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Photo by frerieke

Alexander Supertramp, aka Christopher McCandless from Into the Wild fame, said it best when he said the ultimate freedom is to have “No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes, an aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from insert state here.”

I lived in my car for about six months due to some hard times. Maybe it began as just a means to an end, but for me, it was also a step toward a greater freedom otherwise unattainable like say, traveling the world or finally purchasing that dream house debt free. It wasn’t easy, but it definitely made me appreciate people and life just a little more.

In some places, though, living in a car is frowned upon or even illegal, so check with your state or country before parking. Choosing the right parking spot, having fuel, food and facilities at hand, and being prepared for dreadful conditions are musts for survival.

What Supplies Will I Need?


  • Sleeping bag/blanket
  • Pillow and Tent (for nights when camping is possible)


Photo by ktylerconk

  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  • Soap, Shampoo, and Conditioner
  • Deodorant and Make-up
  • Washcloth and Towel
  • Toilet Paper
  • Pee bottle (optional)
  • Medicines
  • Shaving Supplies (obviously optional)
  • Feminine Products (lovely euphemism)

Keep these in labeled and reusable Ziploc bags for easy accessibility and to keep the rest of your stuff dry when these are wet.

Dress to Impress

Pack in duffel bag.

  • Work/play clothes
  • Swimsuit for easy bathing
  • Shoes
  • Extra: bandana/hat


Stuff in collapsible cooler behind passenger seat

  • One spoon/knife/fork/spatula
  • One cook set (pan/plate/bowl/cup)
  • Can opener
  • Trash bags/Ziplock bags
  • Collapsible water bags
  • Extra: Firewood/lighter or a camp stove, especially in drought-ridden areas

What to Eat

Stuff in collapsible cooler behind passenger seat

  • Canned beans/soup/fruit
  • Dried fruit/peanuts/trail mix
  • Dry cereal/oatmeal/granola
  • Crackers/ bread/tortillas/bagels
  • Tea bags/drink mix/sugar/coffee
  • Vitamins/minerals
  • Spices
  • Extra: Fresh fruits/veggies/cheeses/meats/eggs/milk. Eat soon. Restock. Repeat.

Office & Entertainment

Stuff into backpack and leave in trunk or carry it along

  • Laptop
  • Portable DVD
  • Camera or videocamera
  • Books/magazines
  • Maps
  • Binder/folders/work papers
  • Extra: cigarette phone charger/plug conversion, solar-powered light or mini book light


Stuff in toolbox

  • Compass
  • Leatherman
  • Rope/duct tape
  • Car tools/spare tire/jack

Where’s A Good Place To Sleep?

The car is packed. Granola bars and dried apricots are within arms reach and Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” is on the radio. Now where do I go?


Sleep in well-lit areas and avoid parking in residential zones, commercial properties (unless permission is given) and dead-end streets.

Photo by foxypar4

Where to Park

Natural/State parks I found State parks to be a godsend as restrooms and showers are readily available. They also offer extended stays, camping and outdoor recreation such as swimming, hiking and other forms of entertainment. Free wi-fi may be available. Tip: Invest in a state park pass.

Rest areas/truck stops – Look for a visitor center or 24-hour security at rest areas and larger, well-lit truck stops. Free wi-fi may be available.

Wal-Marts – Invest in 2010 Wal-Mart Atlas and No Overnight RV Parking Directory, as some Wal-Marts do not allow overnight parking. If there is a question, ask the manager for permission.

Cracker Barrels – The restaurant usually allows overnight RV parking and travelers are always welcome. If there is a question, ask the manager for permission.

Thinking this might be a more permanent situation?

The Switch-a-roo

  • Invest in storage unit for keepsakes/furniture
  • Invest in an auto club for repairs
  • Invest in a P.O. Box or set mail to general delivery to be picked up at nearest post office
  • Pay bills online
  • Have a lock box welded in car trunk/truck/SUV (relatively cheap)
  • Tint windows or use a sunshade for extra privacy

If trouble does arise, memorize this passage from the fourth amendment

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

A Favorite Moment:

Like I said, it wasn’t easy, but there were also sweet moments. Once, I was sitting under a tree reading a book at a Texas rest area and I kept hearing soft meows. Curious, I wandered toward the noise and found a homeless cat sitting under some hedges. She wasn’t scared just hungry so I shared some Cheerios with her and even thought about taking her in. As the day went on, I noticed people coming and going but always stopping to share what they had with her, even cat food. Now who carries cat food with them? I soon realized she had this whole thing figured out and was where she was supposed to be.

