Photo: Merla/Shutterstock

How to: Live in Your Car

by Sonya Harvey Mar 10, 2010
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)


  • 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.

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.

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