Our planet is changing. Weather is getting more severe and pushing people further from their homes. Our Climate models do not predict the situation getting any better.
The only thing rising faster than the sea level is the U.S cost of living. With the cost of living pricing out more than just the lower class; people are looking for ways to avoid the trap of “living to work”.
Car living offers a solution. Living in your car is not just hippies in their van anymore. People from all walks of life are getting up and getting out there. Living in your car comes with unique challenges along with opportunities. Travel doesn’t have to be relegated to 2 weeks out of a year, you’re no longer paying rent, etc.
We hope what we have below will get your gears turning if you’re thinking about living on the open road.
Here are 50 tips for living in your car:
The best gear to buy
The lack of the right gear can turn the smallest situation into a nightmare. Of course do specialized research based on your needs but these are some must-haves.
1. Mesh boxes for clean clothing storage.
2. Dirty clothes bag.
3. Mini containers that can double as a sleeping platform.
4. Jackery power bank.
5. Window tint.
6. Blackout curtains.
7. Window deflectors
For more advice on gear, check out our article on how to stay cool while living in your car.
Straight from the mouths of people living the car life. Here are some rookie mistakes you can avoid.
8. Solar is not needed for urban car living.
9. Living in your car doesn’t mean you need to be a recluse.
10. Don’t make your first time living in your car a completely foreign experience.
11. KISS(keep it simple stupid). Don’t spend a ton of money when the goal of car living is a frugal lifestyle.
12. Don’t buy a car/RV for the express purpose of living out of it.
Tips on where to park your car
Living in your car can be unnerving. Make sure you take all the necessary precautions to have a good night’s sleep.
13. Scout for locations on google maps
14. Don’t park in front of a single residential house.
15. Park on streets occupied with other cars.
16. Park next to non-residential areas or public buildings(churches etc)
17. ER rooms
18. Campgrounds. You often have to pay. But the fee is minimal and you won’t have to worry about being disturbed.
19. Hotel lots. Have heard mixed feedback but generally a good place to try.
20. Train stations or bus lots
21. Don’t stay in one spot for too many nights.
22. Have a minimum of 10 places to park your car in every city.
Safety tips when living in your car
23. If cooking, cook outside. The smell gets trapped in the car.
24. Have a map of 24 hour places in your area.
25. Put gig job stickers on the back of your car(Lyft , uber, etc.) Most people will assume you are sleeping between gigs.
Living in your car can get lonely. Make sure it doesn’t get to a debilitating point.
26. Routine is important. Seeing the same faces when you’re out of your car gives you a sense of belonging.
27. Know the ins and outs of where you’re traveling to. Any good recreation areas?
28. Find your community both online and off. Here are some really great online communities.
29. Keep windows opened slightly to reduce condensation. The condensation will leave your car colder than leaving your windows cracked.
30. Only insulate your car if you have a heater.
31. Park where the sun will hit you early(winter). Park in the shade(summer).
32. Cracking your trunk open helps to keep you cool substantially
33. Fans with 8 inch plus diameter make less noise and move more air
Taking care of business
34. Mailing address
- Ask to use a friend or family member’s address.
- Ask your employer to use an address you don’t reside in. They often don’t question it.
- P.O box or CMRA (CMRA looks like a regular address)
35. Determine your dietary needs.
36. Register with AAA. It’s like another layer of car insurance.
37. Make sure someone you trust knows your living situation.
38. Update all your cards before you move out.
39. Fix anything and everything at the mechanic before you go.
Cleanliness is next to Godliness
It’s one thing having a messy car when you’re only in it a few hours a day. But when it becomes your home, tiny messes can become a hassle.
40. Sanitation is important.
- Be vigilant about food crumbs.
- Waterless soup.
- Waterless toothpaste.
- Try sanitary wipes.
- Use car fresheners.
41. If you’re looking to go off grid a trash receptacle outside of your car is a necessity.
42. Investing into high quality, washable seat covers and matts makes cleanup easy.
43. Meal prep at a friend’s house. Make sure you do the dishes!
44. Get a gym membership. Free showers and more.
45. You will need a bigger pee jug than you think. We suggest a minimum of 20 oz.
46. Use water boosters(Liquid I.V and electrolyte packs) to make your water last longer.
47. If saving money is a priority, look for jobs in affluent cities where the wage may be higher than the state average. Your overhead is non-existent( pun intended) so you keep a lot more.
