Could You Really Survive In Your Car By Choice?

An iconic image of van living. Could this be sustainable over the long-term? Image credit.

When one thinks of living in a car, it’s usually because they have gone broke or they are trying to build up something and housing is not a reasonable expense. Think of the laid off corporate worker, the family who has lost their home to foreclosure or the  wannabe Holywood actor or music artist who is making do wherever they can.

However, this post is about something different. This is taking the ethos built by those who are creating tiny houses or even living in tents to be more minimalist and applying it to cars. In a previous post, I highlighted an organization that I serve on the board of, that allows people who are homeless at any level ( homes but no other income; income, but no house to receive mail at, etc.), to have basic services such as showers, mailboxes, phone service and haircuts. Our facility is geared towards the “traditionally” homeless, i.e. those that don’t have other choices or have major issues that made them homeless. What if though, a Sheetz or Wawa functioned like a combination between those travel plazas on I-95 in Maryland and a traditional truck stop. People could rent parking spaces similar to the way they rent hotel rooms or campground plots. In making rest areas or “vehicle-dweller” service areas more prominent and clean, could we offer a viable option to those who want to simplify their lives, starting with using their vehicle as both transportation and shelter?

In researching this post, I also wanted to make sure that there weren’t any major safety hazards living in a car long-term. According to this site, from someone who started out living in a smaller car and now lives in a van, the main concerns are disposing of human waste, proper ventilation and heating (with and without using the gas or keeping the car cranked) and proper storage and preparation of food. While the site is somewhat geared to those who are in their cars on a temporary basis, there are a lot of good tips that could come in handy on a coast-to-coast road trip or if people were forced to deal with something like the sudden snowstorms that hit several southern states randomly and at in opportune times. This site, written in March, is geared to someone who chose to live in their sedan and the things they did to survive to continue to do more outdoorsy stuff. Even they eventually moved into someone’s garage, because of both the expense and practicality of having enough room for stuff and a place to go in weird weather.

If I had a choice, I’d prefer to not live in my car. But this is only because of creäture comforts. If I did live in my car, this is what I would do:

Invest in a gym membership: for exercise, showering and socialization

Set all of my bills to auto-pay and find a friend who has an address I can use for other items: Making sure bills get paid and that I can still get Christmas and birthday cards. And yes, tax notices and any other legal notices that may come through.

Budget funds for eating out, printing documents and campground fees: Knowing how I eat already, I would not actually cook in my car. With having a web business, plus also working a normal job, I’d occasionally need to sign documents, so I’d budget for that. In addition, I’d want to know I had a legal place to park, so I’d use a campground.

However, all three of these tips above include expenses that can add up to far more than the cost of a basic studio apartment in my area. Yet, in another big area, I’d strongly consider living in my vehicle, since I already own it and all I would need to do is to continue paying its taxes and fees. Yet, not being able to park safely, finding a decent gym and finding a place for mail would all be deal breakers.

So what about you, could you casually or purposefully live in a car?

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About Kristen Jeffers

I'm Kristen. Almost five years ago, I got tired of not seeing black women as nerded out about trains, better streets, riding bikes, walking not just out of necessity, tall buildings, old buildings and honestly a lot of other things. I was in grad school for community and economic development (ok, it’s actually an MPA), and I wanted to make sure people knew I existed and that I could help them do this thing called placemaking better. Five years later, I’m still doing that, although not from my hometown of Greensboro, NC, but from Kansas City, MO. I spend most of my time in Kansas City promoting better biking and walking infrastructure metro-wide with BikeWalk KC and the Kansas City B-cycle. But I also wrote a book A Black Urbanist (you can grab that over on the right) and sometimes I give speeches and help other communities tell their stories at design charrettes and public meetings. I’ve also written or appeared in all of the major “urbanist” publications, either as a subject or as a writer, as well as most of my hometown papers as subject or writer as well.