Several years ago, I stumbled into the world of tiny houses (as you probably did too). The movement was interesting to me on many levels: people were owning homes much sooner, it’s a way to avoid debt, you could travel in one, and so on. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I found really interesting about tiny homes was how people were intentionally living their lives, in a way that they chose.
My family went on many trips around the USA when I was younger in a Class “C” RV pulling a tow-behind car. These trips were the highlight of every year we went on them, and I distinctly remember thinking: “I want to live in an RV when I grow up!” These tiny houses showed me that there were other (and more permanent) options than living in an RV, and seeing these homes reinvigorated my interest in tiny spaces!
Still being in high school though, coming up with the money to build a tiny house was not reasonable and I was focusing my efforts on getting ready to go to college.
Somewhere in college I rediscovered my passion for intentional living when I was made aware of the Vanlife community. I saw the stereotypical instagram posts of a couple’s feet framed in the open door of their van, back-dropped by a mountain range or beach-front (cough cough, let’s just ignore the hypocrisy in the top right corner of this page…).
Wanting to live in a van was so much more feasible to me since the initial investment was quite reasonable, and this was also about the time that I started living in an apartment with a rent payment larger than any of the bi-weekly pay checks I could earn. The size of the living space didn’t scare me at all either.
The potential for this minimalistic lifestyle filled my mind with ideas about: which van I should buy? How would I convert it? How many solar panels would I need? Can I have an air-conditioner? Wait… how much is a new Ford Transit?! What?!?! That’s as much as a Tiny House! What about an old VW? It costs that much and it’s covered in all that rust?! Ugh….
Once I started seriously looking into Vanlife, the un-edited and #notfiltered reality of owning that kind of vehicle started to become clear to me. It would be nice to have a full kitchen and be able to stand in a van, but I wasn’t interested in having a massive vehicle to drive around and find parking for.
Westfalia Vanagons and other VW Vans are very cool (and a definite requirement for hipsters), but the reliability of their engines and the cost of repairs was not something I wanted to sign up for.
Later down the road (no pun intended) I could see myself owning one of these vans and dealing with their shortcomings then, but I had the itch to travel and escape the rent trap now!
While watching videos of Vanlifers I would often stumble across someone living in their SUV, Crossover, or even sometimes a Prius. My initial thought was that must be a very cramped way to live, but the idea grew on me.
I have a Toyota RAV4 and I knew that I could lay down fully stretched out in the back with the passenger seat forward. It didn’t take long for me to start thinking of ideas of how I could make it work. How I would store food? What would I cook on? Where would I park? How to regulate temperature in the car? And so on. I discovered a huge community of people living this lifestyle and it really inspired me.
A few months later, I found myself unbolting the back seats of my RAV and measuring out supports for a piece of plywood what would become my sleeping platform.
It was just an inexpensive experiment, if I could live out of my car I would easily be able to live out of a van or tiny house in the future! But, after only a few nights spent in my car I was hooked!
If you know you want to live or travel in a vehicle, and you’re on the fence about what to do: the following are all the reasons I found for why I love living out of my car, and why I may end up doing it for many more years:
I understand that some people may be forced to live out of their vehicle due to a lack of finances. I’m truly sorry if you find yourself in that situation, and I don’t mean to over glamorize this way of life especially if you are undertaking it with limited resources.
That being said, making a home from your car is a much better option than camping out on the streets and I’m glad to see that you’re researching how you can make the most of your situation!
In my case, I very consciously chose to live out of my car and the benefit of this is an overall decrease in expenditures.
Without a rent, electricity, internet, utilities, garbage, or any other expense that comes with living in a home or apartment, it can become much easier to save money with a smaller income. Though, signing up for gym memberships and those daily visits to that coffee shop will add up.
This lifestyle is also possible if you aren’t making money while on the road, I wasn’t. I saved up working at a job before I left and used a bunch of tricks to travel while spending as little money as possible.
I’ll give a lot of tips and tricks on how to save money while on the road in a future post.
If you find yourself needing to change your living situation or you want to travel and live more intentionally, then the best advantage to doing it in you’re car is…
You Already Have One!
Well, I actually don’t know if you have a car… Do you? This would be really awkward if you don’t… Well if you do have a car, then you can start living in it with just a little bit of knowledge!
Most people picture leaning back in an uncomfortable driver’s seat or hunching over the steering wheel to fall asleep. But, I wouldn’t recommend this route to anyone seriously looking into this way of life.
Do me a favor. Go out to your car and find a way to put down the back seats. In an SUV or Crossover this will be easy, but you should be able to do this in your Sedan as well. Now move whatever crap you have in the back seat out of the way, and try to lay down in the opening you created. For me at this point, I had to push the passenger’s seat forward to give my head enough room (I’m 6ft tall by the way).
If you’re laying fully stretched out and your feet and head don’t touch anything, then congratulations! You will be able to sleep in your car just as well as you do at home.
If you can’t put your back seats down, then you have a few options. You could make a sleeping platform on the backseat or buy an inflatable backseat bed (like this one: Amazon Link). However, if you go that route you will probably have to sleep curled up a little. You could also try removing the back or passenger seat to make more room for a sleeping platform.
