I live in my car

Jassen Bowman explains why he decided (like many others) to live full-time in his car:

Jassen Bowman
Jassen: in-car hero

As I sat across the breakfast bar from this lovely young couple in their beautiful, meticulously ordered home, they told me they were finally going to be able to build their dream home in the country. And I was going to be part of that process for them, in my small way, by helping them sell there current home in the suburbs. As I filled in blanks spaces on the listing agreement, I casually asked them about their new home.

“Oh, it’s going to be great. We’ll have huge south facing windows, and we’ll be on 5 acres in the foothills…”

It sounded like a dream in so many respects. Their two young daughters would be in a better school district, their dog would have more room to roam outside, and they could enjoy the quick access to the mountains for all their outdoor pleasures.

The young woman continued, “…and the best part is that we’ll have two extra bedrooms, and at least 1500 more square feet than we have now…”


This is where they started to lose me. The house they were in, the one they were hiring me as their real estate agent to sell for them, was nearly 3,000 square feet with a 3 car garage on a corner lot in one of the nicest, newest neighborhoods in the city. There were only 2 kids, and they each had their own rooms, leaving the fourth bedroom as a home office for the couple’s construction business. They had a massive kitchen and a large, finished recreation room in the basement with a huge big screen TV. The house was so spacious, in fact, that they had not one, but TWO whole house air conditioning units to keep the home cool in the summer.

At this point, I began to tune her out and ponder why anybody needed so much space. The home they were in was more than adequate, but to have an even bigger house, with bigger utility bills, bigger energy consumption, bigger water waste to keep the even bigger lawn green…It didn’t make sense to me.311wy34rwol-_sl160_-6835704

I got their home listed, and sold, and they went on to build their dream home. I wonder what their lives are like now, with our declining economy and our hard hit local construction industry. I wonder whether this couple is losing their home to foreclosure, as are tens of thousands of other families in my home state of Colorado.

Including myself.

Downsized, mobile lifestyle

That’s why I’m so glad that I’m capable and willing of living a downsized, mobile lifestyle. It goes by many names, such as car camping, car living, van dwelling, boondocking, full timing, dwelling portably, and more. It comes in many sizes and styles, from backpacks to bicycles to compact cars to fully equipped, self-contained bus-size RVs. But no matter what you call it or how it’s done, one thing is for sure: More and more people are doing it, and they’re doing it for a greater and greater variety of reasons.

Freedom People ask me why I like to live a mobile lifestyle. Above all else, it embodies an ultimate sense of freedom, and opens life up to, well, living. In my not so humble opinion, the phrase “living life to it’s fullest” equates directly with “experiencing”. To me, that means experiencing new places, new people, new scents and tastes. Life truly is short, especially when viewed on a geological time scale.

Although I recently obtained a good job doing something I love, and I am in the process of recovering from past business failures that decimated my finances, I consider it a perfect time to return to car living. Having just lost my home to foreclosure, I have to move anyway. Sure, I could move in with a couple guys in a college town.

But, instead, I’m going to sleep in my car. That’s about all I do at home is sleep, anyway. Otherwise, I’m out living life, which I believe is what humans should do. Out of the past 11 years years, I’ve spent a cumulative total of about 3 years living in either a car or a van, usually for only a few months at a whack. My longest stretch included two months in a compact car, followed by eight months in a van, right after my divorce in 2005. That stretch of freedom was exactly what I needed at the time to pull myself together and move on with life.

Oftentimes, the real reason for doing something is simply because, “I can.” When you tend not to care what people think of you, but you dress well and stay clean, nobody will ever look at you and assume anything negative about your lifestyle, because they simply won’t know, nor would they understood even if they did know. But what they will see is that you have less stress and enjoy your life more than they do, that you are happier in general, and tend to have more energy and look forward to the rising sun. I love the freedom that car living provides, where my back yard can be a roaring river, a mountain meadow, a lake in the Rocky Mountains, or a pasture on the plains.

