Image with mountain in background and sign in foreground saying "No Camping of Overnight Parking"

Can You Sleep in Your Car: Tips to Sleep in Your Car Legally

By: Craig

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After a while, every road tripper asks, is it illegal to sleep in your car? The answer to this question gets a little technical, but the cat-nap version is: 

Yes, it’s legal to sleep in your vehicle but it depends on where and when. 

Learning where you can safely and legally sleep in your car, is a long-distance driving tip we were happy to receive before we started our road trip adventures. Therefore, we did some research and compiled it all in this blog post for all fellow road trippers.

The post will cover all of the ins and outs of sleeping in your car. We’ll go over locations where it’s legal to sleep in your car, tips for sleeping in your vehicle, and give you the lowdown on what the law says about sleeping in your car.

Let’s dive in!

Is It Illegal to Sleep in Your Car?

This question can be a little tricky to answer. 

For the most part, in the United States, it is not illegal to sleep in your car. 

But this is a general rule of thumb. And whether or not you are allowed to sleep in your car depends on the following.

  • If you are intoxicated
  • Where and when you are parked 
  • Individual State and local laws

So far, no state has outright banned sleeping in a vehicle. However, most states have some pretty stringent regulations about when and where you can sleep in your car.

Most states have specific regulations about where you can sleep in a vehicle. Surprisingly, many states have banned sleeping in rest stops while others prohibit sleeping on or near busy highways. States typically leave the details about sleeping in cars to local governments. 

Florida is an excellent example of this. Sleeping in your car anywhere in the Florida Keys is illegal, but the laws change once you get out of the Keys. In the rest of the state, you can sleep in your car as long as you’re at a rest stop or somewhere approved—like a Walmart parking lot. 

If you want to know the specifics about laws about sleeping in your car when traveling, we suggest googling “(state/municipality) law on sleeping in your car”.

This will give you the laws to make sure you aren’t sleeping in your car illegally. 

Why is it Illegal to Sleep in Your Car in Some Places?

You’re probably asking yourself, “why is it illegal to sleep in your car?” After all, sleeping on the roadside is safer than driving while drowsy. 

The answer comes down to state and local policies designed to do two things: make driving safer and make housing insecurity more challenging. 

Some laws against sleeping in your car have to do with safety. Sleeping in your car while you are intoxicated could lead to dangerous situations. So could sleeping in your vehicle while parked on the side of a busy highway.

Other laws against sleeping in your vehicle have to do with homelessness. These laws are designed to target people living in their vehicles and restrict areas they can sleep in. These laws are often inconsistently enforced. 

There are plenty of places throughout the United States where you can legally sleep in your vehicle. It’s essential to keep in mind that many states and local governments have rules against sleeping overnight. Some states limit sleeping in your vehicle to just three or six-hour naps before you need to move your car. 

Here are a few places where it’s generally legally allowed to sleep in your car. 

Highway Rest Stops

The good news is that most states allow overnight parking and highway rest areas. These states will generally enable you to sleep overnight at a rest stop, but they also expect you to travel the following day. 

Here are the States that have a firm “no” when it comes to sleeping at rest stops: 

  • Colorado
  • Maryland
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia 

Walmart Parking Lots

Walmart is one of the big topics for answering “Is it illegal to sleep in your car here?”

At many Walmarts, you can legally park and sleep overnight. But this is not an overarching rule, and some Walmarts do not allow overnight parking. 

Walmart’s official website specifically states that they try to accommodate overnight parking for RVs. In practice, this also extends to other types of vehicles as well. Ultimately, the decision is down to the manager at that Walmart as well as local laws. 

The best thing you can do is call that particular Walmart ahead of time and ask their management if you can park your vehicle in their lot overnight. Getting the okay from that Walmart’s manager is a great way to avoid any potential hassles while you’re trying to get some rest. You can even use an app like AllStays to locate Walmarts that offer overnight parking

Dispersed Camping on Public Land

Here’s an option that season road trippers and campers have been using for years. Most people don’t know about dispersed camping, but it’s one of America’s best-kept secrets.

The Bureau of Land Management is a part of the government that most people don’t think about in their daily lives. However, they are responsible for maintaining some of the most stunning campsites in the country. These are public lands that are off the beaten path.

Two compact cars parking on a beach next to a lake.

Dispersed camping refers to staying overnight on public lands that aren’t otherwise designated for camping purposes. The rules are pretty simple.

You can camp for up to 14 days at BLM sites. These are pristine natural landscapes, and you want to leave the area cleaner than you found it. You just need to pay attention to signage that says a place is off-limits for camping to ensure that you do not disrupt the land., 

You can check out the Bureau of Land Management dispersed camping website for more detailed information. 

