The pandemic has been an economic disaster for many people. They’ve lost jobs and businesses and are on the verge of eviction or foreclosure. Some have been forced into living in their vehicle, and some who had been thinking of adopting the nomadic life sometime in the future have had to radically accelerate their plans.
The stress of all this can lead to confused, inadequate, or misdirected preparations. So this article will help guide you through a successful transition. It won’t supply details, because everyone’s situation is different, but it will outline the steps. Then you will need to do the research—with CRVL videos or forums or other resources—on how to accomplish the steps in a way and to a degree that fits your particular circumstances. Even if you’re never evicted, these nine steps will help you prepare for a nomadic life. and make the process easier.
9 STEPS TO LIVING IN A VEHICLE
MAKE A MENTAL SWITCH
The first big challenge, and the one that will affect everything else you do in preparation for living in your vehicle, is to change your outlook. Yes, you’re in survival mode. You’re allowed to be scared and anxious. But there’s more ahead for you than mere survival. There’s an escape, a new life, an adventure.
I’ve interviewed hundreds of nomads, and the common thread among all of them is that even though they were forced, to one degree or another, to live in vehicles, they came to love it. That’s my story. I was forced into it. I went through a divorce, couldn’t afford to live, so I moved into a van. It was all I could afford. I cried myself to sleep. But within six months it had stopped being survival mode and had become wonderful adventure thriving mode.
It’s not all going to be fun. There are going to be some very hard times. All great adventures have parts that totally suck. But I’m certain that if you’ll flip that switch, and in the midst of that awful first night think, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I believe something good is going to come of this,” then it will eventually become true.
Furthermore, that change in outlook moves you from reactive mode to active mode. You might not be able to control the world around you, but you can control yourself and how you deal with your situation. You will be able to think more clearly, make better decisions and better plans.
Save every penny you can, however you can. And since you will need to downsize to fit in your vehicle anyway, start selling your non-essential stuff that has any value. Remember, this isn’t, “Woe is me, I have no money.” It’s, “This is an adventure, a challenge to see how cheaply I can live, how little I can spend.”
GET A GYM MEMBERSHIP
I know I just said to stop spending, but some things are essential. A gym membership gives you access to showers and, of course, a place to exercise. Not only is exercise good for you physically, it’s good for you mentally. You’re taking control and preparing for the adventure.
If you’re going to be staying in one place, because of a job, your support system, or other obligations, a local gym will do. If you’re going to travel, you’ll need a gym with locations nationwide.
SEARCH FOR A SAFETY NET
Don’t go through this all alone. Get all the help you can, whether it’s from family and friends, charitable organizations, or local, state and federal government programs. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. None of us asked for this to happen. Don’t let whatever beliefs you have about being self-sufficient and not accepting handouts make your situation worse.
With family and friends, who might be suffering some of the same stresses and anxieties you are, the main thing is to be as little of a burden to them as possible. Everyone wants to be helpful, no one wants to be taken advantage of. Maybe you just need a safe, legal place to park while you live in your vehicle. Maybe you just need a place to do laundry or receive mail. Don’t press for more than they’re willing to offer. Make sure they know how grateful you are.
Research local charities that are dedicated to helping people in your situation. Some provide hot meals or food banks, showers, employment services, an address, internet access, counseling, and so on.
Find out what types of government assistance you qualify for—like food and healthcare—and get signed up, if you aren’t already. These programs are usually administered at the state and local levels and tied to residency. So even if you plan on traveling, it might be wise to stay in the area, particularly if your other forms of safety net are there.
Any help you can get is also money you don’t need to spend. Remember step 2 above.
GET RID OF STUFF
Parting with your possessions, deciding what is and isn’t essential, could be one of the hardest things to do—even without sentimental attachments. In our society, having stuff is a measure of one’s worth as a person. Stuff represents your hard work, your success, your contribution to the system. Without stuff you are poor, and if you’re poor they say you’re a failure, worthless. But you’re not a bum, you’re an adventurer! You’re rising to the challenge of minimalist living. You’re disencumbering yourself so you can move through the world and through your life lighter, easier.
Set aside a space in your apartment or house the size of your vehicle’s interior—minus space for yourself. Gather your absolute essentials into that spot. Clothing, grooming items, bedding, food prep, communications, and so on. (See this video about essentials. Link) Everything outside that spot needs to go.
Sell it any way you can—online, yard sales, etc. You need the money. Give it away to family or friends, if they want it. Give it to charities. Put it outside and let strangers help themselves. Or throw it away. Avoid putting it in storage unless you can easily afford it. It’s better to have that money. Possessions in storage won’t put food in your mouth or gas in your tank.
