Van Life When SHTF

What happens when all hell breaks loose?

We spend time preparing our bug-out-bags and survival gear, but a lot of preppers neglect their vehicle. Not only does a van help you get to your bug out location – it can be your bug out location!

In this post you’ll learn what your car needs…

…and what to expect when living out of a van.

You’ll also get tactics for hygiene, organization, and eating in your van.

Now some people actually choose to live out of their cars. Why? Well, for some it is the nature of their work that has them on the road for extended periods of time, so why not sleep there as well. After all, why have an apartment that you barely use? Others lead a lifestyle that places them on the trail all the time for example hikers and backpackers. They can drive to their preferred hiking location and use their car as their base camp.

Others choose to live out of their cars as a strategic lifestyle. By being frugal you can avoid rent costs which are sky rocketing and save enough to pay off loans like credit card debt or student loans. For others still, it just a statement of rebellion against the status quo.

The Hidden Homeless

Unfortunately, the percentage of people who live out of their car out of circumstance is much higher than that of those who do so willingly. Being homeless or even just temporarily displaced leaves many people with no other option but to live out of their cars. A shaky economy and thousands of foreclosures have driven families and individuals out on the streets.

Roughly about one out of five homeless people in a given area live out of their cars. In fact, the sight of RV’s and vans with people living inside has become a common occurrence in the largest cities of the world.

The trick to living in your car with relative peace is finding locations which can accommodate you for extended periods of time with relatively high security. Consider the parking lots of 24-hour stores that have an unofficial policy of allowing vans, motor homes and trailers to camp overnight. The CCTV surveillance at these stores is usually a great deterrent for crime meaning you will be relatively safe. Other great locations include

  • Hospital emergency room parking lots
  • Staff parking lots at hospitals
  • Top floors of parking garages
  • Truck rest stops
  • Construction sites
  • Manufacturing facilities
  • Car repair places
  • Police stations
  • Pub parking lots
  • Churches
  • Public boat launch areas

It is important to note that certain areas have time limits like rest stops that offer a 12-hour limit. Also, keep of gang turf and makes sure your key is not in the ignition when using a pub parking lot as this is technically considered driving by the police.

The fundamentals – from a mechanical standpoint

The reality of living in your car is difficult but feasible as long as you manage your expectations. The most important thing is to ensure the mechanical soundness of your van to ensure it can accommodate you for as long as you need it to.

The more serious mechanical considerations include:


Depending on the season you must ensure your car settings can be tweaked to keep the temperature ideal for you. In the hot season, you can use a portable fan that can be plugged into the cigarette lighter. Rolling the windows down is a not an option for safety purposes.

During the colder months, you have the option of running the engine although this is an expensive option and you run the risk of calling attention to yourself. However, by ensuring that you don’t have cracked windows or doors that do not close properly you can keep the cold from coming in. Of course, you must have warm clothing, a sleeping bag, some blankets and sheets and a curtain to stay warm.

Lockable doors

Not only can this keep the elements out, it also ensures your safety. It is untenable to live in your car when your doors cannot lock because you place yourself in mortal danger. In addition, lockable doors ensure you have your privacy.

Windows that can be wound up or down

Windows act like your HVAC system when you are living in your car. They let in fresh air and keep the car warm or cool. Having windows that cannot be wound up or down means that you need to use the car’s AC more often, which is not an ideal situation.

A fully charged battery

This is imperative for powering your essentials like your mobile phone, laptop, and perhaps a mini fridge or fan. Ensure you never drain your battery while taking care of the above by keeping it fully charged. Keep the use of such things at a minimum or else you may just find yourself with a damaged or dead battery.

A functional engine

One other thing to consider is the need to get away from a location or situation very fast. As such, your battery engine and other pertinent parts of the car need to be running at optimum. Since it is your home you must find a way to make this possible especially if you are sleeping in varied spaces.

Essentials accessories

A spare key for your car just in case you lose the original one. Just like you would do for your apartment, you need to do keep a key outside of the car but in an easily accessible place.

A jump starter battery box is essential especially since you are constantly using your battery to charge your important everyday equipment. It is imperative, of course, to keep it fully charged. The advantage of a jumper starter battery box is that you do not need anyone to give you a jump start.

An inverter is an absolute essential as it converts the vehicle’s 12 volts direct current power to an alternating current which is more palatable for household devices. Assuming you have any household devices then they are kept safe.

Electrical power jacks

Since most cars come with only the cigarette lighter or one accessory jack you need the three-in-one jack to accommodate all your charging needs. In some vehicles, the cigarette lighter shuts off once the ignition is turned off. You can have a mechanic re-route the accessory plug to bypass the ignition or add a plug that doesn’t need the ignition to be on to be powered.

The reality of living in your car

We have established that your car is a better option compared to a tent, a shelter or even sleeping on your friend’s couch. Now let us tackle how to manage this living space and make it comfortable.


Understandably, without the reassuring presence of four walls to keep prying eyes out it may take you some time to get comfortable in your new home. You will need to be extra vigilant of your surroundings but with simple precautionary measures, you will be able to settle in and even begin to have a restful sleep.

