A personal essay by D. H. Torkavian
Since October, 2014, my sister and I have been living in our SUV. This is not the first time, nor was this lifestyle forced upon us. We revisited the idea of living the traveler’s lifestyle when living in one place.
How and why we chose this life…
We felt that it began to slowly drive us (no pun intended) insane. My sister – who has full Roma blood from her mother’s side – and I were growing very restless with our surroundings. I was finishing up my last year of college, and we had saved up enough money to move from Atlantic City, NJ to a new city in another stable home.
After a particularly stressful day, we were packing up our things. We had two duffle bags and a back pack when we moved into the boarding house, and after filling those to the breaking point we had two large piles of crap we had accumulated from a year of living in one place. It was madness!
My sister a collapsed into into a tantrum. A very ugly tantrum. That is when we knew it was time to return to life on the road. We talked it over, and the next day my sister went to a used car lot and picked me up in our new home: a beauty we named Bettie Page.
Safety risks and struggles
Now some of you may be thinking “But isn’t living in a vehicle scary?” The answer is yes, sometimes. There are times when you wake up in the middle of the night because people are talking right next to your car. I mean right next to your car. That can be scary, but then you start to wake up a little and you remember that you are sleeping in a parking lot. Those people aren’t trying to hurt you. They are getting in their car and leaving.
Sometimes the car will act up, and that can be scary as well because if your home stops working then you’re homeless, but most of the time it’s an easy fix. As long as you know your mechanic well, everything will be fine.
We see ours about once a month for a check up; it’s as regular as paying rent.
Another scary situation are the cops. If you simply stay calm and confident you will find that most of them will just tell you be safe and give you the number to a homeless shelter. That has been our experience anyway. The best part about being in a scary situation while living in a car is that in most cases you can drive away.
The benefits of living in your car by choice
On the flip side let’s talk about some of the awesome things about living in a car. Remember: we chose this life, and here is why. Everyday off from work is an adventure. You have nothing better to do but exploring, and you can find some amazing places to explore.
Sometimes my sister and I pick slag – the waste from glass and metal factories – out of rivers. Sometimes we just drive until we find something interesting to do, and we find the coolest places that we would have never found if not for the life we lead. Some times it’s an abandoned ruined building in the woods. New Jersey is littered with them and they are my favorite. They have the most history, and sometimes you find old treasures like beautiful bottles from a hundred years ago, or maybe old books, or rusted tools from a glass factory. These things are just laying in the dirt, and sometimes the buildings are reduced to it’s foundations.
My life is very much like a real life D&D game. Other times you find the most beautiful little spots of nature, or a cool out of the way shop. Living in a car forces you to see what’s out there. That for me is the only reason I need to live in a car.
Expenses while living in a car
Now I know some of you are thinking what I thought when I first lived this life. The cost. The cost must be ridiculous, and yes it can get pricey at times -but it’s not as bad as you’d think. We fill the tank full of gas once every two weeks normally, but sometimes it’s once a week. The more we get to know this new area the less gas we use to get around.
Where do you put your stuff?
Another problem that would probably come to mind would be possessions. How would you get all of your stuff in one car? My sister and crammed every single thing we owned into one SUV. Then we asked ourselves that very question. The answer was simple. Donate it!
Our first step was to Goodwill, we pared down again and again and again. For us it was a process of finding out what we needed and what was just clutter. The benefit of this how freeing it was. We felt so amazing to be getting rid of things we didn’t need, and to top that we felt amazing because we were able to help others less fortunate than us.
How do you stay clean when you live in a car?
You also must be wondering how we get clean. Three ways. The first is public showers. There few and far between, but they are a thing. The second is we have friends who will let us use their showers from time to time, and the last is baby wipes. I learned this trick from LARP (live action role playing, which often involves a full weekend of camping).
The first time we were living in a car someone asked us how we brushed our teeth. My sister replied, “In a sink” to the person’s bewilderment. “What? Did you expect us to be cleaning out teeth with laser beams?” she continued. It was really funny.
We do our laundry at a laundromat at leased twice a month. It’s tricky staying clean sometimes, but not at all impossible.
Now I know that you have read this and might be saying to yourself: “I could never live like this. It’s too hard, too scary, too out of the box, too this, too that. How could they live like that?” My question to you is: how do you know life on the road isn’t for you until you give it a try?
Editor’s note: In some states and municipalities, it is illegal to live in your car, so make sure you follow up on the rules and consider the safety risks before you embark on this endeavor. If you aren’t ready to commit to this life, it might be fun to at least give it a try for a few weeks!