popping it into the window to see how it looked.

Privacy Window Cover

The interior looked really nice with the white fabric. It made the space feel a bit more roomy having those in there opposed to a darker color. And the cover did a great job of wedging into the window sill and didn’t need any other help staying put.  The picture below requires a bit of explaining to know how awesome it is!

Privacy Window Cover

I have all my lights on in the car and they are pretty bright. You can see into the car through the back door window, and directly to the right of that is the window with the cover in it. That big piece of black, the the right of the image, framed by the red metal skin of the car should be as see through as the other window in the shot, but it’s not! It actually took me a second to realize where I had put up the test privacy window cover, because it worked so well in preventing light in or out.

The only way to tell it was there was to shine a flashlight directly into the window and look closely to see the fabric behind the glass. Barring that, it was completely undetectable. With this success in and, I continued with the rest of the covers!


Privacy Window Cover

Using the paper templates I took earlier, I cut out two panels of Reflectix per window. One tip that I can give if you want to use this same construction, orient the creases in the Reflectix to be perpendicular in each panel. Because this material is sold rolled up, there are creases and folds that can’t be removed. If you cut your pieces so that these creases are 90° apart from eachother it will yield a much more rigid panel. The careful reader will notice that I failed to do this, so definitely listen to Lucas of the future on this one!

Privacy Window Cover

It was also important to stay organized since all the panels looked similar and could have easily become mixed when proceeding to cover each panel in fabric. Above you can see me using a Sharpie to denote inside/outside layers and right/left side for the the applicable panels.

Privacy Window Cover

I was really glad to have taken all of these cutouts to my car for a dry fit. Almost all of them didn’t fit properly, and with the help of my scissors I reshaped them all to best fit the windows, keeping in mind that the fabric would also add some interference between the covers and the window frames.

While I was down at the car, I also took note of the covers that were directly contacting a steel door frame. On these sides I planned to add magnets to better hold in the covers.

Privacy Window Cover

With all the planning accomplished, I began the long process of tracing all the panels onto the fabric leaving about a 1 inch of allowance to be wrapped around the edge of the Reflectix.

Privacy Window Cover

Privacy Window Cover

Privacy Window Cover

With all the fabric cut out, I started the process of attaching it to the Reflectix using the Super 77 spray adhesive (Amazon Link). I placed small rare earth magnets (like these: Amazon Link) on the edges of the Reflectix and folded over the fabric edges using scissors to make small cuts around the curves and corners allowing the fabric to sit flat. I was very careful to note which panel of each pair went on the outside and which went on the inside. Because, when I cut the Reflectix to match the car during the dry fit, it made all the panels slightly different.

Privacy Window Cover

Marking with a Sharpie the location of each panel was very helpful, just make sure not to put markings on the side where the white fabric is attached. The black on silver shows right through and I had to disassemble some of the panels to clean this up.

With the fabric attached on both halves of each panel, I used the same spray adhesive to join the halves, making sure all the edges lined up. The Super 77 spray adhesive is a contact cement, so make sure to let the two sides dry a little before pushing them together.

Privacy Window Cover Construction


As soon as I finished all the panels I ran down to the car and pushed them all into place. They were very easy to locate since they all could only go in one way now with the black sides facing outwards and the white sides facing inwards. I took a video of the results as seen below:

Privacy Window Cover

I was sitting in my car in the middle of the day. Those touch lights are not very bright, but because the window covers blocked out all the light, they were needed to see inside the car! You can really see the effectiveness of the when I open the door. I have my regular reflective front window cover up, and its light seal isn’t as good as the covers I made.

Shortly after I finished the window covers, I set up the sleeping space in the car and went to sleep in the parking lot of my apartment to test out some of my systems. I learned a lot from that simple test!

Privacy Window Cover Test

It proved to me that the window covers blocked out a lot of light that would have kept me awake. They also isolated me from some of the road noise and foot traffic outside my vehicle. The black fabric also worked perfectly and the car looked like any other parked car in the apartment lot. And some more icing on the cake, the fleece fabric of the covers absorbed excess moisture and prevented the windows from fogging! This would also mean I would have to make sure they could dry, or I would risk molding (this never became a problem). However, even though the window covers were exceptional at blocking out everything I wanted, I quickly realized that they also blocked out the air.

First Problem

I had all my windows cracked open as far as they could go and still be covered by the rain guards on my car. I initially though that air would seep through the edges of the window covers and that would allow circulation, but air is much lazier than that. In my test, I bent the top edge of the window covers down to open the interior of the car to the outside air. But, the semi-rigid stacks of Reflectix and fabric always bounced back into a flat sheet. I wanted to still be able to press the window covers in flat to block out all light, but I needed a way to hold the top edges down while I slept.

My solution was to use some thick armature wire (Amazon Link) to build an internal, bendable structure in each panel that was over an opening window. Below you can see the type of wire I’m talking about. It’s very pliable and can be bent over and over again without breaking.

Privacy Window Cover Wire

I arranged the wire in a zig-zag pattern of roughly four inch by five inch rectangles all the way along the length of the panel where the window opened.

Privacy Window Cover

I simply pealed apart the two halves of each window cover, and then placed in the wire, and used some more spray adhesive to join everything back together.

Privacy Window Cover

The finished covers would now bend and stay in place, letting is as much air as I wanted!

Privacy Window Cover

Having the tops of the window covers not be in contact with the car window frames made some of them not want to stay in place. This made them a little more finicky to setup (especially when opening and closing doors) than I would have liked, but I got the hang of it after a little while.