GET YOUR VEHICLE READY TO LIVE IN
Naturally, before you set off on this adventure, you’ll want your vehicle to be in the best mechanical condition you can manage. Tires, belts, hoses, fluids, brakes, electrical and fuel systems and so on. And put money aside for regular maintenance.
But beyond that, you have to make your transportation do double duty as a home. How can you maximize the interior space? Where can you sleep? Where can you change your clothes? Where can you cook and eat? Where can you poop? Where can you keep your essential gear?
If your vehicle is small, one way to maximize space is to remove the passenger and rear seats. They take up space even when they’re folded away. This is a big decision. What if living in your car is only temporary? What if you want the seats sometime in the future? Can you store the seats somewhere? What would it cost to replace them? A seatless car is hard to sell. Yes, there are tradeoffs between present needs and future possibilities. But the present needs are here, now, and definite. You need a place to live, now. You need a place to sleep, now. You need room for your stuff, now. It might be better to take care of that now and worry about the future… in the future.
You’ll also want privacy. For sleeping, dressing, pooping. That means finding a way to cover your windows. If where you’re staying requires stealth—either because of local ordinances against sleeping in vehicles, or because of nosey people—you’ll need window coverings that don’t let light out, unless you’re going to spend your nights in total darkness. Various CRVL videos and forum posts present ways to create privacy.
GATHER ALL YOUR DOCUMENTS
Your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance are just the start. You’ll want every document and file you might ever need. Birth certificate, passport, Social Security card, vehicle title, insurance policies, medical documents, bank records, and so on. If you’re an organized person, you probably already have all this in a drawer or box.
Keep your current license, registration and insurance for as long as you can. In fact, if your state allows early renewal, you might want to do that while you still have your address. That simplifies things with your insurance company. Likewise if you don’t have a Real ID driver’s license and want to get one.
You’ll need a new mail address after you are evicted, foreclosed or otherwise shown the door. A rented box would work, but if you decide the nomad life is for you you’ll probably want to get a mail forwarding service.
DECIDE WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR PET(S)
We love our pets and our pets love us. But would living in your vehicle be the best for them? The answer for many is yes. But for others the sad, difficult answer is no. We can decide how we’re willing to live and what we’ll endure, but is it fair to inflict it on our pets? Would finding a new home be too stressful on her/him? It’s a painful thing to decide, but it needs to be faced.
PRACTICE LIVING IN YOUR VEHICLE
While you still have your place, get your vehicle ready, load it up with your essentials, and try sleeping in it wherever you usually park. If something goes wrong, you can go back inside. Then make adjustments to your setup, your essentials—or to your mind—and try it again. Become as accustomed as you can to this new way of living. Get used to the night noises, the feelings of vulnerability. Decide if it’s really really going to be workable for you, for your pet. Do not wait until it’s your only choice.
If you pass the driveway test, try a different location, like the parking lot of one of the vehicle-friendly big box stores, or a campground, or a friend’s driveway. If you plan on boondocking on public land, practice that. Research locations near you on sites like FreeCampsites.net , Campendium.com or iOverlander.com. Find out what the boonies are like. See if you can deal with being the only one around for miles, or with having strangers camping within eyesight.
Spend some time living out of your vehicle. Go to a park, hang out, cook some meals, clean up the dishes and yourself, change clothes, pretend you’re already living in your vehicle. Then go to one of your sleeping locations. All this will help ease the transition and make you better prepared before you launch.
Everything I’ve just told you is in a book I wrote after the previous financial crisis: How to Live in a Car, Van or RV. It could be a real lifesaver for those about to lose their home or apartment. The Kindle version is only $2.99. I wanted to make it as cheap as possible so it wasn’t a burden for those in need.
I know it can be terrifying, even paralyzing, to face life without a conventional home. I was there myself. It’s why I’m dedicated to showing others a path out of fear and into hope and a better, freer, happier life.
I was living in my van for over 3 years. it was fine for the time. I did enjoy it but I did it for the opportunity to determine where in the country I wanted to live. I have settled in NC. I have purchased another sticks and bricks home. And enjoying my new freedom here. I still have my converted van. Just in case thing become apocalyptic, you never know. but for now I’m happy with my new sticks and bricks home on an acre of land.
I’m chuckling, because I was living in North Carolina when I decided I was done with the homeowner thing and wanted to be elsewhere.
#5, getting rid of stuff was the hardest part.
Getting rid of stuff is hard for van dwellers as well as for brick-&-sticks people, the rational is – in may case- ‘ I need to save it, I may need it tomorrow or… next week! ‘… the problem is 15, 2o years go by & I haven’t had any use for it 🙂 🙂 but as soon as I dump it the opportunity to use it presents & I any longer have it :-(. 🙁 .
