This page goes through the basics of how I’ve modified the prius for living in. I’m also working on a series of posts about different aspects of vandwelling that I get asked about a lot. Currently I’ve only have a few but I promise there are more to come.

- Some Frequently Asked Questions.

- Getting comfortable sleeping in “public.”

- Showering

- Modifying the van I lived in for my first year of vandwelling.

Indie Travel Podcast articles I’ve written:

- Article going through a general list of places to sleep.

- Article about the basic modifications for living in any car/van.

- Article on making you car/van more comfortable once you’ve done the basic modifications.


The first step is to remove all the pieces of the seats that you can. Everything was just bolted down with easy to get to bolts so it wasn’t hard. Out came the front seat (slightly tricky since it’s attached to the floor by a set of wires for the seatbelt detection system (when there’s no one sitting in the front passenger seat it turns off the passenger airbag). The backs of the other seats were easy though unfortunately I couldn’t take out the bottom parts of the back seats. Now all three of these pieces will be living in my parent’s garage.

Thanks mom and dad!


Next came building a support for the bed. I pulled the main board of the bed out of the van and was just plopping it down in the prius. In the back it just rests part way down on the “floor” of the trunk, but in the front it needed something to hold it up.

It’s hard to tell in this picture, but the bar is is attached to the car through the same holes where the seat was attached. One of them is at a strange angle so it was a bit of a pain to make it work, but this way there’s no damage done to the car. In the van the supports were also attached to frame this way as well. The only “damange” I’ve left on the van is the sticky stuff all over the walls from the Velcro that held up the curtains.


Now that the bottom of the support was secured the rest of it could be put in. This is a piece a plywood attached to the bar on the bottom. Attached to this are the two L shaped metal bars that are then screwed in to the bottom of the bed. I realize now I should have taken another picture between this one and the next one to better show how far up the bed comes.

The board sticks out in front about as far as the seat would be but it’s a bit higher up. It goes back far enough to rest on the “floor” of the trunk, but not all the way to the back. There’s about a five/six inch space between the bed and the seat in the back where I’ve stuffed a small blanket and my jackets.





Here’s a series of pictures taken from the different views once the platform was installed. Hopefully it gives you a good idea of what sort of storage space I have below the platform and a good idea of how far it goes forward where the front seat was. My bed is all in the back behind the black curtain you’ll see a few paragraphs down.

There’s a bunch of space at the feet of the back passenger seat. I’ve got a couple boxes and small drawer there. My large drawer (the one that I used to stuff all my clothes in, is now in the front on the floor. I haven’t decided how I like it there yet. It’s so large and so full of stuff that it’s kind of difficult to open, but it does fit nicely in the space. I’ll just have to try it out for a while and see how I like it in the long run.




platform-from-back-passenger.jpg platform-from-back.jpg




The pad, (and therefore also me when I’m sleeping) is half on the board and half on the floor of the trunk. The board itself is sticking out about a foot and a half past the curtain you can see in this picture separating the front and back of the car. The intention is to screw down a box or something on the front part of the board so I can put stuff on it that I’d want to get to easily. I didn’t really have time to consider what exactly I want there so I’ve left that as just the board for now. I basically can’t put anything there while I’m driving though because after a couple turns it ends up on the floor.

I didn’t think to take a picture of the curtain and how it’s attached. Dad figured out that for me (as well as figuring out how to do the bed support without damaging the car. Basically there’s space in the paneling on either side of the car above where the seatbelt attaches. He cut and bent the ends of a curtain rod so that they slid into those spaces. Then I took the same black cloth from the van and threw it over this rod.

As a side note, if anyone out there is picking out fabric for curtains let me highly, highly recommend you go with black. Even during the daylight if you’re standing in front of the car looking through the windshield it’s hard to tell the curtains are even there. It just looks black and someone walking by isn’t going to even think there’s curtains there, they’re just going to think it’s dark in the back. Actually, that’s not true. They’re not going to think about it at all. I’ve seen light colored curtains and I feel like they really stand out. Sure they block the view to the back, but they also draw attention to the fact that you’re blocking the view to the back.


On the left of the above picture you can see the space I had to work with for the easily accessible storage. There’s also space under the bed that I can get from the inside as well, but it’s slightly more difficult. I knew I wanted my two drawers of clothing to sit on the front of that space so they would open over the area where the passenger would be sitting in the back seat. Then I could put a couple bags (the large grocery tote bags which have become one of my favorite organizing containers) between the drawers and the back of the hatch without worrying about those flying around.

So I knew that’s where I wanted them, but the tricky thing was figuring out how to secure them so they don’t go flying around while I’m driving.

First came the latches to keep the drawers from opening. these are the same kind I have on the large drawer. Just a piece of wood (half of a dowel) cut down and screwed into the plastic below the drawer.

Next I had to figure out a way to keep the drawers themselves from sliding around when dad had the great idea of checking to see if Velcro sticks to the fabric on the floor. It does. So there’s Velcro on the bottom of the lower drawer keeping it attached to the floor and then a set of Velcro between the two drawers keeping the top one attached to the bottom one.

I was quite happy to discover that velcro sticks to the ceiling so I’ve sewn the correct side of the velcro onto my curtains and that works fine for the back windows on the sides. I haven’t come up with anything yet for the back window, but at the moment I have my bike on the back and that pretty well blocks the view looking in.

I neglected to take another set of pictures of the “finished” product, but I’ll be tweaking it as I go anyway. Also, I spend a lot of time doing the first half of all the packing, carefully stowing things away in well-thought out spots, but by the end of the evening I end up just tossing things on the floor of the front seat. I’m sure I’ll spend the next couple days sorting through that and actually putting things away where they ‘belong’

What I’ve done to my car to make it livable is relatively simple. I have no running water, no “house battery” and nothing very complicated as far as furniture goes. My electricity is a $35 dollar adapter that converts the cigarette lighter into a regular plug. It won’t <i>run</i> my laptop, but it will recharge it over a couple hours.

