Vehicle Survival: How to Successfully Live in Your Car (By Someone Who’s Done It)

by Erich

The following is a guest post by Javier C. who spent over a year living successfully out of his car. He shares his insights in this article. Keep in mind many of these tactics Javier details here would easily apply if you were ever forced to bug out with your vehicle. For more information on his experiences, you can find his book on Amazon here:


From August 25th 2012 until over a year later, I slept and lived in my car in Los Angeles, California. I moved to Los Angeles for a dream and did not realize how expensive it was to live there.

So I began planning in my head and thinking how I might save money and how I might get out of the frustrating living situation I was in at the time. I decided living and sleeping in my car would be an idea that would satisfy both of those things I wanted for my life in Los Angeles.

It was truly a survival experience…

Throughout my time sleeping and living in my car, I learned a tremendous amount. Although it was very tough, it did in fact help me achieve my goals of saving money and being
able to live on my “own” in my car.

It didn’t come easy getting used to that life though. There were many learning experiences. I began writing a book while I was sleeping in my car. About how to survive living in one’s car.
There are many different aspects when it comes to sleeping and living in your car successfully — many of which require a plethora of survival skills. In all truthfulness, it really is a “survival” experience.

I was doing this so I could save money and get ahead in life. After all, it takes sacrifice if you want to get ahead in life. That’s what I have learned. Especially in this economy today, you never know when hardship may hit and having these survival skills in your pocket may just save your life one day when you really experience hardship.

All in all, I saved a great deal of money and had extra money I wouldn’t have had if I was paying rent somewhere.

In this article I’m going to go over a few key aspects it takes to successfully live in your car. Even if you never have to live in your car in your life, it’s good to be prepared. You never know what life may throw your way one day.

How to Successfully Live in Your Car

What to do for Food

When it comes to food, there are many options when living in your car. My purpose living in my car was to save as much money as I could so my food choices were dictated by that purpose:

  • Canned Foods: There are canned foods such as beans, pastas, and tuna. Have a can opener ready or preferably have an easy to open top. That makes things much easier. Canned fruits or fruits in plastic cups work as well. They store well too.
  • Peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches: These are easy to make in a car and only require a knife to spread it.
  • Homeless shelters: Homeless shelters are a good source of free food. Just find one in your local area.
  • Protein Bars: These are pre-packaged, somewhat healthy and easy to eat on the go.
  • Fast Food: This is a somewhat cheap and accessible option but I generally went for the foods that were in a grocery store as they were cheaper. In grocery stores, they usually have a bakery or already-cooked foods section and these are somewhat affordable as well. I used to get 2 pieces of fried chicken and some potatoes and it was decently priced and nice to have some “real” food for a changes sometimes.

Where to Sleep

Finding the right parking place is probably one of the most key elements of sleeping in your car. A good sleeping area can make or break you living in your car. You have to find a place that is safe but also a place where you can stay on the down-low enough to not be noticed.

I personally parked in the lot of a 24-hour grocery store I used to work at. I lucked out. But I’d say if you can manage to sleep at a 24-hour store somewhere that would be good. Or in a neighborhood that is safe where you can stay under the radar.

Once you do find that place, you have to ensure you do everything you can not to be noticed. Part of that is making sure your car is properly “prepared”.

For example, I had dark tint on my windows. If you don’t, another option is to put dark towels up in front of the windows. You have to be inconspicuous though and make sure no one is around when you put them up. Just go to your spot, park, shut the car off and set the towels up. That is what I did.

Make sure you choose the same place for sleeping every night. It makes things a lot easier. Don’t tell anyone where you sleep.

Have the radio off long before you get to your spot so you don’t draw any attention to yourself.

Additional tip: do not open your doors once you get to your spot or get out of your car at all. It only draws more attention to yourself.

Where to take Showers:

Keeping good hygiene is absolutely key to living out of your car without being noticed. The more attention your draw, the easier it will be for you to be noticed and ultimately kicked out. It’s key that you don’t appear to be homeless and get identified as a squatter. For that reason hygiene is very important.

I took showers at a gym. I got a monthly gym membership. It was only $40 a month. So it was not much. I got to both work out and get clean. I recommend having a backpack with everything you need for the shower and a combination lock to lock up your stuff while you are in the shower.

