Travel Blogs

Living In My Car and Traveling Around The United States: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Week 1

After deciding my life needed a swift kick in the ass, I've joined the vanlife/carlife world. Here's how it's going so far.

Well, the title pretty much says it all. I have officially become one of those people. You know the type. One of those people hovering at the fringes of society, living out of my car and traveling to wherever the roads lead me. One of those people who, if you pulled a Family Feud and polled a hundred people, half of the ones polled would be a little jealous of them, and the other half would find them contemptable. The naysayers out there would undoubtedly call me a homeless bum, if not worse. And, you know, that’s fair. Personally, though, I like to think of myself as an adventurer, setting out to explore the wilds and discover himself in the process, abandoning (almost) all material possessions for a higher purpose.

Yeah, the second one sounds way better than the first.

Honestly, though, I think the truth lays somewhere in the middle. Because I’m gonna tell you right now… this shit ain’t always the poetic adventure that some people would lead you to believe.

As for the “why” part of this trip? It’s a long story, but it boils down to I was miserable with how my life was going. I decided I wanted to challenge myself, put myself in a situation I wasn’t comfortable with, and try to grow as a person. So, when my lease expired on my shitty little apartment, I said goodbye to my friends and my daughter, I threw everything I could into my car, and I started driving north.

Because I’m gonna tell you right now… this shit ain’t always the poetic adventure that some people would lead you to believe.

Except it wasn’t as Hollywood cool as that. The first day of this trip fucking sucked. Bad. But I’ll get into that in a minute. For now, I’m going to give you the good and bad early because I’m not one of those assholes who makes you slog through a bunch of shit you don’t want to read before you get to what the article title is about.

Even though I guess I kinda already did that…

The Good

  • Freedom – Yes, yes, we’re all free and go ‘Merica and all that. But you honestly don’t know freedom until you can look around you, decide you don’t like where you’re “living” at the moment, and simply hop in the car and move. Just jet out of there and find a new place to stay. If you’re at a campsite and you get some shitty neighbors who move in next to you, you leave. Fuck ’em. I’ve never known this kind of freedom of movement and it’s awesome.
  • Scenery – So, I’ve only made it as far north as Manhattan, KS (now northern Missouri as I’m editing this), so obviously the scenery hasn’t been that great. But you know what it hasn’t been? It hasn’t been Oklahoma. The three campsites I’ve stayed at so far have been nice. More importantly, I know there is much more to see coming up. And Manhattan is honestly a pretty nice looking little midwestern town. Some rolling hills and assorted scenery. Also… not Oklahoma.
  • Time – I don’t know how, but time flows differently now than it used to. A day on the road lasts forever, where before they would just fly by. To be fair, this point about time could also go into the bad category depending on the day, but so far I like it. Everything feels slowed down and I have time to sit and think and plan out what I want to do with my days. I only started this trip a week ago, but it feels like I’ve already been on the road for a month. It’s wild.
  • Motivation – This has been the best thing so far. I was honestly so depressed and unhappy before I left that just going to the store was chore. But now… I do things. I’ve made multiple mods for my car to help with organization and sleeping. Also, I’m in my senior year of college right now (late starter) and I hadn’t done shit all semester. I was so behind it was ridiculous. I had four papers due this week, totaling about thirty pages altogether in length, none of which I’d started. But over the past five days I’ve just gotten up in the morning, ate some breakfast, brushed my teeth, and started working. I didn’t lay in bed all day like I used to. I didn’t make excuses. I just got up and did it. Not only that, but I read every night before bed now instead of watching nonsense on my phone. I used to spend about three to six hours a day on YouTube. Now, though… I’d say I’ve watched maybe ten YouTube videos in the past week. It feels good, man.

But over the past five days I’ve just gotten up in the morning, ate some breakfast and brushed my teeth, and started working. I didn’t lay in bed all day like I used to. I didn’t make excuses. I just got up and did it.

