Being Prepared to Live in Your Car Successfully

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Living in your car may not be for everyone.
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Editor’s Note: This article was generously contributed by J. Cirerol and he shares his experiences learned from living in his car for over a year. While most of us might not find the idea of living in a car appealing, I think Javier has some lessons to share that might help some of us if we are forced to live in austere conditions at some point in our lives.


 

From August 25th 2012 until over a year later, I slept and lived in my car in Los Angeles, California.

I moved to Los Angeles for a dream and did not realize how expensive it was to live there.

So I began planning in my head and thinking how I might save money and how I might get out of the frustrating living situation I was in at the time.

I decided living and sleeping in my car would be an idea that would satisfy both of those things I wanted for my life in Los Angeles. It was truly a survival experience.

Throughout my time sleeping and living in my car, I learned a tremendous amount.

It was a very tough time as well. But it did in fact help me achieve my goals of saving money and being able to live on my “own” in my car.

It didn’t come easy getting that life though. There were many learning experiences.

I began writing a book while I was sleeping in my car. About how to survive living in one’s car.

There are many different aspects when it comes to sleeping and living in your car successfully.

Living in your car takes a plethora of survival skills. It truly is a “survival” experience attempting to live in your car.

How to Live In a Car, Van, or RV

I was doing this so I could save money and get ahead in life. You have to sacrifice in life if you want to get ahead in life. That’s what I have learned. Especially in this economy today, you never know when hardship may hit and having these survival skills in your pocket may just save your life one day when you experience hardship.

I saved a great deal of money and had extra money I wouldn’t have had if I was paying rent somewhere.

I am going to go over a few key aspects it takes to successfully live in your car. Even if you never have to live in your car in your life, it’s good to be prepared. You never know what life may throw your way one day.

What to do for Food:

When it comes to food, there are many options when living in your car. My purpose living in my car was saving as much money as I could. So I keep that in mind when thinking about food.

  1. Canned Foods: There are canned foods such as beans, pastas, and tuna. Have a can opener ready or preferably have an easy to open top. That makes things much easier. Like canned fruits or fruits in plastic cups work as well. They store well too.
  2. Peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches are easy to make in a car. Just have a plastic knife to use to make it.
  3. Homeless shelters: Sometimes or much of the time homeless shelters give free food away as well. Just find one in your local area.
  4. Protein Bars: These are pre-packaged, somewhat healthy and easy to eat on the go.
  5. Fast Food: This is a somewhat cheap and accessible option but I generally went for the foods that were in a grocery store as they were cheaper.

In grocery stores, they usually have a bakery or already-cooked foods section and these are somewhat affordable as well. I used to get 2 pieces of fried chicken and some potatoes and it was decently priced and nice to have some “real” food for a change sometimes.

A good sleeping area can make or break you living in your car.
A good sleeping area can make or break you living in your car.

Where to Sleep:

Where to sleep is probably one of the most key elements of sleeping in your car. A good sleeping area can make or break you living in your car. You have to find a place that is safe but also a place where you can stay on the down-low enough to not be noticed.

I personally slept at a 24-hour grocery store I used to work at. I lucked out. But I’d say if you can manage to sleep at a 24-hour store somewhere that would be good. Or in a neighborhood that is safe where you can stay under the radar.

Once you do find that place you have to make sure to do everything you can to not be noticed.

Your car has to be primed and ready.

I had dark tint on my windows some of the time I slept in my car. If you don’t, you can put dark towels up in front of all windows. You have to be conspicuous though and make sure no one is around when you put them up. Just go to your spot, park, shut the car off and set the towels up. That is what I did. Make sure you choose the same place for sleeping every night. It makes things a lot easier. Don’t tell anyone where you sleep.

Have the radio off long before you get to your spot so you don’t draw any attention to yourself. Additional tip: do not open your doors once you get to your spot or get out of your car at all. It only draws more attention to yourself.

Where to take Showers:

Keeping your hygiene good is absolutely key to sleeping and living in your car and staying unnoticed. The more you are noticed the worse it is for you. You have to give an appearance you are not homeless. If not, you will be kicked out of a lot of places you may hang out at. I took showers at a gym. I got a monthly gym membership. It was only $40 a month. So it was not much. I got to both work out and get clean. I recommend having a backpack with everything you need for the shower and a combination lock to lock up your stuff while you are in the shower.