Practical Car dwelling 101

Let’s talk about more practical reasons as to why car living is wonderful. Over the years of doing this off and on, I’ve discovered that, for myself, the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle applies heavily. I’ve gone through the hassle of rigging up vehicle electrical sub-systems, installing propane tanks and heaters and stoves, figuring out elaborate schemes for heating, cooling, food storage, cooking, etc, etc. For some people, this is the way to go, especially if they are boondocking in the wilderness, where they have to be self-contained. As a mostly urban car dweller, however, I’ve discovered that most of these items are not needed, and the vehicle simply provides transportation and a place to sleep. I like to plug into the commercial economy and the infrastructure around me, which frees me from being self-contained. There are gyms for showers, and plenty of places and ways to eat cheap, yet healthy, and stay in budget.

Make a difference

On top of that, my energy footprint is significantly less than most individuals. Since my car gets about 40 miles per gallon on the freeway and about 34 mpg in the city, my energy use is very low compared to the average American. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a very patriotic and stereotypically conservative Wyoming gun-totin’ redneck in many, many ways, but for crying out loud, most Americans are downright stupid when it comes to understanding their wasteful ways and the effects of that waste on climate change, groundwater contamination, and geopolitical instability caused by our excess consumption of fuel fossils.

Living in a vehicle allows me to DO something about my environment, particularly the issues that are most important to me, which happen to be energy consumption and air and water quality. Even somebody that lives in a gas guzzling full size van has a significantly smaller overall energy consumption and air quality impact than somebody that lives in a full size, suburban American home.

On top of the personal freedom and environmental impacts of living a conventional lifestyle, there are also significant financial impacts associated with living in a home. Many people start their financial downturn by making themselves “house poor.” This means that they’re committed to such a large mortgage or rent payment that they’re financially strapped in other areas. Having previously worked in the mortgage and real estate industries, I know firsthand that one of the dirty little secrets of the mortgage industry is that most people will qualify for more, sometimes much more, than they can really pay. Also, people forget that their mortgage or rent payment isn’t their only monthly expense associated with a place to live. Like many services today, the costs of utilities are on the rise, particularly water and natural gas. Services like cable TV, high speed internet, and home phone service which most people consider “needs” also add to the bills every month. In comparison, vehicle living contains expenses that you would have anyway that are associated with your vehicle, such as maintenance and oil changes, food, clothing, etc., but replaces ALL of your housing expenses with perhaps, depending on your lifestyle, a higher monthly gasoline expenditure which is still going to much, much less than your traditional housing costs. There are many full time van, car, and RV dwellers that live quite comfortably on fixed incomes of less than $600 per month for ALL of their living expenses.

Portable living

No matter what an individual’s unique circumstances and reasons for wanting to live portably, it’s a lifestyle that beckons to many people, and a growing number are choosing to answer that call. Expand your horizons and seek out new experiences, save money, and do help the planet, live portably. Go give it a try, sleep in your car tonight, even if it’s just parked in your own driveway. Start to see the changes that could be made in your life and your world, and you might just get a glimpse into the changes that you could make happen within yourself.

35 Responses

  1. All you need in life is a safe place to sleep I’ve lived in a hut in the Jungle for a long time. A toilet tent makes an ideal place to shower while a Adult potty with a lid takes care of your toilet needs. Most cars are more secure then caravans plus they can be bought cheap. I buy scrap large cars & convert them into campers at little cost . Then I live in them on a very small piece of land I own with a stream on it.
    Saves me a fortune in rent & property taxes yearly. I have mobile broadband to keep in contact & my dog keeps unwanted people away from my world. It’s a great life style just started building my own traditional Gypsy caravan trailer with a wood burning stove & lots of storage. Again createing your own space can be done cheaply while also not wasting money on rent. Best move I made in my life & will never go back to living in a house.

  2. We need to define what being homeless means. Being homeless means not having a home because of a bad situation and not having the choice. You can own a home or rent an apartment and sill be a bum sleeping all day and watching TV. Adam and Eve lived in a garden and they didn’t see a need to build a house,(they certainly could have if they wanted to.) I think about the safety issue of living in a car but you can get robbed at home or pretty much anywhere. I have God and he protects you. Living in your car would allow me to depend more on God than on money or even on my family. You would meet a lot of interesting people, see a lot of neat places, and grow as a Christian or individual. I have no one but God. I have no children and I am single. I have no bills and my car is paid in full. There are lots of ways to work for gas money and it might be even easier to get a job because you are mobile. For washing they do have baby wipes you can use to wash and most Wal-Marts have family restrooms where you can change. I would also limit the clothing you bring to make washing clothes cheaper. Our home is falling apart and we don’t have much longer to see the beautiful places God created for us. Where God is is where home is. Living in your car is taking responsibility for yourself instead of bumming off on family and friends. For me we are all family so why not go out and meet you all.

