I am something of an expert on how to live out of a car and travel. A few years ago I spent about half a year living out of a 2001 Cadillac (in my opinion a pretty good highway car) as I traveled around the country working as a consultant for various startups.
Considering this I have great tips on how to live out of a car full-time and travel even if you aren’t driving a big SUV.
Choosing to Live Out of Your Car Full Time and Travel
There may come a time in your life where you may decide you’ve had enough of enduring a grueling 9 to 5 day job and want to have more freedom in your life. More and more people are choosing to live alternative lifestyles these days in response to changes in technology and the economy. For some people they may decide to run their own business and work completely from home yet others have even dismissed the idea of working in a fixed location altogether. These people want to see the world and all that it has to offer and while most people would purchase an RV, some people cannot afford one. So instead they choose to live out of their cars while traveling.
The Car Lifestyle
Living a lifestyle of traveling in your car may seem fun, but it can be more difficult than living out of a motorhome RV. Yet these difficulties are not impossible to overcome and some people prefer to live a simpler life out of a car. Although this may seem very simple and easy, it is imperative that you are aware of the safety hazards that come with living in your car listed. I’ll be providing some tips that will make your car life as comfortable and as safe as possible. After reading these steps you should have a better idea of how to live out of your car full time and travel.
The Benefits of Living in a Car Full Time and Traveling
These days more and more people are choosing to live out of their cars. With the challenges of renting or paying a mortgage, it is much easier to live a life without apartments or homes. If you are flexible in adapting easily to challenging situations, living out of your car may be an ideal situation for you. Even if you buy a brand new car, depending on where you live the car’s price can equate to or be even less than a year’s worth of rent. There are many people who live out of their cars even in rural areas in order to save costs; I myself found living in a car while consulting in the San Francisco bay area a great deal cheaper than paying for AirBnB rentals or hotels as I could park overnight by the beach.
Dealing with a Car’s Limited Storage Space
The first step in changing your car into a home on wheels is figuring out your storage needs. Ensuring you have enough space for storage can be tricky. Gear that will be used for your hikes, trips and any other adventuring that you do will often be bulky and take up lots of room. It is important to make sure the vehicle you are using for travel will accommodate all of your necessary items.
I chose to purchase the 2001 Cadillac because I wanted a big trunk to store my belongings and when I slept at night, I reclined the driver seat back all the way. I would store my sleeping bag, blankets and pillows in the back seat of the car, making them accessible for when I parked for the night in order to sleep. This was however not very comfortable and I often had restless legs that might wake me up during the middle of the night. Still it was something I was able to handle and eventually get used to.
While I successfully lived out of a 2001 Cadillac for many months, I probably wouldn’t do it that way if I had to do it over again. I would instead purchase something like a Station wagon or an SUV like a Ford Expedition. Even a van would be better (and is why most people living in cars tend to choose vans). There are advantages to a normal sized car however in that it costs less fuel per mile to drive and you can park a great deal easier.
Some vehicles have rails on the roof which allow you to add extra cargo space containers and such, and you may want to consider having that if you’re going to be packing a lot of stuff. I myself didn’t do this however if you need extra storage space than having a cargo rack will be necessary.
Getting a cargo rack may be the lifesaver that you need for the storage in your car. There are a variety of cargo racks that are available in different sizes, models and price ranges. A cargo rack is something that is worth splurging on because it can literally change the way that your vehicle is set up. Veteran car dwellers recommend going to a sports store and telling them the needs that you will have for your car. The people at the store will be able to help you find the rack that will best assist you in your adventures.
Storage bins are another great accessory to have for your storage challenges. Storage bins also come in a variety of sizes and are easy to find. They can be found at stores such as Target, Walmart, and even Amazon. Storage bins are a great alternative for someone who is looking for an inexpensive solution to their storage problems.
Sleeping Arrangements in Your Car
Of course, one of the main priorities for your new car home situation is your sleeping arrangement. In order to travel effectively and enjoyably it is important that you are getting the best and most sleep possible. Car sleepers can choose to purchase air mattresses that fit perfectly to their cars backend areas, or instead choose an easier route that is simply folding down the seats. Depending on how tall you are it may be possible to even just sleep in the backseat of your car without having to fold the seats down at all; I know that I can do this in my Ford Expedition.
