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.

Final thoughts

When the weather gets too bad, leave.

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!

Your thoughts on "Staying warm, keeping cool when vandwelling"

  • You need to come to Humboldt County, Northern Cal. Ocean, Redwoods, temperate weather! We moved here because, most of the time, there's only a 8/9 degree difference in temp. day time high and night low. check out Localvore meal at Bayside Grange on Sun. Oct. 4, 5-7PM.only $5 if you don't bring a dish! Sat. Fortuna Apple Festival Oct. 3, all day, town-wide, cider tastings! Oct. 10, Sat., Country/Western dance at Moose Lodge in Eureka. 8PM. $10? big wood dance floor. Oct. 3 & 4=Fieldbrook Fall Festival. till 9PM Fri. till 7PM Sun. Eureka=go to the docks at Woodley Island and buy fresh Tuna! Eureka also hosts Arts Alive all over Old Town the first Sat. of every month 6-9PM. Music, wine, food everyhwere. Sometimes Free inside the many stores. Find a copy of our North Coast Journal, Free in enclosed stands in front of stores everywhere. There are sections with the week's goings-ons. it has the list for Arts Alive in there that week. Check out Blue Lake Casino: nice hotel, outdoor hot tub, good food, live bands Fri. & Sat. nites. This is the home of the real Logger Bar, featured in "Humboldt, the Movie", a must rent before you come. All You Can Eat Oriental Seafood Buffet in Arcata. Arcata Plaza biggest of the fArmers Markets is Sat. 11-2PM. pLENTY OF bARS AND mUSIC IN THAT AREA, ALSO. Go up to Crescent City, spend day exploring Rt. 199 into Oregon for some of the best Redwoods. or go south to the Avenue of the Giants down near Garberville, into Phillipsville, Weyott, Miranda, etc. plenty of parks allowing camping along the 199 and the 101. complete with streams, rivers, claims to fame like Tallest Tree,etc. Rockerfellar Forest is our favorite. But be warned if you decide to go back to Ferndale or Eureka area by way of the Mattole Rd. You might want to just turn around and go back out via the 101/Avenue of Giants that runs parralel. No bathrooms, restaurants, etc. and the 36 miles will take you five hours to traverse. So start early and make sure you have plenty of gas! No place to sleep over on the narrow, steep roads. And always keep in mind the Instant Fog. You never know. Personally, I don't drive much after dark, except short distances to a nearby store or restaurant. But you can usually tell by nightfall if it's going to be thick. Best beaches: Moonstone Beach via the 2nd? Westhavan exit. Trinidad Beach/Head/Dock. It's a quaint town with restaurants, gas. Clam Beach camping. up a little past McKinleyville, right on the 101. Winco in Eureka has best grocery prices, but the Co-ops both in Eureka and Arcata and Wildberries in Arcata, Eureka Natural Foods, all have your grass-fed ground beef, organic local veggies, home-made soup bars, etc. Trees of Mystery, on your way up to Crescent City is cool. This time of year, you'll run into lots of houseless people here who can share info. and show you the ropes. Just don't give money to everyone, even if you can. Some are just arrogant college students from HSU with an attitude.

    on September 29, 2009 at 11:08 am Reply
    • Some brilliant ideas, thanks Pat.

      on October 6, 2009 at 10:20 am Reply
  • The second battery is a great idea. A lot of overland drivers have them standard for the stated reasons. I'd also add that if you're going to be snuggled in a blanket or sleeping bag at night, it is usually a good idea to crack a window to let the condensation out. Nothing worse than having to wipe your windows down on the inside if the sun doesn't come out the next morning.

    on September 29, 2009 at 6:00 am Reply
  • Thanks Peter. Very good point!

    on September 29, 2009 at 6:05 am Reply
  • Yes, very good point! That's something we've found sleeping in the Spaceship; it gets very damp if there's no circulation.

    on September 29, 2009 at 9:00 am Reply
  • Driving in a boiling car without properly working air-con can be a real nightmare...Thank you for great piece of advice.

    on March 30, 2010 at 1:00 pm Reply

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