Prison Break, Part II: How to live in a Car or SUV
In my last post I talked about how the bad economy has trapped many people into very difficult situations. Paying for a house takes every penny they have and they can’t save any money to buy a van or RV to live in. In this post I want to lay out a plan of action that can help you break out of your prison.
I am beginning with the assumption that you don’t have a lease and are able to leave your apartment or home. As scary as it sounds the first thing you should do is move out of your apartment and into your vehicle. Up to now you have been paying your landlord on the first of every month, but from now on you are going to keep making the payment, but you are going to pay yourself. You are going to become the LORD of your own life.
If you are going to live in a vehicle you want it to be in a van because they are so much larger you will be more comfortable than in a car. However, in this post I’m assuming you already have a car or a small SUV and very little money. Our goal will be to make the car as comfortable as possible so you can live in it long enough to save enough money to buy a good van to live in. If you scrupulously save all your money it won’t be long before you have enough in the bank and can buy whatever you to want to live in. It’s the opposite of a prison, its freedom.
Next you have to decide where you are going to live. You have two choices: 1) Live in the city, 2) Live in the country on public land. The two are different enough that I will break the rest of the post into two parts and address each differently. I’m just hitting each of these topics lightly here. In the blog and my websites I have written at great length about all these things so do some research and find them for more details.
LIVING IN A CAR IN THE CITY:
There are lots of advantages to living in the city in a car:
- You can get a gym membership to take showers.
- There are many public restrooms where you can relieve yourself.
- There are more jobs so you can probably work while you live in your car.
- There are tons of grocery stores so you can buy food in small sizes and you may not need a cooler.
- There are many restaurants of all sizes and costs so you may not need to cook for yourself.
- You probably already have a support system of friends and family in your home city so that helps you in every way.
- In nearly every city there are lots of thrift stores, garage sales and craigslist so you have easy access to cheap (but still good) used items. Before you buy anything new, search them first.
- If you are truly broke, there are many resources in cities to help you (there is very little reason to go hungry in America). Take advantage of them! For example:
- food banks
- soup kitchens
- dumpster diving
Here are the steps to take if you are going to live in a city :
HOW TO GET PRIVACY? You need privacy so here are some ideas:
- Buy Reflectix and cover all your windows. You can buy it at most hardware stores like Home Depot or at Amazon.com. (here is a link to Amazon: Reflectix 24-Inch by 25-Feet Bubble Pack Insulation).
- Here are some ways to mount Reflectix, No-see-Um mosquito netting, cardboard, or anything else to your windows. (You want No-see-um Netting, not the cheaper stuff. Here is a link to it on Amazon: Packaged No-See-Um Netting)
- Compression: just cut it slightly large and force it in. It works surprisingly well
- Double sided Velcro tape. Velcro Brand Industrial Strength Tape (2 Inches X 4 Feet)
- Rare Earth Magnets: Use duct tape to tape the magnet to the item your attaching to the window. Your car will probably have mostly plastic trim so you will have to duct tape a large steel washer to it so the magnets can stick to it.10 Neodymium Super Strong Extremely Powerful Rare Earth Magnets 1/2 x 1/8 Inch
- Duct tape
- Reflectix is best, but what if you have no money? You can buy a can of spray paint for a dollar and spray paint the inside of the windows.
- Or you can get some boxes at a grocery store and cut pieces out to fit in the windows. Either spray paint them black or glue black fabric to it. Get the fabric at a thrift store by getting cheap black clothes and cutting it to fit. Walmart sells aerosol spray glue that should work well.
- You can run string around the car and hang towels or sheets over the windows.
HOW WILL YOU SLEEP? Fold down the back seats and the passenger seat and measure how long that is. Can you sleep in that space behind the front seats either at a diagonal or straight across? If not, can you sleep with your feet back near the back window, on top of the passenger seat and your head near the glove box? How flat is it? Some seats fold down flush into the floor and so they are very easy to work with, you just put down your foam sleeping pad and you are done. If it is very convoluted can you lay a piece of plywood on top of it to smooth it out (all you have to do is measure and Home Depot will cut the plywood to fit). If that leaves dips and valleys you can fill those in with things you are storing to support the plywood. Look at the pictures in this post and you will see how some people did it. Finally, how much head room does that leave you? Can you sit up without hitting your head? Will you feel claustrophobic? If you removed the seats would it solve all those problems and give you a lot more room? If so you may want to take them out. If you can’t sleep any other way, can you sleep sitting in one of the front seats or curled up across the back seat?
