How to Live Out of Your Car

Whether for financial reasons or just for fun to try something different when traveling, sometimes living out of your car is the planned course of action.  If this is your plan, then my experience of living out of my Jeep for hardly any money at all for two weeks in New England would behoove you to read.

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KITCHEN


cooler, sporks, napkins, tinfoil, plastic bags, etc.

Tip

If you don’t mind eating something cold, great, but if you need it to be a little warmer, then try this: use the tinfoil to wrap your leftover meal and put it on the dashboard in the sun.  Whether you’re driving to your next location or just hanging out by the car reading a book, you’ll have a naturally warmed meal ready to eat in just a little while!Since you want to save money, saving leftover food is a good way to do this.  If you’re getting a portion that you can eat in one sitting, then be careful with the price.  If you’re getting a portion that you think you might have leftovers from, then try to pick something that will keep for a day or two; don’t buy hard shell tacos when you know that the shells will get stale or soggy.  Also, aside from food that is easy to keep, think about food that is easy to prepare.  If you can only eat your pasta warm, then how will you heat it the next day from your car?  Sandwiches, salads, or foods that you don’t mind eating cold are your best options.


Money Saving Tips

Food is not the only “leftovers” to save to pinch pennies.

Save napkins, sugar packets, sauces, plastic bags, plastic ware, etc.  This might seem a little ridiculous to put sugar packets and napkins in your backpack, but some people might also think that sleeping in your car is ridiculous.  People don’t realize how much money they can actually save by cutting out the small things.  Thing is, if you’re wise, you don’t need to cut these small things out at all! I’m not saying to go up and stock pile your backpack full with napkins at one time, but just save them if there happens to be extras sitting on the table after you’re done with your meal.  The server is just going to end up throwing them away anyways…

Drink water. I won’t preach how much healthier this is, but soda and iced-tea by the cup in restaurants is very expensive when you think about when you buy it by the liter/gallon.

Save ice. Whatever leftover ice is in your cup of water or even if you want to ask for a refill just of ice before you head out.  It costs the restaurants nothing but saves you a few bucks from buying ice to fill your cooler.

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BEDROOM


sleeping bag, camping air mat, blankets, pillow, etc.

A good night’s rest is important, so finding a comfortable sleeping position is ideal.  This might take a few tries to get it just right.  I know that I have an advantage because I’m short and can fit relatively comfortably sleeping the width of the car, but I understand that most people do not have this same advantage.  Luckily, the majority of cars have the capability for at least half the backseat to fold down so that it is possible to sleep lengthwise. If this is what you need to do to fit, then it would be best to also lay down a thick air mat.  Camping stores sell really thin ones that pack up tightly for convenient and light backpacking; however, since you’re not worried about folding this up every night and have something that is super compact and lightweight, treat yourself to a really good air mat so that you can get a good night’s rest.  I’m all about saving money [every chance I get], but this isn’t the area to skimp on.

   
Overnight

Finding a place to park seems like a simple task, but since it’s no longer 1960, this could actually be very frustrating.  I thought that public parking lots were open to the public, but public parking lots are only open to the public of empty vehicles – very misleading.  Apparently, it’s illegal to sleep in your car in most public areas.  I had a few knocks on my window late at night from angry cops yelling at me to move.  I tried to reason with them that if I was out of my car, that my car would be allowed to be parked there [yes], but since I happened to be in the car, the car has to move?!! Yes.  My logical brain can not find the logic in this, which just irritated the cops even more. [Tip: Don’t argue with cops]

A solution to this illogical conundrum is to find a public parking lot of a business that stays open 24 hours or other areas that never get completely empty – this is not only to avoid cops, but also for safety reasons.  Although it’s nice to have complete silence and total darkness when trying to sleep, it’s not safe to seek this out when trying to sleep in a car.  Being a tiny little girl, alone, safety is a must.  I sought places that had people frequent it such as 24 hour businesses as previously mentioned, hospitals, and other businesses that do not seem too far out of the way of pedestrians.

