How to Live out of Your Car, According to 4 People Who Did It

Nowadays, it’s pretty common to hear about people residing in tents and refurbished RV’s, but some people live out of their cars.

Here are helpful tips on how to live out of your car, according to people who already did it.

Charlotte McCary

I am 57 years old. I lived out of my car in my 30’s and I do realize, now that I am in my own home that I paid for in full, I hoard a lot of stuff that I don’t need. I buy stuff I don’t wear or use and I still feel a certain way when I go out to a store. I am finally able to let go and feel differently.

When you have to live in a car you feel like the world is looking at you, even if no one is, you see people come right next to you and you feel like they are going to laugh, stare or tell you to leave the parking lot.

When you get laid off from a job, kicked out by a roommate, or divorced. Whatever the circumstance may be, they may say you have to leave but you don’t have any place to go, you have to pull your self up quick. You feel hopeless and it takes time to realize what has happened but you know life has changed.

When living out of your car, you learn how to take a hand out where you can get it. If you are not organized you will learn to be.

What is your next goal? Do you want to go somewhere in particular? Where do you want to work again? You are not the only one this has happened to, and you won’t be the last. People have been living out of their cars for quite a while now.

Check your car

Ask yourself; how old is the car? How big is your car? How much money does it take to fill up? Are you going to pull a trailer? Can you even pull a trailer? Auto-insurance? What happens if you happen to get into an accident? God forbid you’ll have to think about these things.

Deducible? Car maintenance? Security? Safety? Just to name a few. If you pay on a vehicle, try and trade it in for a vehicle that is paid off. Then go to your insurance company, cancel your old policy and get your other car covered, with a low deductible.

Remembering where you have put things in a car is important

You don’t want to unload the whole car just for your driver’s license! Place important stuff in the front seat. Purse, Wallet, Cell phone, or pets.

Things you will use every day and food can be separated into individual portions, and most importantly plastic water bottles for both you and your pet, if you have one. Buy doggy bags for their bathroom trips at a rest stop.

If you still have a banking account, make sure you can access it from any bank

Some transactions take a while to clear. Generic ATM’s hold out more money than you requested when you use them if you have a high yield checking account.

How much will you be using that card and how much is your minimum? Try and get enough money out at the ATM to cover you for about a week at a time. Then go into the bank and get quarters, one’s, small change for laundry or coffee at gas stations.

Consider going without a bank, although that can backfire real quick. Unfortunately, savings accounts are not accessible at a generic ATM.

Keep a copy of every receipt that you produce. When you travel out of a car consider a small file container, then label accordingly. I’ve found a 13-slot file container that was the size slightly bigger than an 8 x 12 look for one around the tax filing in a retail store.

Organize your stuff through different bags

Depending on how many stores in your area that you have shopped in, you can put different groups in different bags. If you can find cloth bags, those work better.

Put better clothes in clothing travel bags.

If you dress up with a certain shirt, jacket, socks, shoes, a belt, and tie put everything together, then zip it up. Hang it in the back window and you are on your way.

Make sure you also have bigger bags that are of different colors.

That way, for example, you can use a gray one is for laundry the black one is for food.

Put different essentials from each ‘household room’ in bigger bags.

When you put stuff into a big bag, scale it down. Move laundry soap into a screw-top container or in a seal-able zip lock bag. If you are going to carry liquids,  I would consider a screw top lid with a plastic sandwich bag in the screw threads.

It is just like the lotion opening up in a purse it will happen you will spill stuff into the larger area you can’t control. If something opens you will realize that a screw lid would have been a better idea.

These are less likely to spill over but yes even powered stuff can go into a screw-top lid. If you are going to carry ammonia, do not put it near your bleach.

Try and not take any glass, you’ll cut your hand if you don’t look, be careful. Use one dedicated to putting your laundry in, That way you are not pulling everything out of your car just to get it. Also, plastic bags can be formed into a lot of small sizes in the car.

If you have big items with memories or money you’ve invested in, store it somewhere safe.

Plan to move it soon and make sure if you are storing the stuff at a friends house. Make sure it is secure and no one can open it accidentally and take anything out.

Consider modifying the item to be able to put a lock on it. That way they will not move it, get tired of it or sell it. Make sure they will let you know well in advance in case something is happening in their lives to where they will not get rid of it. That way you will not mind moving the stuff into a storage unit. That’s where your organizational skills will be put to the test.

Rent a P. O. Box, or have your mail forwarded to someone’s place

If it’s a box make sure it can still be accessible after hours.

