My “Situation”

 | August 29, 2008 11:27 am

I’ve been quite free with talking to people about living the car and traveling. During the pledge drives we have over a hundred volunteers come into the station, some who already know and asked about the car from the last pledge drive. I enjoy talking about the car, what I’ve done to it, and what it’s like living in it (if I didn’t I wouldn’t have started up this website). I’m more than happy to show people the website and if time permits, the car itself. In short, pretty much anyone who knows me knows I live in a car. Those who don’t just haven’t been around when the topic came up.

A little while back, someone who I don’t know really well, but who I see on a fairly regular basis made reference to my “situation.” It took me a minute to figure out what this person meant. At first I thought they were referring to the fact that I keep coming and going. Spending a month or so in LA and then two months on the road. Then it dawned on me that “my situation” is just that I live my car. As if it’s something too horrible to actually name; it must be hidden behind the phrase “your situation” like it’s the 1950′s and I’m unwed and pregnant.

On the whole, I get mostly positive reactions when I tell people I live in my car. (Many are very amused, but they’re willing to accept it.) This comment made me wonder if perhaps I’m just seeing what I want to see, or people are smiling and humoring me on the outside, but inside are thinking: “That poor, poor girl. How sad it is that she must suffer the horrors of having to shower at the gym. If only there were something I could do so that she could experience the joys of outrageous rent and a 90 minute commute.”

Maybe I haven’t actually been doing a very good job at getting across the point that this is exactly the situation I WANT to be in.

This got me wondering why it is that vandwelling might even need to be defended? When I tell someone with a big smile on my face that I live in a car why might they ever consider that I’m actually miserable and just trying to put a good spin on it?

I want to make it clear that 95% of the people I talk to about vandwelling think it’s awesome even if it’s something they’d never consider doing themselves. In this post though I’m trying to figure out what’s going on in the minds of the other 5%.

Earlier this year my brother spent a month and a half wandering around New Zealand. He carried all he needed in a backpack, hitched rides, slept in campgrounds or on the sofas of people he just met, or sometimes just spent the night the city park. He had no itinerary and no paying job, but it didn’t matter.

Talking about our travels with other people, he and I might get the some questions about logistics or safety, but his travels are not something that would be discussed in hushed and secretive tones. Part of it, of course, is just the portrayal in the media of people who live in vans or cars. (Cue Chris Farley.)

I suppose that does make some sense, backpacking around the world is not something that people are often “forced” to do, while moving into a car or a van is more often than not something done out of economic necessity. Not for me, but usually.

So I suppose backpacking around the world is not really a fair comparison.

Well, what about an RV then? If I were traveling the country in an RV I doubt I would get this reaction. I would argue that traveling in my car isn’t all that different than traveling RV. What is it about the existence of a bathroom that makes that type of travel more acceptable?

Perhaps it’s because I’m not traveling full-time yet. The person who’s comment started me off on this train of thought only sees me while I’m in LA working. During that time I’m staying put. Maybe this is the big difference between traveling in a van/car and living in a van/car. Traveling is acceptable, living is not.

Because as we all know, (from tv shows and such), people who are living in vehicles do so only because they have no other choice. And so of course some people will assume that must be the case for me as well.

Inexplicably, this has not translated into people offering to buy me lunch. Perhaps they think I’d be insulted. (Really, it’s ok. Insult away.)

I spent three years saving, planning, and waiting until the time I’d be able to do this. I work only five months a year at a job I enjoy and spend the other seven months traveling. I am not touching a dollar of my savings. In fact, over the course of last year I’ve still been putting money away into savings. I’m visiting old friends, meeting new people. I have the time to read books, work on my own projects, or do absolutely nothing at all if I feel like it.

That is my situation.

And that is precisely why I talk to everyone I meet about living and traveling in my car. There’s nothing so bad about it that it needs to be discussed in those hushed tones.

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25 Responses to “My “Situation””

Chris Harne wrote a comment on August 29, 2008

Amen to everything you said. I also find it notable and interesting that you live in a Prius. It’s not a cheap car. Indigent people on the threshold of survival do not own Priuses. Your specific situation smacks of being crazy like a fox more than anything to induce an ounce of pity. Some people just can’t picture the romance of your non-traditional setup.

Heather wrote a comment on August 30, 2008

Hi, I came across your blog and have gone back and read almost every entry. I had an idea some years ago to take an extended cross-country car trip just to get to see the United States and it seems like living out of the car during that time would be a more economical solution than hotels. I’m also amused because my car is almost the same as yours (a Toyota Echo) but I can’t imagine sleeping in it yet!

So I actually have two questions for you, and possible ideas for posts.