Some More Problems

I was staying with some family right before I left on my trip to Maine. We had a chance to go camping and I thought it would be a good opportunity to have another test of the car. At the time everything was loaded in that I would be taking with me. Right away, I noticed a fairly big problem. Having all the window covers bent to let in air worked really great, but they also created huge entrances for bugs. This completely escaped my mind, and would be a major problem in the mosquito infested state I would be heading to.

So I improvised a solution, adding store bought fabric tulle, framed it with way to expensive velcro, and added the assemble to the tops of the window covers. The idea was to fold open the window cover and attach the netting around the opening. The headliner in my car could be used as the loop side of the velcro.

Privacy Window Cover

This was a good short term fix, but the modification had so many problems I won’t bother to show the construction. The tulle was way too weak, the velcro started to tear up my headliner, and the covers would fall out of the frames when I opened a doors because they were attached to the ceiling. They did keep bugs out of the car, but let in more and more as the netting wore.

Privacy Window Cover

Another annoyance I found well into the trip, was if I left the covers up for an extended period, the Reflectix would loose its rigidity. So the covers would just fall out or have trouble just going up. I had to take them down regularly and massage the edges of the window covers to flatten out the Reflectix to make them fit again.

Future Improvements

Even with all the above problems, I still think these privacy window covers suited me very well, and continue to with some adjustments. The black fabric was more effective than I could have ever imagined. Also, I now know that I can get plenty of airflow from just four cracked windows, even in a southern summer. I’m working on making a much better version of these privacy window covers, and producing plans on how to make them for any vehicle, so watch out for that!

Did I miss something? Do you have a better solution to cover your windows? I’d love to hear your questions and comments on this content below!


How to Sleep Comfortably in a Car – My Experience

Being able to sleep comfortably in a car relies on finding a location that has plenty of light to stay safe, not a lot of sound, and in a region with mild outside temperatures. It’s also important to make sure you and your setup are ready to sleep as soon as your head hits the pillow.

Probably the first concern I had when thinking about living in my car was my uncertainty towards sleep quality. Sleep is incredibly important to me, so traveling or the possibility working a full-time job would be out of the question if I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep. Here, I share some of my thought process to build my setup, and how I found that sleeping in my car was actually more comfortable at times than my bed at home!

Location Location Location

By far the most important factor to getting a good night’s sleep is where you park your bedroom. Now I’m not talking about the specific store or public space you park at. That’s a topic for another article. But, I’m talking about general location and what that location offers you. Is there a forecast for rain that evening? What’s the outside temperature like? Is it humid or dry? Are there lots of bugs?

Just like making sure the thermostat is set to your favorite sleeping temperature at home (as long as your roommate doesn’t wake and changes it to the tropical setting), you can pick and choose where you park or travel based on the weather and temperature of that location.

Of course, this isn’t always going to be as consistent as your thermostat (mine was never consistent when my roommate was home), but it’s still smart to at least look at the temperature of where you’re planning to take a trip or where you’d like to work.

Checking the Weather

And I can share a tip to do this. You can look at immediate forecasts to get a sense of what it will be like when you get there, as long as you know if it’s getting colder or hotter week to week. But I like to use a feature in the weather app Dark Sky called Time Machine (scroll down to the bottom of the forecast page to see this feature). It uses meteorological history to give you a better idea of what the weather will be in the months or weeks you’ll be there.

When you do look at weather data, remember that the peak temperature doesn’t matter at all. Unless you want to take naps during the day, which I would recommend a hammock for. We care about the temperature right after sunset and right before sunrise.

If where you’re staying is going to be hot most of the time, look at the temperature right after it gets dark and see if you can tolerate that, if you can (and you will be able to with some of the suggestions below) then it will only get cooler after that time so it should be easy to stay asleep.

If it’s already pretty cold out, make sure the temperature doesn’t dip too low during the early hours of the morning, if it does you may need to plan ahead and go to sleep a little warmer than necessary.


Another very important location based factor to think about is the ambient noise level of wherever you park. Is there a busy road nearby? Are people walking around making noise? Will there be a street cleaner that works its way through the parking lot your sleeping in at two in the morning (ask me how I know to ask that question)? All of these questions are going to have a direct impact on how comfortable of a night sleep you can get. And, slightly counterintuitively, we have very little control over this.

Well why can’t I just wear earplugs, you ask? Because it’s not safe to go deaf in places where you could very likely get someone knocking on the outside of your car. Whether that be law enforcement or someone trying to play a prank.  I set it as a rule for myself to only wear earplugs when I knew that I wouldn’t be bothered with 100% certainty. And that rule ment I barely ever saw my earplugs.

Maintaining situational awareness was more important to me than complete silence, and the good news is you’ll get used to it. As long as there isn’t someone carrying on a conversation outside your window, the human brain is really good a drowning out consistent and subtle noises like car traffic. It also helps to have something make white noise in your car like a fan. I used this one: Amazon Link

When I did have opportunities to wear earplugs, I often chose not to because I had gotten used to falling asleep to the sound of my fan and the environment around me. This, and needing to be constantly mindful of the weather, is part of being ever present that I wrote about in my “Why” post. I found this forced presence to be very pleasant especially when my mind was in so many other places planning where and when I would go next.


Another location dependent thing to keep an eye out for is the light level of wherever you choose to sleep. When I was first planning out how I would live out of my car,  I thought to choose the darkest spots so that I would sleep the best. Unfortunately, in many cases, sleeping in dark places is a pretty big safety risk as these areas are usually not monitored by cameras or foot traffic. I will of course go into more depth about picking safe parking spots in a future post. For now, just remember that parking in well lit areas is always beneficial for your safety.