If you have many people with you then you’ll likely need to get a tent to make living out of a car work the best. It will be up to you and those you are traveling with to decide the easiest and most comfortable sleeping arrangements. Don’t forget to make sure that you are warm while you are sleeping. Outdoor stores offer blankets that are specifically made for car camping and car sleeping. Although these may be higher in price than your average blanket they may definitely be worth the investment.
It is important to maintain good tire conditions for your car throughout the duration of your journey. This is especially important if your tires are on road conditions such as snow, dirt or gravel. Most travelers that live in their cars often choose different tires than the tires that come with their cars. There are specialty tires that are made for off-roading, long-distance traveling or hazardous weather conditions. That said simply having some tire chains for poor road conditions such as ice and snow will be more cost effective.
A Power Inverter Device
No matter how bold your travels are, you will most likely need to use a power outlet at some point. This always needs to be taken into consideration when planning your car. DC to AC adapters are a great option for your car’s power needs. These can provide electricity to essentials such as phones and laptops.
Where Can You Park Your Car?
This is one of the most common questions and concerns for future car dwellers. There are different options of where to park when considering where to camp or leave your car overnight. Always be sure to check if the place you are leaving your car is legal to sleep in and stay for long periods of time. Also try your best to check the area’s safety rating and surrounding areas you are considering staying in. The places listed below are legal and safe options to leave your car.
There are different types of public lands such as national parks and BLM Land that are feasible options to leave your car. These lands are typically safe because they house other car dwellers. Sometimes, if you’re lucky they may even offer a nice shower or bathroom option. These lands are often beautifully filled with scenery and water for fun activities. Some people choose the destination because they offer a great chance to hike and explore as well.
Walmart Parking Lots
Believe it or not Walmart’s parking lots are also a common overnight parking destination. Many people report feeling very safe while sleeping in these parking lots and I have stayed in many a Walmart lot overnight, usually parking in the back so I don’t bother other people. Typically Walmart has a lot of security around the clock so the chances of your vehicle being broken into are low however sometimes security an be overzealous and shine their flashlights into your windows and knock on your door to wake you up. Keep in mind this is not the most ideal place to want to sleep in your car overnight for this reason. Furthermore in major cities there are a lot of riff-raff drug addicts who live in their vehicles at Walmart parking lots; this has resulted in many Walmarts in major cities refusing to allow even RVers to park overnight.
24/7 Gym Parking Lots
One of my favorite places to park my car was a Planet Fitness parking lot. As these gyms are open all day and night they assume people will be parking at all hours of the night so it won’t be unusual to see many cars in their parking lots. I once lived in a Planet Fitness parking lot for an entire month, using the gym facilities to shower and shave after my morning workout and again later that night before I went to bed. You can get a black membership card for Planet Fitness for less than $20 a month, allowing you to use any location in the USA and Canada. This deal is what made it possible for me to live in my car, as I had access to bathrooms and shower facilities everywhere I went.
Most highways feature clean and safe rest areas. These areas are also ideal because they offer a nice bathroom option. Rest areas might also offer food, soda and sometimes even coffee from vending machines. There may also be other groups of travelers in your car living situation, so this may be a great time to connect and meet others.
While it’s not my preference a truck stop is a potential place to pull over for a night while traveling between major cities. You’ll be able to rent a shower at one and also they usually have a diner and hot food, and it won’t be too unusual for people to spend a night. The reason I don’t prefer these locations is because they can sometimes be very noisy depending on the locals and as their primary purpose is to be a fueling station there is always people coming and going, so the engines can wake you up.
Traveling in Your Car
Now that your car is ready for an open road adventure, it is time to plan your travels. There are many websites that offer step by step directions for road trips depending on the area you want to go to. If you are traveling little to no power, be sure to preprint any maps or guides you may need before leaving for your trip. It is also ideal to have an emergency kit in the emergency number is listed. Of course, you will need to stock up on basic things such as water, toilet paper, light bulbs, etc. There are also many forums and YouTube videos where veterans share their experiences on the road and great tips on how to live out of your car and travel. It is a great idea to do a little bit of research and maybe even connect with a few before leaving for your trip.