Roam Sweet Roam – Solo Car Camping Tips

August 20, 2023   34 Comments »

Roam Sweet Roam – Solo Car Camping Tips

September 17, 2018 34 Comments »

I love the idea of solo car camping. However, even though I’ve been traveling solo all over the world doing outdoor adventures, there’s something about sleeping in my car that makes me feel vulnerable. But sometimes the universe speaks to you and sends you what you need – and that’s exactly how I got over my fear of car camping solo!

Stalker or Cool Person? Meeting People While Traveling Solo

There’s always this tiny bit of nervousness and anticipation when I meet readers I don’t know – there is always a little part of me that thinks…what if they are stalkers?!

I read the Facebook comment “If you’re anywhere near Crested Butte, I’d love to say hi!!” left by Ottsworld reader, Vicki Hill. I often get messages from people/strangers wanting to meet up when I’m in their town or nearby. If I have time on a trip I LOVE to meet readers. Yes, yes I know – this is the point when most people cringe.

“You meet complete strangers when you are out traveling? Aren’t you worried they are going to be freaks? Is that safe?”

Yes – these are complete strangers to me, and I suppose it’s a bit risky, but I’ve always had really good experiences when I do it. Everyone has been normal so far and I felt an instant connection with most. Even after 12 years of doing this blogging thing, I think there’s simply a part of me that is tickled that people do actually read and follow what I write or share. I work alone 90% of the time, my interactions are mainly on screen, so it’s fun for me to meet people from my ‘work life’ in person.

Of course, I answered Vicki back and said “Yes! I’d love to meet up in Crested Butte!”

Little did I know that Vicki wasn’t a stalker, but would end up being one of the most interesting, intrepid solo female travelers I’d ever met!

I had been messaging Vicki to coordinate a time and place to meet up in the little town of Crested Butte as I was walking down the street. Suddenly a woman looks at me and says, “Sherry?!” Vicki had found me…no she wasn’t stalking me…Crested Butte is a small town with one main street, so it was inevitable that we’d run into each other.

We grabbed a beer together and talked. We talked about travel, my Niece Project, hiking, Crested Butte, and the fact that she comes to CB every year to go solo hiking and camp out of her car for a month – and that’s when my ‘girl crush’ with Vicki happened.

meeting people on the road
Meeting Vicki for the first time in Crested Butte…she doesn’t look like a stalker…

Meet Vicki: a Badass Solo Car Camper

We sat and talked nonstop – I learned all about her life and travels and was completely mesmerized by her story. A little part of me was beaming with pride; I have such cool people following my travels and writing on Ottsworld!

I ended up meeting her again for a hike the next day and was able to spend even more time with her. I was so intrigued with her travel style and unconventional way of doing solo adventures and travel even though she was married, had a cat, kids, and even grandkids! She was one badass woman over 50!

hiking in crested butte

I thought to myself – she should be writing a blog. That’s when I decided to ask her if she’d like to be featured on my site to share her car camping travel style and story. She said yes…and here is the rest.

Questions and answers with Vicki

What moved you to start solo camping?

You have a conventional life (wife, home, kids, grandkids) yet you have this side of you for a few months of the year where you live a completely unconventional life out of your 4Runner completely solo. What moved you to live your life this way?

The ‘plan’ backfired: The first time I traveled solo was only because I couldn’t find anyone else to go with me. I thought it would be better to go alone than not go at all, so I took off. And during that initial solo trip alone, I quickly fell in love with solo travel!

solo car camping tips crested butte
Vicki ‘guiding’ me on one of her favorite Crested Butte trails

What are your solo camping goals?

How has this evolution to the car camper life and wandering evolved?

My goal for any camping trip is to see amazing scenery, hike every possible day, and meet new people along the way. I also chase great beer! Quickly I realized traveling was a top priority in my life. I married my high school sweetheart who is very ‘tolerant’ of my passion and he joins me for a week each year in Colorado.

But my trips have slowly gotten longer (expanding to 2 or 3 months), and more frequent. Going back to the Midwest and staying home is always a bummer (but my cat is glad to see me!).