So if you ever find yourself on Southbound Interstate 35 at mile marker 180 and spot the gray and black striped cat, feel free to feed her but definitely leave her be, oh and say hello for me.


Check out additional Matador resources to learn how to sleep in your car and how to live on wheels.

Home + Garden


About The Author

Sonya Harvey

Sonya writes about trash, punk, nature and wildlife and has done so as far back as her high school reporting days, even sleeping on a tour bus or two while traversing two lane blacktops and backwoods Americana. Since then, she has contributed to metropolitan dailies, Texas alt-weeklies and various nature rags. Today, you can find her searching the city streets for a recycling bin (with her iPod in tow) or in the forrest dreaming of her next big travel adventure.

  • Jason of Two Backpackers

    Thanks for the list of things to have when traveling in a car. We are considering doing this in the US, but as you stated, there are so many rules against it in many cities, making it somewhat difficult.

  • Carlo

    Nice one. I would say the pee bottle is not optional, especially when you’re trying to roll extra stealth. Oh, and don’t forget an eye mask and earplugs!

    Happy (car) camping.

  • Rebecca

    that car has been kitted out better than my house!

  • Abbie

    What a cool article – thanks Sonya! I will definitely pass this on to some of my “dirtbag climber” friends :)

  • Heather Carreiro

    This list is also great for putting together an emergency car kit/ go bags in case you suddenly need to resort to living in your car.

  • Rachel

    This is a fantastic post. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  • maya

    good to know!

  • Kevin Evans

    As a veteran car-habitationist, I can recommend the northern beach at South Padre Island…this is the deserted bit outside the town. No need to fork out for expensive, run down hotels. You can drive right up onto the sand, wake up to the sounds of the surf, and walk to the heady fraternity parties on the main beach only 20 minutes away.

  • Anna Bella Bee

    Awesome article! I know its a bit different, but… When my boyfriend and I were in New Zealand, we actually bought a van and camped out of it for a few weeks. Definitely the best vacation of my life! Making a car home is so much fun. You get everything you need, in your own little bublle, and that bubble is free to float on – Wherever the wind takes you!!

    Best of luck to you! And I hope you have some more wonderful adventures! …Something tells me that won’t be hard for you. Life is what you make it, and you are making it happen!!

  • David /

    Great suggestions!

    I find that a thin foamy sleeping mat comes in very handy. Roll it up to smooth out the bumps, folds, and creases of the back seat. Makes napping MUCH nicer :)


  • Dean Phillips

    Car Camper Fans:

    I found this additional resource on the web on living in a car or RV. Includes how to build a camper van. Good stuff.

    I would just add that in a pinch, you can park in the long-term parking lots at Airports. If you like the sound of jets and the smell of Jet-A, it’s a match made in heaven!

    See you on the road!

  • sonya harvey

    thanks for sharing that link Dean. bookmarked for future reference in case the car living need rises again.

  • JourneyHome

    Hilarious – found you on twitter and wordpress good luck livin’ the dream!


  • Robert RV

    Personally I am all for roughing it and getting that sense of freedom, but my weak side tells me that car living is not the way to go… just to rough! I would, and I do plan to when the kids are bigger to sell up and spend at least 12 months on the road seeing the world in my RV… who knows I may even find that perfect spot by a lake that will become my new home…wish me luck.

    Regards, Rob
    RV Patio Lights

  • William K Wallace

    Living in a car sounds like hell to me…hopefully I will never personally find out how bad it truly is…

  • Intrepid Bass

    I’m 6’1″ and lived in my ’91 Acura Integra in Florida for three months while on a solo tour. As for the vehicle, size does matter and I’ve since replaced the Ac with a Nissan Maxima; plenty of back seat room for sleeping and for practicing my instrument. Ample trunk space allows me to keep what few other things I have out of sight and the factory alarm is a great touch. Also, to the list above, add flushable wipes and use them to clean all your dark places every day you can’t get to a shower! Universities are a great place to get some food and recharge your electronics – there are so many people walking around at any given time that if you aren’t just plain gawking at stuff, no one will notice you. Starbucks’ bathrooms lock so if you need to clean up and shave, you can’t be disturbed. Just don’t take forever. Finally, you MUST be able to cope with some degree of boredom and a general lack of privacy or you will be looking for an apartment within a week. Happy motor-livin’!

