Traveling (and Sleeping) in a Small Car


I live for the day I can buy a van. It’s the millennial dream.

What’s stopping me? Three things.

One, the thought of handing over money I don’t have. Two, I know I’d buy an older vehicle to save and have to deal with potential repairs. Three, paying double (even triple) in gas than I do now—it makes me cringe. 

Until then, it’s me and my lil baby Toyota Corolla.

I’ve slept in my Corolla on multiple occasions and have figured out how to make it work.

Sleeping in a small car is super doable, especially if you’re strategic. Embrace your inner control freak and your small car will become your temple. Here, I break down how I’ve done it in the past without losing my mind.


Play Trunk Tetris…Everyday

Stay organized. If you take anything away from this, it’s to keep your space in check at all times.

Even if you’re not a clean freak, staying organized makes finding your things easier and will save you a lot of headache. A lot goes wrong on the road. Don’t let misplacing your toothbrush be what sends you over the edge.

When you know where everything is, you’ll save precious time and frustration. This does take some upkeep though. I had my trunk Tetrised. Everything had a specific spot and was strategically placed to maximize space.

It’s efficient and gives you peace of mind that you have control over at least something.


Stock up on Storage

Bins, baskets and bags. Go to Walmart and stock up.

This goes back to my first point on staying organized. Invest in what will keep your stuff from tornadoing in your back seat. I designated small and large bins according to categories, from kitchen things to climbing gear.

A few years back, I bought a Patagonia 70L Black Hole Duffel Bag from a friend. It was my closet.

Baskets can hold miscellaneous items that you don’t want scattered all over the car floor and don’t fit in the middle console, such as books, chargers or shoes.

Extra backpacks for certain activities, already packed and ready to go, are super helpful, too. For example, a climbing pack with your shoes and chalk or a coffee shop pack suited with your laptop and charger. 


Embrace Minimalism

You don’t need a yoga mat, five pillows and a jacket for every occasion. Decide what’s practical and ignore those “but, just in case” theories floating through your head.

First, identify the main objective of this trip. Are you touring a new city? If so, nicer outfits make sense. Or, is this a climbing trip? Are you sleeping in the mountains all week, barely interacting with civilization?

In that case, leave the dress shoes at home.

Be selective and alternate. My advice: make a list beforehand, then make it shorter. Some trips I’ll pack my favorite climbing pants and live in them the rest of the week. On longer trips, I’ll allow for two or three more pairs and alternate to spread out their filth.


Keep Essentials Accessible

What does your camping routine look like? Pack the car based off what you don’t want to dig for each day.

My essentials: food, hygiene, clothes.

I like to make coffee and breakfast every morning. My lighter, coffee grounds, a tin mug, and french press stay together in a little bin next to my camp stove and propane. It’s all positioned close to the front of my trunk, so I don’t have to pull everything out just to start my day.

My cooler sits behind the passenger seat, keeping midnight snacks dangerously in reach.

For hygiene, my toiletries stay in a bag on the floor of the back seat where I can easily get to them if I’m sleeping in the car.

Lastly: clothes. As mentioned, I keep everything in my Patagonia 70L Black Hole Duffel Bag. Less important stuff goes stashed behind it, like my tent and sleeping pad once it gets colder and I only sleep in the back seat.


Clear a designated sleeping space

Speaking of sleeping in your car, make sure your sleeping space is cleared off. This isn’t 100 percent possible when you don’t have much space, but if you can make it work, it’s worth it.

Moving all your stuff at night just to lay down…sucks. You don’t want to sleep cramped between a bunch of storage containers either.

In my Corolla, the back seat is my bed once temperatures drop. I keep my sleeping bag and pillow on the floor, tucked underneath the driver’s seat. If you go this route, try to disguise the sleeping arrangements as much as possible.

The goal is to remain undetected, even when you’re away from your car. Don’t tell anyone. You never know what people have in mind. Have a story, stick with it and be super vague.


You may dream of traveling cross country in a van, but you don’t need one. Your sanity when staying in a smaller vehicle is organization, minimalism and stealth. Anyone can do it. And now it’s your turn to go try!

If you’ve ever road tripped solo or with a group in a small vehicle, what helped save your sanity?