Primer: How To Live Out Of Your Car

Let’s face it, we’ve all romanticized about life on the open road. Whether you’re an avid Kerouac reader, traveling surfer searching for the perfect wave, or simply looking for a life with a little less contemporary responsibility and a little more contemplation, living out of our cars is something we as a culture associate with adventure – provided of course that this is a lifestyle of choice, not forced into out of necessity.

If the former is the case, living such a life can be a fantastic way to see the world, garner inspiration for later projects and feats, and take some time away from the hustle & bustle of the contemporary workforce. Here, you can meet fellow travelers and bask in the wonderment of earth’s natural beauty without worrying about being on time for work the next day. Executed properly, this is life on your schedule. A life filled with freedom, adventure and new experiences around every hairpin turn, every campsite, every beach, and every corner. Sound enticing? Here are some helpful tips on how to live out of your car.

Why Live Out Of Your Car?

Necessity vs. Choice

Here’s the most important question you need to really ask yourself before undertaking such a life-altering task. It’s also what most people ask when presented with the topic of living out of a vehicle – which makes sense. So, why would you ever want to live out of your car? Well, several really. First off, with rising rents across the country, it’s no wonder more and more people (who are oftentimes employed full-time) opt to live in their cars for an extended period of time. It’s when you consider that places like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, even Boston, where the average price for a one bedroom apartment ranges between $2K-3.5K a month that the motivation for car living becomes clearer.

Living out of our cars is something we as a culture associate with adventure.

Another less troubling reason someone would opt for this sort of lifestyle is to live a more nomadic life on the go. Here, sheer adventure is the prime motivational factor. And with so many remote and freelancing jobs available these days, you really only need a laptop, strong wifi connection, and a bit of due diligence to keep the cash flowing while on the road. Imagine, working out of a converted van or SUV wherever you please? Granted, you couldn’t stray too far off the grid here due to a reliance on the internet, but the freedom granted in a situation like this certainly has its perks.

Third, we’ve found that some of us simply want to disappear into a more off-the-grid aesthetic. This lifestyle, naturally, requires significant survival skills and prepping in order to live a life of success deep in the backcountry or drifting across our nation’s highways and byways. To give it all up and drift, grift, and barter is much easier said than done. Though with the right attitude and know-how can be a rewarding experience in and of itself.


Know Your Surroundings

Much like a typical domestic lifestyle, you’re going to spend about half your time sleeping while living out of your car. So, it’s for your benefit to ensure you not only have adequate sleeping materials like a sleeping bag and pad (if you have a larger vehicle) but warm blankets, pillows and things like earplugs and flashlights to keep outdoor noises from disturbing your slumber and to light up the night when needed.

Here Are Some Safe State Parks To Consider

Finding that right fit for the evening or for a more extended stay can be tough. However, considering most state parks allow camping for up to two weeks at a time (rarely enforced by the way) you can spend some quality time outdoors and stay relatively safe for multiple nights before plotting the next move.

A huge aspect of this nightly ritual is knowing where to park your car at night. Considering the goal here is for a restful night’s sleep, location here is incredibly important. As a general rule of thumb, you’re going to want to have a place established about an hour before sunset each day to prevent driving around and searching for spots at night. This also gives you time to scope out the scenery and determine whether or not it’s a safe bet.

As a helpful guide, any sort of public land (national parks & forests, or BLM land) is typically a safe bet. As an added bonus, these are also gateways to premier spots for fishing, hiking, camping, and hunting. Naturally, these spots are ideal, but if it’s not possible for whatever reason, Walmart parking lots are often considered safe places to sleep as well. Places like highway rest areas and truck stops though are often gray areas when it comes to enforcement and safety. Best to trust your instincts here, sleep in your clothes, and if something doesn’t feel right, get up and head elsewhere.


Keeping Up Appearances

This brings us to a key aspect of living out of a car – keeping clean. No matter where your travels may take you, unless you’re spending time deep in the backcountry, keeping clean is a key element in preventing yourself from appearing destitute rather than adventurous. Our suggestion? Invest in a personal showering device like a solar shower or something a little more robust you can attach to the roof rack of your van or SUV. Also, especially in and around campsites, you can find running water that can be great for a quick freshen-up. You can also find these at highways rest areas, and truck stops as well.