Bring only essentials

Clothes, take plenty of underwear, bras as many as you can, pants, t-shirts, socks, shoes. Keep the stuff that you can toss in a dryer and are wrinkle-free. Put a soft-sided suitcase in and pack everything you would need to look professional.

Find thrift stores

A good place to look for clothes is not a department store but at second-hand stores. You will be surprised at what is in those building.

Dress accordingly

If you know about where you will be staying, dress accordingly. Learn to wear clothes for several days, not just one day. As you will not able to hook up to the water to wash your face, shower, private parts.

Pack a washcloth, bra socks, and undies in your purse or backpack. Then, when you go to the bathroom in a public place you can clean yourself, change personnel areas and feel a little fresher and cleaner.

Fill gallon jugs of water

You’ll want to put them in the floorboard of the car. I carried about four one-gallon plastic jugs two in each back floorboard area. Never leave them in a seat, you will find out the hard way.

You’ll learn to utilize water when you can, you will learn to not shave, wash your face, do your personal hygiene for more than one day. Get used to the feeling.

Get only shelf-stable food

Think about the climate you are in. If you can’t go without milk or yogurt, keep it in a cool place in the car.

Be aware of homeless shelters

I did live out of a homeless shelter for a while where I was able to do laundry a couple of times, cook, and shower. In big cities, there are missions for men and women. Go to the local state offices and find out where the free resources are for people who are living out of the car.

Most of all, don’t forget you are not alone

Make sure you have a phone number you can give to anyone who may ask. Libraries give you out free use of computers but you have to have an address.

Make sure your bills are paid up and stop all auto payments

Call the companies that you have auto payment and let them know you are in between jobs. Don’t close the card or cut it up, especially if it’s low interest, use it and remember your credit score.

If you belong to a church, find out if they can help in any way

Pray, let everyone know an abridged story of what is happening. Good luck!!

Chris Holder

Chris Holder

Serial Entrepreneur | Financial Expert | Motivational Speaker | Author, Tips to Success

Planned out my meals in advance

I had very little money so planning ahead was key. Two McDonald’s dollar menu items a day + water and fruit is what I lived off of.

Showered at school to maintain good hygiene

This is because I was still in school I had access to the gym. If you aren’t a student, public places like gyms with showers could work for you.

Stayed with friends during the winter

I found ways to crash at a friend’s spot without explaining to them what was going on or that I had no place to go.

Read books pertaining to money

To become financially stable was important to me. Self-education allowed me to continue to dream big and not get complacent.

Accepted handouts when offered

Usually, I would turn down assistance, but during this time I quickly realized the importance of accepting any form of help I could get.

Benjamin Hess

Founder, Hess Un-Academy

Right after my second child was born, our lease was due to be up. I was almost done with school and we didn’t want to sign another lease when we knew we were leaving the state after I graduated so my wife and the two kids went to her parents’ house to stay for a few months and I lived out of my car.

I spent my days at school and worked as a janitor in the late evenings. When I wasn’t at school or at work, I spent my time in my car. It was a rough time, but I made it work.

  • I bought and ate foods that didn’t need to be refrigerated or cooked. Things like oatmeal packets I could dump in my mouth and eat dry. Also peanut butter and honey sandwiches and granola bars.
  • I ‘borrowed’ showers. I had a couple of friends around the city that were willing to let me borrow showers from time to time, so I bounced between them when I needed to clean up.

I lived like this for about 5 months. Then I graduated from school as well as from my car!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do people live out of their cars?

Financial reasons: One of the main reasons people choose to live out of their cars is to save money. High rent and housing costs can be a significant burden for many individuals, making living out of a car a more appealing option.

Flexibility: Living in a car can provide a greater sense of freedom and flexibility. It allows people to easily move from one location to another, explore new places, and not feel tied down to a specific area.

Simplicity: Some people are drawn to the minimalist lifestyle that living out of a car offers. It encourages individuals to pare down their possessions and focus on what’s truly important to them.

Transition periods: People might also live out of their cars temporarily during times of transition, such as a job change, a breakup, or while searching for a new place to live.

Remember, living in your car is a temporary solution, and it’s important to have a plan for finding permanent housing. If you’re facing homelessness, don’t hesitate to reach out to local resources for assistance.

Is it legal to live out of your car?

Living out of your car can be an appealing option for some, offering flexibility and a unique opportunity to explore. However, the legality of car dwelling varies depending on where you are. 

In some cities and states, it’s completely legal, while in others, there may be restrictions or even outright bans. It’s crucial to research local laws and regulations before deciding to live in your car. 