Killing Time

Here are a few options of where to hang out on your day off work or when you have free time:

  • Fast food chains: They usually have free WiFi for laptops. If you keep a low profile, it’s likely you will go generally unnoticed. Just make sure to keep to yourself for the most part. I didn’t even buy anything much of the time and no one cared to be honest.
  • Public libraries are great places to hang out in your spare time especially if you have a laptop. There is free WiFi that does not expire like many food places. There are usually a good amount of seats. It is nice and cool inside or warm depending on the climate where you live.
  • Malls are a decent area to hang out at as well. To find a seat and read a book or walk around. Just as long as you don’t have to pay for parking to be at a mall then it’s great.
  • The gym is a great place as well. You can work out for a while to kill time and be inside.
  • Friends: Having social connections are obviously a great way to pass the time.

Key items to Keep in your Car

  • Gallon of drinking water: It’s important to always stay hydrated when living in your car. You are always going, always on the move much of the time. There were many times it was after work and I hadn’t had any water. It was always nice to have my gallon of water in the backseat under a towel. It costs about $.25 to fill it up at a grocery store.
  • Pain medicine: Very useful when you have any kind of pain. There were many times while I was living in my car, it was late at night and my head was throbbing. It was nice to reach in my little soccer bag and take some pain medicine and be able to sleep peacefully after that.
  • Car Fan: At night time I find it tough to sleep without some background noise, so this came in handy. It costs about $20 at an automotive store. It is enough wattage to be on all night and not kill the battery. Many nights it is too hot to sleep in a car without a fan.

    In the summer time, if I didn’t have a fan I would have suffered greatly.

  • Power Inverter: This is a device you can plug into your cigarette lighter and charge your laptop, cell phone, or any other electronic device as long it is a small enough wattage. It costs about $20 at many stores. Be careful what you charge. Some things will kill the battery if you charge it too long. Try to charge things while driving when possible because it doesn’t use the battery. The one I had had was 100 watts, which means anything you charge has to generally generate less electricity than that.
  • Sleeping Bag: A good sleeping bag is key in any environment. Even in Los Angeles, in the winter and many times other seasons of the year as well I needed it. If I hadn’t had a good sleeping bag, I would have frozen and been very uncomfortable the entire night.
  • Snacks/Food: It is important to always have some sort of food in your car. Preferably on the floor on the passenger seat side as I did. I used that section for my food. It was easy when I got hungry, I could just reach over and grab a banana to eat when I needed it. It’s crucial to always have at least some stuff ready to eat anytime you may need it. Not eating can cause many problems. There were many times after work I was extremely hungry and was leaving work and had a piece of fruit I reached for and ate right from my car.
  • Jumper Cables: Sometimes for a couple different reasons, I found that my car battery died and I needed a jump. Most likely because I left the lights on or I charged my electronics too long without driving. It was a pain standing in front of a store asking people if they had jumper cables. I eventually got some jumper cables so when my car battery died, all I had to do was ask anyone who had a car around me if they could give me a jump rather than also having to ask them if they had jumper cables too.
  • Vitamin C: Living in your car is not a normal thing obviously. There is more wear and tear and hardship than if you had a place to live. So it’s important to keep your immune system up. Vitamin C boosts the immune system. Anything you can consume with a lot of Vitamin C is great. Oranges or any drinks that have vitamin C in them are great. You cannot afford to get sick in your car when you already have enough other things to worry about.
  • Spare Keys Container: Having spare keys around are very important while sleeping in your car. You never know when you may need them. I kept a spare key for my car always in my wallet. Also, I went to an automotive store and got 2 containers for about $10 that store keys and have a magnetic cylinder on the back so you can connect it to any metal at the bottom of your car for when you lose or lock your keys in your car.

    Make sure to put it where no one can see it. Make sure no one knows it is there. Only you.

  • Conclusion

    There are many important aspects to surviving living in one’s car. These are a few of the key ones. The important thing is keeping a low profile in all you do. That way, you can have the longevity to stay in your car as long as you need to.

    You have to stay mentally strong and continually aware and focused of everyone and everything around you. Keep your head up. Always know it is not forever and is only a temporary situation.