The Bad

  • Loneliness – Over the past year and a half, I’ve spent a lot of time by myself. Thanks to the pandemic and the fact that I was doing freelance gigs from home, I really didn’t get out much. Because of that, I didn’t think I’d mind being alone on this trip. The difference, I now realize, is that I had the option to go see friends or family then. I don’t have that option anymore. Not to mention that campgrounds are pretty empty during the week. I didn’t see a single other human being all day Wednesday and most of Thursday. It gets to ya. And, honestly… I just miss my friends.
  • Sleeping – I’m traveling the country in a 2014 Toyota Corolla. Great gas mileage. Not exactly a ton of space. I have a pretty cool little blow up mattress thing an awesome friend bought me that is designed for the backseats of cars. But, even at my measly 5’5″, the backseat of a Corolla isn’t big enough. I have to push my driver’s seat up and sleep at a weird angle if I want to stretch out all the way. Not to mention that I don’t have any heat or AC during the night, so I’ve ended up being both burning hot and freezing cold on different nights. I also didn’t have anything to cover my windows the first few nights, so that was absolutely terrifying. I would lay there and think about how anybody could just walk by and stare at me sleeping in my car. I’ve since fixed that problem, at least. I made a couple blacked-out cardboard inserts for the back windows, and bought some mesh covers that can go over the front windows that both limit vision into the car and allow me to keep the windows down a little for fresh air without letting in all the bugs. Speaking of which…
  • Bugs – I’m not a squeamish person. I don’t freak out if a bug lands on me. I can kill a spider without squealing like a pig. Most of the time, at least… But bugs are really fucking annoying when you’re just trying to sit by the lake and get some work done but they keep landing on you and biting you and crawling on you and your laptop. They’re also annoying when they sneak into your car and buzz around you all night long while you’re trying to sleep. Or when you park next to a spider den and look up to see half a dozen spiders crawling all over your windows. That sucked pretty bad last night. So, yeah, bugs suck.
  • Power – I have four electronic devices with me: my phone, my Kindle, a small usb fan, and my laptop. To keep them all charged I bought myself a Jackery portable power supply. First of all, the Jackery is amazing and I couldn’t survive this journey without it. Unfortunately, though, I bought the smallest one thinking it would be sufficient, and it’s looking like it might not be. I just never realized how much power a laptop uses. I can charge the Jackery through my car, but it takes about 4-5 hours to fully charge that way. But then two and a half charges of my laptop will completely wipe out all its stored power. Juggling power usage vs. supply has been tricky at best, horribly annoying at worst. I’m gonna have to buy a solar charger for it I think. And soon.
  • Organization – Simply put, I brought too much shit. I’m going to have to figure something out soon, because my car is full. I try to keep the stuff inside my car below the window line so it isn’t so obvious to people that I’m living in it, but that can get difficult depending on what I’ve got going on. I might have to think of a new sleeping system. I like the blow-up mattress thing, but the whole setup takes up too much space. It’s something that would be great for a weekend trip, but isn’t turning out to be ideal for extended living. I don’t know. Still figuring this point out.
  • Finding places to go during the day – This isn’t really a problem if you’re at a campsite. You just chill at your spot and do whatever you do all day. In a city, though, this becomes a problem. I don’t want people to pay attention to me. Therefore, I try to find a spot where nobody is around. Turns out, people are everywhere in a city. Weird, right? So if you’re the only car in the area, you stand out and the people driving by stare at you. If there are too many cars around, people are walking by you constantly and staring at you. It’s hard to find a good balance. Earlier today I was posted up in the backseat of my car, parked in the back corner of the Wal-Mart parking lot, writing this and waiting for a package to be delivered to a nearby Amazon Locker before I left Manhattan. I’m invisible to most people. Some people still look. It’s weird.
  • Privacy – This ties into the last point, but there’s almost no privacy to be had unless you find a campsite with nobody around. Even then, you’re still out in the open and somebody could drive by at any time. I really miss being able to close myself off from the world and not look suspicious for doing so. I could chill with all my window covers on, but if you drive by a car and all the windows are covered up, it looks a little sus.
  • The sun – The sun is hot. Crazy, huh? Hard to imagine that the massive ball of nuclear fission that sustains all life on this planet could be so freaking annoying, but it is.
  • Showering – If you’re the type of person who needs a shower every day, this isn’t the life for you. I’ve had two showers this week (I joined Planet Fitness before I left). Other than that, I wipe my junk and my pits with wet wipes and put on fresh underwear. Living in your car is dirty and stinky, y’all.