Apps and Websites to Help Find Places to Sleep in Your Car

One of the most significant advantages we have today is the ability to get instant information beamed directly into our phones. The modern road tripper has access to much more than maps on their smartphone. 

These apps and websites can get you quick information on when and where you can sleep in your car. This is a great option for road trippers who need to find a quick place to get some shut-eye. Check out these three links for some valuable resources when it comes to sleeping in your car. 

Tips for Sleeping in Your Car Safely and Comfortably

Sleeping in your car is a lot like camping. Your experience is going to come down to the road trip accessories you’ve brought with you and the expert tips you’ve picked up on your journey. Here are a few can’t miss ideas for making sleeping in your car safer and easier. 

Window Covers

Privacy is one of the most important things to manage when you’re road tripping.

Window covers are a must-have when it comes to sleeping in your vehicle. You don’t want people peering into your car while you’re trying to take a nap. 

Window covers also help with comfort. It’s easier to get to sleep when you know strangers aren’t looking into your car.

There are a few quick tricks for keeping your windows covered while you’re sleeping in your car.

  • Buy a sunshade for your windshield to cover the biggest “window” on your car. This is also inconspicuous, which is a plus.
  • You can get mini sun shades for other windows.
  • You can cover windows using a t-shirt by rolling them down and “pinning” the shirt in place when you roll them up. This is an excellent option if you’re in a pinch.
  • Avoid using cardboard boxes, trash bags, or anything else that might signal you’re staying for more than a night. 

Build a Bed Platform or Get an Air Mattress

Have you ever seen one of those cool van conversions? This is a tip taken right from living the van life.

Sleeping in your car can get uncomfortable. The last thing you want to do is recline the driver’s seat and try to get some sleep in an awkward position. Buying an air mattress is a quick way to solve this problem.

You can lay an air mattress across your back seats to create a makeshift bed. They even make inflatable mattresses explicitly designed to work around the contours of a typical car back seat. 

You can also build a platform bed right into the back of your van or truck. This is an in-depth solution that probably works a little better for someone looking to make the jump into van life than someone who just needs a quick nap in a Walmart parking lot. 

Text Someone Your Location Before Falling Asleep

This is one of the biggest safety tips that we can give. You want to have a safety contact that you can check in with if you plan on sleeping anywhere while in your car. This is just as true for spending months exploring BLM land as it is for catching some Z’s at a rest stop. 

Ask a friend or family member to be your security check-in contact while you sleep in your car. You want to let them know exactly where you’re located and how long you plan on resting. Have a plan in place for what they should do if you don’t check in on time.

Another option is to share your phone’s location with a  trusted friend or family member. We do this when we go on long trips. 

Crack a few windows

After a few hours of sleeping, the air in your car is going to start to get humid and more than a little stuffy. A parked car doesn’t have the best air circulation in the world. You should crack a window to give yourself just a little airflow.

Remember that you don’t want to open the windows so much that someone could reach into your vehicle. Opening your window as little as a quarter of an inch is more than enough to start circulating air through your car. You can also open two windows that are opposite each other to create a refreshing cross-breeze. 

If you are in a buggy area, these window mesh screens are a must.

Find a Well-Lit but Low Traffic Place to Park

Finding the right location to park your car when you’re looking for some rest is a little challenging. You want to find the right mix of low-traffic but well-lit.

High-traffic areas are no fun to try and get rest in. There are simply too many people moving around for you to get some sleep comfortably. There’s also a higher chance that a security guard it’s going to tell you to move or even get your car ticketed for sleeping in a busy area.

You also want to avoid extremely dark or unpopulated areas. Parking garages are someplace that you should never sleep in. They’re frequently patrolled by security guards who will potentially get you ticketed, and they’re also prime locations for would-be thieves. 

If you can’t find a rest stop or Walmart parking lot, the ideal location would be a residential street where sleeping in your car is legal and no one would notice a new car parking for just one night. 

Stay Warm with Layers 

Dressing in layers is an excellent tip for regulating your temperature while camping in your car. You want to avoid leaving the Heat or AC on while you’re sleeping if you can. You run the risk of draining your battery or running out of gas if you leave your car on while you’re sleeping. 

Dressing in layers keeps you ahead of these safety risks and lets you stay warm. Always have a warm blanket or two in your trunk to ensure you have enough layers when things get cold. 

We love this Rumpl blanket for a compact yet warm option. 

You Got This

With this knowledge, you can now figure out where and when you can safely and legally sleep in your car on your next road trip. Happy traveling!

More Posts to Help You Plan Your Next Road Trip:
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How Many Hours is it Safe to Drive in One Day?