Staying warm, keeping cool when vandwelling
Traveling by car is a happy medium as far as exposure to the elements is concerned. When parked at a campground nature is a little closer than sleeping in a building, but unlike sleeping in a tent there’s a bit more control over how close it can get. Here are some tips on keeping the temperature comfortable.
In cold weather
- Curtains help keep the heat in as well as out. Window glass is a great transmitter of heat, so having relatively thick curtains (try a heavy felt) will keep the car from losing heat. I spent a week one winter freezing my butt off in Albuquerque where the temperature was in the low 20s (Fahrenheit). The next winter I’d finally gotten around to putting in curtains. Driving through Idaho the night temperatures were 0-10 degrees, and while I wouldn’t say the van was toasty, at least I didn’t wake up shivering in the middle of the night.
- Cooler temperatures just make the blankets cozier. Sometimes it’s too much trouble to try to keep the whole inside of the car warm, so get a nice fluffy blanket or sleeping bag and sleep in your sweats. (Don’t forget a hat. Most of your heat will be lost through your head.)
- Never underestimate the power of the sun. It may be your enemy in the summer, but that greenhouse effect is a big help in the winter. Park so the windshield gets direct sun to take advantage of it. At night, park the car so the morning sun will hit it full on; this gives the car a bit of time to heat up before you crawl out from under your cozy covers.
- There are mugs and pots that plug into the cigarette lighter. Hang out at your campground enjoying the weather without having to get out to light up a propane campstove and cook your dinner. In cold weather I’ve found the mugs to be especially nice; I always have cup of tea going. Boil some water and heat up your bed with a hot water bottle.
- If you’re planning on spending a lot of time in the car in cold weather, and your vehicle has the space for it, consider installing a “house battery.” This is a second battery that also charges off the engine but can be used to run a heater (or AC, for that matter) without draining the battery that starts the car.
In hot weather
- Tinted windows and curtains will be your best friend in hot weather. The car becomes a greenhouse in the sun. Keep your curtains closed and get a sunshade for the windshield.
- Shade, shade, shade. Same idea as the curtains. If the sunlight can’t get in, it can’t heat up the car. It’s amazing what a difference parking under a tree can make.
- For keeping food cool consider a mini fridge that plugs into the cigarette lighter or a cooler with dry ice. Dry ice is available at many ice cream shops – if you use it, make sure to keep the car ventilated.
- If you’re finding it too hot to sleep try draping a wet towel over your legs. It may take a bit of getting used to, but it works.
Don’t let bad weather ruin a trip – plan activities around it. Take advantage of the snow and go skiing. If it’s too hot, lather up with sunscreen and float down a river in an inner tube. Spend time checking out museums or dawdle at the lunch counter chatting up the locals.
When the weather gets too bad, leave. One of the best things about traveling by car is the mobility. Follow the snowbirds and travel south for the winter then head back north for the summers. (Opposite for those south of the equator, of course!)
In fact, you may not even have to drive far to find comfort. A small change in elevation can make a huge difference. If the desert is too hot check out the mountains nearby.
Now get out there and have a fabulous road trip no matter what the weather is doing!