Living In The Car Is A Luxury But Not Luxurious

by Adam on July 29, 2013

It sounds strange right?  Who would think of living in their car as a “luxury”?  Well, it all depends on your perspective and the way you choose to view your situation.  When I’m living in my car which is about 60% to 70% of the time these days, it is uncomfortable, cramped and sometimes I feel like I got hit by a truck in the morning.  Sounds really luxurious right?  So luxurious in fact that you are going to give up your comfortable bed and go sleep in your car!

Everything in life is a tradeoff and everything has a cost.  About a year into this journey that started out as an aimless ski trip to get away from the city life and the office cubicle I set a goal.  That goal was to get to all the US National Parks in the lower 48 states.  It was also to do so at a rather leisurely pace.  Accounting for driving time it would be possible to achieve such a goal and spend 5 or 6 days at each park over the course of a year.  The National Parks, however are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the amazing sights across the US.

After the first year on the road it became apparent that this was going to be an expensive endeavor.  Like everything else, “expensive” is relative.  I can spend a month on the road wandering the country for somewhere between $1,000 and $1,500 including gas, food and lodging.  If I had to fly out of Philadelphia to say Bozeman, Montana to go to Yellowstone, had to rent a car or an RV, spend $100 per night on a hotel or the RV rental, eat most meals out, pay for airport parking, park entrance fees and the other miscellaneous expenses that generally add 10 to 20% to the cost of a trip, I’d be looking at around $3,000 just to spend a week in Yellowstone.  That is at least twice what it costs me to spend a month there on an extended road trip.  Compared to the traditional weeklong vacation, extended road trip travel is cheap.  When you look at the total cost over the course of a year and see a price tag of between $12,000 and $18,000, that of course, sounds like a big chunk of cash!

When the journey first started and I was about 30 miles from the room I’d rented in Sandy, Utah I ran into a major snow storm and had to pull of the road at the nearest exit.  It just so happened that at that exit there was a only a gas station, not a hotel.  I had to spend the night sleeping in my cramped and fully loaded car.  There was no hotel, no bed I could get to after driving 500 miles that day.  In my mind I was freaking out.  Would I freeze to death overnight?  Would I need to let the car engine run all night to keep from freezing?  Where would I pee if the gas station closed and I had to go in the middle of the night?

Before the gas station closed that night I bought a big jug of water.  I’d stocked up on beer in Wyoming and had some high test stuff in the car.  I was so wound up I couldn’t sleep so I downed about a 6-pack of beer while sitting in the parking lot that night trying to fall asleep.  That, of course made it so I had to pee.  The gas station was closed so I made some yellow snow and covered it up so nobody would notice.  I eventually fell asleep but it wasn’t very good sleep and I only got a few hours because I was so stressed out about having to spend the night in the car.

When sunrise rolled around it was still snowing.  There was around 18 inches of snow on the ground.  At about 10am, the skies finally started to clear and by noon the plows and cinder trucks had the roads in good enough shape that I was able to drive the last 30 miles to the room I had rented for the spring ski season.  All in all it was not a luxurious or even pleasurable experience to get stuck sleeping in my car that night.  I fact it totally sucked.  I hoped never to have to do it again.

While it was cramped, cold and uncomfortable sleeping in the car that night, it didn’t cost anything, I didn’t have to pack up a tent or gather my things from a hotel room in the morning and I awoke when the sun started to come up without an alarm clock to get an early start on the day.  At the time, however, it just sucked. I was delighted to get to my final destination and sleep in a real bed.  In fact, soon after I arrived I passed out in that real bed I’d rented for the next two months.

Once during those two months I drove down to Moab and reserved a cabin at the Lazy Lizard Hostel to make sure I’d have a bed down there too.  The next two months at Mammoth Mountain I lined up a small apartment and made sure I had a bed there.  Once I left Mammoth I wandered up through Idaho and Wyoming with nowhere to stay.  When there were campgrounds I used those but when hotels were the only option I balked at spending between $50 and  $150.00 to rent a bed for what amounted to 12 hours.  What if I purposely slept in my car?

Could I get away with sleeping in my car?  Would someone come up to the car and try to rob me or steal the car?  What about the police, would they come give me a ticket or take the car and haul me off to jail?  Would I freeze or sweat to death?  Would grizzly or black bears try to break into the car for food?  Would another car hit my car while parked on the side of the road over night?  None of those things happened but just like the “horrible” night in the car on that initial journey out to Snowbird the next night in the car was cramped. I didn’t sleep very well and I had to get out and pee in the middle of the night.

On the bright side it was free and I woke up early when the sun came blazing through the windshield.  As soon as I woke up I was ready to get moving and head off to the next awesome sight of the day.  It was at this point that sleeping in the car started to become a luxury.  This time around it was a choice.  I wasn’t forced to do it by circumstances, by the weather by any other person or because I didn’t have the money for a hotel.  I made a conscious choice to incur the cost of discomfort to have an extra $50 or more in my pocket to use to travel farther, longer and see more of the country.

Aside from making a conscious choice to sleep in the car there was no difference between sleeping the car in the snowstorm and sleeping in the car by Fossil Butte in Wyoming.  Both nights were uncomfortable and didn’t involve a whole lot of sleep.  It was at about that time that I started thinking I’d have to go for a second year on the road around the US.  It was also starting to sink in how expensive it would be if I had to stay in hotels for a year.  At even $50 a night, that would be $18,000 per year to stay in hotels all year.

As gas and food prices started to climb and climb, the lodging budget was the one spot where there was room to save money.  If I could sleep in the car I could save a bundle and continue the journey a lot longer.  It was at that time that sleeping in the drivers seat of a car full of gear became a luxury.  I chose a moderate level of discomfort so I would be able to see more of the country and stay on the road for a longer period of time.  Except for my perspective and the way I view sleeping in the car nothing changed since the first night I had no other choice.  It still sucks. It is still uncomfortable but by doing it I’ll be able to spend 4-5 years road tripping around the US instead of 2-3 years.

In the marketing world the executives would always say that things were never bad, they never sucked and that there were no problems.  Everything was an opportunity.  They’d often get crazy looks from me and others in the room but there was something to that way of thinking. Problems and obstacles can in fact be opportunities if we choose to see them as such.  While I haven’t yet come to see every adversity or problem as a gift from heaven, I’ve definitely come to the realization that the way we view thing can greatly affect our lives and what we see as a good or bad situation or occurrence.  It also illustrates how choices can make huge differences in what we are able to do and experience in life.

Are there any things in life that you really want to do but for some reason think you can’t?  Do you have a bucket list of things you want to do but just can’t seem to find a way to experience or check off?  Have you examined your assumptions to see if there are any that may be invalidated  if you changed your perspective, your priorities or your “must haves”?  What is your strange luxury in life?  How could (or are) you look(ing) at things in a different light to get more of what you want or to achieve a major goal in life?

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