As many of you know, I went down to the Chicago Auto Show to cover it for the Upper Midwest Oppo group. The price of a hotel room at the McCormick Place was out of my price range, and living 200 miles from the convention meant driving back home afterwards was unreasonable as well. So, I took the next logical step - I slept in the back of my truck.

(Pictured: The 1-bedroom "Mighty Max" suite.)

It wasn't as simple as just throwing a sleeping bag in the back and calling it good. There was serious planning involved (and not-so-serious planning too), which I'm going to share with all of you. I'll even break down the costs of the crazy adventure as well, so you can go in the comments and tell me what a colossal idiot I am for doing this.

The most important thing, of course, is to have a locking topper. I got lucky here, as mine came with the truck and came with keys. I had it removed for the summer, so I reinstalled it with fresh topper tape (the foam gasket stuff that goes between the topper and the bed of the truck. Next was all of the prep work required.

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I had to get the topper prepared for me to sleep in and not be a) on display like fatty ground beef and 2) to be somewhat insulated. Step 1 here was to coat the outside of the rear and side windows in 5 coats of black Plasti-Dip (2 cans @ $7/ea., Home Depot). Next up was a 4'x8' sheet of 1" thick rigid foam insulation, which was securely duct-taped into place (1 sheet @ $17, local lumber yard). Finally, to reflect heat back at me and try to combat condensation, mylar emergency blankets were taped to the roof and sides of the topper (I used 3, they came in a 10-pack for $8 on Amazon).

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(In the Mighty Max suite, the walls are shiny and crinkle when you breathe. This is normal, you're not having a bad trip.)

Next was to get the truck ready. The Cooper Cobras were down to the wear bars, and the factory chrome wheels were starting to rust. I found a mint condition set of American Racing AR-37's in 16" ($125 on Craigslist), and a set of Yokohama Avid Touring S tires ($100 on Craigslist). I had them installed at a local shop ($54 for mounting and balancing), and after slightly modifying them to fit ($16 in lugnuts from local repair garage, 2 broken drills) I was in business.

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Just to be on the safe side, I brought along my breaker bar with proper socket, spare lugnuts, the two rear tires, and my roommate's jack. The wheels and jack fit nicely in the back, under everything.

Finally, we come to the sleeping surface itself. A full size mattress perfectly fills the back of the truck, coming up to the top of the bed rails (Free, close friend was giving it away). On top of that went a military surplus down sleeping bag rated to -10 Fahrenheit. ($38 on Amazon). For comfort went in my pillows from my bed, along with my down comforter.

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(At the McCormick Place Motel, we spare every expense we can. Sheets are optional.)

Now we come to the burning question that's on all of your minds: "So how come you're not frozen dead?" This is because it actually worked extremely well. There was some condensation on the front and rear windows of the topper (the ones not covered with the mylar blankets), but it retained heat actually quite well. The one downside is that an aluminum box lined with mylar pretty much guarantees no cell phone service while you're sleeping.

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(The balcony view from the Mighty Max suite leaves a lot to be desired.)

So, here's the cost breakdown - not counting wheels and tires, since it needed them anyways:

  • Topper prep: $39
  • Sleeping area: $38
  • Two days' parking: $68

Total: $145. Considering one night at the McCormick Place Hyatt is ($179 + room taxes) + $68 in parking, I'm going to call this one a win.

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So, with this hard science backing me, I'm going to put a call out to all of you. Next time you're traveling somewhere by car or truck, instead of getting a hotel room... consider the mobile hotel you're currently driving.