Share your car camping experience

Explain your current setup and how you make it work.

I love taking long road and solo camping trips! I’m also cheap and love the simplicity of solo car camping. My ‘rig’ is a 2001 Toyota 4Runner I creatively call “Camper”.

I removed the back seats and she’s decked out with a single cushy bed in back, places for a food box, my gear, a cooler, twinkly lights, and my “live happy” prayer flags. It’s my home away from home!

solo car camping tips
Vicki and her roaming home – the pimped-out 4Runner

I love to watch storms blow in when I’m tucked in at night, or pop open my door and watch the night sky. The best part is I can change my mind on a whim and move without the hassle of breaking down gear & loading it up. Having a 4-wheel drive vehicle also allows me to drive some crazy backroads to get to those far-out trailheads.

I almost always do dispersed solo camping in the National Forests or on BLM land; it’s free, roomier than a campground, quiet, and usually located in some beautiful spaces.

Sherry’s Note: I had the pleasure of going to see Vicki’s car camper and set up at her campsite in Crested Butte. There aren’t many times where I feel envious of someone’s life, in fact, I’m used to people constantly feeling envious of MY life! However, once I saw Vicki’s decked-out 4Runner, her serene mountain view, and her way of living – I was completely envious.

Check out this Video of Vicki’s Car Camper 

It seemed perfect. I normally always worry about a situation like that being lonely. However, she had clearly carved out this routine of talking to people throughout the day; having some precious alone time, and doing the things she loved. I was in awe. I walked away so happy I had made a new friend who was such a badass.

What is your typical day like car camping solo?

I am a very social person but I never get lonely while on the road. I talk to my husband daily and often FaceTime with my kids and grandkids, who live on both coasts. Reading is my passion, which is how I spend my quiet evenings in solo campers or in the 4Runner late at night.

I spend a little time updating my online travel journal once every week or two. The beauty of my surroundings and being on the trail each day, fill me up and give me so much joy. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. Instead, I feel like this is where I’m meant to be.

How do you deal with the solo car camping naysayers?

There are a lot of people that will be encouraging you to stay home and you frequently hear, “Don’t go car camping alone!” “It’s too dangerous!” “You’re a woman!” Here’s my suggestion: find others that do what you want to do. There are so many solo women travelers out there – they camp alone, they hike alone, they eat out alone, and they talk to strangers! They are willing to share information and they love this kind of travel!


Read Why Women Travel Solo


solo car camping tips
Crested Butte views

Vicki’s 8 solo car camping road trip tips

1. Have AAA Assistance …it’s peace of mind and help when you might need it.

2. Hide a credit card, cash, and a copy of your driver’s license in your vehicle somewhere and a spare key under your car. If your wallet, pack, or bag gets lost or stolen, you have something to fall back on and a way to drive your vehicle.

3. Carry a GPS locator device that can be used when you don’t have cell service. Mine has a pre-programmed message that is sent to my husband but also includes my GPS coordinates. I send him one when I get to camp & when I get up in the morning or when I start and finish hiking on a trail. This gives him peace of mind and my location.

4. Carry a small toolbox, a tiny battery charger (in case I run my car battery down trying to keep my electronics charged), and a tire inflator/deflator.

5. When there is a glitch, learn from it. Instead of overthinking the situation, decide if there is a way to prevent it from happening again or what you can do to minimize the problems it may cause. (See #2 when I left my wallet in a restaurant. Fortunately, by the time I made it back to the place, my wallet was still there with everything in it. After a couple of times calling myself an idiot, I came up with a plan on what to do if this happened again.)

6. Listen to your gut and intuition.

“There will be times you are afraid, but you’ll need to assess whether it’s because it’s the first time you’re doing something or if you’re truly in danger.”

Most of the time, it’s because you’re doing something new, and overcoming that type of fear is powerful. It makes you mentally stronger and ready to say ‘yes’ to more things in life because you know you can go beyond the doubts that flood your mind. But if you truly feel in danger, stop, leave, or turn around. Make a Plan B and change your situation.