48. Freelancing is a great way to make money on the road. Look at sites like Upwork and Fiverr.
49. Your phone is both your lifeline and a money maker.
50. Don’t rent a storage unit unless you have to.
How to get started living in your car (step by step)
When you’re ready to make the leap to car living, use these steps:
Step 1. Find your motivation
Pardon the cliché, but car living is a lifestyle. One that can be adjusted to fit your needs. Car living can solve a lot of problems because it allows you to start from zero. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy .Knowing your why will not only help you when times get tough but will allow you to set reasonable goals that you want this lifestyle to help you achieve.
For example, if you are an urban stealth car lifer who wants to save an absurd amount on rent.
Or are you looking to see where the wind takes you and find what the world has to offer.
Life is about the journey (man these are just flowing out of me right now). But without the destination you won’t take the first steps.
Step 2. Consider your location and weather
The great thing about car living is that you go as you please. But where you wish to go may have unfavorable weather. Always take this into consideration. Be prepared for acclimation sickness, where the change in weather makes you ill.
The majority of car lifers prefer warmer climates, but colder areas are doable and even enjoyable in some ways. Decide what you can tolerate. Some people follow the weather like true nomads, while others don’t move often at all.
Step 3. Prepare your car
Your car is your rock. Don’t let your rock crumble under the weather conditions. Always do a once over at a mechanic when transitioning between drastic climate changes. If you’re going from Minnesota to Miami or Vice versa. These are the things I would do.
Here are some simple things to do before you depart:
From cold to warm weather:
- Wash the salt from your car. Salt erodes the metal undercarriage.
- Change from snow tires.
- Change oil.
From warm to cold weather:
- Change the oil.
- Switch to snow tires if necessary.
- Change windshield wipers.
You will also need to figure out your sleeping and storage situation.The last thing you want is to be miserable from a bad night’s sleep. Removing your back car seats as necessary is a great option to have ample sleeping room. Some people use plywood and lay a bed topper on top.
Some storage containers can double as part of the bed platform. Do your research and find what works for your specific vehicle.
Step 4. Talk to your family and friends
Regardless of your reasons, there is a stigma behind car living. Listen, I get it. I had a family member tell her ex husband she was living with her father. Then tell her father she was living with the ex husband.
But your loved ones care for you and having a support system is crucial. Even if you’re halfway across the country or down the street in the Walmart parking lot. You don’t have to tell everyone but tell someone.
Tell them why you’re doing it and your plan. Maybe show them your setup to set their mind at ease. They may even have insight to make it better.
Step 5. Get a PO box
Just because your car is living doesn’t mean you don’t exist. As little mail as you need nowadays you still need an address. Getting a P.O box is cheap and offers varying sizes for your needs. Just search P.O boxes and type in your zip code. Then choose your needed size and rent it. Simple as that.
One “con” of a P.O box is that it clearly does not look like a home address. This may lead to questions in some circumstances. If that is a concern look into a CMRA. A CMRA is a P.O box from a private business. Its address looks indistinguishable from a normal home address. Meaning you won’t get curious remarks.
These are a bit harder to find. So if a P.O box address doesn’t bother you, stick with that.
Step 6. Consider getting a gym membership
A gym membership is the swiss army knife for car lifers.
You have access to:
- Large space.
For most people living in their car, Planet Fitness seems the way to go. They offer a PF Black membership for 25$ a month. This allows you to use any gym across the country. With most Planet Fitness’ being open 24 hours they also make great sleeping spots. Not to mention free wifi.
Many people living in their car hit the gym multiple times a day. Some go before work to work out. Then go after to shower. A gym membership is an absolute must unless you’re going off the grid.
Step 7. Make the leap
So now you feel completely prepared.
- Bought the items you think you will need.
- Told someone close to you that you will be starting this new chapter in your life.
- Renewed your bank and ID cards.
- And either moved stuff to storage or got rid of it.
Now it’s time to get in, drive hours away and start anew. Right?
Leap into the kiddie pool before you leap into the ocean.You will want your sea legs under you before you are in unfamiliar territory. Start with a night in your driveway. See how that feels.
Did you notice something was missing that you needed?
Improve then expand your horizons. Do a night an hour away. Then 2 nights.
Any glaring issues?
Once you have sleeping in your car down to a science. Then it’s time to hit the open road.
Living in your car is something few will say is ideal. But those who have done it will say it’s an eye opening experience and one they will remember forever. If you’re interested. Put in the work. Make sure you’re prepared. And when you put your key in the ignition for the first time, trust yourself. Because you’re not alone.
If you want to live the California dream on a budget, make sure you read our article on what you need to know about living in your car in the state of California.