Keeping clean is a key element in preventing yourself from appearing destitute rather than adventurous.

Keeping your clothes clean and washed is imperative as well. Which is why personal electricity-free washing devices can come in handy and prevent you from hitting the laundry mat every week or so. Also, if you’re nearby a river, lake or stream you could most certainly keep things clean the old fashioned way with a simple washboard, soap and clothes hanger. You’ll also want to keep dirty clothes separated from clean ones when in transit to prevent soiling any clean clothes by accident.


Mobile Cooking

Unless you plan on eating out for every meal, highly unlikely saving this is more of a vacation than a lifestyle choice, the goal for remaining healthy and fit while living a lifestyle that can turn unhealthy really fast is to understand what sorts of food items take up the least amount of space, keep the longest, and require the least amount of prepping prior to cooking. Speaking of which, it’s wise to get your hands on a portable grill and some campsite cookware to make things as easy and straightforward as possible.

There are also several options for food storage and personal kitchen conversions if you have the vehicle (and the coin) to get them custom fitted and installed. If not, we suggest keeping a rugged cooler stocked with your perishable items, dry storage for non-perishables and keeping an eye out for the next campsite where you can set up camp, get a warm fire going, and cook yourself a hot meal under the stars. It’s why you decided upon this lifestyle in the first place right?

Some Mobile Cooking Essentials To Consider

Here, the key is having access to outdoor-friendly cooking gear that doesn’t take up a whole lot of space in the vehicle. Luckily, there’s a myriad of backcountry camping cookware that can be easily repurposed for life on the road.


Making the Most Out of Your Space

If a life filled with adventure and exploration is the prime motivational factor behind living out of your car, then odds are you’re going to need (and be perpetually surrounded by) a lot of gear. In this case, every square inch of your new home on wheels is high-value real estate. So, it would certainly behoove you to invest in some ways to organize everything from your boots to tents to backpacks, along with ancillary hiking and camping gear.

Our suggestion? Get a cargo rack. These are great to get a fair bit of your gear out of the car and onto the roof. Most, if not all, boast a secure lock so theft isn’t an issue, and all that newfound free space will not only prevent you from looking like a destitute hoarder but will open up the cabin for your sleeping arrangements. A win, win if you ask us. It’s always been the risk-takers, go-getters, and – for lack of a better word – weirdos who change the world and live lives worth living. Also, something as simple as a couple storage bins could go a long way as well to keep things organized and tidy when traveling/living out of your car. Again, if you have the time and money, a custom build-out is always the way to go, and there are plenty of aftermarket workshops that can do this for you based on any sort of van-life inspiration you may have come across.

What’s also key here is power. Especially if things like lighting and internet access are important to you. A DC-to-AC inverter, for instance, can provide electricity to larger devices such as laptops, refrigerators, and the like while driving. However, if you’re planning on parking it for a few days, a robust power bank is the way to go. Here, you can pair and keep these charged through any number of solar panels that can attach to the roof of the vehicle. It reduces the wear and tear on your car battery and alternator, as well as prevent the unthinkable from happening: a dead car battery in the middle of nowhere.


Parting Thoughts

Despite all these contemporary means of assistance in easing the reality of homelessness here, it’s necessary to understand the very real physical and psychological challenges that await you when opting to live out of your car. Normal everyday conveniences like hot showers, a warm bed, and a fully functional kitchen are no longer realities. Safety is also a concern, and a certain level of caution is highly suggested when traveling and living out of your car – especially when going at it alone.

This isn’t, however, purposed to deter you from giving this sort of nomadic lifestyle a go. And keep in mind, if this isn’t a mandatory life decision, there’s always the option to turn around and go back. And while breakdowns and break-ins are a strong possibility, the life experience you’ll garner through life on the road – however brief – is worth it. So, if there are any final thoughts to consider it’s this: nothing groundbreaking or creatively enticing ever came out of routine. It’s always the risk takers, go-getters, and – for lack of a better word – weirdos who change the world and live lives worth living. Whether or not you want to take that leap is entirely up to you.

The Best Vanlife Instagram Accounts

Need some motivation as well as some inspiration to get started? Check out these 15 vanlife Instagram accounts from individuals living the nomadic dream one post at a time.