A step-by-step guide to living in your car safely

 

Who in their right minds would want to live in their car, surely it is just one step away from living rough?

Well, no not really.

There are many valid and useful reasons for living in your car, and it doesn’t have to mean you have to do it permanently or that you are forced to do so.

I regularly live in my car for short periods. I love trail running, so I often drive somewhere and go for a long trail run, then sleep in my car overnight, drive to another place, have another nice run, then go home.

I also have an emergency sleeping bag/bivvy in my everyday carry (EDC), so if anything, unusual happens or an emergency situation strikes I can easily sleep in my car for the night.

The wife and I have also been on multiple weeklong holidays where we lived out of our car.

We would drive to an area of the country, and drive to great hiking spots, hike throughout the day, sleep in the car, then move on to the next cool hiking spot.

I have a friend who works 8 days on and 4 days off. He has paid accommodation when working, so sleeps in the car for the other 4 nights.

He doesn’t see the point in paying a mortgage or rent for a place he isn’t there for two thirds of the month. And I don’t blame him.

Regardless of if you choose to live in your car for short periods like me, or you choose or are forced to live in a car more permanently.

Then if you can devise a set up where you can comfortably live in a car for a few days, then really… you can live in a car forever.

 

Which car is best?

 

For most people it is what car you currently have, and how you can make the best of what you have got.

It you are buying a car specifically to live out of, then the bigger the car is the better usually.

You should also consider things like how tall it is, do the back seats fold flat, can the back seats be removed, how big is the boot.

The more reliable the car is the better, if it is constantly breaking down, then where are you going to stay when it is in the garage.

A camping and living car needs to be practical and it shouldn’t matter what it looks like, a Ferrari looks super cool but it makes a pretty poor camper car!

 

Sleep system

 

No matter how big or nice your car is, to avoid being utterly miserable living out of your car then you must get your sleep system right.

If you are sleep deprived for even a short period of time, it can have a huge impact on your physical and mental health.

To get good sleep you will need to:

 

Have darkness

 

Not a massive problem in the dark winter months, but especially in the summer you will need some way to block out the light. Some type of curtains for all the windows, basically.

This also helps with privacy and increases your sense of safety.

 

Control temperature

 

A good temperature is needed for good sleep. Too hot or too cold, and you are going to have a restless night’s sleep.

So, you will need a way to cool your car or yourself if it is too hot. And if it is too cold then you will need a way to stay warm.

The easiest way to do this is to have a good sleeping bag, as these can be packed up small. Duvets and blankets tend to take up more room.

 

Be comfortable

 

Depending on the car you have will depend on how you do this, but you must find a way to be as comfortable as possible.

I am able to fold the back seats down to an almost flat position, then I use a camping sleeping mat which helps nullify the seat differential and provides comfort.

Then I sleep in a down sleeping bag with an inflatable sleeping pillow wrapped in a jumper.

I sleep with my head next to the back of the passenger front seat, which is pushed forward as far as it goes, and my feet are near the boot door.

My car is big enough for me and the wife, but the dogs have to stay at home unfortunately.

 

Organisation

 

You are living in a confined space, and the first few nights or attempts at living in your car could be a disaster. But don’t worry you will learn how to do it through trial and error.

What you need to do is settle into a routine that suits you and your car, and you will be fine.

To make this routine as less stressful as possible, you need to be organised. I like to keep everything in the same place, at all times, and I use stuff/dry sacks that you can find in any camping store.

For example, all my electrical equipment like phones, tablet, and camera plus all their cables are in one bag and it is always kept under the driver’s seat.

I have different coloured stuff sacks for clothing, so I know where my clean clothes and dirty clothes are. I keep one headtorch in the front glove compartment, and one is kept next to the boot.

Basically, find convenient places for everything you have with you. And always keep them in that position. Then you will never be scrambling around in the middle of the night trying to find something.

 

Cooking

 

I am an avid wild camper, so cooking equipment was easy as I already had everything. I actually take 3 cooking styles with me on car camping trips.

A standard gas camping stove, an alcohol camping stove, and a wood burning stove.