Now, speaking of those precautionary measures, do note that we said simple. Do not go overboard with bobby traps and military style deterrents. You could hurt someone and land yourself in a worse predicament than already are in. Consider the below, more acceptable options

  • A reflective sunshade to place on your windscreen. This is great for shutting the world out and at the same time keeps the heat out during summer and acts as an insulator during winter.
  • Store bought press-on window tints. These are great as a temporary measure although you may want to invest in something more opaque like curtains
  • Opaque colored curtains. Using opaque curtains can create a sanctuary just like placing curtains on windows in your house would. They also give the space a cozy feel which is important when you want to rest.
  • Locking the doors. You can never be too sure of your surroundings so having doors with functioning locks is imperative. This way no body, sinister or just curious, would have the opportunity to breach your privacy.
  • Use the buddy system. If you have friends who are in a similar situation, a buddy system is ideal to keep up privacy and safety as well. A lone car coming under attack stands little chance compared to two or more cars with inhabitants inside. In addition, it is much harder for peeping toms to muster the courage to look into your car if there you have friends nearby looking out for you.


The limitations to personal hygiene while living in a car are many. After all, you have no shower, brushing your teeth outside your car can alert people to the fact that you slept in your car, and going to toilet becomes a scheduled affair.

Some people opt to join a gym and maintain a membership that allows them to access shower facilities that have towels. Hanging wet towels in the car provides a great environment for mildew. Alternatively, take up a sponge bath which you can accomplish in your car or a rest room then pay for a shower at a rest stop or pay for entry to a swimming pool or the YMCA where you can also get shower facilities.

It is imperative to identify specific places in your vicinity that have clean and safe restrooms with running water. Incorporate them into your daily routine and ensure that you use the facilities responsibly. Another option is to have your own personal chemical toilet which although convenient is not the freshest option.

Keeping your clothes clean is perhaps the easier part of your personal hygiene when living in a car. Stacking loads of dirty clothes compromises the air quality of your car. At laundromats, you are able to take care of your weekly laundry at a reasonable price.


Living in a car is the real test of minimalist living. Only the crucial items need to be in the car as they are essential for your everyday survival. The essentials should include a communication kit which includes your cell phone, laptop or tablet, and the needed chargers. Consider a solar charger to ensure you do not discharge your car battery.

For sleeping arrangements, a sleeping mat that can be rolled up keeps the surface smooth and makes the sleeping bag even more comfortable. Keep your clothing in portable packing units like packing cubes from Amazon. These cubes act like a drawer system and can be stacked to create room.

Cooking facilities should be the bare minimum. A fork, spoon, plate, cooking pot, cup, dish washing soap and a drying cloth. All these can fit in a bucket with a tight lid to keep out dust and dirt. A little cooker that can fit neatly in the corner should come in handy as well.

Food should also be stored in an airtight, well-closed container. Do not stack up on fresh produce like meat and poultry unless you intend to cook it on the same day. Work with dry foods like dehydrated beans and canned meats which are guaranteed to be safe if not consumed on the same day. Also, remember poor food storage will attract pest and vermin into your house car.

Medical supplies are imperative so keep a “medicine cabinet” that features a first aid kit, toiletries and other hygiene essential like baby wipes.

If you have the means rent a mini-storage cubicle to store your valuables and other important items that you do not need at the moment.


Eating in restaurants is not a feasible option when you have little to survive on. To keep yourself healthy choose to eat fresh fruits and vegetables which you can make into a salad in a heartbeat. Stock up on nuts, cereals, canned soups, cheese, eggs, long-life milk and peanut butter and jams.

Food preparation must be done outside of the car. You can go to the local campsite to prepare your food outdoors and come back to your designated sleeping place afterward so that you keep the place clean. You wouldn’t want to be kicked out of a safe place because you are not able to keep the place clean.

Living life to the fullest from your car

Living in your car can be depressing. This is the harsh reality of losing everything and being homeless. The shame associated with such a loss can cause you to become a hermit or a recluse by choice. Combat negative feelings by getting out of your car as often as you can. Go for walks, enjoy the park and keep in touch with loved one. This is an essential part of moving forward towards a healthy future.

Find yourself a portable CD player with radio for entertainment and news so you can keep up-to-date with the world around you. Get a private mailbox with a street address which comes in handy for driver’s licenses, ID cards, car insurance and job applications and emergency situations.

Find free Wi-Fi hotspots that allow you to keep using your internet enabled devices. This keeps you in the loop whether you are looking for a job or are already working and need access to your emails and other work related documents. Public libraries are great because they have computer access.

You can also spruce up the car with portable solar panels to charge your devices. Alternatively, carry a small generator. And since every time you may need to cook something you will not necessarily be close to a campsite you should consider a small propane stove for those times. If you have this option ensure that you have enough propane for your stove.

Fitting the van with a shower or bathroom is also a possibility. Some vans can allow you to stand and fit the shower head on the roof. You can also fit a rack on the rooftop of the van to keep your supplies and gear properly secured.


There is nothing flippant about living from your car. It can be a terrifying experience that can leave you depressed and even suicidal. Be that as it may, it is a manageable situation as well that can make you stronger and more focused in pursuing better for yourself. Whether it is a choice you have consciously made to live out your car or hard times have pushed you there; a car can be a house much better than a tent can.

Originally posted 2019-06-19 00:34:15.