Winging it is really not a viable strategy.
Most likely if you’re going to live in your car while traveling, it’s at least partially related to limited funds.
My goal is to live within my means so I can continue living this lifestyle. Here are some things to consider as you put together your own budget.
What expenses do you have to pay that you have no control over, those you can’t cancel nor put on vacation hold.
- Mortgage, Rent, HOA Fees, Property Taxes
- Home Owners or Renters Insurance
- Home Extras (phone, internet, cable/satellite)
- Vehicle Debt, Registration and Insurance
- Other Expenses (i.e. life insurance)
- Medical Insurance Premiums
- Cell Phone
Flexible Expenses (unrelated to travel):
- Home Utilities
- Other Expenses (i.e. credit card, income taxes)
- Prescriptions and other medications
- Medical/Dental/Optical copays and deductibles
Flexible Expenses (related to travel):
- Vehicle maintenance (i.e. oil changes, tire rotations and replacements)
- Vehicle gas
- Campground/Lodging/Permit/Park Entrance Fees
- Other (i.e. InReach subscription)
- Do you have income to offset any of these costs?
- What’s the realistic amount you have available annually?
Tip: Create a spreadsheet based on your previous year income and expenses. Create a budget for the upcoming year based on your previous year’s experience, edited for changes you plan to make. Reconcile the budget to actual experience at the end of the year. Evaluating the variances each year will help you create a realistic budget for the upcoming year.
What kind of a traveler will you be? Open a map, and the options are endless. Where to go? What to do? How to even get started?
Thus far my travels have been dictated by seasons and opportunities. Here are a few examples.
- I was invited to join some friends in Moab. I mapped out a strategy to get to Moab, with potential destinations marked to explore along the way. Once there, a friend was interested in traveling through Southern Utah. We mapped and figured out routes along the way. From there I was invited to visit friends in Colorado, so once again off I went. I prefer this mode of travel. Destinations find me.
- My priority for early 2016 was the Superbloom in Death Valley. That gave me time enroute to explore more of the eastern sierra before spending time in Death Valley. Next, I had a date in New Mexico and sufficient time to play along the way, including a jaunt through the Grand Canyon. After New Mexico, it was time to to meet another friend to hike sections of the Arizona Trail. And so it goes . . .
I’ve found I don’t enjoy planning, so rather than spending my time on that aspect, I go prepared to plan on the fly.
Preparation- what resources are helpful to gather in advance?
- Paper Maps (I order state and regional maps from AAA since I’m a member)
- Electronic Topo Maps (I download to my phone app)
- US Atlas (after finding myself in unplanned states, I now carry this as a security blanket)
- Internet Research (I create documents in Google with links to places I might want to visit)
- Hiking Guidebooks & Maps (I might buy in advance if I’m committed to hiking a particular area)
- Hiking GPX Tracks (If applicable I might download to a USB drive)
Organization – how to maintain all that collected stuff?
- Maps, handouts, printed materials can become unmanageable quickly when you’re spending significant time on the road visiting many places.
- Plastic pocket folders have become my friend. I find them clearance’d with school supplies in late fall. Initially I might have one per state, but as I spend time in a particular area where I’ve gathered a lot of materials, I’ll make it’s own folder such as Glacier National Park or Grand Canyon. They are stored on a bookshelf at home.
- As I prep for a trip, I’ll grab the applicable folders, and remove items not needed, being mindful of not overpacking. Tip: (1) bring what you need for first leg of trip and send it home when done; (2) have additional folders mailed along the way.
- Visitor Centers, Ranger Stations and Gear Stores are a wealth of information, but you need to help them know how to help you. With experience you’ll learn how to be more specific about what your looking for. Examples:
- I’m interested in a trail with views. I prefer ridges and less populated trails.
- Where would be the best place to watch the sunset, sunrise, full moon, eclipse, etc.
- What are the dispersed camping options?
- What permits do I need for backpacking x trail?
- Where can I refill my water bottles?
- The internet is your friend. I travel with an inexpensive Chromebook. I prefer it to my phone for research. I like having multiple tabs open while creating hyperlinks on my associated spreadsheet. I also save pages to Pocket, which provides off-line access to web pages on my phone. Free WiFi is readily available. The benefit of a Chromebook is that it isn’t susceptible to viruses. Mine has very little memory so I don’t save anything on it in case it gets stolen. I also use my Chromebook to copy photos from my SIM card to Google and to a USB drive I carry on my key ring.
- I highlight my map with a colored marker denoting the route I drove. This is helpful later when trying to recollect details of the trip, especially if you want to take new routes the next trip.
- I use either colored markers or removable tape to mark other details such as maybe where I camped, towns I visited, trails I hiked, names & phone numbers of friends, etc. These might become useful for future travels.
- Keep a journal. Days run into days, and it’s surprising how fast memories can become jumbled. I journal on my phone. The basics include Day # of trip, Date, where I camped, hiked, drove, spent time.
- When you are done with maps or documents from one area, file them before getting out new stuff. If you dump it in a bag, it becomes overwhelming and may never be of future use.
If you’re like me, you have a home and responsibilities away from life on the road. This is the not-fun part of living a semi-nomadic lifestyle.
Preparation – what needs to be done before leaving?
- Yard – I have a fairly maintenance-free yard only requiring major clean-up a few times annually, which I take care of before leaving. I also check my sprinkler systems (hoses and timers), and outside lighting.