The point is that it doesn’t take much to turn your car into a comfortable sleeping space. If you want to learn more about how to build in the most comfort into your car, check out this post: How to Sleep Comfortably in a Car – My Experience
Of course, no vehicle is immune to needing repairs but I can say for a fact that my 2009 car doesn’t see the inside of a shop as much as that 1980s VW does! This is especially true with the newer car you might be leasing.
I am of course generalizing here since there are a lot of cars that we can both point to that aren’t very dependable.
But, even if you do own an older car, what you already have is probably much easier to work on than a van’s compact engine, and the parts will be often less expensive too. I’ve seen several 1990’s minivan conversions with well over 100,000 miles and still driving fine (and quite spacious too).
When you see a car, or even an SUV, in the parking lot of a shopping center, on a city street, or in any other location, is your immediate thought, “Oh, someone must be sleeping in there.”
No! (Unless you’ve been living in a car for a while, then it becomes easy to spot your fellow car dwellers). I’ve gotten away with sleeping in a lot of locations without anyone the wiser.
This creates a bit more peace of mind when you’re dozing off after a long day at work or travel. And it allows you to virtually never pay for a place to sleep, which is a major plus for saving money!
Also, if you create really good privacy covers for your windows then people won’t be able to see in. All they’ll notice are black windows (even when shining a flashlight on them) which is exactly what they are expecting. I’ll make a post shortly about how I made these.
I can’t tell you how many times I was grateful that my car was able to squeeze between those two trees, or zoom onto a highway without any hesitation. Even with everything in my car, it’s ability to turn around tight corners, accelerate up to speed quickly, and fit into every single open parking space is a huge relief.
Traveling in the old port towns of Maine was a good example of why I like a mono-vehicle setup. A large van would not have been able to circumnavigate the small towns and larger cities I wanted to visit (forget it in an RV!).
So, the only option then would be to have a secondary vehicle and park the van in an expensive RV park and spend a bunch of extra money on gas to drive into the city. Or call an Uber, which would also eat away at your funds.
When I sleep in the fuel efficient car I’m already driving, then I just drive into the city, parallel park on the street, throw up my window covers to hide my stuff, and go on my way. All of this maneuverability really simplifies the logistics of day to day life, as well as when traveling full time.
You Wouldn’t Use the Extra Space Anyway!
One thing that surprised me when I first started living in my car was how I didn’t feel like I needed any more space. This was mostly due to finding out how dependent on weather this way of life can be.
Getting a usable level of insulation in any kind of vehicle is incredibly difficult because the walls are only so thick. And the power draw of an air conditioner or an electric heater is to high to run off any battery bank. So, without a generator (which you couldn’t run in most parking spots anyway) the temperature inside the vehicle is very dependent on the outside temperature and sun exposure.
When it comes to sleeping in a car, it’s pretty easy to stay warm or keep cool while you sleep, but during the day it’s a totally different story.
Even if it’s a really cold day out (and especially on hot days), the sun can heat up the interior to unbearable levels. And if it’s a cloudy cold day then it might be uncomfortably cold in the car.
I imagined myself finding a place to park, hopping into the back, and getting some work done on my computer or reading a book. That’s what I see everyone else doing on Instagram! But, the number of times the weather permitted me to actually do this was so rare that I would just find a coffee shop or library to work in. Which are temperature controlled and have free Wifi!.
I love the idea of having my own kitchen, table, bathroom, or even a sofa, plus space to walk around in my vehicle, but none of that is very useful if staying in there will give you heat stroke!
At least in the US, our modern infrastructure is setup for drivable convenience. It is almost never difficult to find a place to use the bathroom, and it’s also trivial to find a park, library, museum, coffee shop, art gallery, or nature preserve to expand your living space and offer a unique place to work, read, or study.
Be Ever Present
I will admit that this is both a good and bad thing. Living in a car takes the comfort out of many daily activities, forcing awareness onto even the most simple tasks.
Having to think about where you’ll find a bathroom before going to bed becomes a serious consideration when you can’t just walk to a toilet in the adjacent room. Or, how emptying out your water tank brings you into thinking about where to fill up again. And, you can’t leave a pile of dirty dishes laying around. They all have to go back into their exact spots for everything to fit together again.
Personally, I like this connection to my daily activities. It brings purpose and a bit of excitement into everything, which I find very invigorating.
You might find the life interesting in the beginning with the mindset that everything will be as easy as being back at home. Brushing your teeth with a water bottle as your faucet, or cook outdoors for every meal will seem “adventurous.” But, it will all get old fast.
I look at this all as a way to stay in the moment, not worry about the past or future. Realizing this brought a lot of peace and (to be honest) happiness to my travels.
All of the above adds up to an incredibly open and free life.
There’s a music festival over on the east coast? I’ll be there in three days! Started talking to an old friend in a state you’ve always wanted to visit? Let’s hang out! Got a job offer on the other side of the country? I can start Monday!
This really applies to any kind of vehicle living, because you have everything you need to live comfortably in a vehicle that can travel hundreds of miles a day. Opportunities seem much less daunting. You start saying yes a lot more, instead of regretting that you had to say no.
Anyone can live this way if they really want to. Will you?
What’s your reasoning for wanting to live in a car? Did I miss something? Comment below, I would love to hear your thoughts!
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