This has happened to me a couple of times and it makes me afraid to get rid of things I haven’t even looked at in years!
I am giving away all my stuff, it doesnt give me a roof over my head
Back in 2012, I was desiring to live off-grid and in a tiny house on wheels. Even that was cost and labor prohibitive to me. In my search for other simple living alternatives, I was introduced to vanlife for the first time through YouTube and your blog and forum, Bob. At first, I didn’t think that I could live in such a tiny space with all of my possessions in a van. I bought your book, How to Live in a Car Van or RV. I read it from cover to cover in about 2 days.
After reading your book, I was convinced that I could live in a van successfully and made up my mind that I was going to do just that! Shortly thereafter, I found my present van on your forum. It’s been 10 years and I’m STILL living full-time out of my beloved Evergreen Queen, a Ford E350 v10 Econoline. I haven’t looked back. Thank you, Bob! I love my life more than ever. Thank you for gathering and helping to build the nomadic community to what we are today. You’re loved and appreciated!
hey Gloria. I have been reading so many posts. I have been considering Van Life for a year now and I am just so convinced that this is the life for me! I am a 58-year woman and I have so many fears. First and foremost, my sister and best friend would NEVER understand! I have bought and read all of Bob Well’s books. Where do I go from here?
I agree. Seems like personal possessions ‘make’ a person. Now I have very little living in a 20to expedition. I chose to take my dogs with me because I don’t trust my ex to take care of them. It is hard with a 70 pound lab puppy and an 8 pound chihuahua… I know it would be much easier on me without them bit they are the inly support system I have.
This is a powerfully significant bit of advice, and you really nail it right from the start: THE most important response to a crisis, and the most determinative factor to the outcome, positive or negative, will be determined above the neck and between the ears. 1)Don’t panic; 1A)Don’t panic; 2)Assess your situation realistically; 3)Make the best of your available resources; 4)Make an adventure of it.
Hi Bob, nice to read your blog again; your blog in the past was my favorite & even though I still live in a ‘ sticks & bricks’ I have learned @ lot from your teachings. Thank you !!
I just want to say a big THANK YOU for writing and sharing this article. I myself am an aspiring nomad, my best friend is facing eviction and the likelihood that she’ll be living in her car very soon. I shared this article with her and I think it has really helped ease some of her anxiety. Thank you for all that you do for the nomadic community.
I think having a list of steps (even if you don’t follow them all) helps break through the anxiety and clear the mind. We go from, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do? What am I going to do,” to, “Maybe I can do this.”
Just found your site and this is the first post I’ve read — very helpful!
I feel lucky because after researching SUV Living for 2days straight, I am EXCITED to start my adventure! I am in the situation where RV Living was my goal, but I decided to start sooner and differently due to circumstances. This is just the best option for me at this juncture in my life.
And being in a situation where I literally have nothing to spend, this is going to be an ongoing adjustment as I start small and work my way to more comfort in this situation. But I am looking forward to the freedom and all the coming travel!
Thank you – and I look forward to meeting so many in this nomadic community! 🙂
Hi Lauretta, my situation is similar to yours. Would love to chat more if you’re willing.
I’ve not been evicted & have a PT job Home Depot but definitely considering Van Life. I have had it on my heart to go help do humanitarian work for 2 Yrs now. I’ve wanted to wait & get an RV but it’s not looking like it’s happening but looking into a Van which is going to cost 1/2 of what my rent is which is still a lot for CA but it’s gotten so bad here. I do however, have a 28lb dog who’s my buddy & need to consider the heat in summer months. I can go to many places & help with farming, etc.. I believe this is what I’m called to do. I’m struggling because I sign papers in Van tomorrow & I know it’s what I want but I’m convicted about the debt & on limited income as well. I can’t live out of my Nissan Versa sedan w the dog. This Toyota Sienna Van is my option until I can save up enough for my dream conversion Van or RV. I hope I can meet like minded peeps out there & start this fun adventure not being full of anxiety. Thanks for all your amazing information Bob..
1st and foremost I’m a trucker. My lively hood depends on me hauling freight otr. I have come to the realization that I may not be able to truck very much more as things are getting more complicated in the trucking industry. It’s become a young man’s lifestyle with more modernized equipment. I’m overweight and my health is starting to deteriorate, I’m 51 yrs old soon to be 52 and I want to start to enjoy my life while I’m still able to. However I am pinned down with a fiance that has 2 dogs and 2 cats and a rental loaded down with stuff she refuses to get rid of. We live paycheck to paycheck every month and have no savings. She wants to live the rv lifestyle by unwilling to part with her stuff n animals. I can only afford to buy a van but she wants a fifth wheel, what should I do?? Please help me!