Or when you apparently park next to a spider den and look out to see half a dozen spiders crawling all over your windows. That sucked pretty bad last night

The Ugly

  • Literally everything to do with going to the bathroom – So far, this has been the worst part by a mile. I never fully appreciated how wonderful it was to have my own private bathroom only a few yards away from me at all times. A fully stocked, clean smelling bathroom where nobody could walk in on me. Indoor plumbing is a beautiful thing, my friends. Now, though, just taking a piss is a chore. If it’s daylight, I gotta find a bathroom. If it’s night, I gotta make sure nobody is around to see me. And as for going #2… Well, taking a shit is always rough no matter where I am or what time of the day it is. An appreciable percentage of my daily life now consists of making sure I’m somewhere relatively close to a public toilet. I’ve used my portable toilet once so far (that ridiculous story can be found at the end of this post) and I’ve already decided that is something I’ll be doing as little as possible. Just…please just do me a favor, okay? Next time you’re dropping a load in your own bathroom, take a moment to appreciate it. You have no idea how good you’ve got it.

Summary

As you’ve surely noticed, the bad is pretty heavily outweighing the good so far. This shit is hard. It’s uncomfortable, it’s scary, it’s lonely, and it’s exhausting. I miss my daughter, I miss my friends, I miss my shower, and I miss my toilet.

So, am I going to quit and go back to my old life?

Fuck no.

For starters, the motivation I’ve gained outweighs all the negatives singlehandedly. I’ve gotten more work and writing done this week than I had in the previous six months. Instead of being lazy all day, I want to get up and write. I want to read. I want to go explore new cities and new campsites. I’m looking forward to seeing more cool shit. I saw a bald eagle the other day! I’ve never seen one of those in my life, and the damn thing was just chilling in front of me. May not be a big deal to a lot of you out there, but I thought it was cool.

This shit is hard. It’s uncomfortable, it’s scary, it’s lonely, and it’s exhausting. I miss my daughter, I miss my friends, I miss my shower, and I miss my toilet.

And that’s why I started this whole thing. I knew it was going to be a challenge, and so far it’s living up to those expectations and more. But I’m starting to get the hang of it. I’m fixing little things here and there to make my life more comfortable. I’m realizing that, even if people see me, nobody really gives a shit.

So, once my package is delivered, I’ll be heading north, not south.


And, with all of that out of the way, let me finish this article off with a couple stories. To start, the story of my first day on the road.

First Day Disaster

So, what had happened was, I’d gone out to my favorite little watering hole the night before to say goodbye to some friends. I didn’t drink too much since I knew I had to drive, but I still ended up with a little buzz. I’d already turned in the keys to my apartment, which meant I didn’t have anywhere to stay that night. I could’ve stayed with friends, but I figured I’d just get the adventure started. So I ended up grabbing some beer after leaving the bar so I could celebrate starting my journey by myself and headed out of OKC.

I had plans to meet up with my daughter for a late lunch the next day, and she lives around Stillwater, so I just headed north and figured I’d find a place somewhere along the way to hunker down.

In my mind, though, it was some crazy Hills Have Eyes family who were gonna come murder me in my sleep and rape my corpse then eat me afterwards.