7. Be open to meeting new people. It’s one of the best things about solo travel and with social media – it’s easy to keep in touch. It’s also a good way to ‘find your tribe’ because they are usually travelers too.

meet new people when you travel solo

8. Embrace spontaneity! I love solo travel because I change my mind or plan on a whim. You’ll get suggestions from people you meet on new places to see or trails to hike or bike ride and you can just go. You can also get lost or make lots of U-turns and no one cares or knows. It’s a lesson for life – be flexible, open, and ready for unplanned adventure!

Vicki’s Car Camping Resources

Further Reading on SUV RVing:  How to travel, camp, sleep, explore, and thrive in the ultimate tiny house.  It’s the freedom and flexibility of an RV with the maneuverability, efficiency, low profile, and low price tag of an SUV. Whether you’re going on a short trip and just need to spend one night in your vehicle or are living out of your SUV full-time, you’ll find useful and valuable information in this book.

Want to hear more car camping advice from Vicki? Check out this Podcast interview I did with her on the Jump Podcast. Episode 157 – How to Get Started Car Camping with Vicki Hill

Gear Every Solo Car Camper Should Have

I asked Vicki for a list of essential gear she uses car camping thinking I’d get 4 of 5 of her favorite items, however, she provided me a thorough list of items!  There were things in here that I had never even considered!  You can tell from this list that she’s got this down to a science – and so can you!  Here’s her complete solo camping checklist!

Car Camping Organization Gear

Cooler:  You will need a quality cooler for keeping food/drink cold for long periods.  This is one where you get what you pay for.  Check out the Otterbox Venture Coolers.  They come in a variety of sizes and extra compartments/shelves. They are an investment, but they will keep your ice ‘alive’ for days.

Accessory Case: I love this accessory case for attaching my phone to my pack strap but it’s got great flexibility to attach to anything.

Stacking Drawers: This is what I use to store food in my kitchen. 2 stacking drawers: One for nonperishable food; the other for cookware.

Sterilite stacking drawer
$62.79 ($15.70 / Count)
Sterilite 2310-4 27 QT/26 Liter stacking drawer (Pack of 4)
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Shoe Tray: I place all my shoes on a boot tray & it’s covered with a couple of small bungee nets. It seems I change shoes more than clothes in a day & this makes them easily accessible but they all stay on the tray. Works great if shoes are muddy or wet to keep all that mess from getting on anything else.

Duffel Bag for Quick Overnights: I carry a couple of these foldable duffels. They work great for extra organization or if you spend the night at someone’s house or a hotel, you can unfold it & throw your stuff in.

Laundry Organization: Here’s my happy little world map laundry bag. Fold into itself really small when not using it. But, it’s nice to have someplace to stash all the dirty stuff & keep it separate while living in such a small space.

Portable Shower: My latest addition to my car camping gear in 2021 was a portable camp shower and bucket. Place the pump in a collapsable bucket or water and then just use the shower head! It works really great and has a ton of pressure. It’s easy to set up and store. It’s rechargeable, yet I haven’t had to recharge it so far.

Portable Camp Shower
$42.99

Rechargeable Shower high Capacity 4800mAh Camping Shower pet Shower, with Shower Valve (Shower with Water Valve)

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Collapsable Bucket
$10.99

1.3 Gallon

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Travel Jars and Containers
Travel Jars
Container Kit

Safety Gear for Car Camping

A PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) I carry this Garmin Mini in my pack in case I need it, but I also keep it close by while driving.

Garmin InReach Mini
$267.99
Garmin InReach Mini, Lightweight and Compact Satellite Communicator, Orange
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Lifestraw Universal Adapter Filter – This one you can just put into a body of water like a stream or just a glass if you’re traveling somewhere you’re concerned about the water.

Don’t drain your battery – I changed my interior lights to LED which don’t require as much power; less fear of draining your battery. Just put in your car’s make, model, and year to get the DODOFUN Interior LED Light Kit for your car.