Okay, so now what? Personally, I don’t sleep well if there’s even a little blinking LED in my room. I needed a solution to block out the light since I actually do want it on outside the car. This is why I built my custom window covers!

If you’ve read through my conversion post you’ll remember these. As you can see from above, they do a great job of blocking out almost all light from outside, even in the middle of the day. Now, I did modify these to let in air through the cracked windows, and that means they let in more light now, but sleeping with my head at the back of the car (where no light can come in) meant I never had a night’s sleep ruined by the light that kept me safe.

If you want to learn more about how I made these, watch out for a future tutorial on this blog.


This one’s a little self explanatory. Having a way to go to the bathroom before you go to sleep is really important to being comfortable through the night. The first way you can facilitate this is by parking next to a public restroom that’s open through the night. Supermarkets are great for this but some might close around midnight. Some spots you choose to park at won’t have any kind of facilities so it’s important to take care of your business right before you park for the night (which is really easy in the commercial and franchised world we live in).

The second option is taking things into your own hands… eww… ummmm… I mean get a pee jar. Having a way to easily go to the bathroom in your vehicle is very very helpful, and relieves you from getting dressed to looking like someone who isn’t sleeping in a car before you head into that public restroom.

Anyway, in my RAV4 I couldn’t fit a full toilet, but I could at least take care of number 1’s. The important thing about having a pee jar is making sure it has a really good seal, and that you clean it out regularly. I went way overkill and bought a cheap-ish 40oz vacuum insulated water bottle, color coordinated of course: Amazon Link (and no, I don’t regret getting such a big bottle). Having it insulated meant the bottle never condensed moisture and it has a really great seal.

You of course don’t need to go as overboard as I did, but having a way to urinate in your vehicle is really convenient. Actually, call me crazy, but not having to even get out of bed to go to the bathroom is quite a luxury that you don’t get in a home or apartment.

Keeping Clean

I don’t know about you, but I always sleep better when I feel clean before going to bed. If your a morning shower kind of person who doesn’t mind to take a shower after that mud run until you’ve woken up, more power to you. But for the rest of us taking a shower before bed, especially after a long sweaty day, is crucial to our sleep quality.

Now, taking a shower while on the road is actually not that difficult. I’ll go more in depth about finding bathrooms and showers in the future, but for now just know that having a gym membership, frequenting truck stops, or seeking out natural bodies of water are all great ways to stay clean while sleeping out of your car. But, what if you can’t find any of those?

Well, we can do a number of things to fix this. The first is nothing at all. I would often look at myself and ask, “do I really need a shower right now?” As much as I love taking a daily shower, if I found that all I had done that day was drive to a new destination, and cook a few meals, then I wasn’t really that dirty, and therefore I didn’t really need a shower to stay comfortable. Just realizing that was often enough to allow me to sleep well that night, but what about when you are dirty?

Sponge baths! or more appropriately, Towel showers!…no one calls them that?…well you get my point. My prefered method of doing this was with a microfiber towel (Amazon Link) that I would wet by dispensing a very watered down foam of Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Castile Soap (Amazon Link) from a soap dispenser (Amazon Link). I put so little soap in the dispenser that I never needed to do a rinse with the towel.

You could also use baby wipes… or the more aptly named Dude Wipes (Amazon Link), or the gender neutral Cottonelle FreshCare Flushable Wipes (Amazon Link), which doesn’t have the same ring to it. Either way, having these systems allowed me a way of washing off dirt and sweaty bits before bed, which was so helpful!

Temperature Regulation

The previous ways I’ve mentioned here, to staying comfortable when sleeping in a car, were mostly passive and location dependent. Now, we start taking personal responsibility of the situation and actively make our vehicle more comfortable to live in!

The first and most important comfort conundrum to get right is achieving a comfortable temperature in your vehicle. This is very dependant on the outside temperature, as we’ve discussed, but you can still make a hot humid night or cold winter evening comfortable using a few simple techniques.

Staying Cool

In my car, I had several ways of staying cool during my summer road trip. I would keep my windows all cracked open to let in new air. I used my extractor fans, that I showed in my build post, to pull out all the hot air lurking around the ceiling of my car. And I had a large 10″ rechargeable fan (Amazon Link) with me at all times which would blow air over me all night making 82°F feel like 72°F.

All of this allowed me to get the temperature inside my vehicle to be about equal to the outside ambient temperature. That doesn’t sound like much of an achievement, but without an air conditioning system, extractor fans and windows can only match the outside temperature by removing any heat your body generates. Having a fan that blows directly onto you makes the temperature feel much lower than it actually is and this is how you can get through nights that are a little to hot to be comfortable.

Most of the time I didn’t need these tools because I had chosen a destination that got down into the 60s and 50s at night. But there were several occasions in more southern states that I used every trick in the book to keep from drenching my bed with sweat.

To learn more about staying cool check out this dedicated article: How to Stay Cool When Sleeping in a Car

Keeping Warm

I actually used the same system that I talked about above to also stay warm. The windows would have to stay cracked and my extractor fans were still running to draw outside air in, and push moisture out. But I only cracked one or two windows, not all four, and the extractor fans were running at their lowest setting. Doing this actually allowed the inside of my car to be a whole 10-20°F above the ambient temperature, that’s the heating power of a human body for you.

My sleeping platform was well insulated with my thick foam mattress, and I wrapped myself in a warm blanket. I kept my big fan off and without it the warmth stays pretty close to my body. And I have a zero degree sleeping bag just in case. This way of keeping warm is very comparable to tent camping, and while I will agree that it’s totally passive (no attempt to actually heat the air) it worked for me all the way down to temperatures in the low 30s.