If I made this trip, it would be with my dog, my best buddy of the past 8 years. He’s gone on shorter trips (3 hours LA -> San Diego, and 3 days LA -> Seattle) so I know that he is a good passenger. Do you think car living is possible with a pet? I ask because it can be hard to find hotels that even allow animals.

Second question: What are some things to avoid doing or perhaps, what do you wish people had told you before starting out? Things that maybe wouldn’t occur to someone until they started trying car living.

Thanks for a very interesting and well-written blog.

Elizabeth wrote a comment on August 30, 2008

Hee. My solution to the rent/commute problem was to live in the ghetto (really, it’s not so bad…okay, Hawthorne wasn’t so bad) and then to just leave.
I didn’t realize you were in a “situation” though. I’m terribly sorry you’re in such a situation… ;-)

Jessica wrote a comment on August 30, 2008

Chris – An the time this person said this I was still living in the van, but it was an ’05 crossover van, so your point is still valid. Not the sort of vehicle that someone who is forced into this ‘situation’ is likely to be driving.

Heather – I’ve never even owned a dog so I’m not the best person to ask. There’s plenty of vandwellers who have dogs (I recommend You should also check out Daniel’s Big Trip. He just finished a big trip around the country with his dog in a station wagon.

My brother has a friend who lived for a short time(I think month or two over the summer) in her compact car with her dog. As I recall she said the biggest issue was what to do with him during the day when she was at work because she couldn’t always take him in with her. If you’re planning on traveling though this wouldn’t really be an issue. I’ll try to get a hold of her and see if she has any tips.

As for your second question about some tips, I’m actually working on an article for the Indie Travel Podcast about this. It’s only about half done, but I think it’s going to end up being my article for next month. The one that’s coming to my mind right now is the importance of both tinting your windows AND making some curtains, at least if you’re planning on living in it for a while. Tinting keeps people from noticing you’re in there and the curtains keep you from being bothered by them. It’s amazing how secluded my car feels when I’ve put the curtains.

I’ll come up with some good ones later.

Elizabeth – Heh. I try to mask it as best I can by thinking of the silver lining. Only 5 months of work a year at a job I like, vast amounts of time to do what I want and money in the bank. It’s tough, but I struggle on.

Roberta wrote a comment on August 31, 2008

I think you got it right – most people cannot imagine living in their car unless they had no other choice, so they just assume that you’re in that “situation”. I don’t think it makes them bad people, it’s just people judge others by what they know – they have no concept of someone choosing to live in such a small space, with no shower, no tv, etc. It seems crazy uncomfortable to live without all that :)

Of course, I know why you’re living in your car, so it doesn’t seem crazy to me. And I’m definitely jealous at times (although not enough to give up the lifestyle I have – yet!).

Luke wrote a comment on September 1, 2008

Hi Jessica,

I’m about to start living in a Jeep Grand Cherokee, tonight’s the first night actually, and one issue I can’t quite come up with a solution for is what to do about keeping airflow coming into the vehicle at night but keeping bugs out. How do you handle this, especially when you’re in campgrounds?

Jessica wrote a comment on September 1, 2008

Roberta – I agree with almost everything you said. I don’t think it makes them a bad person either, but what I found so surprising is that it’s someone who I see on such a regular basis. Someone who’s had ample opportunity to see that I’m still a well-adjusted and happy person.

To people I don’t see very often (our volunteers, for example who I see only for a couple hours a couple times a year) I wouldn’t be surprised by this reaction.

I thought it was clear without me having to constantly say that I’m doing living in my car because I want to. In fact, I feel that if you do constantly say that it’s because you’re not doing it because you want to.

Despite my comment about commutes and rent, I totally get why that works for some people. I’m not a vandweller who hates the corporate lifestyle. For the right job I’d go back. It has pluses and minuses just like living in the car does. Right now, this is what I want to be doing, but I have no expectations of doing it forever.

Luke – I don’t really do anything to handle it, actually. Just keep my windows up, but I don’t often stay in really hot muggy places where I’d really want to have a breeze. But I heard of making screens though and it’d be pretty easy. The wonders of Velcro once again. ;) One side around the car windows the other on a piece of screen material, (when I worked in a glass and screen shop we sold it for something like 50 cents a square foot). It’s the sort of thing I’d only want to use if I were in a camp ground, though. Not super stealthy. I’ve heard of people putting vents in the bottom of their vans, but I don’t know how to do that. More construction than I have ability or desire to do.

Good luck tonight! Come back and leave a comment about how it went.

Hobo Stripper wrote a comment on September 1, 2008

Ha, I had someone use the exact same phrase on me once. It was in a dressing room in a new club, and I’d brought dinner with me to eat while it was slow. As I opened it, I realised the fish smell might not be appealing to my co-workers, and apologised. “That’s okay,” one girl said, “we know your situation. You just do whatever you need to to eat.”

