When times get tough, we adapt. That is the strength and resilience of human nature. There are a lot of reasons one may consider living in their car, RV or camper for more than a night or two. Maybe you are an artist or an actor or actress or just a person who has fallen on hard times. Maybe you are a part of the new trend toward downsizing and living a minimalist life. Maybe you simply hear the calling of the open road. While living in your car is not recommended, it is possible and we hope these tips can help someone in this situation make the best of it.
Note: For single women reading this article please consider our safety tips as living in your car can be dangerous for men, but more so for women!
Just remember you are joining an "elite list" of people who have lived in their cars at some point in their lives and gone on to do great things.
Famous people who lived in their cars: Jim Carrey, Drew Carey, Kurt Cobain, Jewel, David Letterman, Tyler Perry, Dr. Phil, William Shatner, Hilary Swank, Sam Worthington.
We hope this inspires and motivates you to get back on the horse and keep grinding.
Now how to make your temporary car home as comfortable as possible:
1. Find a suitable vehicle
Not all cars will be comfortable or even possible to live in. If you have any warning and can see the writing on the wall, consider to get a van preferably a used delivery van with no windows. You can build a platform bunk with storage below, install a rooftop skylight or hatch and have more space to work with.
2. Use your current permanent address to
- Rent a post office box or a private mailbox. Private mailboxes are more expensive but can look more like a real apartment address and accept packages.
- Finish or renew any paperwork that might require a permanent address.
- If you have any family who refuse to help or who you do not want to ask, find out if you can at least use their address as your permanent residence address.
- Get a gym membership or sign up for a local community college so that you can use their gym facilities (more on this later).
3. Keep your personal identification, driver's license, car insurance current and accessible at all times in case of police inspection
4. Use a steering column lock
Your vehicle is now your home. If your vehicle is stolen, there goes your home. You can find steering column locks for $20. Buy one and use it!
LIVING IN YOUR CAR
1. Find an inconspicuous and safe spot to park
Check with any relatives or friends if they might let you park on their property first. Find out if there are any designated parking areas, organizations or businesses in your city that allow people to park overnight. For example Walmart sometimes allows people to camp overnight in their parking lots. This is legal, and in some cases they even screen people who use the lot and even designate women-only lots.
Note: Depending on your climate you should consider trying to find a parking spot in the shade.
- Church Parking Lots - Try to find a church that is less used than others, their parking lots should be quiet during weekdays. You may be able to ask assistance from the church, but wait awhile and make sure you approach someone who seems trustworthy and willing to help.
- Business Parks & Industrial Estates - these are often busy during the day but quiet at night. Security may enquire about your motives, but if you are honest that you just want to sleep there overnight they may allow it as their main focus is to protect the property.
- University Parking Lots - this is a good option for students but not so great if you are not associated with the university.
- Restaurant or Retail Store - if you know the owner or can manage to establish rapport with them, they may allow you to stay overnight in their parking lot if they consider it as a type of "security guard" for their establishment.
- Hotel/Motel Parking Lot - Most hotel or motels allow parking until checkout time (normally 11am). This is a temporary option if you are on the road but can work for an overnight.
- Yacht / Boat Harbor - These are notoriously "free zones". Fisherman, commercial boats and their crews all need hot showers and use transient vehicles so most likely no one will notice you and your car. Offer to wash or wax a boat and from then on you should get legitimacy and even a key to the showers/gate.
- Camping Grounds - These can be very expensive so are not recommended. However national forests sometimes have showers and bathrooms and can be free but usually with a time limit.
Once you find the right spot try to arrive late at night and leave early in the morning before 7am or so. This will draw less attention to you.
Women Safety Tip: try to find an organization that has women-only overnight parking locations with security such as some Walmarts. Check with your local government offices as they may be able to help.
2. Buy earplugs
The places you will be parking and sleeping may be noisy. Invest in some cheap earplugs to block out the background noise if it keeps you awake.
3. Find a place to shower
Maintaining your hygiene is important for your own self confidence and to make sure you don't go too deep down the "rabbit hole". You may also be interviewing for jobs, and you will still likely need to interact with other people. Keep clean so that others will have no idea you are even living in your car at all! Letting go will make it much harder to pull yourself out and having good hygiene will help you with a positive self-image.
- Gyms - a gym membership can be expensive from $35 a month to 55 a week. This is a lot of money for just a shower. This is not the best option as you likely are on a tight budget, but we thought it worth mentioning in the case you are living in your car for other reasons or maybe you have a free or cheap membership possibility.
- Community Recreation Centers - most have showers and facilities and may or may not be cheaper than a private gym. It is worth checking.
