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Living in your car—whether by choice or necessity—is definitely an adventure. You can expect a ton of challenges living on the road, but plenty of surprising benefits as well.
That’s why the car insurance comparison shopping and broker app Jerry has compiled some essential information about how to live in your car.
Expect living in your car hacks, tips on finding cheap car insurance, and the best ways to stay safe no matter where you park for the night.
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Why live out of your car?
When you live in your car, you can explore and be adventurous in a way that people with mortgages cannot.
Living out of your car by choice your car means that you’ll have to cut down on possessions. But minimalism is an enjoyable and attractive way of life for people of all ages.
This lifestyle tends to reduce costs, and many people enjoy the financial freedom of not having to pay rent or utilities. This is beneficial for those who want to live in a car for the aesthetic as well as those who need to live in their car to reduce costs.
Even after the cost of outfitting a van, you could save hundreds of dollars every month if you move out of a high COL (cost-of-living) city and into your vehicle. For example, the average rent in Seattle is $1,866. If you mostly park for free on national forest land, spending only 10 nights a month at a paid camping spot for $20 per night, you’d still save more than $1,500 a month.
Living in a car or van is a reality for many millennials, who revel in the location independence that comes along with being a digital nomad. The gig economy—along with influencer marketing—has made it easier than ever to earn money with a flexible schedule, from anywhere.
Of course, many people are forced to live in their car not by choice but by circumstance. The Oscar-winning film Nomadland is a poignant reminder that this lifestyle is not always glamorous.
Key Takeaway Living in your car is not a decision to be made lightly. Know the pros and cons beforehand.
Tips for living in your car
If you’re embarking on this adventurous way of living, here are some tips to make the transition to #vanlife smoother (so you can avoid learning the hard way).
Storage is a hot topic in this crowd and online forums are packed with contradictory advice.
Why? Living in your car is a double-edged sword—on the one hand, it means space is at a premium. But on the other hand, you’ll need lots of gear to survive on the road.
You’re about to cram an apartment’s worth of equipment into a small space. For example, you could need space for some kind of desk, a wetsuit, hiking shoes, cooking tools, clothing, a computer, and more. Here are some of our best tips for handling storage while living in your car.
Adding a cargo rack to the top of your vehicle will immediately increase your storage space.
After-market options are easy to find for most models—just call your local outdoor shop or dealership—and they’re usually pretty affordable.
Plan to use your cargo rack to store infrequently used items such as winter clothes or outdoor adventure gear (climbing equipment, skis).
If you are a serious adventurer, make sure you get a cargo rack that has lash points to add even more storage. This allows you to attach a bike, drybags, canisters, and more to the outside of the cargo rack.
Storage bins (preferably plastic)
This is hands-down the easiest and cheapest way to organize stuff inside your car.
Plastic bins are lightweight so they don’t add a ton of extra weight. They’re transparent, so you can easily find what you need. Plastic is easy to clean with soap and water, so you don’t have to stress out about dirt or stains.
Try to get stacking bins (multiple of the same model) so they fit neatly together.
Opt for small plastic bins to use between the front seats or along the interior sides of your vehicle. Get big, durable ones with slide-out drawers and use them to create a foundation for your bed in the back. Don’t waste any space.
Build a custom solution
If you will be living in your car for more than six months, it’s worth investing in some custom storage solutions.
This will involve measuring and constructing storage containers specifically for your vehicle’s shape/the shape of the stuff you plan to store.
A platform bed is a common—and effective—modification for car-dwellers.
This strategy allows you to create storage underneath the bed, decluttering your main living space without having a huge impact on head room.
Make sure you formulate a complete plan before you get started to avoid making costly mistakes. Think not only about where your supplies will go but how you will use the space on a daily basis. Set aside space for your cooking supplies, food, clothes, and desk supplies. Make it easy to access the items you use most frequently.
It’s also important to think about security and weather when planning your custom build.
If you’ll be in a very cold or very hot environment, insulation and airflow will be key in your design. If you plan to visit bear country (or spend time in Walmart parking lots), then you may want to create a custom build that allows you to go from bed to driver’s seat without ever leaving the vehicle.
Key Takeaway When it comes to storage, don’t be afraid to come up with your own solutions. Your vehicle needs to work for you.
Don’t forget a place to sleep
Don’t make sleep an afterthought! Your bed is where you’ll spend the most time, aside from the driver’s seat. It needs to be comfortable, otherwise, you will quickly fall out of love with life on the road.
Make sure you have enough padding beneath you (a camping sleeping pad or foam mattress) and enough layers on top of you. It gets surprisingly cold in a metal box at night, and you’ll need plenty of blankets to keep you warm—even in a place like California.
Some people simply fold down their back seats and roll out a sleeping bag.
Know yourself and what you can handle. Some people like having a bed that folds up out of the way during the day. For others, it’s too much work and they prefer to simply fall into a bed that’s always there after a long day of exploring.
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Tires (including a spare)
If you’ll be driving a lot, you need tires that can handle the mileage. This is especially true if you’ll be driving in inclement weather or on rough terrain.
Don’t hit the road with the tires that came with your vehicle. Get their quality checked out and invest in an upgrade. You’ll be so glad you did.
There are too many stories about van-dwellers who got stuck on the side of the road with their fancy build, just because their tires gave out. And remember to carry a spare!
There are plenty of mobile tire installers who will ship tires to you and then come to your location to install them. This option is perfect for people who are new to car ownership or people who are building out a conversion and can’t bring the car to the tire shop.