A good starting point is to check the specific city ordinances and state laws for information on vehicle dwellings. Keep in mind that even if it’s legal in your area, you should always be respectful of private property and public spaces, adhering to parking restrictions and avoiding causing disturbances.

How can I maintain good hygiene while living in my car?

Access to facilities: Locate nearby public restrooms, gyms, or community centers where you can use showers and restrooms. A gym membership can also provide a place to exercise, which is essential for physical and mental well-being.

Personal hygiene kit: Create a portable hygiene kit with essentials like a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant, and a razor. Don’t forget to include a small towel and a washcloth. Keep this kit easily accessible when you visit restrooms or shower facilities.

Wet wipes and hand sanitizer: For times when you don’t have immediate access to a shower, wet wipes can be a lifesaver for a quick refresh. Hand sanitizer is also crucial for maintaining cleanliness and reducing the risk of spreading germs.

Laundry: Locate nearby laundromats or use a portable washing bag like the Scrubba to wash your clothes. Clean clothes contribute significantly to your overall hygiene and comfort.

Car cleanliness: Regularly clean and declutter your car. Vacuum the interior, wipe down surfaces, and wash the exterior to maintain a fresh and inviting living space.

Where can I safely park my car overnight?

Walmart parking lots: Many Walmart locations allow overnight parking for RVs and car dwellers. Always check the store’s policy and look for posted signs before settling in for the night.

Rest stops: Rest areas along highways often permit overnight parking. While they can be noisy, they generally provide a safe resting place, and some even offer restroom facilities.

Residential areas: Look for quiet neighborhoods where street parking is allowed. Be mindful of local parking restrictions and be respectful to the residents by keeping noise levels low and maintaining cleanliness.

Campgrounds and RV parks: While they may charge a small fee, campgrounds and RV parks offer a secure place to park, often with additional amenities like restrooms, showers, and electrical hookups.

24-hour businesses: Some 24-hour establishments, such as gyms and supermarkets, may allow overnight parking. It’s a good idea to ask for permission from the management before settling down for the night.

Can I sleep in the car with AC for a full night?

Yes, you can sleep in your car with the AC for an entire night. In fact, many people do so as a cost-effective and convenient alternative to a hotel or camping. 

Just make sure to park in a safe and legal spot and run the AC for a few minutes before you sleep to cool down the interior. It’s also important to consider the health hazards associated with breathing in recycled air for an extended period of time, so crack a window slightly to ensure proper ventilation.

How do I stay comfortable in hot or cold weather?

Staying comfortable in your car during extreme weather conditions can be a challenge, but with a few adjustments, you can make it more livable. Here’s what you can do:

• In hot weather, use sunshades for your windows and a reflective blanket to block out the sun.
• In cold weather, invest in a suitable sleeping bag and a cushion for extra warmth and comfort.
• It’s also a good idea to have a portable battery-operated fan and heater on hand to regulate the temperature inside your car.

How can I cook or store food in my car?

Cooking and storing food in your car can be a bit challenging, but it’s not impossible. Here are a few tips to help you out:

• Invest in a portable electric hot plate or a camping stove to cook meals.
• Keep a cooler with ice packs to store perishable food items.
• Use reusable containers to store leftovers, and avoid using plastic wrap or aluminum foil, which can be dangerous in close quarters.
• Drink plenty of water and bring healthy snacks to keep you fueled throughout the day.

What are some ways to stay entertained while living in my car?

Living in your car can be lonely and boring, so it’s important to find ways to stay entertained. Here are a few suggestions:

• Read books, listen to audiobooks, or watch movies on a tablet or phone.
• Write in a journal or start a blog to document your experiences.
• Play games, like chess or cards, with yourself or with others.
• Take advantage of free Wi-Fi at libraries, cafes, and parks to connect with friends and family.

How do I maintain a social life while living in my car?

Maintaining a social life while living in your car can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Here are a few tips to help you out:

• Stay connected with friends and family through phone calls, text messages, and video chats.
• Volunteer at a local organization to meet new people and positively impact your community.
• Attend community events, like festivals, concerts, and sporting events, to socialize and have fun.
• Join a car-living or homeless community online or in-person to connect with others who understand your situation.

How do I handle mail and important documents while living in my car?

Handling mail and important documents while living in your car can be a challenge, but there are a few solutions to help you out:

• Use a post office box or a virtual mailbox service to receive mail and packages.
• Store important documents, like your ID, Social Security card, and insurance information, in a safe and secure place, like a locked trunk or a fireproof safe.
• Use online banking and bill payment services to manage your finances and avoid mail.
• If you need to receive mail at a physical address, consider using a friend or family member’s address or a mail-forwarding service.

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