If you’re in one city for awhile and, lets say, are in the same coffee shop or bagel store every morning and happen to get chummy with the owner, perhaps he/she will not mind if your car is in the business lot overnight.  It’s worth asking about if you’re comfortable enough with the owner/manager, but make sure it’s not off the beaten path; even if it’s the busiest place in town at 7am when people are getting their morning cup of joe, it might be the most deserted and poorly-lit place at 12am.  Take a quick look at the surroundings: street lights, other businesses, main streets, etc.

Also, when trying to pick a good spot to rest my eyes, I looked for locations in parking lots that were semi-distant, yet still visible and under a light; this is what the blankets are for [not for warmth].  The sleeping bag or blanket is to be used as a body cover [like normal when sleeping], but the additional blankets are to be used as a face cover to block out the light that is keeping you safe.  This might be annoying, but is necessary.

   
Tip

I found that hanging the blankets near the windows like curtains was a great way to make a little cocoon for sleeping.  It gave me more privacy and kept the blanket out of my face all night.  The downside is that it’s more noticeable from afar that you are sleeping in the car.  But I found that even with that known to me all night, I slept better every night knowing that people weren’t looking through my window while I was sleeping and seeing a girl, alone, in the backseat.  If they see a cocoon of blankets from the other side of the parking lot… well, that’s all they see.  For all they know, it could be a huge man with an anger problem in there.

Added Tip to Perfect This!

A good friend of mine who also sleeps in her Jeep, pins a lightweight black sheet [Queen sized] to the ceiling [if you don’t care about putting holes in the ceiling lining]… She then rolls up the edges and pins those by the top of the windows [on the sides], the top of the back window, and right behind the headrests of the front seats… When she wants to sleep at night, she just unpins the edges and the rolls unravel to perfect black curtains every time [with no worries about it falling in the middle of the night]!  I LOVE this idea! –provided by Amber


IMPORTANT

I’m a very trusting person and when I’m in an area I know, I never lock the doors to my Jeep.  I don’t think I’ve locked my car doors in years!  This might be stupid, but I really don’t worry about stuff like that…  The way I see it is: there’s nothing in there worth stealing and even the car itself is over 20 years old.  What are they going to take?!  I say this to not make me sound careless or lazy, but to emphasize how important this is: when sleeping in the car overnight, LOCK ALL OF THE DOORS!!  When my Jeep is sitting in a parking lot alone, I don’t think there’s anything worth taking.  However, when I’m sleeping in the backseat, the thing that matters most to me is now in that car – and I’m definitely checking to make sure those doors are locked!

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BATHROOM


towel, toiletries

Finding a bathroom to use actually isn’t that difficult to find.  A place to park and sleep is actually a lot trickier, believe it or not.  There are a few options to clean up:

  • If you do not need to shower but just want to wash your face and brush your teeth, then use the coffee shop where you get breakfast or the Walmart where you slept [in the parking lot] that night.
  • If you need to shower, no problem!  I found that truck stops are a great way to get a shower; for about $3-$5 you get a towel, soap, endless hot water, and a place to primp afterwards [I have crazy hair so if an outlet for a hairdryer was available, it was a definite plus].
   
Tip

Beforehand, whenever I had a little extra time, I mapped out where the truck stops that were in the area that I planned to eventually be in and put a little marker on the map.  If I decided that I could use a shower by the time I got to the marker on the map, then it worked out perfectly and I knew exactly where to go.  If I thought I could last another day, then I just ignored the marker and just kept on truckin’!

As technology progresses, so have my truck stop locating skills… Back in the day, I used the above method using a paper map and little stickers.  Years later, I used my laptop… Nowadays, there are smartphone apps that can do this for you!

Read about this in more detail as well as other tips of where to shower HERE.

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Campsites

Campsites are also a great [cheap] place to catch up on some needed hygiene.  I often times parked my car outside of the campsite somewhere that night so that I didn’t have to pay the $10 to get a plot of land.  Then, in the morning, I just walked right on in with my bag of toiletries [and quarters because some campsites charge for hot water; ones that I encountered were something like 25-50 cents per 8 minutes or so].