- Camping Grounds - KOA or other camping grounds normally have showers. You could check into one a few nights a week to wash up as an option.
- Public Swimming Pools - public swimming pools normally have showers. Some pools are even free, others you may need to spend a small amount. If you are looking for exercise you might take advantage of the time to do a few laps as well.
- Truck Stops - truck stops often have showers for truckers just ask the attendant for a coupon or if they have showers.
- Highway Rest Stops - some rest stops have showers for truckers as well. You might be able to find one that you can regularly use.
- Churches or Homeless Shelters - some charitable organizations or churches might have showers you can use for free, just be honest and ask.
If you can't find a good reliable place to shower, you can consider the "dry bath". Use unscented baby wipes, or find a single-person bathroom you can use to wash up in. Wash your hair, face and bring a towel to dry your head. Alternate between locations.
Women Safety Tip: make sure you find a safe place to shower in a female-only restroom or shower.
4. Stay under the radar
It is important to keep your situation secret to minimize embarrassment, attract less attention from local police and criminals.
- Consider reflective window shades for privacy
- Depending on your local laws you could consider to tint your windows as dark as possible
- When you moved around in the car move slowly to avoid rocking it and drawing attention
- Rotate among parking spots to avoid getting noticed
- Keep the windows cracked enough to let fresh air in and avoid condensation build-up
5. Get the essentials
- A mattress - inflatable, camping, mattress pad
- A cheap waterproof cooler
- Portable Toilet Bucket - if you have room, you can get a chemical toilet bucket for under $30
- Backup Battery / Air Compressor - to jumpstart your car, or pump flat tires
- Tire Sealant - the kind that can be removed
- Voltage Cutout Device - see below
6. Generating Power & Cooking
Using your car's engine or battery to power your new home is possible. However your car is not designed for higher energy devices (more than 100 watts) so there are some steps and precautions you must take.
Use a voltage cutout device
This device will prevent you from fully draining your battery requiring you to jumpstart it. Continually draining your battery or "deep cycling" it completely can damage it requiring an expensive replacement. These range in price, effectiveness and technical knowledge to setup. The RoyPoy Cigarrette lighter adapter provides some level of low voltage protection.
However if you are planning for a longer stay in your car we recommend an automatic device such as The Galley Power Low Voltage Battery Disconnect. You can specify the voltage (this varies depending on the climate you live in). Here is a table on the minimum recommended voltage setting per temperature you live in:
After your power is cut, if needed urgently you can start your car. However your battery will naturally charge back up while driving. Get a battery indicator to keep tabs on your car's battery.
Consider a gas camping stove to cook with
Depending on your financial situation you may want to cook your own food. If you can not afford that, you might consider checking homeless shelters, foodbanks, or large grocery store chains for expired food options.
Using your car's battery to cook is not a good idea and likely your car even if running could blow a fuse. With some technical knowledge and additional investment in a dual-battery setup + inverter cooking in your car or van may be possible but requires additional knowledge and cost. A more practical option is to cook with a gas camping stove. However it is very important to cook outside of your car with any open flame. There are too many risks of burns, fire, etc. so make sure to cook outside in a safe place.
7. Use bags & Tupperware to store and organize your belongings
Although your car may seem like a small place it is easy to lose things. Organizing your belongings into containers will help you find things when you need it and keep your car less cluttered. A cluttered interior may draw attention. You should consider to store your bedding in the trunk as well.
Some good options for car storage are ikea bags, reusable shopping bags and Tupperware.
8. Keep your dirty clothes in a separate bag
This will help avoid smelling up your clean clothes and the rest of your car and make it easier for you to take your dirty laundry to a laundromat.
9. Get a good quality flashlight
Maglites are a good option as they can also double as a weapon to protect yourself. A headlamp is another good idea if you can afford it as this will provide light while keeping your hand's free.
10. Consider your food options
- Peanut butter, tuna and crackers - a well rounded diet with no refrigeration required.
- Free Food - Foodbanks, Charities, Churches, Homeless Shelters and expired food from grocery stores are all options if you can not afford food.
- Gallons of water - Keep a few at all times, refill at public areas/rest stations etc. Important for drinking and other things.
- Other supplies - plastic utensils, plates, cups, powdered milk, rolled oats, protein powder
11. Stay Positive
If you are living in your car because of hitting a rough patch, remind yourself - it's temporary. Spend your new free time searching for jobs. Take anything you can find, minimum wage is better than $0! Once you get some income, keep looking for something better. There are many programs, communities, and organizations that will offer free help. Check with your local government, church or charity organizations. Go to the public library to research and use the internet for free.