If you need knowledge, read a book. If you want to really know something, experience is the best teacher.
When it comes to living out of your car, the best advice is going to come from people who have actually done it for more than just a week or two. Your vehicle will provide shelter from the weather, lodging, kitchen and eating facilities, and, of course, transportation. No matter how you look at it, living out of your car is going to be a challenge.
Before taking the plunge, if you have time, try living in your car or van for a week or two. There isn’t anything better to try out in reality what you’ve imagined only in theory! The following tips come from two people, a single man and a single woman, who have lived out of their cars or vans for long periods of time and made it a lifestyle.
Here are some tips for living out of your car
- Add a flip-up roof vent to the van, if that’s what you have. Heating/cooking with propane produces water as a byproduct. The vent will get rid of the interior water buildup. It will also exhaust hot air in the warmer parts of the year. A solar-powered fan in the vent is even better.
- Solar film on the windows keeps things private, but you need a blackout curtain to keep light from being seen at night. I used a denim tube and lined it with high-density foam, hung from wire springs on both the top and bottom of the tube curtain. The curtain needs to cover the whole window. It provides a bit of insulation, too.
- Never park in the same place twice in the same week. Stay away from other parkers in the same situation. Parking around 24-hour biz is better than residential areas. Apartment complexes offer a degree of stealth street parking due to the high turnover of tenants and friends, NOT in their parking lot, however! Same for 24-hour grocery stores.
- Sometimes your employer will let you park behind the biz if you’re a good employee and they want to help you out. That’s always a personal call that depends on the boss’s personality and the particular job. Sometimes it’s better the boss doesn’t know your situation.
- Rent a mini-storage cubicle with 24-hour access for your spill-over and items that might be stolen from your vehicle. If you’re a customer, you have bathroom privileges.
- Organize, organize, organize! Have a place for everything and keep everything in its place. In addition to your sleeping items, you will need a carry-on style suitcase for clothes, a laundry bag for clothes pending a trip to the laundry (with air freshener), a “chuck box” (your car camping kitchen supplies), water storage container and a cup/water bottle, a toolbox, a briefcase organizer for paperwork, a box with your camping supplies, a toiletry case (with towel, washcloths, shampoo, soap/shower gel, hairbrush, other hygiene supplies), flashlight/LED lamp and candles.
- Keep toiletries and a plastic mirror in a separate bag or small backpack for convenience and discretion. If you add a collapsible basin you can fill it with hot water and go into a large bathroom stall to clean up and change. Remember to keep a separate plastic bag for wet items.
- If you find a place to set up a base camp of sorts (esp in an out of the way wooded area) you can be semipermanent. Private property will provide legal security. In this case, you can set up a tarp/hammock (super comfortable), and rig up some more homelike comforts (potty/shower stall, etc).
- Making a mini-rocket stove and having a shelter makes cooking easier, provides a way to heat water for cleaning up (a copper coil heater in a large bucket can heat while one is cooking or making a campfire to warm up for the evening.
- A folding, hanging shower stall and a shower bag with nozzle make for a hot shower even in freezing cold, and one can get dry and re-dressed before even feeling cold. For a floor, a baby inflatable 1-ring mini pool makes a perfect showerpan floor and warmly cleans your feet as you shower. Otherwise, use something else to keep your feet off the ground.
- If you really do decide to build yourself a camp, Home depot always has free 4′ wooden pallet supports that you can combine to make floor decking, a table/shower/kitchen setup, frames or bench. Lowe’s usually doesn’t keep things long enough for you to get them.
- A tarp canopy can be set up to double as a water catchment system. You can secure potable water other ways. When in a store/cafe one can also put a collapsible water container in a backpack and fill it with hot water in a restroom for use after you leave.
- Oatmeal, dehydrated meals, fresh vegetables, soups and small cuts of meat are easy to cook w ith just hot water and a pot. We are fortunate to have access to dollar stores for a lot of cost-effective variety and options. Note: Large reclosable Monster cans are the easiest for quickly bringing 3 cups of water to a boil, and can last weeks before giving out.
- Always use window shades in your car for privacy. It also helps minimize some radiant cold and heat.
- Whenever possible, secure reasonable supplies of paper-goods. Newspaper is a good insulator (e.g., next to the drafty door panel at night or under your sleeping bag if you are using a hammock) and super fire tinder. Cardboard box pieces can be cut into strips and coiled up into a can for a good Sterno-substitution (esp if you pour melted candle wax over the coil). Even used cups can be turned into fire starters, and tissues, paper towels/ TP are multipurpose.