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ENTERTAINMENT


radio, laptop, cell phone, and charging devices for all

If you want some tunes or local commentary, hand wound radios are a good option so that you don’t have to pay for batteries or drain your car battery.  Most people have an MP3 player which also works.  I bring my laptop with me everywhere [obviously].  It works out great when going to coffee shops in the morning to eat breakfast and I can charge all of my devices [laptop, cell phone, etc].  Some people might think that a $5 coffee is expensive, but I love great espresso-based iced coffee and it’s not too expensive when I think about it this way: $5 is a cup of coffee that usually lasts me a few hours, and I’m using the space in the coffee shop as a mini-office for those few hours [typing, checking email, using 3 different outlets to charge everything, using their restroom to freshen up if it’s a non-shower day, etc].

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MISCELLANEOUS


flashlight, laundry detergent

If you want to really cut back on spending money and only have a few things to wash, then just use a sink to hand wash your items and then hang them to dry.

7 comments

  • Love your post. One suggestion – instead of taking up 3 outlets at Starbucks to charge your devices, have them all in a backpack plugged into a multi-outlet. Bring just that plug out the back of the backpack, and set the backpack on the floor next to the outlet.

    • Lindsay | HOLE STORIES

      Awesome suggestion! I usually do a version of this via laptop plugged in the wall, and then everything else charging off of the USB ports from the laptop… but I really like this suggestion about a backpack because then you don’t need to pull everything out and have it on display for everyone to see. Thanks, Julie! =)

  • Shatasem95u

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  • Randy Fuller

    Great ideas. Thanks. I will be doing a lot of traveling for work on road projects and if I can save my per Dien monies that I get for hotels and eating out, I can basically double my wages up to an additional $20,000/year.

  • This is really useful. A few notes?

    – Rest stops are actually a great place to sleep in your vehicle. Police tend to frequent them looking for stolen/lost/suspicious cars and there is usually a medium to low amount of traffic in and out. Many, tho not all, have 24hr bathrooms, sometimes even a lobby, with outlets, even vending machines. Many time, especially near state borders, there will be maps available and “local attraction” pamphlets that are super useful. Very occassionally, mostly in remote areas, you will find payphones.

    – Some of the smaller hotels along major interstates (and usually closer to cities) will let you pay “by the hour” for a room. They may think you’re a hooker or junkie, but a safe place to shower, refresh, and charge up only costs around 5 to 15 bucks, depending. Also, free ice from the ice machine and access to the laudrymat.

    – All night laundry mats are a godsend. Bathrooms (sometimes) for cleaning yourself, outlets and vending machines, sometimes even free Wi-Fi and payphones. And if you find one without an attendant, then you can catch a few hrs sleep in the parking lot (use those curtains tho!)

    – Sleeping in an all night Walmart (or local variant) parking lot is actually pretty accepted nowadays. There is a general “etiquette” of course: don’t overstay your welcome – two days in a row is pushing it, park in the mid to further area of the lot, the furthest is for semis that sleep over and the front is for customers. Generally, as long as you don’t disrupt business, Walmart doesn’t care.

    – Finally, unless you are at the utmost of financial need, it is really beneficial to just stay at the cheapest hotel around for one night a month. It is good for moral, if nothing else, and even cheap hotels will have coffee and donuts in the morning.

    • Lindsay | HOLE STORIES

      Hey Salt! Great advice! Thanks! =) I really like your suggestion about taking advantage of free ice whenever you’re near an ice machine. I I’ve done is whenever I went to a fast food place, I always just asked them for a large cup of ice (no water) and I would dump that in my cooler (or I just put the whole cup in the cooler standing upright so that when it melted, it would just be a cup of cold water, but still kept the stuff cool inside the cooler)… Then I would use the water to wash my hands and brush my teeth the next day.

      Are you living in your car now? Keep in touch! Cheers! =)

  • This was an awesome read! Not only was the information absolutely useful, but you presented it with an entertaining flair and personal detail.

    It’s wonderful to see you doing well and living the dream!

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