This Instructable is basically here to say that Yes, you can live out of a small sedan. In my case, I lived out of a rented 2016 Ford Focus for 5 days. Now you might automatically be forming the retort: "Five days, that's not really living." I beg to differ. My experience stands as a proof of concept. It is also a resource for those wanting to either travel cheaper and more freely, or daring enough to try and live for an extended period of time out of their car!
Check out the video up top if you want a quick run through of my experience!
This Instructable will target those who want to live out of their car in a city. Nevertheless, It has crossover to those wishing to go to rural areas. I have experience doing both. I've spent several weeks living put of my car and hiking in National Forest, National Parks and State Parks as well (photo above). For those trips, I had a minivan, which served better for longer of period of times away from cities.
*Last photo is of me living out of a van several years ago.
*$35/day is mainly car rental and gas (~$135) with some food tossed in on the side.
Step 1: Supplies: Down to the Basics
There are a couple basic things you will need to get by on a day to day basis. But first its worth noting, this lifestyle expresses its beauty in its simplicity. There are few things more freeing than NOT having the option to have more stuff. So in this section we will be taking it to the basics.
Things you WILL need
- Sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag (or blankets/sheets)
In all seriousness, that is all you need to live happily out of your care. Remember you are "living out of your car", not living IN your car. You basically sleep in your car, drive in your car and do everything else outside your car.
Things you will PROBABLY need
We can go into all sorts of details on nifty gadgets that'll make your space more compact or clean or livable. But for the sake of brevity we will stick to basics that most people would at the very least appreciate.
- DC-AC Car inverter
- Spare Battery Pack (phone)
- Jumper Cables (oops left my phone plugged in)
- Window Screens/Shades
- Hanging Netted Bags for clothes and food
- Shower Towel
- Hand Towel
- Napkins/Paper Towels
- Trash Bags
- a Bowl, Spork and Plate
You might think that a few of these are a little random. Let me explain. Window screens are about peace of mind, which makes its reality known in hours of deep sleep acquired. The bags are because organization is really important. there is nothing worse than not being able to find something in a tiny car with a bunch of your crap in it. Trust me, you WILL need towels because you WILL spill things on yourself and your care. Finally, a Bowl/Fork/Plate play into eating cheap while out and about.
Step 2: Sleeping: Let's Recline
Sleeping is pretty straight forward, you can lean the back seats down in the 2016 Ford Focus. Quite a few cars have this feature actually, just make sure and check that both rear seats actually lean forward.
Issue: Rear Seats Don't Lay Flat
In the case of the Ford Focus, the rear seats fold forward and make about a 20 degree with the ground. So you can't actually lay flat. What's worse, is if you sleep with your head on the folded seats, you are more exposed to passerbys. This means, more attention and more headlights in your face.
Solution #1: Head in the Trunk
Sleep with your head in the trunk and your feet on the rear seats. I found this to be the most comfortable position. I felt safer because a passerby would only see a sleeping bag. Also this cut out the headlights of passing cars or the spray of street lights.
Solution #2: Find a Downhill Slope
After my first night's uncomfortable sleep, I learned to parked on a slope. You can counter the slant of the rear seat by finding a hill on which to park. In my experience, this is a must, for a solid nights sleep.
Solution #3: Tinted Windows
Now this isn't an issue if you own the car, but you obviously can't tint a rental car's window. So the solution is to put your bags, blankets or clothes over the windows so people can't snoop on you. Typically they don't anyways, if you are smart about where to park.
Step 3: Where to Park?
Sleeping safe and sound hinges just as much on where you park as the thickness of your sleeping pad! If there are two tips I can offer, they are BE SAFE and BE SMART.
Option #1: Commercial Parking Lot
Typical examples of these kinds of spaces are Walmarts, Targets, movie theaters, 24 Fitness and any other 24 hour joints.
Pros of a commercial parking lot:
- Allow overnight free parking
- Traffic is somewhat consistent, so you won't be noticed
- Typically have public restrooms
- Sometimes you can snag Wifi
Cons of a commercial parking lot:
- Traffic is somewhat consistent, so you might get annoyed
- People can park right next to you and that is pretty uncomfortable
- Higher risk than residential because of the higher traffic
- Parking lot overhead lighting
Option #2: Residential Parking Space
In short, this is in front of someone's house. This is where the "be smart" comes in.
- Don't park directly in front of someone's house. People tend to notice when a new car is in front of their house.