Power is one of the biggest challenges for car-dwellers.
Do you charge your phone while driving and cross your fingers that it holds enough battery power to navigate? Instead of relying on fate, another option is a DC to AC inverter that plugs into your car and powers small devices like laptops and refrigerators.
The one drawback of DC to AC systems is that they only work while you’re driving. You also need power while you’re parked and the vehicle is off.
A dashboard or roof-mounted solar system is another option. A solar-powered generator can do the trick, too. This is a smart way to power your devices without drawing your vehicle’s power and getting stranded due to a dead battery.
Save even more power by scoping out free WiFi and buying nonperishable foods.
Key Takeaway Make sure you plan ahead for your power needs on the road. It’s a good idea to balance on-board power sources with real-world sources (like McDonald’s Wifi).
Where should you park?
You’ve had a great day adventuring and now it’s time to sleep. But before you can rest, you’ll need to find a safe and legal place to park for the night. Not only does it need to allow overnight parking but it also needs to offer level ground and low noise levels.
Bring earplugs and invest in sunshades to keep out the lights and noise. Here’s what you need to know about finding a safe place to park at night.
They’re not as beautiful as a national forest but they do offer useful amenities like showers and premade food. You can find listings of truck stops online and you’ll probably run into other nomads when you get there.
There are tons of online resources that list free public land where you’re allowed to park overnight. BLM land is a great resource.
National parks and national forests are good too, though you’ll have to pay a fee and finding level ground can be tricky. A major perk is that campsites usually have showers if you need a quick wash.
Seasoned van-dwellers know that parking lots are an excellent last resort. But not all lots allow overnight parking. Walmart and casinos are typically amenable to overnight parking. You may even encounter other vans, campers, or car-dwellers when you arrive.
In the U.S., most public rest areas on the highway are open to overnight parking.
There’s usually a time limit of eight hours, so it’s not a place you can lounge and set up camp. However, in a pinch, it’s a pretty safe place to brush your teeth and catch some zzz’s while traveling. The outlets in the bathroom and the vending machines don’t hurt either.
No matter where you park, make sure you lock your doors and keep your vehicle inconspicuous.
Don’t make it obvious that you have a solar panel or expensive camera equipment. Keep your phone, your keys, and your shoes close by in case you need to quickly get in the driver’s seat and get away.
Expect some roadblocks (literally and figuratively)
Living out of a vehicle is fun but it’s not easy.
You’ll encounter new challenges you never even considered, like not being able to stand up in your own bedroom.
You might have to poop in the middle of the night in a Walmart parking lot. On top of that, making friends and sticking to a regular work schedule are about to get a whole lot trickier.
Breakdowns are another terrible possibility that nearly every car-dweller encounters at some point during their #vanlife journey. You could even get broken into.
In the end, all you can do is prepare and then meet challenges with the right mindset.
Trouble is bound to find you, but that’s what makes it an adventure! You’ll survive a flat tire in the desert and you’ll survive the boredom that comes with wearing the same five shirts over and over again. You might even forge powerful friendships on the road that will last a lifetime.
Key Takeaway You’re in for an adventure! With good planning and the right mindset, living in your car can be incredibly satisfying.
We all love diving into good adventures, but it's still important to prepare for the unexpected. Having roadside assistance will ensure your home on wheels is looked after no matter where you find yourself.
If you're on the hunt for the right roadside assistance membership, check Jerry out. Jerry's services include tire changes, lockouts, and even car theft rewards, allowing you to enjoy life on the road for what it is — an adventure.
Car insurance for living in your car
Before you go, you should be aware that living in your car could affect your car insurance.
Auto insurance is still mandatory, whether you sleep in your car for one night or one year.
Insurance companies don’t care if you were commuting or rock climbing when you got in an accident; your coverage will still apply.
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However, there are some things you need to keep in mind.
If you are storing your life’s most valuable possessions in your vehicle, you definitely need a policy that covers vandalism and theft. Your policy should cover the replacement value of everything in your car, from fancy laptops and solar generators to ukeleles.
If you are living in your car due to financial instability, it can be tempting to ignore the need for car insurance. Having a policy protects you financially, especially if living in your vehicle is a last resort. You really can’t afford to lose your home, right?
Find cheap insurance quickly by shopping around with Jerry.
It won’t drain your battery (it only takes 45 seconds) and you’ll get quotes from licensed brokers so you can pick the cheapest one. Make sure you get a PO box set up if you won’t have a permanent address, so the insurance company can complete your purchase.
Now that you’ve got insurance figured out, you’re ready to hit the road!
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Frequently asked questions about living in your car
Is living in your car illegal?
No, it is not illegal to live in your car. However, you do need to adhere to guidelines about where and for how long you park.
How do I keep cool while living in a car?
In hot places, it can be tricky to stay cool inside your vehicle. Keep your windows cracked to facilitate airflow. Use a DC to AC inverter, an on-board battery system, or buy a battery-powered fan. Don’t try to be a hero! Heatstroke is serious. Seek out air-conditioned spaces to cool off on very hot days, such as rest stops or fast food shops.
Can I live in a car with my kids?
You wouldn’t be the first! Some people are forced to live in their vehicle with kids whereas others outfit a van specifically to enjoy adventures with their children. Either way, make sure that your kids have a comfortable and secure space for sleeping and riding along when the vehicle is moving. There’s no reason children can’t join you!
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