Road Trip Life

It’s 11:45 pm and you finally see your resting spot for the night: a half-empty fast food parking lot. You pull in, lock the doors, and unfurl your sleeping bag. Shoving things over in the back seat, you recline. The driver’s seat is now your bed.

Wait — were you imagining that living the road tripping life meant you would spend each night surrounded by pines and babbling brooks?

Let’s not get romantic here.

The truth about living in your car for an extended period of time — we could probably say anything over three months, to be conservative — is that you have higher expectations for its wonders and lower expectations of its down sides (if you’ve even thought of them at all).

Situations are different for everyone, of course. For those who have enough money to make it out there without working, you may not find much relevance in what I’m about to write. But for those of us that want to live the nomadic life and still have to answer to our bank accounts, listen up.

You’re going to really love this experience, but you’re going to really dislike this experience.

Highs

Who do you want to meet?

Want to see what it’s like to be a skier, climbers, or kayaker in a different region? Maybe even do a loop somewhere along the Appalachian Trail and hike a section with people who are going tip to tail? Living in your car gives you freedom to experience the regional cultures of the outdoors — which most definitely exists — and gives you a chance to make friends from all over. Bonus: Any future visits in those areas means you’ll have couch space and insider knowledge of the best spots to play in.

What do you want to do?

Did you hear of a massive storm promising to unload on the Wasatch? Move your “house” to the champagne promises of Utah. Heard there was a bouldering event in down in ‘bama’s Horse Pens 40? You can relocate with ease. Or maybe there’s an Instagram meetup of hikers in Jasper National Park? Switch on the headlights and go for a drive to Alberta. Whatever sounds exciting, you can go and do.

Where do you want to be today?

The great thing about living in a car is you can go as long as the asphalt is connected from Point A to Point B (at the time of this writing, I think flying cars are still a Jetson dream). Just make sure you have a great GPS backed up with an even better paper map — you never know when that technology might fail you.

When do you want to leave?

Another bonus of living in a car is your vacations are timed by you; no worrying about paying the airline to extend your stay for a few more days or cut it short for a return because you ran out of adventure in an area. Your schedule is dictated by you, at no extra charge.

Lows

Who do you have to be aware of? 

For the most part, it’s safe out there. In the nearly three years of living from my car, I had fewer scary situations than in the same amount of time residing between four walls in the city. However, I took precautions: I never left valuables in sight, checked out the area before tucking in for the night, and if I felt any hint of warning about a stranger, I took flight.

I didn’t intentionally start that sentence with rhymes, but hey, it’ll help you remember.

What do you do to get comfortable?

If you’re living in a four-door sedan like I did, the answer might be “never.” At least, not fully. Whatever amount of space you have, you’re going to have to some adjusting. And readjusting — multiple times throughout the night, perhaps, until you figure out the exact angle of your leg, the precise nook for your foot, the exact recline on your seat. And then there are the seasonal temperatures to deal with. If you plan to be anywhere but in the deep south in winter, you’ll do well to get a sleeping bag rated to zero or below (heading into anywhere like the Yukon or Alaska will absolutely require this).

Where do you get clean?

Getting clean while living in a car is an art form. Drive to a place where eyes won’t be on you, or if that’s not a choice, learn to be discreet about getting yourself clean while still tucked inside your sleeping bag. Something like Action Wipes, which are bigger than baby wipes and don’t make you smell like you’re two years old, will do the trick. Other options are parks with showers, bathroom stalls with wet paper towels, and some truck stops. Nope — this part will never be fun.

When do you call it on your adventure?

When the “Lows” consistently outweigh the “Highs.”

There are endless insights to share about life on the road, but you’ll never truly be prepared for it. Learn what you can, but then just get out there. If a single girl in compact car can make it out there (and love it, despite the lows), you are good to go.

 

On the road you’re bound to meet new friends, see how to have New Adventures with Strangers.

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Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. Leaving home to journey westward alone, she chased the sun to Utah. Over the years, she was consumed with skiing, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking and getting lost on back roads. But exploration continued to call. After closing her bakery — which funded college courses and adventure — she stored her possessions and hit the road again, on a quest to reach the distant places of North America. For three years she lived in her little Mazda 3 and skied the backcountry of Alaska, slept under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, ice climbed Colorado's frozen canyons and rock climbed across the continent, photographed Nova Scotia’s coves, backpacked in southern US wildernesses and munched on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. But living in a car started to feel limiting, so after seeing the many glories this continent had to offer, she chose the only place fitting for an explorer to spend a lifetime of wild wonder: British Columbia. Dual citizenship in hand, she settled along the Powder Highway in the Selkirks and is now making her home between four walls and deeply wooded mountains. When she's not playing the part of a photojournalist, Gina can be found collaborating with women worldwide through her nonprofit, Outdoor Women's Alliance, and working to improve her outdoor skills and wilderness safety certifications.