Inflator/deflator so you can pump up or lower the PSI in your tires wherever you are. This Ryobi inflator/deflator /compressor is so easy to work & because it’s battery operated (not included) & not attached to your 12V, you can move it around easily.

Jumper cables – don’t get stuck with a dead battery! You’ll want regular jumper cables and I recommend this Portable Lithium Car Battery Jump Starter Pack that charges your car battery and also has a USB port.

Your phone is often a safety lifeline. In case you drop your phone in the water while you’re traveling bring this Absorbits Wet Cell Phone Rescue Pouch.

Let there be light! I carry a variety of headlamps and flashlights with me.
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
Maglite Mini flashlight
Super Bright LED Tactical/Zoomable Flashlight

Car Camping Gear

Screen tent – Even though I car camp, I always carry this tent – the Coleman Instant Screenhouse. It can mark my place when I’m dispersed camping & gone for the day, it’s super easy to put up & break down by yourself & nice to have a spot to hang out in, make food in, etc when it’s buggy, or lightly raining.

Coleman Screened Canopy Tent
$87.10
Coleman Screened Canopy Tent | 15 x 13 Screened Sun Shelter with Instant Setup
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Cooking Gear for car or tent camping:
Superior Backcountry Cookware – easy to clean and PFOA-free.
Camping Stove Windshield – lightweight, compact, and foldable.
TOAKS Light Titanium Pot – great little pot…the one I use 95% of the time.
Camp Tea Kettle – I love this tea kettle for exacting your pour.
Camp Table – I love this table: big enough for two or preparing food, but folds up super easy, fast & flat. I store it under my bed.

Sturdy refillable water jugs. I love these 1-gallon jugs and they’re so easy to refill with water from almost every refilling station. They don’t spill, leak or break. I always carry two.

I also recommend an axe for cutting up kindling. This one comes with a shield: Coghlan’s camp axe compact axe.

Car Camping Bedding

Since you are car camping, you can have a little bit better mattress than a typical camp mattress.  I suggest the ALPS Mountaineering Outback Self-Inflating Air Mat.  It comes in a couple of different sizes and inflates to 4 inches.

suv camping solo
And here’s how it all comes together in Vicki’s 4Runner

I love this Rumpl Traveling Blanket…folds up pretty small when not in use but really warms things up when cold.

Rumpl Camping Blanket for Traveling
$125.00
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sleeping quilt is a great option instead of a full sleeping bag for car camping.  Of course, it depends on the temperature, but since you aren’t sleeping on the ground, all you really need is a warm blanket over the top of you.

Other Essential Gear for Car Camping

I have one set of window screens to keep bugs out; air in or just if you want more privacy or more darkness.

It looks old-lady-like, but I drive for hours and a comfy gel seat cushion for driving is helpful and it gives this short girl a boost to see over the hood when driving those crazy backroads.

ComfiLife Gel Enhanced Seat Cushion
$39.99

ComfiLife Gel Enhanced Seat Cushion - Non-Slip Orthopedic Gel & Memory Foam Coccyx Cushion for Tailbone Pain - Office Chair Car Seat Cushion - Sciatica & Back Pain Relief

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Power Inverter for laptop charging. The BESTEK 300W Power Inverter is what I use to plug into my 12V to plug in my computer so it will charge.

Tape to repair things: Gear Aid Tenacious Tape Fabric Repair
Tape to hold things up inside the car: Double Sided Mounting Tape

Maps: I swear these maps are the best. They show great detail for back country roads. I only use this Benchmark Road and Recreation brand.

Don’t forget the decoration and fun stuff! I love little lights anywhere, but especially in my camper.

Bluetooth speakerfor music, podcasts, or whatever. It’s nice to have a speaker with a good battery that you don’t have to drain your car battery. You don’t need anything big…it’s a small space. 

I suggest a Hammock. It’s a great way to spend time outside of your car. I love to rock in mine.
Eagle’s Nest Outfitters Hammock
Hammock straps

battery-operated fan to keep me cool on hot nights.

Kindle – I use mine all the time; couldn’t travel without it.