I was like, um.. thanks?

Luke wrote a comment on September 2, 2008

Staying in the Jeep went well. I definitely need to get the stuff I have in there more organized, but that’ll probably come on its own after a couple of days.

Screens with velcro would definitely solve the ventilation issue, thanks for the tip!

Jessica wrote a comment on September 2, 2008

Tara – Cause you know, it’s nearly impossible to eat food in a vehicle.

Luke, glad it went well. Organization definitely comes with time. You might want to check out an article I wrote for the Indie travel podcast a while back with a list of good places to park. I have written a future article about modifications I recommend for making a vehicle livable.

Issa wrote a comment on September 2, 2008

Great post! I love my “situation”, too, living full time in my van, and I’d love to tell people all about it while being “insulted” as they buy me lunch! :-)

Joe wrote a comment on September 3, 2008

Hey there, this is my first time posting so bare with me. I just started living in my car 14 days ago and it is definitely a lifestyle change. I found your website when I googled “living in your car” and it has been a huge inspiration. I actually started a journal too, but I was never into that so we’ll see how long it lasts. Keep posting daily because it gives me something to read.

Jessica wrote a comment on September 6, 2008

Issa – Thanks! By the way I loved your post Failure of Expectations. You hit it exactly right.

Joe – Sorry I’m not very good with the daily posting! Glad you’ve liked the website. I have a couple new things I’m working on for it too. How’s the car living going for you so far? Have you found ways to make it work?

Joe wrote a comment on September 7, 2008

Hey Jessica,

Things are going alright. I’m struggling to find things to do, plus I live in Riverside, which is constantly over 100 degrees everyday. The temperature makes it unbearable to stay inside the car. I tried to leave the cooler in my car, but since it is so hot, the ice melts too fast. So my solution was keeping it in my storage unit. That way I wont be spending too much money on ice. Right now i’m just constantly bored because I have nothing to do until my school starts. Once school comes around and the temperature cools down, I think things will be easier. I’m pretty committed on doing this and it is saving me a lot of money each month, which is great.

Jessica wrote a comment on September 7, 2008

Joe – Yeah, the heat is the worst. (Until you’re in Albuquerque in December and it’s 20 degrees at night, then the cold is the worst). I tend to find the public library and spend most of the day there.

I’ve got no real solution for coolers during the heat. I have a little cooler that plugs into the cigerette lighter, but it’s no real good. After a while, I just give up on having anything stay cold, and buy things as I need/want them.

Joe wrote a comment on September 8, 2008

Although it doesnt get that cold over here in Riverside, I really do prefer the cold over being hot any day. You need to start posting again, I think i’ve reached the end of the internet and there is nothing else to read. Just curious, do you tell everyone that you live in your car? I’m just wondering because i’m noticing that people look down at you when you reveal this information. What are your thoughts about that? I, personally, think that it is a social and institutional thing. We are programmed to think that the “right way” of living is in a house with a car parked in the garage.

Like I said before, I’ve never been a journal type of person but do you have any suggestions about what to write in the posts?

My journal website is

jack wrote a comment on September 9, 2008

Sorry, but this whole issue pisses me off. First, I think people are just very judgemental. They are so wrapped up in what our culture tells them is normal that they just can’t see any other way of living. For those greekophiles out there, think the cave allegory.

Second, I tend to ignore people who question other people’s lifestyles.


Little Breakaway wrote a comment on September 11, 2008

@Jessica, Hey Jessica, yeah if you assume people are being rude, you’ll think more that they are. Just human nature. People get defensive and then notice the bias against them. It may or may not exist.

You write interesting posts. Been all the way back to entry one. :) Actually started from yer old blog.

Riverside Cali? All of inland empire is a pretty small (read not much to do) place. Although Riverside is still more fun than the surrounding Redlands, Yucaipa or Loma Linda.

However, go to Barnes and Noble during the day and just read books. You will enjoy. They have some collection! Plus you could have a cup of joe (bad pun), and sit around reading. You could meet other people as well. It’s well air conditioned and no one will be upset if you spend more time there. They want people to spend more time there.

The Coffee Bean also allow free wifi, so you could sit there and surf teh internets.

Good luck.

