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One of the biggest challenges with van dwelling is dealing with friends and family who think you aren’t prepared for living in your car. When I first committed to it, people inundated me with questions: where will you pee? Did you think about showers? What if you get robbed?
Yeah, of course I thought about those questions, but my answers were never good enough. My loved ones had their intentions in the right place, though; it’s true that the van dwelling lifestyle isn’t as easy as packing all your things in a vehicle and driving away. If you want to successfully prepare for living in your car, you need to understand the prep work involved and how your choices could impact your long-term comfort and safety.
The five key factors below are the most important to consider as you prepare for your journey:
Living in your vehicle really comes down to sleeping in your vehicle. Generally, you will probably spend the majority of your day outside your car, either at school, work, the gym, the park, coffee shops or just exploring the world.
For that reason, you should put the most thought into this category. First, sleep largely depends on how comfortable you can make yourself. Sleeping in your back seat is fine for an emergency, but not good long-term. Follow these steps for more comfortable sleeping:
- Make sure your space is cool, dark and quiet.
- Allow yourself the space to sleep. This may involve modifying your vehicle, taking out a few seats to allow yourself to completely stretch out.
- Consider whether you need to invest in an insulating sleeping pad, cot or both to add comfort and warmth. An appropriate sleeping bag (http://amzn.to/2gHVdE5) for the temperature allows for versatility and packability over traditional blankets.
Stealth and Security
The first step to ensuring that you’re safe is to be sure people aren’t immediately aware that you are living inside the car. You will have to make your own custom stealth solution depending on what type of vehicle you have, whether your windows are tinted or not, where you park, and whether or not you emit lights from your vehicle. If you drive around in a van with no windows, or a very obvious campervan, you are already at a disadvantage because these vehicles arouse suspicion and people may be more apt to call the cops or disturb you. Keep these considerations in mind if you haven’t chosen a vehicle yet. Some general tips here are helpful:
- Tint your windows.
- Cover windows from the inside with a black material to give the appearance of tint. Bonus points if you use a material that light cannot pass through.
- Purchase a windshield shade with good coverage.
- Hide yourself with a curtain—hopefully black—that can be draped across the vehicle. I have a bungee cord holding blackout curtains draped from one “oh shit” bar to the other.
- Be sure that you are hidden from view at every angle.
- Have a “panic button” on your car’s key fob to use in emergencies.
- Do not have lights on in the vehicle, even a cell phone, unless your setup does not emit light
- Join a community watch through an app. Apple and android have several versions.
This is the single most difficult thing to anticipate, and takes careful strategy and common sense. In some states, you can sleep in your car as long as you are legally parked, so check the regulations where you live before spending time finding the best spots. Here are my top suggestions—be sure to keep these in rotation.
- Hotel parking lots. These are great because the cars there are always changing and they stay overnight.
- If you have friends with apartments, ask to use one of their parking spots for the night once a week, perhaps in exchange for cooking them a meal (which gives you a chance to cook real food once in awhile).
- Rest areas close to town. You will be legally parked there, although there may be particular rules like time limits.
- Parking in residential areas is possible but tricky. Stay away from houses with clear views of the parking spots you choose.
- If your 24-hour gym is busy at night, you should be able to park there with little attention.In cities with 24-hour coffee shops, enjoy a coffee late at night and turn in.
- Walmart—call ahead first
- If you have a night job, you can probably get away with parking at work, or sleeping during the day anywhere.
Try not to cook or organize your vehicle where you park. If you must get settled, do so somewhere else. When you park for the night, be ready to immediately go to bed. When you wake up, try to leave and then get ready for the day elsewhere, so as to not draw too much attention to yourself. I like using my 24-hour gym for this purpose.
Clean clothes, clean body, clean car: these three things can make you feel like you never left the comfort of your own home. If you neglect hygiene, you may start to appear more suspicious in public, and therefore compromise you stealth and security.
For your bathroom needs:
Try to use the bathroom at your work or your gym. If you must, keep a clear plastic bottle with you for emergencies.
Enroll in a gym, or purchase a portable shower (http://amzn.to/2iig9Qk) if you are out in the country.
For clean clothes:
Find a local laundromat! Some have wifi so you can get work done while you do your laundry. You can also buy detergent and do laundry in whatever bathroom sink you can find, but you’ll have a tougher time getting clothes dry quickly. My biggest laundry problem was traveling with a big fluffy cotton towel. The towel would take forever to dry after a shower and would always start to smell funny. The camp towels you can find at your outdoor goods stores were less bulky and dried faster, but would never seem to dry as well as a cotton towel.
Then I discovered linen towels. They are wonderfully compactable, dry my skin better then a synthetic camp towel, and dry quickly without leaving a smell. A single towel can cost you about 20 dollars, but for me they are worth the price. I bought two and it seems to be all I need.
This is what sets the professionals apart from the amateurs—and it’s my favorite part! I cringe every time I see a YouTube video of someone’s car and I see clothes scattered everywhere, pee bottles left in plain sight, and last nights dinner littering the floor. Just like fully thought out layouts make you want to take a vacation in their vehicle. Here are some tips:
- Keep clothes organized! Instead of suitcases or bags, use packing cubes (http://amzn.to/2hwZyti) to compartmentalize everything (including a separate cube for dirty clothes). You can stack and organize them much more easily while keeping clothes compact.
- Use the unused negative space your sleeping system may create. I store items and clothes neatly under my cot.
- Add ‘homey” touches. I have a nightstand (http://amzn.to/2imtJ7p) that holds items that you would normally keep near your bed (alarm clock, phone, lamp, charger), secured with velcro.
- Have a shoe organizer to neatly hold all your shoes and other small items. You may be able to drape one of these over the back of your seats.
- Use small storage bins (http://amzn.to/2icuks2) to store loose, rarely used items.
- Keep your driver and front passenger seat clear so you can mentally separate driving functions from living functions.
- Make sure all your possessions can be neatly packed and placed in your trunk. This tip is optional, but helpful if you need to use your car for social purposes or if you make money with your car (driving for Uber, delivering, etc.).
If you’re like me and keep getting tons of questions from your loved ones, start preparing now and give ‘em the right answers.
How have you prepared for living in your car? Leave your tips in the comments!