More SUV Camping Resources

Further Reading on SUV RVing: How to travel, camp, sleep, explore, and thrive in the ultimate tiny house.  It’s the freedom and flexibility of an RV with the maneuverability, efficiency, low profile, and low price tag of an SUV. Whether you’re going on a short trip and just need to spend one night in your vehicle or are living out of your SUV full-time, you’ll find useful and valuable information in this book.

Once again a reader meetup was completely enlightening and fun. Of course, I’ll continue to meet people while I’m on the road – after all in Vicki’s words “be flexible, open, and ready for unplanned adventure!”

What I learned From My First Car Camping Experience

Since I met Vicki – I have tested out some of her tips on my own solo camping adventures! Here’s what I learned when I did my Colorado campervan trip.

The Emotional Stages of a Traveling By Yourself

When doing a road trip by yourself I find that there are pretty standard stages you go through: Excitement, Panic, Fear, Understanding, Comfort, and Empowerment. Here’s how I went through them in my recent solo car camping experience.

Excitement

I poured through maps, became familiar with camping apps, read articles on campervan tips, and had a big list of things I needed to bring. The excitement carried me all the way to pick up my rental campervan.

Panic

I’m not sure why, but suddenly after days of excitement, self-doubt crept in as I begin driving. I worried about driving a bigger-than-normal car, worried if I’ll be able to find camping spots. I am nervous about hiking alone, I wonder if I will get bored, or have to sleep in places I don’t want to (will I be sleeping in a Walmart overnight parking lot?!). All of this while I am also trying to learn how to get used to using side mirrors instead of a rearview mirror and listen to directions from Google.

Fear

On my first night of sleeping in the van by myself, I will admit it, I was scared. I felt weirdly vulnerable. Even though I have locked all of the doors, and put the window covering up so no one can see in, it still felt weird to be in there alone. I brought a can of pepper spray with me that I placed nearby along with my keys in case I needed to make a fast getaway. I didn’t sleep too well that first night, hearing every little noise or squeak. It happened to be really windy the first night too so the whole van swayed at times!

Understanding

Once I woke up that next morning and realized that I was just fine, I started to let the fear go. The next day of driving was easier. I was getting used to this new vehicle to drive, where things are, and how big it is.

Comfort

Suddenly I have my music playlists on and I’m singing along, snacks on the passenger seat and I’m comfortable and relaxed as I drive along. I’ve settled into this new vehicle and each day I settle more into the campervan life in general.

Empowerment

This is where the magic happens – and it will happen. You wake up, make yourself breakfast, walk around the campground and you feel strong and confident. I think it’s impossible to not travel by yourself for days and not come out to the other side feeling empowered and strong. This partially comes from the fact that you are doing what you want to do in life. Suddenly you don’t want it to end because you love the feeling of independence and strength traveling alone gives you. I am no longer scared of every little thing or worrying about what may happen. Soak up your new confidence!

As you travel solo being totally responsible for yourself, it’s inevitable that you will discover just how capable you are.

More Reading: Travel Solo With These Expert Travel Safety Tips for Women

More Reading: Tips on How to Pick a Campervan Company to Rent From

Blaze Your Own Trail – Feel Invincible!

There are few things in life that make you feel more empowered than blazing a trail all by yourself. It’s not always easy or always fun, but when you get through it – you feel on top of the world.

Figuring out how to find places where you feel safe to camp, how to manage your campsite life, and navigating by yourself in a new place is pretty damn hard. You feel amazing when you survive it all…and you will survive it – trust me.  Each day on the trip you will feel more and more confident.

One of the main reasons I travel solo is to know that I can. It’s a little test for me to remind myself that I’m capable on my own in any situation.  Whenever I complete another solo road or solo camping trip, I feel invincible!

Once again a reader meetup was completely enlightening and fun – and Vicki wasn’t a stalker…and now she is one of my good friends. Of course, I’ll continue to meet people while I’m on the road – after all in Vicki’s words “be flexible, open, and ready for unplanned adventure!”

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solo car camping tips
Solo Car Camping Tips

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