- House – I unplug everything from receptacles except a few lamp timers, turn hot water heater to vacation mode, turn off inside water (I had a toilet malfunction during my last trip), and adjust thermostats. Consider emptying and unplugging refrigerator/freezer. Place valuables/documents/external hard drive in a safe deposit box or safe. If you live in a flood or fire prone area, create a box your neighbor could quickly grab (i.e. photos).
- Paperwork/Bills – Electronic access has made possible managing this portion of our lives from anywhere in the world. It’s important to create a system to manage deadlines. All my credit cards and bank accounts are set to alert me with any transaction. As much as possible, bills and fund transfers are set to auto. Consider creating a secure online resource to help with passwords, deadlines, web links, etc. Don’t depend 100% on your phone. To save money, you may be able to place your internet and cable/satellite on vacation hold (they may only offer once per year).
- Urgent/Emergent Issues – Leave a list of phone numbers of who to contact should there be an emergency, such as a water leak.
Maintenance – what needs to be done while traveling?
- Yard – It’s helpful if you have friends or neighbors who can check on things while your gone. Be sure to include detailed instructions such as how to adjust sprinklers as the weather changes. Have replacement parts available if applicable.
- House – Once again, it’s most beneficial if you can have friends or neighbors do a walk-thru at least weekly. I give my keys to two people so they can coordinate visits. If I need something from home while traveling, I’m able to send them on a scavenger hunt. Leave money and boxes for shipping.
- Paperwork/Bills – There are a few organizations that still don’t allow for electronic communication. The best solution is having a neighbor collect your mail daily and alert you to any second notices or urgent communications (i.e. jury duty summons). If you maintain a deadline list, you can alert your neighbor to watch for the notice (i.e. car registration). Leave money if a bill needs to be paid while your gone.
- Urgent/Emergent Issues – Check in with your neighbors and friends to ensure all is good at your house. Thank them profusely for helping.
Aftermath- what needs to be done between trips?
- Yard – This is always a priority when I get home. Thus far, nearly each time I’ve been gone, something goes awry with the sprinklers and I have crispy plants.
- House – Although the house is closed up, it’s pretty dusty and musty by the time I get home, and usually something needs my attention when I get home.
- Paperwork/Bills – I always come home to a huge bag of mail. Thankfully most of it is junk. The most time-consuming is dealing with changes that require research such as insurance.
- Thank Yous – Be sure to reward your friends and neighbors for taking care of things on the home front while you were away.
Tip: Create a checklist. It’ll keep you focused and help to minimize the pain of the process. Improve efficiency by continuously updating the list. Set deadlines, otherwise, you might find yourself procrastinating on chores and errands, thereby loosing precious travel time.
There are much better living-mobiles, but since I already owned this low-mileage 2008 Honda CRV, I decided to see if I could make it work. 2014 was my first year to test it out on a few short trips. By 2016 I’d perfected the system and I found it a cozy cost-efficient way to travel while having a home away from home. The primary reasons I enjoy sleeping in my car are (1) budgetary constraints, (2) stunning sunrises/sunsets, (3) quick access to trails, (4) flexibility, (5) safer than tent camping, and (5) cleaner than cheap lodging.
My car came with a hard plastic 1″ security platform. It has worked perfectly as my table. Since my backseats don’t fold flat, I removed the larger of my backseat sections. At 5’4″ I can comfortably sleep lengthwise. A neighbor gave me the insulated curtains which I hang via 3M Command Mini hooks (when privacy or extra warmth is needed). I travel prepared for backpacking trips, thus I have my Jetboil stove with me for cooking the car.
The trick is traveling with as few items as possible, so (1) you can make your bed without spending time rearranging or storing things outside, and (2) most everything can be stored out of sight minimizing the chance of vandalism when your vehicle is unattended. This is what I’ve found works for me. I’ll add photos next time I load my car.
- Storage Bin 1 (resides on the backseat floor as part of my sleeping platform) – I usually keep things in this bin I don’t need frequently, such as maps for a future leg of the trip, boots or traction devices, seasonal clothes.
- Storage Bins 2-4 (stored under the table behind the small backseat) – One bin usually has all my backpacking gear, another has food, the third has extra supplies such as clothes detergent, repair & maintenance items, first aid, toiletries, vitamins, ziplock bags, etc.
- Storage Bin 5 (stored on floor in front of small backseat). I keep things I need to reach while in bed. Usually my eating/drinking containers and utensils, cookstove, fuel, cereal, coffee, lantern light, toiletries, etc.
- Storage Bin 6 (stored on backseat floor between Bins 1 & 5). I keep 3 gallons of water in this one and my trusty pee jar.
- Pillows, Air Mattress, and Towels (stored on sleeping platform).
- Sleeping bag (stored under table)
- Folding chair (stored at the very pack of my car).
- Ice Chest (stored on small backseat). I usually cover with towels and sometimes pillows to keep cool.
- Duffle Bags (stored under table, and moved to small seat when making bed). I use two small bags for my clothes. One for travel clothes and another for hiking clothes. I’ve learned to keep clothing as simple as possible, basically three uniforms. One for traveling, one for sleeping and one for hiking.
- Travel Uniform – Leggings (x2), Shorts (x2), Skirt (x1), short-sleeve shirt (x2), long-sleeve shirt (x2), layering shirt (x1), undies (x?), bra (x4), socks (x?), sleep clothes (x2). Everything mixes and matches.
- Shoes – usually sandals and 1-2 pairs of hiking shoes/boots depending on season
- Preparation, Maintenance & Aftermath
- Planning and Organization
- Where to Overnight
- Eats on the Road
- Showers, Laundry and Recharging
- Safety, Security and Self-Reliance
- Living on a Shoestring Budget