There are a few things you can do to keep warm if the ambient temperature drops below zero, but ideally you wouldn’t stick around long in those conditions. If you absolutely have to stay put in a location through winter, I will make a post exploring several heating options in the future.

Sleeping Platform

I’ve shown how I made my sleeping platform in a previous post, but here I’ll talk about how I designed it to make sure I would sleep comfortably in my car.

First before I built anything, I tested whether I could stretch out fully in the back of my car. I put the back seats down and the passenger side seat all the way forward, and when I closed the back door my head and feet (which are separated by 6ft of me) weren’t touching anything. This was good news since I really didn’t want to need to curl up all the time to sleep in my car. Alternatively though, sleeping on your side does take up less length, so if for some reason you can’t get all the length you need then you can still sleep comfortably in a car.

Another important thing to consider is building an actual platform. I’ve seen many people who just put down their back seats and call that enough. While this definitely works when your car’s seats fold flat, my RAV4 had so many bumps, weird angles, and gaps everywhere, which eliminated that easy option for me. So I removed the back seats and built a flat and very level platform in the back of my car.

The platform’s size and height was dependant on the cars internal structures and plastic moldings, but I did have a criteria that it needed to meet. I needed to be able to sit up in bed without hitting my head. For me, this would mean the inside of my car wouldn’t feel so cramped, and doing things like changing my clothes or brushing my teeth wouldn’t be so tedious. And it worked, definitely something to consider in your conversion.

One last thing, for a while I thought I would roll up a blanket and plop that onto my platform for a mattress. But, as I thought about it more and more it started to sound like a bad idea especially when I knew the blanket would just shift around and cause problems unflattening itself into a crazy lumpy surface. Around the same time I also happened to stumble upon a foam mattress that perfectly fit the dimensions of my sleeping platform. This really did change the way I thought I could sleep in my car. I fitted the mattress with all the same bedding I normally had at home and this made the inside of my car feel so much more familiar, and comfortable. It’s not cheap, but I would recommend this mattress to anyone seriously wanting to sleep comfortably in a car: Check the current price on Amazon


In summary, you don’t need a lot to get a good night’s sleep in your car. Building a comfortable sleeping platform with a mattress,  thinking through how to cool and keep your car warm at night, preparing yourself, and strategically choosing your parking spots before you hit the hay is the gist of it.

Did I miss something? Do you have a car sleeping ritual that you can’t live without? I’d love to hear your questions and comments on this content below!


My DIY RAV4 Camper Conversion

RAV4 Camper Conversion

I decided to convert my Toyota RAV4 into a camper that I could live out of, in preparation for a trip up and around the east coast, starting in Florida with a destination somewhere in Maine.

My goals for the build were to have as much storage as possible, a level surface to sleep on, be able to keep the passenger seat functional, have enough “counter-space” to prep and cook food easily, maximize privacy, get adequate ventilation, maintain full visibility through all the windows while driving, and do this all for only a couple hundred bucks.

I had limited funds since I had saved for the trip as a whole, and the more I spent on the conversion the less time I could spend on the road. Anyway, I had a free weekend open up and I headed home to utilize my Dad’s tools and woodworking expertise, here’s what we came up with:


Preparing the Car

When the back seats are folded down in the RAV4 they have a slope that, presumably, is there to more easily unload the car when hauling large objects. This wouldn’t have been very comfortable to sleep on, especially because my head would be hanging off the edge of back seat, since they didn’t actually reach far enough anyway.

So, I decided to remove them entirely and see how much space that gave me in the car. It was a lot!

We removed everything else that could come out, like all of the plastic well covers and the carpets. The RAV4 has its spare tire on the back door, so there is this huge cavity to use for storage where the spare would normally go on a car.

The RAV4 is a small SUV and there is so much room in it! I mean seriously, you could exercise and do yoga all within the walls of the car! (Ask me how I know that).

It was at this time I decided to start thinking about how I would design the sleeping platform and other structures. I knew I wanted the single wide sleeping platform on the passenger side and the cooler tucked up against the driver’s side wall, but that’s all I knew. I didn’t know how any of this would fit together or what materials I would need or how I would actually make everything fit.

So, with everything out of the car, dimensions were taken and we made a lot of sketches…


Sleeping Platform

I wanted as much headroom as possible, and the ability to fully sit up in bed was really important to me. My RAV has a tall, grey, plastic tray between the wheel wells. And underneath was the metal floor of the vehicle where the rear axle lives. It didn’t create much extra space to remove that piece so we reinstalled it. Fortunately, there was still plenty of head space left above that axle cover so all I had to do was make the sleeping platform rest as close to that hump in the floor as possible.

After a bit of figuring, I found out that everything for the sleeping platform and the area for the cooler to sit, would fit in a single 4’x8′ sheet of plywood. The cooler’s thickness would determine how big it’s platform would be, and the remaining space between the coolers platform and the passenger side wall would be used for the sleeping platform.

I also needed to think about how I would access the storage in the back with the sleeping platform completely covering it, and how I would extend the platform when I slid the passenger seat forward.

After all that was figured out, we ran over to HomeDepot and I bought a 3/4″ thick sheet of pine plywood, several quartersawn 1″x2″x12′ boards (to build the supports), and a piano hinge (to made a storage access door in the back and hinge the extension tongue in the front).

With the materials in hand, we started building the support structures for the sleeping platform. Each one was totally custom and had to accommodate for the really wonky floor of the car. Why couldn’t they have made it flat?!

Also, that forward support in the image above, is bolted into the car using the same attachment points the back seats used. With the sleeping platform to be screwed onto this piece, the whole construction would be very sturdy and wouldn’t rattle around.