- And park where other cars are. This goes back to "Blend in"
Pros of a residential parking space:
- Not much traffic
- Neighborhood watch
- Typically darker (if you avoid street lights)
- Sometimes can snag unsecured wifi
Cons of a residential parking space:
- Neighborhood watch. If people notice you sleeping in your car, they might call the cops
- People will notice a new car around their house
- No public restrooms
The Where to Park Conclusion
Both residential and commercial parking have their place. Personally, I opt for a residential area if I can. If you do this though, you have to find a bathroom before you find your parking spot. I just feel safer and more comfortable in a relatively nice neighborhood.
Step 4: Hygiene on the Go
Hygiene is important for physical and mental health. Therefore it deserves a pretty thorough breakdown of your options.
Bushing your Teeth:
This is pretty easy, you can do it basically anywhere. Typically I brush my teeth during my last bathroom break before I settle down in a parking spot. If you forget though, just brush you're teeth on the side of the road. No harm done. Flossing is made SO much nicer if you buy some flossing picks.
Showering is the tough one and usually the one people have issues with. First let's talk about showering options because there are two: full shower and sponge bath. A sponge bath is simply a wipe down with a wet towel. The nice thing about this, is that you can do it at really any bathroom. The negative is that it simply doesn't clean you off that much and you can't clean everywhere. That being said, it is MUCH better than not washing at all for several days.
The full shower is where the money's at, and there are more options than you would think.
Shower Option #1: The Truck Stop
Truck stops have showers for truckers, I mean how else do that live out of their trucks and stay pretty clean? This option is great if you are aren't staying in one place for a while They usually cost a couple of dollars and can range from gut wrenchingly gross to pretty fancy! Just make sure you have flip flops.
Shower Option #2: Gym Membership
You can pick up a 24 Hour Fitness membership and take care of all of your personal needs. These range from long term plans for as low as $40 to month to month $70 memberships (depending on what gym and where). This option is great if you are staying somewhere for a while, and arguably a must. The other benefit of this option, is you can just park and sleep in their parking lot :)
On the other hand, if you are just passing by, you can ask for a guest pass to a gym. sometimes they will leave you alone to stroll the halls to check it out. This can obviously only be done once, but for short trips it can do the trick.
Shower Option #3: Pool Hall
This can get costly, but its still an option. Swimming pools have locker rooms with showers that you can use.
Shower Option #4: The Beach
If you are somewhere around the coast, then you can usually find an outdoor shower. These are typically set up on popular beaches so people can rinse off after a swim. You don't have to feel weird taking your shampoo and going full ham on your body wash because a decent number of people do this. It is a little uncomfortable, though, I will admit. It just takes a while to get used to "showering" in such a public place.
Shower Option #5: Religious Building or Organizations
Depending on what religion and what type of building you find, you can sometimes shower at religious meeting halls. Generally speaking, religious organizations are willing to help people out. If you are respectful, nice and open with them, they might be towards to as well.
Shower Option #6: Public City Buildings
In some cases, public city buildings have a showers in their bathrooms. For example, I have been in lightrail service stations that are open to the public and have a shower in the public restroom there. You just have to be aware of the hours of operation.
Washing Your Clothes/Sheets
Step 5: The One Stop Shop: Wifi - Charge - Brush - Eat - Drink
You are basically solid now on what to have, how and where to sleep and where to wash up. Now let's move onto the last point: Coffee Shops.
Full disclosure: I love coffee. I call Coffee Shops the One Stop Shop because you can essentially live out of them. Let's break down their key features:
- Wifi - they ALWAYS have wifi and its usually pretty good
- Charge - you can spend hours surfing and charging
- Brush - bathrooms are usually single person, nice and great for sponge baths or teeth brushings
- Eat - breakfast is served
- Drink - your cup of coffee/tea comes with a side of unlimited Electricity, Wifi, Water, Bathroom Breaks and Hipster indoctrination.
I have spent hours, planning my routes and my days, editing videos, charging my electronics and surfing the web in coffee shops. But coffee shops aren't the only ones. a lot of places have these features, from book stores to restaurants.
So the point is, find YOUR place. We are creatures of habit and we feel comfortable going to the same places or even just the same type of places. Since your home is on the move with you, you have to make where you are your home. And that means feeling comfortable where you are wherever you are. For me, that's coffee shops :)
Step 6: Closure: Live It Because You Decided To
Choose to love it if you choose to do it.
This lifestyle/travelstyle isn't for everyone. Its not always sunshine and butterflies. Sometimes all you want is to sit on your OWN toilet, or stand in your OWN shower. Sometimes you feel sick and the only place to throw up is on the street. But the bottom line is Its a choice and you have to understand your own reasons for doing it. Whether it be adventure, the challenge or necessity be ok with everything that happens because that's what life is about and that won't change when you start driving around in your house.