A car obviously doesn’t have much space, but I think that it’s therefore stealthier than most vans that people live in. Sometimes I would like some extra space, but for the most part I find it to be pretty cozy. And because I can keep most of my “stuff” at my parent’s house I’m able to visit them every couple months and rotate. The size of the car has done just fine for me, though when I head back to San Diego next I’m going to look into the possibility of taking out the back seats entirely. Unfortunately they have to come out as a whole, and I like using the seat behind the driver for sitting in the back. I’ll have to come up with something I can put there instead for because the bed is up too high for sitting and I prefer to lounge in a sitting position rather than laying down.

Like I said earlier, I’ve done a very minimalist job at turning the van into a living space. Partly, because it’s smaller than the normal van and partly, (ok, largely), because I’m lazy.

If you want some other ideas of the cool stuff that can be done to a van I highly recommend the following sites:

Urban Vandweller – An excellent site for all sorts of information on the practicabilities and philosophies of living in a van. I’ve linked here to the main page.

Cheap RV Living – Much of what’s covered for living in an RV on the cheap is also applicable to living in a van or car. This site is a treasure trove of stories from different people about what they’ve done. I’ve linked directly to a page about a van conversion. It gives you a good idea of what can be done with a large space to work with, (and more time and construction skills than me).

Hobostripper – Tara has what I think is a more typical vandweller set up than my own. (i.e. more permanent, less regularly emptying out the van and repacking for only two months at a time.) I’ve linked here to her post of pictures of her van. She spent last winter in Alaska so her van is also much more weather-proof than mine.

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62 Responses to “Vandwelling”

[...] way to do this. I’ve outlined (with pictures!) the building process I went through in both my van and my car on my website. I spent $30 on a piece of plywood and $35 for a piece of three-inch foam [...]

RomanaS wrote a comment on April 22, 2009

Wow, what an impressive web site! I’ve lived in c ars too and it is not easy. I love how you have modified your car and made it into a safe and comfortable place to live. The bed board is sure to make it comfortable to lie down in. I shall peruse more of your site.


Romana S

Jessica wrote a comment on April 26, 2009

Hi Romana,

Thanks! Glad you like the site. I’m a fan of yours as well. Once you adjust to thinking of the car more as camping than as a really small apartment (how I thought of the van) it becomes easy. The bed is a huge help to comfort.

RomanaS wrote a comment on April 27, 2009

Hey I agree with you about camoing as a mind concept. You have to improvise, store things like compartmentalising and be prepared to live without some luxuries. I have been thinking about taking the passenger seat out of my car, but the back seat is pretty comfortable. I only sleep in the car when I am on fast and short road trips. The bus has a very comfortable bed for long term on the road travel.

RomanaS wrote a comment on April 27, 2009

I need to learn to proof read my posts. :)

Vandwelling For A Night « Project Rolling Freedom! sent a pingback on August 6, 2010

[...]  I think I’d take my backseat out (just the upright part) and do kinda like Jessica did with her Prius. Only, since I’m so short, I’d leave the front seat in.  I can fit in the back of my [...]

Easy Van Living Larry wrote a comment on September 16, 2010

I love the idea of living nomadic. I don’t know if a car would be big enough for me. I appreciate the extra room inside a bigger van. However, I’m sure that your car uses much less gas then any van would.


Anonymous wrote a comment on December 3, 2011

I like to use to connect with other people who helped me out.

Anonymous wrote a comment on May 31, 2012
Shawn wrote a comment on December 22, 2012

Just get a mini or full size van where you can lay down with out all that construction work.

Jon wrote a comment on February 5, 2014

Your experience with living in a car is very similar to my own…

I began living in my Subaru Legacy when I took a 3 day a week job working 13hr shifts. The job was 70 miles from my parents house, and I didn’t have any friends or ties in the city I was working. So, I took all the cloths I needed for the week with me, worked my shift, ate from the dollar menu, slept in an abandoned parking lot, and exercised and showered at 24hr Fitness. Since 13hr shifts don’t leave much time for other things, this worked out well for the 1.5 years I lived this way.

My only expenses were food, insurance, and gas. This allowed me to save 90% of my income and put 20% down on a nice house.

The abandoned Home Depot parking lot was the perfect place to sleep. I wasn’t once woken up by noise or light. However, every couple of months a police officer would wake me up and ask what I was doing. I’d simply say that I was getting sleep so I can work the next day, and that I was on private property and not required to leave unless the owner has asked me to leave. Every time, the officer would say good night and leave me alone.

Now that I’m married, I plan to car camp with my wife in our travels across the US.

#hotelprius wrote a comment on September 13, 2014

I’ve been doing this full-time for awhile now.

Feel free to take a look.

Jim at Growing Faith wrote a comment on April 1, 2015

Did you have any trouble with your car’s computer system after removing the front seat? That is my concern. I have a 2012 Prius C and there are wires running in to it. I don’t want to mess up the air bag system. Thank you!

Jessica wrote a comment on April 30, 2015

Hi Jim,

It did mess-up the airbag system, but I believe you can get around this by taking it to a shop where they modify cars for people with disabilities. They are used to making these sorts of changes. I tried getting it fixed at a dealer and they really had no idea what to do about it. Not because it’s hard, I think, but because they just don’t know how to think creatively.

That being said, if I were doing it all over again today, I probably wouldn’t take the seat out, but would build around it. I think having the seat out gave me more space, but made the car less stealthy and meant I didn’t have a passenger seat except for the one behind me in the back.

Hope that helps!


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