When I was a kid, my dad lived about 600 miles away from my mom. We spent summers and holidays with my dad. There were three of us kids, all three under 10 years old for a few of the years that we did this. For those of you with kids, you know the potential for disaster that each 1200 mile round trip presented. My dad is a pretty hardcore road trip driver though, so he used to leave his house in the morning, get to my mom’s house in the evening, load up us kids and our stuff, and turn right back around and drive home through the night with the three of us sleeping soundly most of the way. Then on the return trip, he’d pack us all up in the evening, drop us off at mom’s house in the morning and then drive himself home the following day.

I’m the oldest, so I got the coveted spot next to Dad on the bench seat of his old Chevy truck. I slept with my head on his leg. My brother, the middle child, got the rest of the bench seat, with a pillow resting against the passenger door. And my little sister was small enough to curl up on the passenger floorboard on a nest of blankets and pillows.

You might have guessed that this was before the days of seatbelt laws. It honestly wasn’t until I was well into my 20s that it occurred to me that there isn’t some exemption to wearing a seatbelt as long as you are asleep. I sleep well in a moving car, and I always thought it was just fine to sleep laying across the back seat while someone else drives. But then came Preston, my engineering husband, raised by doctors, and I am quite certain he has never ridden in a car without a seat belt for any reason. He was horrified by the idea that I would be in a moving vehicle without wearing my seatbelt.

It simply hadn’t occurred to me before, but I had to concede he’s probably right. Being asleep doesn’t magically protect you from getting in a car wreck. (Although, it might. Fact: I’ve never been in a car wreck while I was asleep.)

But a lot of our adventuring involves driving long distances, and it makes a lot of sense for me to sleep in the car while Preston uses his magical ability to drive through the night, just like my dad could. So we’ve come up with a way for me to sleep in our road trip van, while still wearing my seatbelt.

The whole thing hinges on the ability of my van back seat to lay all the way flat. Here, Corrie demonstrates how this plan won’t work because he clearly needs the whole seat for himself.


Also note that although the seat is flat, it isn’t long enough to support my legs from the knees down. Fortunately, the gap between the back seat and front seats is exactly as wide and tall as my carry-on suitcase.

van-thermarestThrow a Thermarest over the whole assembly, make sure the seatbelt is accessible, and throw a sheet over the whole thing. (Also, the cookstove fits under the seat too.) Add my favorite down pillow, and I’m totally set for the night.

van-bedI also usually have a bottom sheet to keep from being in direct contact with the Thermarest and a top sheet for coverage. Cuz I’m a princess like that. Here’s what my view of road trips often looks like as I drift off to sleep.

van-bed-viewNote: I suspect that this is not an entirely legal deployment of seatbelts, and it’s probably only marginally more safe in an actual accident. Our road trip van is a 1985 Toyota Van with a lot of quirks, so the recline angle of my seat in an accident is probably the least of my concerns in terms of lacking safety features. It’s all worth it for these moments though, one early morning somewhere in Eastern Washington.

roadtrip-selfieSleeping in cars, trucks, and vans is a bit of an art and it’s different for every make of car and even for each individual setup. If you want to figure out how to sleep in your car, whatever kind is it, try searching for things like “how to sleep in a [make model of your car]”. And if you get serious about taking longer trips in your vehicle, the magic search term you are looking for is “vandwelling”. Vandwellers have some amazing innovations in making vehicles livable on the road (and not just vans, but all kinds of cars.)