What will you use for a mattress? If it fits, a thick backpackers sleeping pad is ideal, but expensive. Another good choice is to go to an upholstery shop and get them to cut a piece of foam to your size. Be sure it is “furniture grade foam”. That is very high quality and will give you a good nights sleep for a long time. But it is expensive also. The cheapest is to go to Walmart and buy one of their toppers. They are cheap so you may have to use a double layer (or even more) to be comfortable. You can just cut it to fit. I own this Thermarest sleeping pad and it is very comfortable, warm, and will last a lifetime (here’s a link to buy it from Amazon: Therm-A-Rest Basecamp Sleeping Pad
HOW WILL YOU GET MAIL? For an address, do you have family and friends that will receive your mail and forward it to you? That is by far the best. They will give you both a physical address and mailing address. If you don’t I would find out if there are any mail forwarders in your town. If there are they will give you both a physical and mailing address. If the state won’t accept their address as your physical address, then just keep using your old address, no one will know or care because all your mail will go to your forwarder. You can always use the UPS Store for your mailing address. They are expensive ($17 a month) so they are a last resort. I’m sure you can find a private mail box somewhere near you. I’ve nearly always been able to find one and they are usually $10 to $12 a month and they will forward your mail. Why not use the Post Office Box? They don’t receive UPS or FedEx so how will you order off the internet? They almost always require physical proof of residency and you probably won’t have one. All the UPS Store or Private Mail Box will ask for is two pieces of ID.
YOU MUST STAY ORGANIZED! Living in that small a space means you have to be organized and use every inch of space well. It’s not hard. The cheapest way is to go to a grocery store and get a bunch of different sized cardboard boxes and keep your stuff organized in them. Keep all the cooking items in one, clothes in another, health and beauty in another and so on. Write down on the box what each has in it. If you have a little more money buy plastic boxes and drawers.
MAKE THE CAR YOUR BEDROOM AND THE CITY YOUR LIVING ROOM. The car is so small you might want to spend all your time somewhere else during the day and just sleep in the car at night. For ideas of where to stealth park see these blog posts: https://cheaprvliving.com/blog/bobs-12-commandments-for-stealth-parking-in-the-city/ https://cheaprvliving.com/blog/stealth-parking-locations-part-2/
Here are some ideas of where to spend your day:
- PARKS: When I lived in a city I found parks to be my sanctuary. I could walk, cook on the picnic table, and stay cool under a shade tree—all in the beauty of nature!
- LIBRARY: You can get free entertainment in comfortable chairs! Of course there is wifi, free books, magazines, newspapers and DVDs. Put all your electronic devices in a back pack, plug them into a power strip, set the pack at your feet and discreetly plug the cord to the powerstrip into an outlet and you can charge all your devices while you are reading or surfing the net.
- COFFEE SHOPS-CAFES: Speaks for itself.
- BARNES AND NOBLES: I always loved lounging at Barnes and Noble in my time off in the city.
LIVING IN A CAR ON PUBLIC LAND:
Most things will be the same as living in a city, so just follow my advice from above. But there are some unique advantages to living on public land:
You can be a snowbird and avoid temperature extremes. Living in a car in extreme heat or cold in the city is just miserable–this is a great way to avoid that and get to travel at the same time.
It’s easy to live very cheaply on public land. In the winter we live in the desert on BLM land and in the summer we move up into the mountains and camp in National Forests. There is no rent and not very many places to spend your money so many of can actually save money even on very small budgets.
You can spend most of your time outside the car. Just get a cheap tent and camp chair and go outside! That’s perfect in the mountains in the summer, however, the desert has extremely strong wind storms that make living in a tent very miserable! I’ve known lots of people who set out to live in a tent in the desert and they all give up on it because of the wind. It just isn’t practical. If you want to do this long term, you really do need a minivan, van or small trailer. A tent makes an excellent addition to a car for the summer but in times of extended (weeks) of bad weather, you need to be able to move inside and stay comfortable.
Live in a trailer. Because you don’t have to worry about stealth, you can get a small trailer like a Tear Drop or Pop-Up and be MUCH more comfortable. Or you can buy a very cheap Harbor Freight trailer for a few hundred dollars and use it for storage. You could even build a simple aluminum frame for it and bungee on Tarps and make a little cabin out of it that came apart when you moved.
You have more storage options. You can get a cargo basket and mount it on the roof to carry more stuff or get a “Hitch Haul” carrier that goes into your receiver hitch and use it for storage.
You can work as a campground host in the National Forest in the summer and draw unemployment in the winter.
What you will need’
- The desert can be surprisingly cold and wet so bring cold weather clothes and rain gear. All your clothes should be strong, durable and multi-use. This isn’t a place for frills!
- There are not many restaurants on public land so you will need a propane stove, cooler and pots, pans and cooking utensils.
- You will need water jugs to carry water.
- You can either dig a cat hole to poop in or bring a 5 gallon bucket and bags or a porta-potti.
- A solar shower makes bathing easy and pleasant
- Solar power works great in the country!
Finally, I want to say in all sincerity that you are welcome to camp with me and my group indefinitely while you learn the ropes. While you are here you will make lots of new friends and develop your own community.