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Comment by Jason
2015-06-07 19:59:31

I, kinda’, live in my E-150. To be truthful, the only reason I am preparing for getting a house or apartment (slowly) is because my girlfriend is high maintenance XD Barring that, I find the rear bench seat/bed very comfortable (more-so than the pad I sleep on on my parents’ floor), the option of mobility is both exciting and comforting and camping is, well, a lot less planning and preparing. The idea written here about food, one must realize in states where we actually have freezing winters, canned food should actually be either bought by the day or stored in the gym locker noted in the article. Once it freezes, the juices solidify and never go liquid. I have a folding Coleman grill in the back, and when I tried to cook up some Spaghetti-Os, found it looking very unappetizing and tossed the whole can. I now have a full dufflebag of canned foods I’m not sure I wanna even try, but WILL eat in emergencies. But I love the idea of a gym membership, for both storage and for showering. I’ve found that Walmart parking lots are great for sleeping in. Nobody cares you’re there, it’s big so it’s nice and open for all the breezes to get in your windows and, really, if you LOOK like a bum…it’s Walmart, who cares, it’s expected. But even having said that, I still look around me when getting out to get in back, so I plan to take out the tube tv that sits between the front seats and putting in a flat screen somewhere, so I can go straight from Driver seat to the back. Sun shades are a great alternative to towels over the windows, as towels, in themselves, look suspicious and out of place as opposed to sun shades which are made for cars. But I only need them on windshield and back windows and, really, rarely use them. My 3 largest windows have the typical E-150 pull-down shades. I bought this van for WAY above what it’s worth ($8,000 for a 1999 E-150 with a bowing ceiling, AC/Heating issues and multiple cosmetic problems), but it looks good from the outside and has paid itself off in all the fun I’ve gotten from it in the year and a half of ownership, and I’ll have it paid off in 2 weeks and will be fixing it up to be an ultimate bugout van, all the way up til late Autumn.

Comment by Gary
2015-07-07 19:59:18

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Comment by jeanette
2015-09-09 00:11:55

There were some things that were over looked. I was homeless with my husband and 3 small children. So I learned a few things too. Truck stops can be a good place to get showers. Dry goods can be a great blessing. As well as bottled water. Picnic areas with grills are good for a hot meal. Chanel locks with a rubber grip are great to pick up hot cans off the grill. Just use them for cooking only. Rolling clothes helps save space. Bag dirty clothes and use a method of keeping it closed to prevent smell. That is just a few things I did.

Comment by Mike
2016-01-26 23:58:01

Dont marry her:). Doesnt get better

Comment by car living
2016-02-13 06:01:46

Can some one please describe how you take care toilet business?

Some need to get up few times in one night. To release blader.

How do u guy take care the morning glory?C7Yv

Comment by Arkman
2016-02-23 21:54:26

I use yellow Nalgene bottles and simply dump it in the morning. I wash it out in a bathroom sink once dumped in a toilet. It does not look unnatural to have a bottle of water in hand or clipped on a belt or even in a small pack. This can be done while in a sleeping bag and sealed up. I have even tossed the 98.6 fluid container in the bottom of my bag to warm my feet. You learn to get creative as you get older.

Comment by Jake
2016-04-12 02:23:58

Ask for a cup of hot water at a diner (usually free) and add ketchup. Instant tomato soup!!
Grocery stores that have free food samples like Costco.

Comment by Will
2016-10-04 02:41:23

I lived in the back of my toyota pick up on and off for 2 years. I didn’t make enough to pay my child support and put a roof over my head at the I make enough to continue prepping and fix up my truck. But I never how it felt to be poor and learned a lot about off grid living.

Comment by Will
2016-10-04 02:51:04

I used space bags. Packed each day in one and kept a small vacuum around. A weeks worth fit in 2 drawers.

Comment by MichiganDogman
2017-01-10 03:29:45

I found staying in hospital parking lots (usually in the back) to be very safe. Most hospitals have cafeterias and the meals are cheap. They also have clean bathrooms. People are always coming and going at hospitals so it is easy to stay unnoticed. Also, hospitals have nice waiting rooms where you can get out of the cold or heat. If asked, all you have to say is that you are there visiting your mother, father, sister, brother or friend, etc. I was once asked by a guard what I was doing in the parking lot and I simply told them I was there to visit my mother and I had driven half the night and all day and I needed a few hours of sleep so I wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel while driving to a motel.

Comment by Cloodjo
2017-04-03 14:56:40

It’s a brilliant idea to take showers at a gym. Comes out adequate in respect of the price. But I think such living in the car it’s not suitable for ladies.

2017-05-06 06:58:31

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