Where to Spend Your Spare Time At

There are a few options of where to hang out on your day off work or when you have free time.

Fast food chains. They usually have free WiFi for laptops. If you keep a low profile, it’s likely you will go generally unnoticed. Just make sure to keep to yourself for the most part. I didn’t even buy anything much of the time and no one cared to be honest.

Public libraries are great places to hang out in your spare time especially if you have a laptop. There is free WiFi that does not expire like many food places. There are usually a good amount of seats. It is nice and cool inside or warm depending on the climate where you live.

Malls are a decent area to hang out at as well. To find a seat and read a book or walk around. Just as long as you don’t have to pay for parking to be at a mall then it’s great.

The gym is a great place as well. You can work out for a while to kill time and be inside.

Also, if you have made any friends or anything like that, then that will help a ton as well.

Creativity can go a long way toward finding room in your car for necessities.
Creativity can go a long way toward finding room in your car for necessities.

Key items to Keep in your Car:

  1. Gallon of drinking water: It’s important to always stay hydrated when living in your car. You are always going, always on the move much of the time. There were many times it was after work and I hadn’t had any water. It was always nice to have my gallon of water in the backseat under a towel. It costs about $.25 to fill it up at a grocery store.
  2. Pain medicine: Very useful when you have any kind of pain. There were many times while I was living in my car, it was late at night and my head was throbbing. It was nice to reach in my little soccer bag and take some pain medicine and be able to sleep peacefully after that.
  3. Car Fan: At night time I find it tough to sleep without some background noise, so a car fan came in handy. It costs about $20 at an automotive store. It is enough wattage to be on all night and not kill the battery. Many nights it is too hot to sleep in a car without a fan. In the summer time, if I didn’t have a fan I would have suffered greatly.
  4. Power Inverter: This is a device you can plug into your cigarette lighter and charge your laptop, cell phone, or any other electronic device as long it is a small enough wattage. It costs about $20 at many stores. Be careful what you charge. Some things will kill the battery if you charge it too long. Try to charge things while driving when possible because it doesn’t use the battery. The one I had had was 100 watts, which means anything you charge has to generally generate less electricity than that.
  5. Sleeping Bag: A good sleeping bag is key in any environment. Even in Los Angeles, in the winter and many times other seasons of the year as well I needed it. If I hadn’t had a good sleeping bag, I would have frozen and been very uncomfortable the entire night.
  6. Snacks/ Food: It is important to always have some sort of food in your car. Preferably on the floor on the passenger seat side as I did. I used that section for my food. It was easy when I got hungry, I could just reach over and grab a banana to eat when I needed it. It’s crucial to always have at least some stuff ready to eat anytime you may need it. Not eating can cause many problems. There were many times after work I was extremely hungry and was leaving work and had a piece of fruit I reached for and ate right from my car.
  7. Jumper Cables: Sometimes for a couple different reasons, I found that my car battery died and I needed a jump. Most likely because I left the lights on or I charged my electronics too long without driving. It was a pain standing in front of a store asking people if they had jumper cables. I eventually got some jumper cables so when my car battery died, all I had to do was ask anyone who had a car around me if they could give me a jump rather than also having to ask them if they had jumper cables too.
  8. Vitamin C: Living in your car is not a normal thing obviously. There is more wear and tear and hardship than if you had a place to live. So it’s important to keep your immune system up. Vitamin C boosts the immune system. Anything you can consume with a lot of Vitamin C is great. Oranges or any drinks that have vitamin C in them are great. You cannot afford to get sick in your car when you already have enough other things to worry about.
  9. Spare Keys Container: Having spare keys around are very important while sleeping in your car. You never know when you may need them. I kept a spare key for my car always in my wallet. Also, I went to an automotive store and got 2 containers for about $10 that store keys and have a magnetic cylinder on the back so you can connect it to any metal at the bottom of your car for when you lose or lock your keys in your car. Make sure to put it where no one can see it. Make sure no one knows it is there. Only you.

There are many important aspects to surviving living in one’s car. These are a few of the key ones. The key thing is keeping a low profile in all you do. That way, you can have the longevity to stay in your car as long as you need to.

You have to stay mentally strong and continually aware and focused of everyone and everything around you. Keep your head up. Always know it is not forever and is only a temporary situation.

The author in his car.
The author in his car.

You can follow J. Cirerol on twitter @homelesssurvival

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29 Comments on "Being Prepared to Live in Your Car Successfully"

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Elizabeth
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Thanks for the post J.Cirerol! Very interesting, so now I have questions : Did you achieve your goal/did you experience the payoff for frugality that you’d hoped for? How did you manage perception with friends and coworkers? Were they supportive or did you perceive stigma associated with your choices? Do you think there would have been a difference in your perceived experience if you’d been forced into that spot instead of having consciously chosen it? Were you able to forge any sort of community with others in a similar situation or were you a lone wolf? Was there ever a… Read more »
Jesus must increase
Guest
I’m sorry, but what you are promoting is illegal in many cities. Not only is it illegal, but it places a burden upon the business owner when you sleep on their property. While many businesses have umbrella insurance to cover a case where someone might be hurt or harmed on their property (say you are robbed or assaulted because you failed to lock the doors), then technically they could be sued and hence the business owner becomes very irate at what you’ve done. Not a good idea. There are lots of places where these city wide bans are enforced because… Read more »
sassyfrass57
Guest

blah blah blah there’s at least one in every crowd

deadlights
Guest

Your post was one big fart. God forbid a Walmart shopper having to park near or having to see a homeless person trying to get by.

Dave Giff
Guest

Interesting reply. I live in my car, park on a street like everyone else, shower at 24 hour fitness, eat at work, and no one is the wiser. The benefactors are both me and Starbucks.

Rod Milton
Guest

Paying rent is a waste of money anyways…esp California rent.

Tim Davydov
Guest

Seriously man, stop being a sheep.

As long as a person does not disturb someone’s peace, doesn’t trash and being civil, please let them be. Stop being obedient 1984 citizen.

vaccinescause autism
Guest

You are just a obedient sheep, these evil rulers are breaking every single laws they made for us, they are child rapists, murders, drug dealers, gun dealers……
You want to keep living in this prison planet, but I don’t, it’s time to change.

evaperales
Guest

“jjesus must increase” It would all be very wonderful to live in a world where we only opted to be homeless” most of us don’t know of the hardships that await us, I pray you never find yourself in those shoes. perhaps it would be a good living experience for you.

Kc@yahoo.com
Guest

Walmart is a burdenontax payers and the Chinese sweat shop people. Also some people can’t afford any other placs stay,other than in their car.

desert
Guest

And think BIGGER CAR! …maybe even a motorhome lol!

BS
Guest

Any ideas on going to the bathroom ? Lol.

& yes in most places this is illegal but this post was not intended to persuade people to quit paying rent and sleep in their cars. As he clearly stated, this was one of the most difficult things he has ever done! But to be prepared for this to happen, these are some great tips. Anything can happen.

Dave Giff
Guest

Well, you hang out in Starbucks and right before you take off to go sleep you drop off all the bodily waste in the restroom. Keep a pee bottle in the car with a tight lid. I’ve lived in my car for many months and have had no problems in this area yet.

Mike Lashewitz
Guest
Whenever my ship pulled into home port I would live out of my car. It was quieter that being around a bunch of loud rude drunken sailors. As an example I was awakened one night by the fellows playing darts and one came in my rack and hit my pillow 3/8ths of an inch in front of my eyes as I lay there sleeping. On another night I was awakened by a drunk vomiting on the deck by mt rack and the stench. I had to get up and clean the mess while he slept it off. Then I had… Read more »
LibGuy
Guest
I’ve lived out of my car on and off in the past year, as a voluntary experiment with the vagabonding lifestyle. Large and mid-large SUV’s, when their seats are folded down, create a flat platform which functions as a good sleeping base. A mattress pad makes good cushion, and best of all, absolutely no one suspects an SUV parked overnight at Walmart to harbor a sleeping person, especially with the tinted rear windows. Space is rather limited though, and acrobatics are necessary to enter the sleeping section. If you are on an extreme budget, a rag and some soap in… Read more »
Anono mouse
Guest
Thank you J.C! This is the first time that I’ve found actual tangible advice on the how to’s of living in ones car. I am in a living situation similar to that of the sailors story. About to start a new job and cannot stay where I am without all my efforts being sabotaged. As it is I haven’t even had the opportunity to shower for acoule days so I don’t see moving into my car as a step backward, hell I’ll probably be able to take better care without all the constant interruptions and passive aggressive sabotage. Tonight is… Read more »
Dave Giff
Guest

I’m living in my car, too, and recognized a lot of your tips as being true.

Moist Owlett
Guest

Do you have any other advise?

vaccinescause autism
Guest
There are three requirements that all nations must meet if they are to establish and maintain their freedom and self-determination in the Greater Community. This holds true for both nations living in highly populated regions of space, such as is the case of your world, and for nations that live in remote regions, even in uncharted territories where contact with other races can be very rare and very hazardous. The world has been given to humanity as its world of origin, as its place of residence and as a splendid environment in which humanity could evolve and build its civilizations… Read more »
Rod Milton
Guest

I personally don’t see the issue with it. Better than paying rent…esp Los Angeles’s high rent. If a person is saving money for a down payment on a house or something I’m all for it. If he’s not bothering anyone I wouldn’t have a problem with it. And as for the people who do have a problem with it because they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths…eff em.

john f
Guest
Me I lived out of a campervan for about a year and loved it went to Florida slept right on the beach in Clearwater and traveled all along the coast been to Detroit out west all over,I’ve crashed in minivans cars campers, and I got to say if u plannin on doin it long term go for a cargo van or a old class b, got to say though minvans arnt bad they don’t stick out as much as a big camper but it is a little cramped, right now I got me a old caravan and its just big… Read more »
Mark
Guest
There are millions of people in USA who have slept in their vehicles. Truckers are the largest group, staying often 6 weeks at a time on the road (though mostly on the road within 1 mile of an Interstate). US Active Army is another group, many whom go to the field every two weeks and sleep in and on (above mosquito zone) vehicles and grounds. RV’rs; regular drivers, tired on the road, do well to take power naps (20″+) when parked somewhere (rest stops, businesses along off ramps, etc.). Plenty of people prefer to “pay themselves” AMAP, than others; and… Read more »
Tara
Guest

Thank you for your article. Im thinking about living in my car. Prices is too high. I can save money . Why not. Thanks for this information.

Marcel Cua
Guest

This is great, thank you for writing this. I’m about to live in my car.. lost my job and had to pay off vet bill and car repair bill and lease ending all at once. Thank you

Mark K.
Guest
I used to stay in the state forest in my suv. It was so much better than that uneasy feeling you have sleeping with one eye open in a parking lot. It pays to spend a whole day driving thru the closest state forest and pick out a few spots where you can park and not be seen. The forest has its own hazards but they are much less than in civilization. I used to put a huge tarp over my ford explorer and bungee it to the vehicle… This is something you cant do in civilization without attracting attention..… Read more »
Lisa X
Guest

I lost my job unexpectedly and currently living in my car in Tuscon AZ.

shelly galindo
Guest

hey lisa have you found a job yet? i live in tucson also and will be in kinda the same shape as you. good luck

Kc@yahoo.com
Guest
Thanks for the tips. After having a cop, and a couple people knock on my window after seeing me sleep in my car, I decided to finally spend the money online window shades. The water and snack tip is a good one too. It took me a while, but I finally got my car fully organized. Staying organized is one of the most important things, because you can not be at all comfortable when you’re sleeping in a kinky car, and have to get out to go to the trunkall the time to get your basic necessities.
Kc@yahoo.com
Guest

One other good tip is to fold up your clothes, and put them on the back seat if that’s where you are sleeping. Then put a sheet over them and sleep on the clothes.That way you have vision instead of bags of clothes by you or within the view of others. Nothing screams I’m living in my car more than bags of clothes.

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