- A solar charger for cell phone/computer is a real lifesaver for times when you do not have access or choose to not go to a cafe.
- I have a canopy area over my brick fire pit/rocket stove (got them free on CL as well as materials for a solar oven and parabolic cooker) that also serves as a carport (and water catchment system that drains via water chain into a large bucket).
- Staying warm and eating a warm meal morning and evening make all the difference in colder climate winters. Summer heat, on the other hand, is best handled by well-ventilated sleeping, cool baths/showers, and good hydration.There are plenty of places to stay cool during the day. In very cold weather you can preheat your sleeping bag with a bottle of hot water. By the time you need a drink, it will have cooled.
- In warm weather, raise your tarp sides to allow more ventilation and funnel breezes. The colder it is the more you want the tarp to morph into a cocoon shape, closing ends to stop wind or blowing precipitation. Lowering the tarp sides forms an acute angle that minimizes precipitation build-up on your tarp walls (and less chance for damage by heavy rain/sleet/hail). In a blizzard or heavy snow, you will wake up surprisingly warm as you end up with a lovely insulated igloo effect with natural snow walls on the lower half (at least) of your tarp cocoon. Below your hammock will be pristine ground. In the event of torrential rain, any water will be on the ground and not in your sleeping bag as you would have with tent and ground camping.I once awoke with 12″ of water under me. My feet got wet walking out but I was well above the flash flood water line and awoke dry — just rolled up the pant legs and carried my dry shoes out with me. I keep them in a zipped homemade gear-bag that hangs on the ridgeline of my tarp.When car camping, secure a car cover or tarp over you in really bad weather. In addition to insulating and giving better privacy, the covering keeps your car snow/ice-free and prepped for rapid travel if needed.
- Keep windows open a little bit when your car is covered. While no car is actually airtight you will feel better with more air circulation, and will minimize condensation.Whenever outside, I sleep in my hammock (it has a tarp covering around it, too), otherwise, in the car with my favorite pillow and sleeping bag. I have slept in both my car and more so my hammock through hurricanes, blizzards, tornadic cells (oops, that was a surprise), 106 degree heat, and 5 degree cold plus 50 mph winds. There are different hammock/tarp configurations for as many weather patterns. I have honestly never been wet or cold. Sometimes it has been uncomfortably warm yet bug-free thanks to the integrated no-seeum netting on my hammock.Insulate under your sleeping bag (thick newspaper or foam pad/thin air mattress) and hang a separate layer under your hammock as a waterproofer and insulator. In cooler weather, always keep woolen socks, hat (buff, beanie or balaclava) and gloves in your sleeping bag as well as thermal pants and a sweatshirt to sleep in. Never go to bed dirty.
- Candles have come into disfavor as a safety hazard. Presuming you are an adult, use your best judgment. For the past 20 years I have had a hanging candle lantern with an added rear reflector that I adore. It adds safety and light…The melted wax is added to coiled cardboard in pop cans for quick fire starters. Energy efficient LED lights are an excellent and inexpensive option to candles. For people choosing to park in a Walmart or other lot, you will generally be trying to KEEP OUT the light at night.
- A health club membership is a golden ticket for street living. You can shower, steam, and work out, too. Municipal indoor pools are good, too. Learn to bathe in a sink, as in sponge baths. Always clean up your mess!
- A private mailbox that provides a street address (not a Post Office box) makes you look more like someone with a real address. This comes into play for drivers licenses, state ID cards, car insurance, job applications, etc.
- A pay-as-you-go cell phone provides a telephone for job calls and if you need emergency services.
- Try to find an apartment manager job if you have good people skills and some simple maintenance experience. The local Apartment Association may offer training so you can get that job. Once you’re in, you’re in for life. They like peeps that have experience, so this is the route in. Much easier if you’re a couple. Mini-storage management is even better. Usually, small buildings only trade an apartment and light housekeeping duties for your time. You will need to work part-time to pay the bills.
- A portable CD player with a radio is very handy for entertainment and news if you have to live out of your car.
- Most libraries have computer access. If you have a wireless laptop, then those businesses that let you surf on their wi-fi connection for a cup of coffee are helpful, too.
- Always dress and act middle class or better. The way you look determines how the police will handle you when they come calling. That’s when not if.
- Don’t think you are depression proof. Plan ahead for hard times and practice. You won’t be disappointed. Living hand to mouth eventually gives you a can-do attitude that can be a lifesaver. Even if you have to give up your home, you will still have one.
This advice came from webbee, over on Survivalist Boards who granted his permission to re-post it here and Survivor Mama, who left a lengthy comment to this post that was so valuable it was incorporated into this advice.
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