  3. This is exactly what I am planning to do by choice. I could rent an apt but why do that when I could live from my car and pay off some debt while saving for a home. Can anyone recommend the best kind of car to do this in? I don’twant to do a van since they are gas gusslers. Looking for something practical and good on gas? If you have some suggestions I’d love to hear them.

  4. I found myself lounge in my van last week and for the forseeable future in Indianapolis. I have a job, it’s just part time…. And honestly I even found a place with roomates I can afford, but after a horrible several days, I can’t even think about not living in my car right now. It feels like it will givenme what I need to set myself in order. But I’m only 22 and I dont really have a social life as it is, I’m just hoping this won’t cut me off from finding a girl or just finding friends my age in general. Any advice on that?

  5. Hi there.
    I am about to make the decision to live in my car myself. I am currently living with my boyfriend or should I say “soon to be ex-boyfriend”.
    I have never tried living in my car before, but I know that this is something that would work for me. First off I love camping and I love being on the road. Not that I’m going to be on the road much, but well technically I guess yes. Anywho, I have a job at a retail store, I also have a membership to a gym. Unfortunately my car is kinda small. Its a 2000 Mazda Protege. The back seats fold down, but the crease seems like it would be uncomfortable. I have been on the internet looking up pictures and blogs and stories of how to live in your car. I guess I’m going to have to buy a mattress topper. How unfortunate that they are about $80 for a good one. Of course at the store I work at they have sleep pads for camping at about $20 for the good one =)
    I’ve been trying to downsize. Trashing and donating things that I don’t need and don’t use to make it to where I can fit all of my personal belongings in my car.
    For now I work part time, which is good for me. I don’t like to work too hard. I’m selfish, so selfish that I like to keep all of my hard earned money for myself and not spend it on rent and utilities.
    Living in this apartment is just way too comfortable for me. I am a free spirit in every sense. I feel trapped here, but I don’t make enough money to help pay all these bills and be able to go and do everything that I want to do. And I do NOT want a second job.
    I do NOT want to be a house wife doing all the cleaning and cooking, I don’t want to pay rent, I don’t want apartment management to bother me about lease violations. Also
    I can’t stand being in one place too long. So even though I plan to live in my car, I don’t have to park it in the same place everyday. Also I have friends that I can stay the night with if it gets too hot and I need some A/C. Well particularly because I live in Austin, TX and it’s hot and humid right now.
    Ultimately I would like to get to Collierville, TN That’s where my kids are. I was going through a tough time about 5 years ago and ended up giving them to a nice family there. I’d just like to be closer to them so that I can support them by going to their sporting events and school functions. No I can’t get them back ever, until they are 18 and want to be with me haha! I’m not expecting that to happen and who knows what my living situation will be like when they are 18 I don’t even want to think about how old I will be at that time haha! Oh my! I’ve gone on long enough.
    If you’d like to give me some ideas on living in my car or would like to keep track of me ha! well you can friend me on Facebook. I’m sure I’ll be coming up with a blog at some point.

  6. Out of dire need, I’ve lived out of my car for a days while transitioning into a apartment. I hated it. I am here to understand ones logic to make this way of life a norm. I have a realative who chose to live out of his car. After the car broke down and was towed away; I offered to help him get a apartment, but he wanted me to help him get another car instead. He is currently renting a car, in which he is living out of. I can’t understand why would he make such a choice and cry about being homeless.