Mario wrote a comment on March 5, 2010

Hey, I didn’t read all of your your blog (sorry) but I did read some of it and I just wanted to say good luck. I lived in my chevy s10 for about a year before joining the Marine Corps and I miss having the freedom to live wherever I wanted to park that night, and as soon as I can I am going back to living out of a vehicle. Everyone I talk to about this thinks I’m crazy, but honestly I think THEYRE crazy. The way I see it if all you need a house for is to sleep, then there’s no reason to even HAVE a house if you’ve got a vehicle. I live in the barracks right now, and there’s not much more I can do in here that I couldn’t do in a Mini Cooper. haha good luck

Jessica wrote a comment on March 29, 2010

Hi Mario,

I agree. If all you need the house for is to sleep then there’s no point in having one. I think the last couple years have pretty well proven that a house should be thought of as a living space and not as an investment. If you’re not living in it and fulling utilizing it, what’s the point? Go with an apartment or a van/car. I wonder if there’ll be a surge in younger people choosing to live in vehicles over the next year or so.

JJ wrote a comment on April 8, 2010

Wow if you have ever wanted to make a change in a person, feel free to know who have chnaged me. I am currently homeless and I am 99% positive I’ll be moving in my car very soon. I have been thinking. I can work over time at work (yes I am employed) and hit the gym after work, then go to bed (in this case, leather seat) . Only problem is I am 6’3 and drive a Subaru Legacy. I don’t think it;ll be so bad now. Just tint my windows, work a lot of hours at the job (overtime encouraged), hit the gym and my day is over. When I don;t work I’ll visit folks, do things, and hey have a bunch of money that isn’t being used on rent. Thanks!!!!

DomD wrote a comment on July 15, 2010

Hey Jes,

In short, I’ve been reading up on “living in your car” b/c it’s a matter of time before I’ll have to do that myself – full-time, on my own. I have tons of questions and concerns about the arrangement and how it’s going to work out for me. I figure I’ll just keep reading blogs and stuff.

I chuckled to myself after reading that someone described your living arrangement as a “situation”. Unfortunately, I would have probably said that same stupid thing many, many years ago. But luckily I am slowly but surely moving away from the “educated fool/lackey” paradigm I used to be part of towards a “humbled spirtualist/universalist(non-theistic)” person (which I am learning to be more and more each day).

Anyway, good luck in whatever it is you want to do/achieve – I hope you become that best “person” you can and should be.


Alicia wrote a comment on January 2, 2013

I find it funny when others look at this idea as if it’s foolish. ive been contemplating living out of a van and traveling at my own free will for about a year now. I graduated college and had no interest in job searching due to my commitment with this plan then found myself in a prediciment when i was offered an accounting position for my internship. I took it and threw my van traveling dreams away. After having worked my “big girl job” for 4 months, i terribly regretted my decision and put a months notice in. My summer and fall were completely gone. I had no time to enjoy them once so ever! I’ve always been a full time student with a part time job and i desperately needed a break! those 400 level accounting classes plus work and an intership.. phewww! i thought one fulltime job would be a sinch and i would finally have the chance to catch my breadth however i found myself working 60 hour weeks on average and 80 in the beginning. I figured if i threw my dream away this job sure as hell better count for something so i worked my toosh to the bone. Now i understand why people work and by all means i am not saying to work is at all a bad thing. i suppose the timing just wasnt right for me. Anyway they didnt want me to leave so agreed to stay until they found a replacement and refused to work more than 40 hours which took another 3 months. you can imagin how that went.

Anyway, (sorry this is getting messy) so now im free! all i think about now is taking this time to pursue my dream and as i express my excitement for each day to have a new rising sun they think i have completely lost all sanity! i tell them exactly what you described in this blog and they simply cant grasp it. now i understand why it would seem rather difficult to grasp a recent accounting student switching her path as a rubbertramp but i feel we are the ones who are gaining the better value here. I believe we are moving towards a generation of not so much chance for survival but opportunity for adventure and creativity. We can step outside conformity and conservatism so much more easily than before. Why not explore and learn a few things? It took me a lot to finally do it. i imagine others cannot embrace the though due to fear

think back to childhood, would you rather have scribbled doodles in class or be encouraged to read what is necessary from your teachers. I dont believe it’s within our natural desire to be “conditioned”. I think we find answers more quickly when we have the desire to search and discover. not be told what and how to think, but use our own heads and figure it out for ourselves. I believe many who simply cannot grasp the road are either happy enjoying their lives of security or are too conditioned with their lives to understand. nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit than routine.

Alicia wrote a comment on January 2, 2013

im quickly going to note that im not saying i’d rather be in debt or think our teaching methods are destructive. I intend to bartend/serve/what have you along my travels to pay off my loans and i am thankful for the education ive earned. I was only concluding my beliefs that man has a naturaal passion for adventure and creativity and as we become older it lessons for many.

Alicia(side note) wrote a comment on January 2, 2013

im quickly going to note that im not saying i’d rather be in debt or think our teaching methods are destructive. I intend to bartend/serve/what have you along my travels to pay off my loans and i am thankful for the education ive earned. I was only concluding my beliefs that man has a naturaal passion for adventure and creativity and as we become older it lessons for many.

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