Best Places to Sleep in your Car in NYC

Hotels are very expensive in NYC, but there are plenty of places where you can get free street parking. What’s more it is totally legal to sleep in your car in NYC as long as your car is parked legally. Here are nine steps to getting a good night’s rest in NYC for free.

Free places to eat and sleep in NYC in the old days.
  1. Find a legal parking spot. Even out of state cars can park in NYC for free as long as the spot is legitimate. On a weekend, there’s plenty of street parking in the upper east side, upper west side and the financial district. The outer boroughs also have tons of street parking available as long as you are away from big commercial streets.
  2. Once you have found a spot, make sure your car is comfortable. If you can fold down the seats, you could put a mattress pad in the back and then sleep on that. It’s almost like sleeping in a real bed in a hotel.
  3. NYC can be bright and loud, so carry ear plugs and a sleep mask to make sure loud noises and bright lights and other things you can’t control don’t bother you.
  4. In the summer, you might want to turn your car on to use its air conditioning. This will probably cost you a quarter tank of gas per night, but that’s still way cheaper than sleeping in a hotel. Some people say that carbon monoxide might leak out of the engine compartment and kill you, but I have slept in my car while it was running and not died. Please check whether your own car will leak carbon monoxide into the passenger cabin. If you are very concerned, you could not run the car while you are sleeping in it and get a small electric fan and keep the window open to keep you cool. Keeping the window open will also prevent humidity from building up in the passenger cabin. If you do keep the car running make sure you are not parked near a building’s ventilation system as you might inadvertently kill all the residents of that building if carbon monoxide leaks from your car into the building.
  5. In the winter, you can turn the car’s heat on, but the carbon monoxide might kill you. A safer option would be to use a below freezing rated sleeping bag in the car. It will be more comfortable than camping and even if you buy a $100 sleeping bag, it will be cheaper than a hotel.
  6. Teslas have a “camping mode” that lets you run the heat or AC of the car and there is no carbon monoxide since the car is electric. Make sure your car has enough charge to run the heat and AC overnight. You don’t want to wake up in a car with no battery left.
  7. The best cars to sleep in are SUVs or Hatchbacks, where you can fold down the rear seats and get a flat place to sleep in which you can fully lie flat. The Honda Fit and Toyota Rav4 are excellent choices for this. They will be even more comfortable if you put a mattress pad on the rear seats. A 5’8” person can lie diagonally flat in the back of a Honda Fit and a Rav4 can accommodate one or two 6 feet people. Make sure to bring a few pillows and blankets.
  8. You might need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Ideally, you don’t need to use the bathroom or you can pee in a bucket. If you want a proper toilet, you should try to park near a restaurant or library with a bathroom. For example, The Midnight Express Diner is a 24/7 restaurant on the upper east side that has a bathroom. If you need to use the bathroom, you can buy a $12 egg sandwich and then use their bathroom.
  9. If you want to shower, you could buy a gym pass for $25 or just be ok not showering for a few days in NYC. If you need to get dressed up for nightlife, consider getting a bigger car with blackout windows and converting your backseat bedroom into a changing room. 

Alcohol will make it more difficult to sleep and you might need to use the bathroom more, so if you do sleep in your car in NYC, be sure to not drink too much, especially at night. Day drinking is better than night drinking despite the stigma against it.

Sleeping in your car in NYC is a great way to visit the city and save money. People pay thousands of dollars for lie-flat first class seats on airplanes and sleeping in the back of your car will be way more comfortable than that.

Congratulations on saving $300-1600 dollars on your weekend trip to NYC! You can use your newly saved money to get a nice dinner in NYC or to pay your rent.

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