  7. First and for most thank you for a great blog. I grew up in Hawaii car living capitol of the country. I remember in 1970 Chip and Emma lived in their VW van in the Ala Wai Harbor west side of Waikiki Beach. As a 10 year old it was the coolest thing ever. Emma had the van all done in 70’s hippy style and they cooked on a little alcohol stove had a little book shelf. Zoom forward to 2012. I had to go home to care for my dying mother back to Oahu, the homeless situation worse than ever there. Lots of people living in cars, vans but not in a good way, except for one. This surfer dude lived in his VW van down at Little Beach right between the Ala Wai harbor and Hilton Beach lagoon. One day his sliding door was open to expose his little living quarters. Wow. His bed was neat and tidy, he had a book case with books and his set of Bongo drums and a surf board rack above his bunk. I talked with him for awhile. He worked in the service industry and had a little savings. He was content and happy. I have always wanted to try living mobile and we did for 2 months in the south western USA it was ok except for finding safe places to pull over at night. If I were single I would move to Hawaii get a Van of some sort in good shape work two jobs and save a ton of money in the process. There are plenty of free places to park over night if you are discrete, every beach has showers for public use and lots of free parking and laundry matts. One could work at a multitude of shops and restaurants and never be a slave to a mortgage or rent again. My husband is way to picky to do this and would rather struggle. I have no children or debt to me it is the most wonderful way to live that I can think of. Thank you for such a great article. One other thing it is all in how you look at it, it can be a great freeing adventure or you can feel sorry for yourself. I have worked in construction for 30 years and have helped build 20000 sq foot houses for the elite rich of Florida, funny thing they with their 32 toilets and 18 bedrooms and elevator are some of the most unhappy people on the face of the earth. I have it all figured out if one made 20000.00 a year that is 10 bucks an hour you could easily save 15000.00 of that a year if you worked a part time night job. in 10 years that would be 150000.00 in your pocket. Touche to mobile living, it is all in how you look at it.

  8. Hi rob. Where do pick up your post? Do u have to inform the council where u are and what you’re doing? Also where is your vehicle registered and where do u have you driving license registered?
    I want to do the same but concerned about the small stuff.

  9. I’m currently living in my car after a break-up. I live in Kent in southern UK, I struggled at first but slowly getting used to my way of life. Anybody got any good survival tips? :-)

  10. I didn’t have a choice. My wife and I separated and she cut off the bank account and left me high and dry. I still have a decent job, but the first week is the hardest. It starts getting easier and now I can’t imagine sleeping in a bed with walls around you.

  11. I am really thinking about doing this. I am pretty good on having little to go by and spending the day outside.
    You can also spend some time at the library during the day.
    I only have a part time job and hate the idea that my rent won’t go down as my wage did.
    I am going to become a Gym member, so I can have a place to keep in shape and clean up.
    My only concern is parking to sleep. I think I worry about that because I’ve never done it.
    I used to think the same way when i decided to go camping alone. Now i do it with no worries.
    That’s when you realize how dependent you are from the system.
    Can you imagine being forced to spend the might at Yosemite National Park during the weekend by the river, because you don’t have an apartment or house to go to.
    I can and I love the idea!!!
    Yes, i will be driving a lot, but it will be for my own enjoyment.
    I already cut down my credit cards bills by almost half and the less I have to pay, the less I want to pay. It is a great feeling not being a total slave to the system anymore. You are never 100% free, you just do what you can to minimize the dependency.

  12. @ Raymond, No a sleeping bag isn’t enough. Have you considered snow birding, heading south for the winter? Spending winter in the northern climate isn’t a good idea and you would be most uncomfortable and then you would literally despise car living. Go south young man!
    @ Nate for keeping cool in the “free” sense if you could park in an area very near where water sprinklers are going all night the spray cools the air when you are in very close proximity and being downwind is the best and most effective. Parking under large shade trees at night also helps when in the morning when the sun begins to pound down on your little vehicle causing an instant and tremendous unbearable heat build up. A 12 volt fan in the window can also help.
    @ Mina, Toronto in winter is so cold! Do you think you could talk someone in letting you stay in a heated parking garage?
    @ JulieC, It is important to save your money and do so in a bank (for security purposes) and since you have to have a physical address in having a bank account ask a friend if you can use their address. The trick is when you are on a fixed income is to conserve your finances. Your vehicle must always be in running order so don’t scrimp on oil changes and light maintenance. if your car breaks down then where will you be but full blown homeless. Keep looking for work. Temporary employment agencies are a great place to get quick work and fast money.

