Living in your car – Traveler’s guide to successful car living

Whether you are planning to quit your day job and get on the road or are taking the summer to explore, living in your car is going to take some serious planning. The recent explosion of “van life” on social media platforms such as Youtube and Instagram have made the lifestyle look rather glamorous.

Although you do get the opportunity to travel the world, you are also living in an extremely small space. Before you decide that car living is for you, take a look at these tips and tricks to see if you are up for the challenge!

Gas Milage

If you are planning to move around a lot (which is the point of most car-living situations) you are going to need a car with good gas mileage. Although your 1988 Suburban can fit a lot of stuff in it, the 10 miles to a gallon will not get you very far.


If you have a smaller car with great mileage that yo want to use, look into rooftop tent extensions. It will be a big initial investment, but it will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Comfort, Not Style

Speaking of where to sleep while you are out adventuring, go for comfort, not style. Although the famous Instagram pages have the cutest busses and vans, they are not entirely practical if you are on a budget. If you are planning to live in your car full time, taking the time to find a nice bed situation is imperative. The best sleeping/living car may not be the cutest, but are you trying to become Instagram famous or travel the world? Once you decide what your priorities are you can decide what car you want to take on this trip.


Although older cars are more picturesque, they require a lot more upkeep
Although older cars are more picturesque, they require a lot more upkeep

Car Maintenance

Before you leave, make sure to get a full tune-up done on your car. The absolute worst thing is planning an extensive road trip and having the car break down in the first couple days. Find a mechanic you trust that is knowledgeable about your ride and have at it! Although it might cost a lot of money up front to get things working, it will save you money in the end. Paying for a 200-mile tow out of a National Park costs a lot more than fixing your car now.

While you are out on the road, be sure to periodically take your car to get checked. The owner manual for your car should give you mileage checks for key items. Use that as a guide to tell you when you should be bringing it to the mechanic.

Park for Free

Because you will not be making money while you are away, every penny you can save on camping is important. Parking at trucker rest stops and Walmart parking lots (free wifi!) are classics for van-livers.


However, another great option is using This website lets you import your location and pops up with any free camping areas near you. This is mostly helpful when you are out of big cities, but you will be surprised at how many options there are.


Choosing to set up camp in the forest (not at a designated campsite) is a great way to save money
Choosing to set up camp in the forest (not at a designated campsite) is a great way to save money


Keeping your car organized is very important. Your car will become your kitchen, bathroom, office, and bedroom. Try using boxes and crates to keep everything organized. Have designated areas for everything with labels so they are easy to find.

In addition to this, be very careful about how much stuff you bring. Make sure you genuinely need every item that is in your car because it will fill up fast. Messy houses are stressful, and this trip is not supposed to be stressful.

Have a Plan for Making Money

If you are planning on living in your car for an extended period of time, have a plan for making money. Freelancing is a great option for the van life. If you have experience writing for a blog, school newspaper, or local online magazine you can make some fast cash. Freelancing is also available for other skills such as graphic design.

Personally, I would recommend making an account on This website is solely based on connecting freelancers with job opportunities and is very easy to navigate. You can make money documenting your experience on the road! Lot’s of outdoor websites are constantly looking for new material, and you can use your lifestyle to your advantage here.

Have a Plan for Your Trip

Once you have your car and your money situation, it is time to make a realistic plan. Create an expense sheet that includes food, gas, and anything else you will spend money on. Decide where you want to go, how long you will be gone, and how long your budget can last.

Although you obviously do not have to stick to your plan exactly, it is good to know your financial limits. Be sure to budget money for car troubles as well! Car expenses can add up quickly and destroy your trip as quickly as it started.


Be sure to have a clear plan (and maps!) for your trip before heading out on the open road
Be sure to have a clear plan (and maps!) for your trip before heading out on the open road

Prepare for Bumps

Prepare yourself for bumps in the road — literally and metaphorically. As I said before, your ride might completely break down and need to be fixed. You might have your car broken into and expensive items stolen from it. You may run into bad weather and get set back on your plan.

Even if you have everything planned out, having a positive attitude is an essential item for car living to be successful. You need to look at all situations with a half-glass-full attitude, or you will not have a successful trip.


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We live in a beautiful world, get out there and enjoy it.

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rebecca-hext is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival