The Affordable Alternative to Van Life That Might Inspire Your Travels
Before you go buy an expensive vintage Volkswagon, read this.
We have all dreamed of that cross-country RV road trip.
Or if you’re like me, you have dreamed of one day purchasing a VW Vanagon.
That’s not what this post is about, though. Check back in five years when I have more money and freedom.
Since I don’t have the money to travel via a fancy van or recreational vehicle, I’ll have to make do with an alternative. This one is about traveling and living in your car. A normal, four-door sedan. Nothing fancy about it.
That is what I did for approximately 62 days in the summer of 2015. I traveled from my home state in middle America to the west coast — 7,300 miles, round trip.
Then, the next summer, I did it again. This time, with my passport in-tow so I could cross the northern border into Canada. I brought all of my belongings. All packed into my trusty 1998 Nissan Altima.
People questioned almost every aspect of my motives.
Could I fit all my necessities in a small car?
Would I be able to sleep in a cabin that wasn’t even the length of my body? (I’m 6’3”)
Could I find somewhere legal to park and set up camp every night?
To be honest, I asked myself the same questions before leaving. But I had to give all the doubters a reason to believe. I told them not to worry about a thing. That’s largely the mindset you must have for this kind of travel..
That’s largely the mindset you must have for this kind of travel.
The purpose of doing this was to save money. I wanted to travel frugally.
Hotel expenses kill a travel budget. Sleeping in my car would be the only way I could see the West in its entirety.
It was an experiment, and I ended up falling in love with it.
How to start
The only way to get started is to dive headfirst. Let’s go.
The first thing you need to do is pack your car with the necessities. It was my first time doing this, so naturally, I over-packed.
You can get away with the bare minimum on the road. It’s hard to believe, but the less you bring, the more satisfied, relaxed, and comfortable you will be. I can’t stress that enough after I brought far too much with me.
Next, give your temporary home (your car) a layout. You’ll want to stay organized throughout your whole journey. That starts well before you ever leave.
I had my car packed a week before I set out. Mainly because I was anxious, but also I wanted to be well-prepared.
Try to organize it with as many things in your trunk as possible. Avoiding clutter in your “bedroom/living room/kitchen” (the cab of your car) is the ultimate goal. You will realize what you want to have upfront with you at all times, but it’s impossible to know before you leave.
Next, make your bed arrangement. Most people don’t think it is possible to sleep comfortably in a car, but I disagree. I found the perfect arrangement in my Nissan Altima. It was one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept on.
I decided to recline my passenger seat as far back as it would go. I’ve seen different arrangements in other car models, though. So, do what is comfortable for you. If that means making the back seat your bed, do so.
Make sure you test it first! Lay down for a few minutes before you leave — or better yet, try to take a nap in your car. That will help you find a comfortable position.
I once read about a lady living out of a Toyota Prius. This means you can figure out a comfortable bed arrangement for about any car in existence.
Your bed will be the most important aspect of your car-living experience. Let it determine if sleeping in your car is a suitable way to travel for you. Without proper rest, your trip will be next to impossible.
Pro Tip: Find several travel-sized pillows and line your seat with them to even out the surface of your new bed. It may even help to invest in a camping mat.
Pro Tip 2: Extend the length of your bed using storage bins on the floorboard. Stack pillows on the bins to the level of your seat/bed.
That should get you started on set-up. Read my next article on the principles of car camping once you’ve got your setup ready.
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