I primarily use the gas stove, but the other two are great backups if I run out of gas or are somewhere a little more remote where I can mix it up a bit. The wood stove is great as a little firepit too, to sit around at night.

I have a titanium mug for hot and cold drinks, a frying pan, a spatula, and a spork. That covers all the basics. Anything more than that is a choice.

If you are living out of your car for more than a couple of days, you at least need a way to have a nice warm cup of coffee and a nice breakfast. It just starts the day off right.

 

Hygiene

 

There are loads of little tips and tricks but at the end of the day it is up to you to decide on what is appropriate for you and where you are staying.

Most of the time that I am living out of my car is in wild locations but if you are living out of your car in a town or city you have a few more options but also a few more limitations.

 

Number ones

 

I am a man, so I can go pretty much anywhere and wherever. Especially if I am staying in the countryside. If you are in an urban area, then go and find a public restroom, coffee shop, or supermarket.

 

Number twos

 

Actually, it is really easy to have a poop in the wild just like a bear!

I have a tactical shovel in my car at all times, so when I am in remote areas, I dig a hole, do my business in it, wipe my bot with toilet roll from my EDC, burn the paper, and fill in the hole. Easy, and actually quite liberating.

If you are in an urban area, then find proper toilets you can use. As annoying as finding dog poop in the park is, it would be even worse to tread in some human poop haha.

 

Washing and showering

 

When I am staying in my car, if I can I try to park somewhere near a stream, river, or lake. This allows me to wash myself, wash my clothes, and wash my cooking stuff.

I also have a water filtration system, so I can use the water source for drinking and cooking.

If I am feeling particularly grubby or I am just desperate for a warm shower, I will check into a campsite or cheap motel.

If you are travelling around, then keep an eye out for YMCA’s, truck stops, service stations, aquatic centres, and national parks. If you spot a shower opportunity, then take it.

You don’t just have to have showers in the morning you know!

If you are living out of your car in a city then, you have a lot more options but rarely will any of them be free.

A really good option is to get a gym membership if your budget allows, if your budget is tight then look out for discounts and deals and try to move around them without signing long-term deals.

Gyms are great, they will have toilets and shower facilities which you can use every day.

They are also a great way to pass the time, so that you are not stuck in your car for hours on end especially if the weather is bad. A gym membership could help you physically and mentally which is very important.

 

Laundry

 

Laundry is the most obvious, if you are out and about in more remote locations, then you can pop into campsite.

They might ask for a little something on top of the cost of the machine, but that is to be expected unless you can sweet talk them.

I’ll often just use a river or steam if possible, which is better than a lake or pond usually. As there is less chance of mud and silt.

If you in the city just go and find a laundromat, which are easy to find and use. That’s self-explanatory.

I would recommend having a system of keeping fresh clothes and dirty clothes separate, it just makes for a more organised living space.

How many clothes you have in your car can be a difficult decision.

You have to have find the fine line of living minimally, not wasting space in your car, but at the same time you need to make sure you have sufficient clothing that is appropriate for the conditions and climate you are in.

Not having the correct clothing can be really dangerous.

Be prepared.

 

Communication

 

In the modern world you need electronical communication equipment. When I go car camping, I have a phone, a tablet, a GPS watch, and a personal beacon.

I take a power bank with me, but if I come across somewhere where I can charge things, I can advantage of that.

In urban locations there are loads of places where you can charge equipment and use their Wi-Fi for work or pleasure. Places like coffee shops, fast-food joints, and public libraries.

You will have to buy something at some point though. Although if you are smart you can find benches and seats outside of shops on the street where you can pick up a bit of Wi-Fi if needed

A great tip could be to buy a coffee, use the restroom, charge your tablet, use the Wi-Fi to download a movie, then watch the downloaded movie at night on your tablet. Simple.

 

Conclusion

 

Living out of your car is really just leaving out of a small basic camper van, which people pay a lot more money for.

However, long you intend to live out of your car doesn’t matter.

It is just that the longer you intend to spend living in your car the more prepared and organised you have to be.

But don’t worry the longer you do it for, the easier it is to form a successful routine, and the easier it gets.