Living Out of a 2016 Ford Focus in San Francisco for 5 Days $135




About: My sister and I like to make things! And even more than making things, we like to share our creations! We want to create beautiful and compelling content that really helps people to get what they need!

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.

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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)
  • Pillow
  • Water

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:

  1. Allow overnight free parking
  2. Traffic is somewhat consistent, so you won't be noticed
  3. Typically have public restrooms
  4. Sometimes you can snag Wifi

Cons of a commercial parking lot:

  1. Traffic is somewhat consistent, so you might get annoyed
  2. People can park right next to you and that is pretty uncomfortable
  3. Higher risk than residential because of the higher traffic
  4. 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:

  1. Not much traffic
  2. Neighborhood watch
  3. Typically darker (if you avoid street lights)
  4. Sometimes can snag unsecured wifi

Cons of a residential parking space:

  1. Neighborhood watch. If people notice you sleeping in your car, they might call the cops
  2. People will notice a new car around their house
  3. 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

Easy: Laundromats

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.

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77 Discussions


2 years ago

I need a plan for two persons.


3 years ago

The IDEAL car to do this in is the Prius V It has mondo space and you can use the car to power your things and never worry about your battery going dead the car will start and turn off on it's own. So if you have to run heater AC or just watch TV you are kosher. I would take out the back seats and build a decent bed use hot glue gun sticks to attach felt covered panels in the window to keep privacy. Some of the best parking is in garages especially in the summer when the sun can heat your car just park on the side with the most Shade, That be the North East Side if you want to wake early or NW side if you arrive at night and want to sleep in. You can catch the best SW radio there too if you get high up. Shower at the gym ~$25 a month for the best PLFT membership or pick one club for $10 a month. WIFI there you can watch TV on the treadmill. Best of all the Prius gets 40 mpg. I have a Prius but it is not the V it is the gen 2 07 I have trailer hitch and can tow a camper at 60 mph getting 30 mpg. When I don't have the 4x8 micro camper I can get 45-50 mpg.

2 replies

Reply 3 years ago

What is this PLFT membership for $25/10 a month you were talking about?


Reply 3 years ago

The micro camper I have is 100cubic ft the Prius V has about 64 ft cargo space not counting the front seats. I would say the car has MORE space than the camper and with the power resources in the car are just perfect I have camped in the car at Padre Island and I slept very well. Showered at the PLFT gym in Corpis Christi Tx.


3 years ago

Hey thats awesome, city camping!

would love to try this... do it with a friend would be fun!


3 years ago

I'm glad he disposes of it properly, and I wish everyone did. He also has a great point about having a sealed container. A leak from that jug makes trouble.

claudette sova

3 years ago

ok, take a shower at a good gas station, go to the Pilot, Love's travel Plaza. They have great showers and if you want to get a free one without paying for it....Just ask a trucker to "buy" one of their shower tickets. The gas stations want the drivers to stop at their places and they give free showers all the time to the drivers, so they usually have extra ones. But offer to buy one of them and more than likely they will give you one for free. My son has done this for years. He travels a lot and sleeps in his vehicle. Don't forget about having a "pee" pot (a jug with a cap on it) in case you have to go really bad in the middle of the night.

He also gets free ice there and always asks if he can get some ice for his giant soda mug and then puts it in his cooler when he needs to keep some food cold.

Also you can join Planet Fitness for $10.00 a month and stop there to exercise and shower there. They are all over the USA.....and open 24 hrs a day. He also sleeps in their parking lots. Cracker Barrel lets you sleep in back of their restaurants.

The one important thing he does is that he always uses a coupon for any food that he buys and asks for a discount to places that he visits if they accept AAA discounts (which I buy for my son as part of his Xmas gift each year, so that is free for him!!!)

He uses those window shades to help keep the lights out when he is sleeping. When folded for storing, there is always room.

To stay warm on those cold night, lay on those plastic "popping" packing sheets. I have used the ones with the small bubbles on them when I sit in my "pleather" office chair and my butt is warm the instant you sit on them.

He also has a solar LED collapsible light that he uses for when he has had to drive at night and then retires for the night.

Sorry this is so long....just thinking of all the ways he saves money when he travels. I raised him right !!

2 replies
foothillbillyclaudette sova

Reply 3 years ago

I do not have what it takes to ask for a shower ticket, although I know others do it. Planet Fitness's $10 deal limits a person to one location, so I would go to the $20 level and get all of them. The truck-stop showers I have seen were clean and nice, but at $10 each time and up, I'll stick to gyms if I need paid showers.

The pee jug is an excellent idea, and even more so for those of us with aging bladders. Please do not empty these randomly or toss them from the window as you drive. (People do that, and it's way beyond rude.)

claudette sovafoothillbilly

Reply 3 years ago

Note about the pee son said to be sure the cap has a gasket on it too. He always disposes of it (the pee-pee) sensibly.


3 years ago

Cool idea, this would be a great hint or tip for someone doing a big car trip or travelling like you say. As a way of living tho not sure how long term it would be but looks like a great think to do for a laugh and save cash on a short trip.

My main area of concern and be interested to hear your thoughts would be insurance and the risk to yourself, especially if renting a vehicle and the policy. Should anything happen while your asleep inside the car, for arguments sake while your asleep say someone reverses into the car and damages it. Im not 100% confident you would be classed as the innocent party as you would not be using the rented vehicle as intended, i might be wrong but seems there could be some risk and liability issue that could end up costing you a fortune, dont get me wrong people ( myself included ) have the right to stop in places like services and rest untill safe to drive, but not sure they would over you if they found you were sleeping in the boot, plus im sure you would have to seek some form of concnet from the owners of the property maybe?