  • Improvise&Adapt

    Divorce created a desperate situation and a desperate solution.

    Good stuff in the article, however I would add a few things;
    1. A gym membership is invaluable.
    2. A vehicle with collapsible compartments make life easier (ie Honda Element, Chevy Avalanche, or any SUV with fold-down seats
    3. Parking around 24 hour retail or services is good but high concentration apartment areas are also good for blending in.and don’t become a regular wrt parking location.
    4. There is no substitute for a city with median temperatures.
    5. FABREEZE! Your car can take on your body odor in short period of time where only others can smell.
    6. An alarm clock so that you don’t oversleep in a tow zone.

  • Marisa LaValette

    I love Matador Network but had not come across the “living in car” topic until now. One of the best things about roadtripping in your car is how you meet others with similar living arrangements. It was me, my boyfriend, and our dog Ruby living in a Chevy S-10 pickup, you know, the one with a little six-foot bed that is barely more than four feet side. We had a cap on the top, but no sort of trailer or extra storage space attached. Over the course of our 8.5-month trip, we ran into a guy who converted a full-size school bus into the “Cool Bus.” It was complete with shower, flush toilet, oven, microwave, sofa, window-seats, closet with railing and hangers, etc. We ran into another young couple who had made their own teardrop trailer. When you lifted the lid to the trailer, there was a sink and three-burner stove! People become very creative with living spaces when living on the road. My boyfriend was nice enough to build me a special compartment in the back of the truck for my hiking shoes, running shoes, flip flops, and crocs. Ruby had her own compartment for her food, vitamins, toys, and jacket. While on the road you learn how to maximize on every square inch of storage space. You can see some of our adventures showcased on my blog “256 Days in a Pickup Truck” at Please feel free to share on my blog about your own experiences on the road in your car!

  • emma

    what a fascinating article. i was told it was completely illegal to live in your car in the States. it’s cool to know that it is possible. thank you!

  • Tom

    I spent two years living in my car. Going to school, I remember this other guy a Viet Nam veteran who was obviously  a little unhinged, I didn’t handle Viet Nam well myself, I had a seven am Spanish class with him. He would always arrive very early and stuff his sleeping bag beneath the chair.

    It was a strange time. One step ahead of homeless. One thing it taught is people are fundamentally good at heart. The police figured out who I was and then just left me alone. people were nice they would leave me strange gifts. Cookies things like that, a case of motor oil once. But this was in the 70′s in a Midwestern college town.

    If you pull this make sure the police know who you are, and you had better have reason to be there. If worse comes to worse, provided you haven’t been there for weeks. Just tell them “You ever see those things on TV about falling asleep at the wheel, just pull over and sleep.”

    When I think back on it people were really nice. The post traumatic stress guy was sleeping in the basement of an abandoned house He took me there it was really creepy. Poor guy, I hope is okay. He was very fried.Come to think of it my Spanish teacher was a little fried too. She had been a friend of Fidel Castro, I mean like a personal friend, managed to escape with her life. She was always nice to both of us.

    I think she saw something in the both of us that was slightly different than the usual scanty clad co-ed.

  • bout to go back

    Why is no one addressing the issue of money? I just spent some time living in my truck and honestly the situation that i am in I am ready to go back untill I can improve my situation by myself.  Problem being the reason I was living in my truck was because I could not afford a proper dwelling. All my money just stopped. So what now? I did just fine. Resorted to things I never thought I would do (nothing that bad) just different from the cush life that I have lived.  By cush I dont mean great, but I was no real street kid.  Besides “signing” what are some good ways to make money living in your car? Job search and interview are expecially hard considering that the best looking outfit you have are some hip jeans a nice shirt and nice sneakers.

  • 7summerdaze

    I am thinking about doing this, not because I have to, but to save some money for a down payment on some land. I have a pretty decent job, and good friends who I think will let me bum a shower from time to time. I hesitate to get the gym membership just b/c it’s so darn hard to get OUT of them, but I might if I can find a good one. I have a Pontiac Aztek now, so have so much more room then when I had my Ranger. I’m an older lady (55) . Strange where life takes us sometimes.

    • thatsadarnit

      Instead of a regular gym membership, might be you could go to a local municipal pool and use the showers there. I know my pool charges 5 bucks for a swim pass. You could use the showers, the pool, the hot tub and sauna to relax. 

      I know what you mean about it being odd where life takes you. I am 57, with a good job and considering car living myself.

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