Anyway, it didn’t take too long and now with a level support structure to work on, we slid the plywood platform in and scribed the  interior wall’s shape onto it. Cutting on the lines with a saber saw and then refitting the piece back into the car showed us we had a long ways to go before it would fit properly up against the curvy plastic molding.

Eventually—after a lot of sanding and cutting—the sleeping platform fit as good as it needed to! Now our attention was turned to the platform that would hold the cooler and house the kitchen table (Yes, I did mean to say “kitchen table”).



I really like to cook, and I wanted a space of my own where I could comfortably prepare food in my RAV4 camper.

For this, I needed some “counter space”. I thought about searching around and buying a little camp table, that I would store somewhere in the car and take out when needed. But, this would take up a lot of storage, and I also didn’t want some flimsy table to work on.

My Dad pointed out that the same 1″ X 2″ boards used to build the supports could be used to separate two pieces of plywood creating a little box. This would act as a platform for my cooler, and a single sheet of plywood could slide in and out of it to act like a table.

I wanted the table to be a little more sturdy. So, I added that the same one by two’s could also be used as a frame the movable piece of plywood. This would also mean that the only wood touching the bottom of the plywood box—as the table slid in and out—would be two, one inch strips of wood instead of an entire surface of plywood.

How cool is that! The box and table assembly rests atop the same support structure as the sleeping platform, and fits into the space between the sleeping platform’s edge and the driver side wheel well. It all came together really well and after a ton of sanding (I really like sanding things), the table was super smooth and all the surfaces were ready to be sealed.



Remember that piano hinge I bought earlier in the post? Well, it was time to hack it apart and start making doors on the sleeping platform!

If you look up at that picture of the car totally empty, you’ll see that huge open cavity in the back of the car. We built the bed platform supports so they would hug the walls of that pit of storage, and in doing so very little of that space was wasted. One problem though…

The sleeping platform and table assembly not totally covered the opening to that storage. So, I measured out a rectangle that would fit within the support frame (that way the sleeping platform would act like a door jam), and cut it out of the sleeping platform with a saber saw.

Then I cut a piece of the piano hinge to the right length and sanded down both of the hinge brackets so I could sink the hinge’s… hinge flush with the surface of the bed. Don’t want anything poking up and making it hard to fall asleep! Now I could access the rear storage very easily!

At this time, I also cut out and hinged a plywood piece to fill the gap towards the front of the bed when the passenger seat was pushed forward. This tongue would then fold down when I wanted to put the passenger seat back in a seating position.

I could honestly play with this all day! The design made it very easy and unobtrusive to fold that part of the bed. But, that support on the tongue does take up some valuable storage space under the platform.

Since I would need to get my hands in and out of there to fold and unfold the bed, I stored light things (mostly shoes) in the path of motion. Despite this, having a full length bed while still being able to use the passenger seat was well worth the small storage sacrifice.

The last big storage decision was: what to do with the big open space where the driver side back seat went? As you can see from the above .gif there’s nothing there, and that’s exactly what I wanted.

We could have built up a dresser to store my clothes and house an external battery, and a bunch of other features. But I still didn’t know if I would want to live in the car for more than a few nights. So, at least for now, I left that space empty and stored all my belongings in bags. This actually turned out to work really well and was much more versatile!



Now with everything sorted out, all of the parts were disassembled and readied for paint!

All of the support structure got a few coats of black enamel paint to protect the wood and make them a little less visible. I think it just looks cool when you see all the wood platforms being held up by what looks like nothing!

Then, everything else got a bunch of coats of lacquer. Probably wasn’t the best finishing option, but my dad had it set up in a spray gun already so why not?! The lacquer gave the wood a nice satin finish, which helped the table mechanism to work, but also made the bed platform pretty slippery (more on how I fixed this below).

Anyway, here’s a .gif of it all coming together:

I love how it all turned out! The simplicity of the build is probably my favorite part. I’ve seen other builds with complicated folding mechanisms or an internal kitchen or solar setup, but for now this is exactly what I need.

Although, at this point, the conversion is still far from the day I could sleep out of it, I still had a lot to do.


Window Covers

The thing that scared me the most about sleeping in my vehicle was not having enough privacy. The windows on my car are tinted, and I could get them darker if I wanted, but i wasn’t interested in having a perpetual pair of sunglasses obstructing my view of the world while I drove. Plus, tinted windows still let in light, so good luck trying to sleep in!

Instead, I thought long and hard about some kind of curtain or window covers to give me the maximum light blockage while also providing a bit of thermal insulation.

I settled on an idea of using Reflectix (Amazon Link) as a structural and thermal material, and then wrapping the Reflectix panels with some fabric to make it look nice.

Those are all of the Reflectix panels, two for each window.

Light absorbing fabric was spray adhesived onto the panels and then the two sides were spray adhesived together.

The above image is with all the internal lights on at night. That black area of my RAV, to the right of the image, is actually one of the rear windows with the cover in place. No light out, and no light in!

That video was taken in the middle of the day, you can see the only light coming in is from the off the shelf front windshield cover. Sleeping in all morning here I come! (I actually rarely ever slept in, but more on that in a future article).

If you want to find out all the details of how I build these covers, got great airflow through them, and bug proofed them, check out this dedicated article: Make The Best Privacy Window Covers – Complete Guide


Extractor Fan

Another thing I was worried about when living in my RAV4, was proper heat regulation. Ideally, I would add something like a Fantastic Fan (like this one: Amazon Link), but I didn’t want to permanently alter my car by cutting a massive hole in the roof.