I ended up finding a little spot on a random side road in the middle of the country to stay for the night. I then proceeded to drink all the beer I’d bought, which led to me spending my first night in my car passed out drunk in the driver’s seat with the keys in the ignition. I don’t need to tell you how ridiculously stupid that is. Like, epically stupid.

This is where I spent my first night. Five feet off the road, drunk as a skunk, just begging the cops to come throw me in jail and destroy my journey before it could even get started. Just a horrible decision.

That meant I was pretty hungover the next day as I both met my daughter’s boyfriend for the first time, and said goodbye to her. Not a great decision. But, lunch went well and seeing her was honestly the only good part of the day. I liked her boyfriend, too, so that was a bonus.

But then I had to start driving. For hours. Hungover. Not great.

I’d already picked out the first campsite I would be staying at before I left, so I headed that way. It was this little spot in southern Kansas called Butler Lake (I’ll write a review for it soon). It’s federal land, which means anybody can camp there for free. Unfortunately, I didn’t plan things out very well and I ended up getting there at around 9 pm, which meant it was already dark. And not city dark. Not even paid campsite dark. It was pitch black dark, and I was in the middle of nowhere with no clue what I was doing and all I wanted was to park somewhere and go to sleep.

I ended up just pulling into the first clear spot I found. It was terrifying. I got out of my car and I was pretty sure I could hear people talking off in the distance. I wasn’t sure, though, and it could’ve just been the wind. In my mind, though, it was some crazy Hills Have Eyes family who were gonna come murder me in my sleep and rape my corpse then eat me afterwards.

To make things worse, I hadn’t blown up my air mattress yet. So there I was, using this loud ass pump to get my bed ready, constantly flipping my light around to make sure nobody was sneaking up on me, trying to get myself at least somewhat set up and comfortable. I didn’t have any coverings for my windows yet, so even when I managed to get my bed up I was still terrified that the imaginary crazy people were gonna come and stare at me as I slept.

It was easily one of the worst nights of my life.

Eventually,, though, I slept. Obviously nobody murdered me. I woke up the next day and saw that if I’d driven about thirty more yards there was a little campsite with a lean-to pavilion all set up. Everything was certainly a lot less scary in the daytime, and I settled in for a few days and ended up enjoying it there for the most part. But that first night…

Bonus Story: Portable Toilet Use #1

This won’t be super gross. Kinda gross, but nothing too crazy. Before I left I bought myself this little collapsible portable toilet that came with biodegradable trash bags. I knew I was going to be staying at a lot of primitive campsites, and I knew that some of them wouldn’t have toilets available so I knew I needed some place to do my business.

I thought this was one of those campsites. (That’s called foreshadowing.)

So, the morning of day two, I gotta take a shit. But, in my mind, there weren’t any bathrooms at this spot. So, I whip out my little potty and do my business and it’s just as terrible as you’re currently imagining it to be. Just squatting behind my car, flies buzzing around my ass while I’m constantly looking around to make sure nobody decides that this is the moment they want to drive into my little part of the lake. Horrible.

But, I clean up and pull the bag out and tie it up. Not pleasant. But now I have to figure out what to do with this shit. This literal bag of shit. There aren’t any trashcans around. I definitely don’t want to put it in my car. But, the bags are biodegradable so I decide I’m going to bury it. Probably not the right decision, but it’s the one I made. I find a little spot away from the campsite, use a trowel I bought to dig myself a hole (which was WAY harder than I thought it would be), and bury it all. Job done, so I can move on with my life and forget about it.

I wake up the next day and I already feel another one coming on. I decide I don’t want to repeat the process, so I pack up and head out to find the nearest bathroom. As I’m leaving the site…

Yeah, you know. Toilets. I’d driven right past them in the night and hadn’t seen them.

I’d shat in a bag and buried it about 300 yards away from a stinky, yet functional, outhouse. So, the lesson of this story is this: always double check if there are toilets anywhere nearby before you bury your own shit in a public campground.

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