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.