Instead, I thought about utilizing my sun-roof. Like most cars, the RAV4’s sunroof can tilt forward to crack the back edge of the sliding window. I wanted to design some kind of fan unit to fit into that crack and through out the hot air floating around the top of the car.

So, I ordered a pair of low powered USB computer fans that are typically used to cool TV cabinets (Amazon Link). I designed a shroud to adapt the four inch square fan opening to a wide slit that would fit into the gap in the sun-roof.

I’m an engineer, so it’s my duty to go wayyyyy overboard on this build, so I designed the shrouds in a computer modeling program and 3D printed them out of PLA plastic.

The shrouds were so big I had to print them in 2 pieces. That’s 2 prints per fan, for 2 fans, equals a whopping 24 hours of printing!

After removing the support material (the structure that helps the big overhangs print properly), I screwed the pieces onto the fans and taped over the seam between the halves to prevent air from leaking out. Why are they printed in different colors? If I used a single color I would have gone through my entire store of that plastic spool and then some. So I decided to make it really colorful…

And then spray paint it to match my car. I’m not completely OCD or anything…

The idea worked flawlessly! After only a couple minutes of being turned on these fans bring the inside of my RAV4 very close to outside air temperatures. And since they blow out, they prevent hot air from accumulating in the vehicle.

However, I will be updating this design in the future. The way they hold themselves into the sunroof is a little finicky and they fell down a few time from just being bumped. And the PLA plastic I used to print these is very low temperature, so when the car got exceedingly hot on several summery occasions, the shrouds started to become malleable. Which is not a good thing.

If you’d like to learn more about these vent fans and see how they work check out my article: How to Stay Cool When Sleeping in a Car.


Odds and Ends:

Now with the big stuff sorted out, I set my attention to making the car more comfortable and practical for when I started to live in it.


To circulate air around the inside of my car I got a 10 inch fan that was also rechargeable: Amazon Link. This fan turned out to work really great. You can use either the replaceable D-cell batteries or the rechargeable battery to run the fan, and it will default to using the rechargeable before depleting the disposable batteries.

I would recharge the battery using my cars power while I drove around and then that charge would usually last me through the night. The D-cells last for about 56 hours so I only ever needed to replace those once because I stayed in one place for a couple days in a row. I can’t recommend this fan enough if your looking to save money on buying batteries.

Rain Guards

I added this set of rain guards (Amazon Link) to my RAV so I could crack open my windows at night without being too obvious. Also, If it happened to be raining I didn’t want to have to worry about not being able to ventilate the car while I slept in fear of getting wet.


I needed a way to hold my cooler and water tank down to the platform while I drive. Where the two are full it’s not that big of an issue because their weight holds them down. But when they’re empty, they slip and slide and don’t behave very nicely to the interior to my RAV.

So I got these kayak tie downs (Amazon Link) and some screws from the hardware store and attached them towards the edges of the containers they would be tethering. I also ordered bungee cord (Amazon Link) and some bungee cord hooks (Amazon Link) to make custom length bungee straps to tie down the water jug and cooler. Oh! and I got this awesome 7 gallon water tank by the way: Amazon Link.


The last thing I wanted to do when getting ready for bed would be to try and hold a flashlight in my mouth while attempting  to brush my teeth (yes, that is quite the predicament) or while putting on my clothes. Also, uneven lighting from a single point source is something that really bothers my eyes, so I needed a better long term solution.

I found these touch activated lights (Amazon Link) with a warm color temperature and built in dimmers.

The light is very diffused and the dimability let’s me set them to a comfortable brightness level and everywhere in between. My car looks like the inside of an art gallery now!


I was on the fence for awhile on whether I should get a mattress or not. I personally don’t mind sleeping on a firm surface, so I thought I would just fold up a few blankets and call it there. But as I thought about that more and more, I considered how this would make it difficult to store the bed, and maintaining it would be annoying as all the blanket layers would probably fall apart frequently.

While I was thinking about this, I stumbled on a mattress that was literally the perfect length, width, and thickness for my sleeping platform. So, I pulled the trigger on it and I am so glad I did!

It’s a cot sized mattress designed to be bought as a spare bed, but also happens to work perfectly for sleeping in a car. It wasn’t cheap (check the current price on Amazon) but it was well worth the investment!

To keep the mattress from sliding around, I used an inexpensive yoga mat to give the mattress a bit of grip.

Cooler Upgrades

While I had the Reflectix out for the window covers, I decided to add some extra insulation to my inexpensive Coleman cooler (Amazon Link). I did a couple other things to the cooler to make it work better than advertised.

There’s too much to talk about on the subject here, so I’ll write a dedicated post in the future.



To make sure I had thought of everything, I ran a couple tests for a couple of the scenarios I would face.

I took my car to a local park and went through the process of cooking lunch. I immediately found a ton of flaws in how I stored all of my cooking utensils. I also learned of the need to prioritize parking in the shade, as the noon sun was incredibly hot.

I went through the entire process of prepping my food, cooking, cleaning, and putting everything back where it came. I found so much to improve that I went home and completely redesigned my thinking on how I would cook in the RAV4.

I also spent a night in the RAV4 while parked in my apartment’s parking lot. This was the big test, to see if this idea of sleeping in my car would even work. And despite it being the middle of summer in Florida, the experience went great!

The extractor fans worked exactly as designed, and window covers made sure no one was the wiser of my presence.

Like with the cooking experiment, I learned a ton and modified my set up accordingly. Much of what I did was to increase comfort, which you can read about here: How to Sleep Comfortably in a Car – My Experience

Anyway, it’s time for a tour! This video was taken after I had already spent about 2 months living out of the car full time on a trip I took up to Maine.