    I have lived out of several vans and in my opinion vans are the best way to go. If you can afford it please over insulate an area of your van creating a small and cozy area for winter use and a way to plug in for an electric heater or two. Living in a car, the only way you can be comfortable is to take out the passenger seat and create a real bed using a small mattress, then only will you be comfortable enough for a good nights sleep. I have a small car and the seat only goes back so far and is extremely uncomfortable. Do a web search and hit up vandwellers websites and glean much useful and necessary information. There are pages on stealth camping and is a must for the serious adherents of car living. Camp toilets the kind that use just a folding seat and small trash can liners work well. When done just tie off the bag and toss in a bucket and snap on the lid. When you find a dumpster just dump the contents of the bucket and no one will be offended. Showers in your van are best accomplished by heating up water on a heat plate or propane stove and sponge bathe. Another more labor intensive way to shower inside your van is use the Shower Jug Method. You need to have inside your van an area set up with a chair over a drain to the ground. Use biodegradable soap to keep it legal. You will need a very sturdy one gallon jug with a heavy duty screw on lid (eg. laundry detergent bottle). Take an average sized nail and while holding it with a pair of pliers heat up the pointed end over a heat source and poke about six holes around the perimeter of the lid and one in the center making sure you are well within the lid so as not to mess up the threaded area to ensure a positive seal. Fill up your Shower Jug about half way with water, then heat up about a quarts worth of water not boiling but really hot and pour it into your Shower Jug. You can purchase a thermometer strip the kind with a sticky back and adhere it to your jug so you can best determine water temperature so as not to scald yourself. Put on the lid and now you are ready for your shower. The best and most proven method is the Navy Shower and I can tell you first hand it works very very well. In fact you will feel cleaner than taking an ordinary shower. Here’s how, First start by getting your hair wet and then using biodegradable shampoo tip the jug over your head getting it wet and lather up. Now leave the shampoo in your hair and begin to tip the jug and get the rest of you wet and with a wash cloth and biodegradable soap lather and scrub your self well. You will notice that you have to keep tipping the jug up to let air in so as not to form a vacuum, this you’ll get use to. Now with the remainder of the water in the jug starting at the top of your head and begin rinsing off. By the time you are done you may still have water left in the jug which just goes to show you that you can shower thoroughly with less than a gallon of water. Also by letting the soap remain in your hair and on your body for a time you will notice how squeaky clean you will feel when done. Of course this method works well outdoors if you have a private place to shower. Keeping clean is one of the most important aspects of car or van living. I hope this was helpful to you. Best Regards!

  13. Greetings Julie C. I’m afraid I can’t offer advice about the “hassled” part. However, I can tell you that when I walk my dog late at night, I see many people sleeping in their car along my route. I live between three parks (it was one of the “benefits” of this neighborhood… now it’s drug central) and there’s a lot of police activity. But it could be they’re so busy focusing on the parks they don’t look too hard at folks inside a car minding their own business. Anyway, I live at the corner of Mississippi and Oneida. There’s tons of condos in the area, and you can’t miss the parks. I wouldn’t park inside the parks, but beside them, perhaps. Maybe between Oneida and Quebec. Best of luck to you.

  14. I may have to live in my car, not out of choice, but because I’m homeless. I lost my job last January, and right now, I’m living in an extended stay hotel. My unemployment check is only $165 per week, and I can’t afford to stay in the hotel for more than a week at a time. I’m in the Denver Metro area, and would like to know where one can park and not get hassled.

  15. What a relief. I’m getting closer to living in my car for the life experience and of course to save money to pay off debt. I was beginning to have second thoughts about my happiness. This is great motivation and I thank you for the extra push. Pretty soon I’ll be moving out of my wagon and into a nice 20-footer on the beach stress free.

    Thanks again.

  16. Just wanted to let you know I just turned 37 divorced and moved to Hawaii from SC. I purchased a ford cargo van and just moved in it. Its the best thing I have ever done. Weather is great no rent park at work and saving $1500 a month to buy a sailboat. Buy the way I also have installed a hot water shower for $200 bucks. I am set!

  17. Lovely lifestyle. Im 16 and looking for car. I need good gas milage but something i can live out of(truck, suburban, vw bus…) any segestions? Great to finally see people live life and see our beatiful world instead of sitting in front of a tv or compter all day! I cant wait to explore california and surf every spot here!