I laughed when i thought of this and actually said it out load but just being asked by a Police Officer " where were you at the time of the accident" and having to reply with....."in the my sleeping bag" hahahah classic

Great write up dude, look forward to your responce

3 replies

Reply 3 years ago

I agree about not doing this for forever. I've used it for traveling only so far. The longest trip i've done was 2 weeks and that was living out of a van. My brother did 5 weeks out of a van, going all throughout the midwest climbing, hiking and biking. If I had to do it for longer than a couple of weeks, I would definitely upgrade to a minivan, so nice!

That's a valid concern, and an interesting question. I do know that the rental services off what they call (literally) "No questions asked liability insurance". When I asked the representative to explain, he said that you just return the car and they don't ask any questions, if you get in an accident, nothing happens. This seemed a bit like hyperbole, so I was very wary. That being said, I'm sure you can get an actual "No Questions Asked" policy, just know your options.

There is a funny story along that. Back when I was living out of the van, I was in my underwear watching a movie in the car, settling down for the night. We were just outside a national park. And around 11PM a cop rolls up with his lights on and walks up with his flashlight. So I open the door and am sitting there in my underwear looking at the officer. He just said that I couldn't park there :) he didnt even comment about the clothes. So I just said sorry and moved to a nearby walmart parking lot :)


Reply 3 years ago

lol thats awesome, I do find it funny how no matter where your are in the world, most of the time you will more likely be asked to move from a local park or wooded area than you would a shopping centre car park. Its very odd.


3 years ago

If you have room to store a small, portable solar shower (found in the camping area of store), and the temps are right, you can shower in your casual clothes, (or undies if you are in a remote area. You need to have access to a well, or water spout for the about 5 gallons of water needed, and finally a place to hang it in the sun. Great to use as cool down after a long hike, then air dry if it is really, really hot.

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

When my brother and I traveled together, one of us would slowly dump a gallon bucket on top of the other person :)


3 years ago

My husband is a truck driver, and I live in the truck with him (free travel and no rent). I just wanted to say something about showering at truck stops.

1. Major truck stops like Pilot/Flying J, Love's, and TA/Petro have really nice showers with lots of hot water that are cleaned after EVERY use.
2. If you are going to straight up pay for one, it will cost you anywhere between $10-$15, but you dont HAVE to pay for one.
3. At the major truck stops, every shower credit can be redeemed for two separate showers. This is so that team drivers (two drivers in the same truck who alternate driving) don't have to pay for two showers, but anyone can redeem that extra shower.
4. Be social (truckers love talking) and ask a trucker if you can use one of those team showers. If you want you can offer to pay for it, but chances are, the trucker will let you use it for free.
5. Most truckers earn free shower credits because they buy over 50-75 gallons of deisel. Most trucks hold at least 200 gallons, and most truckers have to fuel up every other day. Those shower credits tend to build up, especially at Pilot/Flying J (they have a special where truckers can get a free shower credit everyday if they fuel at least 500 gallons every month). Don't feel bad about asking to use someones shower credit. The worst thing that could happen is that they say no.

TL;DR: major truck stops have nice, clean showers for $10-$15, but you can ask a trucker to use one of his extra shower credits for free/cheap.

1 reply

3 years ago

Thanks for the instructable. From the other comments, I'm sure you have helped open some minds. About your last comment: no way of living is "always sunshine and butterflies." Homeowners have maintenance and other woes. Apartments have neighbors through the wall. Everybody has something to deal with.

Your instructable is particularly relevant to me because I plan to go mobile again soon, long term this time. I have done so in the past for a week or so at a time, and your instructable works.

I agree that the long-term "best practice" would be a minivan, but I will add a specialized tent that attaches to the minivan hatch for "camping" mode, along with simple camping gear. (They also have those tents for hatchbacks, station wagons, and covered pickups.)

"Urban" mode is well covered above. I would only add for those like me who can
sleep with noise that most truck stops and rest areas allow overnight

Minivan tent exterior.jpg
2 replies

Reply 3 years ago

Ive seen loads of these type of examples and many others for a matter of fact, where people have converted various types of vehicle for living or holiday trips coming to somerset in the UK we have thousands of campers, caravans etc every year but my question is:

At what stage would it just be easier and cheaper to just buy a caravan, minivan or similar vehicle that is already designed for living? instead of just buying / renting something to convert to to a living vehicle for either short or long term?

Dont get me wrong im a huge camper fan, In the UK atm there is a massive boom in the amount of people converting T4 VW vans into camper style vehicles, They are reasonablly cheap, done correctly have amazing results and stylish. Im actually helping a friend convert one atm for a fishing trip we are planning in 2017, BUT dispite it being reasonabily priced and a good laugh to build, I cant ignore there isnt much in it from buying a cheap second had camper and saving the work.

(pictures attached for the result we are going for)


Reply 3 years ago

Too much depends on your situation to give a simple answer. I do not have enough money to buy a professional conversion, and they are scarce here in smaller vehicles. Therefore, I will make my own. Your resources, situation, and personal taste should shape what you do.

I will be converting what we in the US call a minivan. I'm not sure how that translates to other places, but those are one size larger than a Ford Transit Connect. I won't put much energy or money into it. My attitude resembles PatrickW51's in keeping life very simple, but I will add things for long-term camping, often in US National Forests or other public lands with no facilities. Obviously, that's geared to my situation. If I expected to stay in cities, I probably would still use a minivan, but in almost as simple a way as the Fusion example above