Sometimes it’s hard to look at a situation objectively when emotions are involved. Sometimes you get a lot more clarity from an outside perspective, but sometimes the rest of us don’t have any idea what we’re talking about. So take this with a grain of salt.
When I have heard you say here is it she’s already made up her mind. Your fiancée is choosing her stuff over you. Is she working? Does she have sufficient assets to purchase a fifth wheel and a vehicle to pull it around with? If not, it is not fair or reasonable for her to demand these things of you. It sounds like she would be willing for you to put Your health and your life on the line to give her what she wants. And that is not a partnership. Could she stay in a house or apartment with her things and her animals, while you move to an RV or van?
Check out Reddit/relationships with your question, because you’ll get a lot more traffic over there and a lot more perspectives and support. You’ve got some tough choices to make, but the one thing you are not is pinned down. You’re both adults, and you get to make the decision That is best for you. I hope this helps.
Me and my wife have been doing this by choice for the first year to save money. But idk if it’s lack of creativity or the fact that we still can’t save money, are mainly reasons for the stress and things not going well for us. Our van has a manifold leak now. The bed broke, my deep cycle batteries I use for house only runs a single fan and I don’t have a way to charge them. Lack of creativity means no covers hardly or tint on the windows. The 2 windows I tried to tint look like garbage. I’ve been wanting to gut the entire thing and do something super simple and cheap, but still with some amenities that make it more comfortable than eating tuna packs every day and sweating my butt off every time the sun is out, but damn near impossible to do with no help, living out of it and not having an income.And to top it all off. We both lost our jobs and are stuck in a city that doesn’t have places to stay. But all that said….: You are absolutely right about being disappointed at chances not taken, and, even though it has been a tough ride for my wife and I, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m 42yrs old and don’t want to waste another second of this life and seeing the beauties of this earth while my consciousness is on this planet is my calling Life is way too short and we do not get any mulligans. If I’m here I’m not gonna waste it being butt hurt and angry. Thank you for all that you do.
Joshua what is your employment status now? I’m not an employer but I aspire to be on the road and I’m business minded, think I have the nomadic income equation at least partially figured out. Independent but mutually cooperating worker nomad friends would be advantageous for everyone.
Bello everyone. I was just introduced to this website by a fellow camper (Cici) I believe is her name. I was evicted out of my sisters house so she could move her bf in. No word was said. I was lost confused angry scared having panic attacks etc. i am 6 weeks now living in a 20 year old ford expedition. I live with my dog Lucy and Pistol Pete. They seem to have adjusted to this new life better then I have. They give me comfort since they are my only support system. I live in NE Arizona and am concerned with winter coming. My ole expedition ‘the beast’ will not travel far. She is old and tired and has 264723 miles on her. I don’t know what to do to prep for winter. Any ideas?
Wow, is this site very insightful. I am on something called section 8 housing assistance in my town in N.J. Apparently my landlord wants more money, but he is only allowed to raise my rent by so much. I told him I have the contract to sign, but he said send it back to The Housing Authority, for he doesn’t want to accept the offer. I am single in a 1 bedroom apt $1330 a month, I pay a portion of that. Thing is, I am out of debt, as of 4 yrs ago, my credit rating is very good & I’m 67 yrs old, but handicapped with a bad hip, neuropathy in both legs & emphazema, not to mention the weak heart & a mild stroke about 5 yrs ago that left my left side, what I call Novocaine numb. Other than that, I just flippin fine!!? If push comes to shove, I don’t have a problem with letting stuff go. No kids,or family. I’ve just applied for retirement starting Sept. My first ck will come at end of Oct, with pension, maybe a little more than $2000 a month, then I will get off payroll where I work. Here is what I think I need. A small live in vehicle, not too big that I can’t park on street in my hood , with running water sink, a toilet, a bed on the bottom, no ladder for I can’t climb. It has to have heat, Air conditioning & TV access.. a must for me. A wee table to sit at to eat. That is pretty much all I need, or so I believe at the moment. If you all can give me any info that might be helpful, as to what I might try to buy, I would be forever grateful. Thanks for listening.
Hi everyone 👋
I am a 60 yr old single woman with a
small dog. As everyone knows rent is becoming astronomical especially for someone living on a small disability check.
I need a van first and foremost that I can afford with cash as I don’t want a car payment.
I will stay home based in the area due to drs I see on a monthly basis or every quarter. I would venture out here and there but not in the beginning while I’m getting acclimated to van life and get my expenses under control so I know what I can afford to live on.
Anyway, I’ve been watching videos on YouTube for a few months everyday. I feel it would be the best move for me and sure do hope to get the chance to do it soon.