I couldn’t be happier with the outcome of this project. I now have a way to travel at the drop of a hat. Say yes to events that I couldn’t afford hotels for. And feel stable and secure no matter my living situation. All for the price of a little extra gas and some plywood!

I want to give a special thanks to my dad Kent Weakley for helping me with all the woodwork and heavy lifting with this conversion. I honestly couldn’t have done it without his tools and expertise, so I am incredibly grateful!


Like This Post? Consider Signing Up to the Mailing List for Updates and Exclusive Content!




Why Would You Choose to Live Out of a Car?

Several years ago, I stumbled into the world of tiny houses (as you probably did too). The movement was interesting to me on many levels: people were owning homes much sooner, it’s a way to avoid debt, you could travel in one, and so on. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I found really interesting about tiny homes was how people were intentionally living their lives, in a way that they chose.

My family went on many trips around the USA when I was younger in a Class “C” RV pulling a tow-behind car. These trips were the highlight of every year we went on them, and I distinctly remember thinking: “I want to live in an RV when I grow up!” These tiny houses showed me that there were other (and more permanent) options than living in an RV, and seeing these homes reinvigorated my interest in tiny spaces!

Still being in high school though, coming up with the money to build a tiny house was not reasonable and I was focusing my efforts on getting ready to go to college.

Somewhere in college I rediscovered my passion for intentional living when I was made aware of the Vanlife community. I saw the stereotypical instagram posts of a couple’s feet framed in the open door of their van, back-dropped by a mountain range or beach-front (cough cough, let’s just ignore the hypocrisy in the top right corner of this page…).

Wanting to live in a van was so much more feasible to me since the initial investment was quite reasonable, and this was also about the time that I started living in an apartment with a rent payment larger than any of the bi-weekly pay checks I could earn. The size of the living space didn’t scare me at all either.

The potential for this minimalistic lifestyle filled my mind with ideas about: which van I should buy? How would I convert it? How many solar panels would I need? Can I have an air-conditioner? Wait… how much is a new Ford Transit?! What?!?! That’s as much as a Tiny House! What about an old VW? It costs that much and it’s covered in all that rust?! Ugh….

Once I started seriously looking into Vanlife, the un-edited and #notfiltered reality of owning that kind of vehicle started to become clear to me. It would be nice to have a full kitchen and be able to stand in a van, but I wasn’t interested in having a massive vehicle to drive around and find parking for.

Westfalia Vanagons and other VW Vans are very cool (and a definite requirement for hipsters), but the reliability of their engines and the cost of repairs was not something I wanted to sign up for.

Later down the road (no pun intended) I could see myself owning one of these vans and dealing with their shortcomings then, but I had the itch to travel and escape the rent trap now!

While watching videos of Vanlifers I would often stumble across someone living in their SUV, Crossover, or even sometimes a Prius. My initial thought was that must be a very cramped way to live, but the idea grew on me.

I have a Toyota RAV4 and I knew that I could lay down fully stretched out in the back with the passenger seat forward. It didn’t take long for me to start thinking of ideas of how I could make it work. How I would store food?  What would I cook on? Where would I park? How to regulate temperature in the car? And so on. I discovered a huge community of people living this lifestyle and it really inspired me.

A few months later, I found myself unbolting the back seats of my RAV and measuring out supports for a piece of plywood what would become my sleeping platform.

It was just an inexpensive experiment, if I could live out of my car I would easily be able to live out of a van or tiny house in the future! But, after only a few nights spent in my car I was hooked!

If you know you want to live or travel in a vehicle, and you’re on the fence about what to do: the following are all the reasons I found for why I love living out of my car, and why I may end up doing it for many more years:


Save Money

I understand that some people may be forced to live out of their vehicle due to a lack of finances. I’m truly sorry if you find yourself in that situation, and I don’t mean to over glamorize this way of life especially if you are undertaking it with limited resources.

That being said, making a home from your car is a much better option than camping out on the streets and I’m glad to see that you’re researching how you can make the most of your situation!

In my case, I very consciously chose to live out of my car and the benefit of this is an overall decrease in expenditures.

Without a rent, electricity, internet, utilities, garbage, or any other expense that comes with living in a home or apartment, it can become much easier to save money with a smaller income. Though, signing up for gym memberships and those daily visits to that coffee shop will add up.

This lifestyle is also possible if you aren’t making money while on the road, I wasn’t. I saved up working at a job before I left and used a bunch of tricks to travel while spending as little money as possible.

I’ll give a lot of tips and tricks on how to save money while on the road in a future post.

If you find yourself needing to change your living situation or you want to travel and live more intentionally, then the best advantage to doing it in you’re car is…


You Already Have One!

Well, I actually don’t know if you have a car… Do you? This would be really awkward if you don’t… Well if you do have a car, then you can start living in it with just a little bit of knowledge!

Most people picture leaning back in an uncomfortable driver’s seat or hunching over the steering wheel to fall asleep. But, I wouldn’t recommend this route to anyone seriously looking into this way of life.

Do me a favor. Go out to your car and find a way to put down the back seats. In an SUV or Crossover this will be easy, but you should be able to do this in your Sedan as well. Now move whatever crap you have in the back seat out of the way, and try to lay down in the opening you created. For me at this point, I had to push the passenger’s seat forward to give my head enough room (I’m 6ft tall by the way).

If you’re laying fully stretched out and your feet and head don’t touch anything, then congratulations! You will be able to sleep in your car just as well as you do at home.