  18. Great idea. I am looking into doing this very soon (starting next week).
    I wanted to know however, where do you park the car? I’m planning to live in Toronto (downtown), any ideas ?

  19. I’m a single guy and thus have a lot of flexibility to do something like this. But I live in a warm part of the country, and wandered what any of you who have tried this recommend for staying cool at night without running the air conditioning all night.

  20. I currently live in an apt.,pay child support and also pay for all my child’s sporting activities.I have two maxed out credit cards,and a financial loan payment for the next year.My car is small…but it is a car.I have reached the point of seriously considering living in my car when my lease is up.I belong to a gym..so there is never a problem keeping clean and shaved.Does anyone have an opinion about my situation? If I did go to this venture…where is the best place to park and sleep? I was thinking apartment complex parking lots.Any advice?

  21. Wow I am very inspired, I have a HUGE headache. I just found out I am totally screwed and I am pretty much going to be living in a warehouse. But now I want to live in a van! My friends told me about how awesome vans were but I didnt understand why till I read this. They have all had to live and sleep in the van….. I think I want to be a hippy…. I am already half way there, I blow glass and play guitar all I have to do is get a van and its on!!!!

  22. It might make sense to have a house if you can buy it with cash if your in a city with low property tax bills. If you sign up for a mortgage, your paying more than double the price of the house to make the owners of the bank more wealthy. If you dont want to be a slave working to give more than half your hard earned money to the bank and gov, then learn to live in a van until you have enough cash to buy a small house. That is, if you ever do decide you want to live in a house. I only sleep at my apartment and already sold my home. My next step is van dwelling and travel.

  23. It might make sense to have a house if you can buy it with cash if your in a city with low property tax bills. If you sign up for a mortgage, your paying more than double the price of the house to make the owners of the bank more wealthy. If you dont want to be a slave working to give more than half your hard earned money to the bank and gov, then learn to live in a van until you have enough cash to buy a small house. That is, if you ever do decide you want to live in a house. I only sleep at my apartment and already sold my home. My next step is van dwelling.

  24. “Lifestyle” – what do you mean “lifestyle.” You’re a friggin bum. Where do you use the washroom? Damn fool brushing his teeth in a public bathroom.

  25. i live in a car; 10 months now. It wasn’t by choice, and I HATED it at first…but now I can’t even imagine living in a house. I spent the entire summer driving up and down Highway 1 in california; as I type I am in Las Vegas…and in a few hours I will either head to Phoenix or Los Angeles. The key to living this lifestyle is to stay moving (for me anyway). I have found places that you can park for months, and no one cares/notices, but alot of places you can only park for a night before someone tells you to leave. As long as you have proper registration, insurance, and a valid license, AND you are not parking in places that specifically prohibit car parking.

  26. What an inspiring way of looking at things. I had no idea that others had chosen this way. I thought of it as a last resort type of thing. I am however moved to this option even though I am not forced to. I have a good job and also operate a successful mobile business that intalls security retail systems all over hells half acre. This work is primarily performed at night so I am forced to drive to and from my day job in the city, then to other sires in the city then back to the suburbs. Then I literally knap at home and repeat. Doing my dailyt part to ruin the environment not to mention fatten the landlords pocket. Like the author I only sleep at home, so why pay the rent for 4 hours a day and less? Thanks for opening my eyes to a whole new way of thinking. Great stuff


  27. A few years ago, I started a yahoo group about this kind of freedom. Now I see you’ve adapted well to the positive influence of it. The group is over 5000 members. Who knew that many folks would like this type of lifestyle.
    Always good to find friends who chose this life.

  28. You’re very good for this low-impact lifestyle. It’s inspiring and will help someone make the transition to that kind of life when they have to due to the bad economy. It is patriotic for you to have a car that goes 40 mpg on the highway or 34 mpg in the city. I don’t know why you feel you have to defend yourself for having a car with good gas mileage. If other so-called ‘patriots’ had always demanded high-mileage cars instead of gas guzzlers, we might be in better shape today.

  29. Interesting. While not practical for me now, since I had a baby a few months ago, it certainly would have been a good idea for when I was younger. I once had a dream of travelling the Pan American Highway, this would have been a great way to do it. Maybe when I retire and all my kids are off to college.

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