If you can’t put your back seats down, then you have a few options. You could make a sleeping platform on the backseat or buy an inflatable backseat bed (like this one: Amazon Link). However, if you go that route you will probably have to sleep curled up a little. You could also try removing the back or passenger seat to make more room for a sleeping platform.

The point is that it doesn’t take much to turn your car into a comfortable sleeping space. If you want to learn more about how to build in the most comfort into your car, check out this post: How to Sleep Comfortably in a Car – My Experience



Of course, no vehicle is immune to needing repairs but I can say for a fact that my 2009 car doesn’t see the inside of a shop as much as that 1980s VW does! This is especially true with the newer car you might be leasing.

I am of course generalizing here since there are a lot of cars that we can both point to that aren’t very dependable.

But, even if you do own an older car, what you already have is probably much easier to work on than a van’s compact engine, and the parts will be often less expensive too. I’ve seen several 1990’s minivan conversions with well over 100,000 miles and still driving fine (and quite spacious too).



When you see a car, or even an SUV, in the parking lot of a shopping center, on a city street, or in any other location, is your immediate thought, “Oh, someone must be sleeping in there.”

No! (Unless you’ve been living in a car for a while, then it becomes easy to spot your fellow car dwellers). I’ve gotten away with sleeping in a lot of locations without anyone the wiser.

This creates a bit more peace of  mind when you’re dozing off after a long day at work or travel. And it allows you to virtually never pay for a place to sleep, which is a major plus for saving money!

Also, if you create really good privacy covers for your windows then people won’t be able to see in. All they’ll notice are black windows (even when shining a flashlight on them) which is exactly what they are expecting. I’ll make a post shortly about how I made these.



I can’t tell you how many times I was grateful that my car was able to squeeze between those two trees, or zoom onto a highway without any hesitation. Even with everything in my car, it’s ability to turn around tight corners, accelerate up to speed quickly, and fit into every single open parking space is a huge relief.

Traveling in the old port towns of Maine was a good example of why I like a mono-vehicle setup. A large van would not have been able to circumnavigate the small towns and larger cities I wanted to visit (forget it in an RV!).

So, the only option then would be to have a secondary vehicle and park the van in an expensive RV park and spend a bunch of extra money on gas to drive into the city. Or call an Uber, which would also eat away at your funds.

When I sleep in the fuel efficient car I’m already driving, then I just drive into the city, parallel park on the street, throw up my window covers to hide my stuff, and go on my way. All of this maneuverability really simplifies the logistics of day to day life, as well as when traveling full time.


You Wouldn’t Use the Extra Space Anyway!

One thing that surprised me when I first started living in my car was how I didn’t feel like I needed any more space. This was mostly due to finding out how dependent on weather this way of life can be.

Getting a usable level of insulation in any kind of vehicle is incredibly difficult because the walls are only so thick. And the power draw of an air conditioner or an electric heater is to high to run off any battery bank. So, without a generator (which you couldn’t run in most parking spots anyway) the temperature inside the vehicle is very dependent on the outside temperature and sun exposure.

When it comes to sleeping in a car, it’s pretty easy to stay warm or keep cool while you sleep, but during the day it’s a totally different story.

Even if it’s a really cold day out (and especially on hot days), the sun can heat up the interior to unbearable levels. And if it’s a cloudy cold day then it might be uncomfortably cold in the car.

I imagined myself finding a place to park, hopping into the back, and getting some work done on my computer or reading a book. That’s what I see everyone else doing on Instagram! But, the number of times the weather permitted me to actually do this was so rare that I would just find a coffee shop or library to work in. Which are temperature controlled and have free Wifi!.

I love the idea of having my own kitchen, table, bathroom, or even a sofa, plus space to walk around in my vehicle, but none of that is very useful if staying in there will give you heat stroke!

At least in the US, our modern infrastructure is setup for drivable convenience. It is almost never difficult to find a place to use the bathroom, and it’s also trivial to find a park, library, museum, coffee shop, art gallery, or nature preserve to expand your living space and offer a unique place to work, read, or study.


Be Ever Present

I will admit that this is both a good and bad thing. Living in a car takes the comfort out of many daily activities, forcing awareness onto even the most simple tasks.

Having to think about where you’ll find a bathroom before going to bed becomes a serious consideration when you can’t just walk to a toilet in the adjacent room. Or, how emptying out your water tank brings you into thinking about where to fill up again. And, you can’t leave a pile of dirty dishes laying around. They all have to go back into their exact spots for everything to fit together again.

Personally, I like this connection to my daily activities. It brings purpose and a bit of excitement into everything, which I find very invigorating.

You might find the life interesting in the beginning with the mindset that everything will be as easy as being back at home. Brushing your teeth with a water bottle as your faucet, or cook outdoors for every meal will seem “adventurous.” But, it will all get old fast.

I look at this all as a way to stay in the moment, not worry about the past or future. Realizing this brought a lot of peace and (to be honest) happiness to my travels.




All of the above adds up to an incredibly open and free life.

There’s a music festival over on the east coast? I’ll be there in three days! Started talking to an old friend in a state you’ve always wanted to visit? Let’s hang out! Got a job offer on the other side of the country? I can start Monday!

This really applies to any kind of vehicle living, because you have everything you need to live comfortably in a vehicle that can travel hundreds of miles a day. Opportunities seem much less daunting. You start saying yes a lot more, instead of regretting that you had to say no.

Anyone can live this way if they really want to. Will you?

What’s your reasoning for wanting to live in a car? Did I miss something? Comment below, I would love to hear your thoughts!



Like This Post? Consider Signing Up to the Mailing List for Updates and Exclusive Content!



Almost There! Just Need to Learn a Bit About You First: