My Survival Story: Living In A Car For A Year

You have to sacrifice if you want to get ahead in life. That’s what I have learned after living in my car for over a year. It was a big lesson of survival that made me realize what a man is capable of when is following his dream.

From August 25th 2012 until over a year later, I slept and lived in my car, in Los Angeles, California. I moved to Los Angeles for a dream, but did not realize how expensive it was to live there. So I began planning in my head and thinking how I might save money and how I might get out of the frustrating living situation I was in at the time.

I decided living and sleeping in my car would be an idea that would satisfy both of those things I wanted for my life in Los Angeles. And it was truly a survival experience. Read another inspiring story on our article A Prepper’s Story: Headed To Alaska To Survive Off-grid.

Throughout my time sleeping and living in my car, I learned a tremendous amount.  There are many different aspects when it comes to sleeping and living in a car successfully, and it takes a plethora of survival skills. It truly is a “survival” experience attempting to live in your car.

I was doing this so I could save money and get ahead in life. I saved a great deal of money and had extra money I wouldn’t have had if I was paying rent somewhere. I would have had no money for anything else if I had to pay $1000 a month for rent like many others in Los Angeles. Read here our article on things to be aware of when relocating.

Especially in this economy today, you never know when hardship may hit and having these survival skills in your pocket may just save your life one day when you experience hardship. I did have a job and no one would have ever guessed I slept in my car and that is how it should be. More attention is worse when living in one’s car.

Surviving Means Going Through Many Tough Times

It was a very tough time as well. But it did in fact help me achieve my goals of saving money and being able to live on my “own” in my car. It didn’t come easy getting that life though. There were many learning experiences. And I began writing a book about how to survive living in one’s car.

I moved to Los Angeles and did not really know anyone. When I began sleeping in my car it was a scary time. I had no friends, and I knew if I tried to make some friends eventually they’d find out I lived in my car and wouldn’t accept me anyway. How would I get a date, I thought to myself? Who would date someone living in his car?

After a long day at work as a security guard, walking around, patrolling, writing reports, I would get off and have to go sit at McDonalds for a few hours until it got dark.

Many people complain because they are already so tired after a hard day at work. But then they get to go home and relax and lay down on the couch and talk to their friends or family.

After my long hard day, I could not just go lay down and relax somewhere. I always had to wait until it got dark outside before I could go to sleep at my spot.

There was no way to lay down in the back of my car while the sun was out. It was much too hot out to do that. I had to go sit in a fast food place around a bunch of strangers until it got dark.

It was tough not having anyone around to help me out and no one to hang out with in the beginning when I didn’t really know anyone. It was quite a lonely life. I felt like I constantly had to be on guard against everything.

I had to watch out for homeless people walking around the streets when I was going to the store to get some food. My back tail light was broken so I had to be careful not to get stopped by cops because it only drew more attention to myself. Though cops usually respected that I lived in my car anyway. The ones I came across.

Many times I was in the back of my car at night, with all my towels up over my windows, worried and wondering when I would get a break from all this. When I’d get to have a normal life and have friends and be able to come home watch TV and make a steak?

I cried a couple times in my car when I felt absolutely hopeless. But most of the time I was very thankful for the life I had. I was glad I had my car. I had a computer, I had a job. I essentially had everything I needed. I knew I had no reason to be ungrateful. I knew there were many others in Los Angeles and around the world who were a lot less fortunate than I was.

It did feel like a never ending cycle at times though. Doing the same thing every day. Alone.

I moved here to achieve a dream and I got this. It was rough. But I always tried to keep in mind how thankful I was for everything I had.

What It Takes to Survive when Living in a Car?

There are many important aspects to surviving living in one’s car. The key thing I found to living in my car successfully was keeping a low profile in all I did. That way, I could have the longevity to stay in my car as long as I needed to.

How to Get Your Food

When it comes to food, there are many options when living in your car. My purpose living in my car was saving as much money as I could. So I keep that in mind when thinking about food.

  • Canned foods: There are canned foods such as beans, pastas, and tuna. Have a can opener ready or preferably have an easy to open top. That makes things much easier. Canned fruits or fruits in plastic cups work as well. They store well too.
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are easy to make in a car. Just have a plastic knife to use to make it.
  • Homeless shelters: Sometimes or much of the time homeless shelters give free food away as well. Just find one in your local area.
  • Protein bars: These are pre-packaged, somewhat healthy and easy to eat on the go.
  • Fast Food: This is a somewhat cheap and accessible option but I generally went for the foods that were in a grocery store as they were cheaper.
  • In grocery stores, they usually have a bakery or already-cooked foods section and these are somewhat affordable as well. I used to get 2 pieces of fried chicken and some potatoes and it was decently priced and nice to have some “real” food for a change sometimes.

Where to Sleep

Where to sleep is probably one of the key elements of surviving when living in your car.

A good sleeping area can make or break you living in your car. You have to find a place that is safe but also a place where you can stay on the down-low enough to not be noticed.

I personally slept at a 24-hour grocery store I used to work at. I lucked out, but I’d say if you can manage to sleep at a 24-hour store somewhere that would be good. Or in a neighborhood that is safe where you can stay under the radar.

Once you do find that place you have to make sure to do everything you can not to be noticed.

Also your car has to be primed and ready.

I had dark tint on my windows some of the time I slept in my car. If you don’t, you can put dark towels up in front of all windows. You have to be conspicuous though and make sure no one is around when you put them up. Just go to your spot, park, shut the car off and set the towels up. That is what I did.

Make sure you choose the same place for sleeping every night. It makes things a lot easier. Don’t tell anyone where you sleep.

Have the radio off long before you get to your spot so you don’t draw any attention to yourself. Additional tip: do not open your doors once you get to your spot or get out of your car at all. It only draws more attention to yourself.

Where to Take Showers

Keeping your hygiene good is absolutely key to sleeping and living in your car and staying unnoticed.

The more you are noticed the worse it is for you, so you have to keep the appearance of a normal person living in a normal house. In other words, you have to give an appearance you are not homeless, or you will be kicked out of a lot of places you may hang out at.

I took showers at a gym. I got a monthly gym membership. It was only $40 a month, so it was not much. I got to both work out and get clean. I recommend having a backpack with everything you need for the shower and a combination lock to lock up your stuff while you are in the shower.

Where to Spend Your Spare Time At

There are a few options of where to hang out on your day off work or when you have free time.

  • Fast food chains. They usually have free WiFi for laptops. If you keep a low profile, it’s likely you will go generally unnoticed. Just make sure to keep to yourself for the most part. I didn’t even buy anything much of the time and no one cared to be honest.
  • Public libraries are great places to hang out in your spare time especially if you have a laptop. There is free WiFi that does not expire like many food places. There are usually a good amount of seats. It is nice and cool inside or warm depending on the climate where you live.
  • Malls are a decent area to hang out at as well. To find a seat and read a book or walk around. Just as long as you don’t have to pay for parking to be at a mall then it’s great.
  • The gym is a great place as well. You can work out for a while to kill time and be inside.

Also, if you have made any friends or anything like that, then that will help a ton as well.

Key Items You Need to Keep in Your Car

  • Gallon of drinking water: It’s important to always stay hydrated when living in your car. You are always going, on the move much of the time. There were many times it was after work and I hadn’t had any water. It was always nice to have my gallon of water in the backseat under a towel. It costs about $.25 to fill it up at a grocery store.
  • Pain medicine: Very useful when you have any kind of pain. There were many times while I was living in my car, it was late at night and my head was throbbing. It was nice to reach in my little soccer bag and take some pain medicine and be able to sleep peacefully after that.
  • Car fan: At night time I find it tough to sleep without some background noise, so this came in handy. It costs about $20 at an automotive store. It is enough wattage to be on all night and not kill the battery. Many nights it is too hot to sleep in a car without a fan. In the summer time, if I didn’t have a fan I would have suffered greatly.
  • Power inverter: This is a device you can plug into your cigarette lighter and charge your laptop, cell phone, or any other electronic device as long it is a small enough wattage. It costs about $20 at many stores. Be careful what you charge. Some things will kill the battery if you charge it too long. Try to charge things while driving when possible because it doesn’t use the battery. The one I had was 100 watts, which means anything you charge has to generally generate less electricity than that.
  • Sleeping Bag: A good sleeping bag is key in any environment. Even in Los Angeles during winter and many times in other seasons too I needed it. If I hadn’t had a good sleeping bag, I would have frozen and been very uncomfortable the entire night.
  • Snacks/food: It is important to always have some sort of food in your car. Preferably on the floor on the passenger seat side as I did. I used that section for my food. It was easy when I got hungry, I could just reach over and grab a banana to eat when I needed it. It’s crucial to always have at least some stuff ready to eat anytime you may need it. Not eating can cause many problems. There were many times after work I was extremely hungry and was leaving work and had a piece of fruit I reached for and ate right from my car.
  • Jumper cables: Sometimes for a couple different reasons, I found that my car battery died and I needed a jump. Most likely because I left the lights on or I charged my electronics too long without driving. It was a pain standing in front of a store asking people if they had jumper cables. I eventually got some jumper cables so when my car battery died, all I had to do was ask anyone who had a car around me if they could give me a jump rather than also having to ask them if they had jumper cables too.
  • Vitamin C: Living in your car is not a normal thing obviously. There is more wear and tear and hardship than if you had a place to live. So it’s important to keep your immune system up. Vitamin C boosts the immune system. Anything you can consume with a lot of Vitamin C is great. Oranges or any drinks that have vitamin C in them are great. You cannot afford to get sick in your car when you already have enough other things to worry about.
  • Spare keys container: Having spare keys around are very important while sleeping in your car. You never know when you may need them. I kept a spare key for my car always in my wallet. Also, I went to an automotive store and got 2 containers for about $10 that store keys and have a magnetic cylinder on the back so you can connect it to any metal at the bottom of your car for when you lose or lock your keys in your car. Make sure to put it where no one can see it. Make sure no one knows it is there. Only you.

Overall, it was sort of an adventure living in my car. I learned a lot. I became a lot stronger than I had been before I came to Los Angeles and lived in my car. It made me realize what I am capable of. That people can adapt to any situation.

Advice for anyone sleeping in their car or homeless would be that you have to stay mentally strong and continually aware and focused of everyone and everything around you. Pray a lot. Keep your head up. Always know it is not forever and it’s only a temporary situation. You will get out eventually.


This article has been written by J. C. for Survivopedia.

Written by

J. C. grew up in Tucson, Arizona with a twin brother and a little sister. He attended Arizona State University and received a degree in Nutrition Management in 2010. He moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. He has been on CSI Las Vegas as a SWAT Officer and on a new TV Pilot playing a security officer. He currently resides in Hollywood, California.

Latest comments
  • A lot of people in that area live almost comfortably in vans

  • Hi mate this was a good read and very informative article
    Cheers Michael

  • I used to live in my pickup for months at a time, I hauled campers all over the US and Canada. Javier is spot on. But a few things to make it almost enjoyable.
    First thing is to loose the back seat and build a real bed out 2x4s, plywood and get some foam from a fabric store then cover it with a cheep sleeping bag from a discount store, do not towel up your windows dark tint is enough always be ready to roll, I learned to sleep with just a baseball cap over my eyes, I want to see what the dog is growling about. best secret of all is TRUCK STOPS, some have lounges where you can hangout and watch tv and wash your clothes, internet, but i’m warning you to not go in the back with the semis stay in front with the cars, semi drivers run on a time frame 14hrs. on 10 off. they don`t just want to stop they have to stop. don`t be the guy in the only possible space, you will find yourself parked in unable to leave. respect that and nobody will bother you, I`ve even grilled out in the packing lot, I also traveled with my doberman so security wasn’t an issue. and I wasn’t lonely. Showers in truck stops cost about ten bucks, so really good to join a gym,

    • Wow our stories are almost parallel. I too moved to LA to follow my dream of acting. I to also had to live in the car. It wasn’t that bad just really boring. Funny thing is I had to move back home family reasons. But I’m planning to move back and literally hop back in the car. Its exciting and challenging but it will make you stronger and my wiki page will look awesome in the end.

  • I lived in Milwaukee for over a year in the back of the chev blazer. It wasn’t the most fun but necessary to save money. Why a blazer? Its what I had and I took the back seats out and put in a mattress and still had plenty of room. I Painted the back windows white and had a curtain like sheet behind the back seat. I also had a dog for company. I parked a lot in the company parking lot where I worked, and also took showers there after work. I used to park in city parks during the day time under a large shade tree and sleep with the front windows down. I worked nights so I didn’t have a problem with night parking. I brought a lot of my food in grocery store and had a cooler for storage. Did my wash in launder matt. Sometimes I would spend a lot of time at the Milwaukee library great way to use up time.

  • I went through the exact same situation last and this year. I moved from Kentucky to Texas. My ambition drove me to make a sudden move due to lack of employment. I heard that Houston was the Mecca for job opportunities and I had nothing back at home holding me back besides all of my Family. I had a place to sleep for the first month until things went sour with some family members. With no vehicle at the time and not knowing what my next move was I ended up on a couple of park benches for a couple of nights with two huge suitcases and a duffle bag. My mother pleaded with me to come home because I was 12 hours away from home with no Family or friends. I was determined to finish my education in the HVAC/R field. So many people blew my head up saying I was in the right field in the right place at the right time. My Grandfather sent me a ticket to Oklahoma City and gave me his old car, which by the way was not old at all, just the production date. It was a 1991 Cadillac De Ville Coupe (2 door). He had taken good care of the car and it was in great shape. I knew from the jump that that this would be my living quarters. I had no idea if sleeping in this car was gonna even work. I had never had to go through anything like this before. It scared me, but I kept in mind once I finally got done with school everything would be ok. I also figured I was one step closer to getting a job and a girl. It was the middle of August in Houston and the temperature would be anywhere from 85° to 90° at night. I bought a car fan the first night because if I left the windows down overnight the mosquitos would eat me alive. I can’t remember the wattage on the car fan but every morning I would wake up I would start my car and drive a out a half a mile to let my battery charge up. Keeping a low profile was definitely key to surviving the whole thing. I had good shade where I was parked so it would be kind of difficult to see inside the car at night. I didn’t have a job and had the worst trouble trying to find one. I had just sold my car before I moved but because my friend didn’t have all of the money he sent my payments out of his paycheck. It wasn’t a lot but it kept me afloat. On the days I had a few extra dollars I would travel around the city looking for a way out of my situation. On the days I was flat broke I would have to hang around the neighborhood. I ended up meeting some people who owned the local businesses and I would hang out at those establishments from time to time. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was going through at the time so I acted as if I lived in the neighborhood. There were days when I didn’t feel comfortable being around people because I just wanted to burst out in tears and share my pain. At the same time tho I didn’t know how people would perceive me. 5 miles down the road they’re were homeless people who lived under bridges and people would look over them as if they didn’t exist. I had too much Pride to ask anyone for help though. They’re were days where I didn’t feel comfortable being around people because I had gone 3 or 4 days without bathing. I found a Travel Center not too far from the school I attended that had shower stalls you could purchase for $12. This was definitely a major expense with no income, plus gas, plus food, plus washing my clothes at the Washateria. I felt keeping a clean appearance as well as my car was important too. Before I pulled off in the morning I would stuff everything in my trunk. On the days I felt confident I would jump in a social circle to try and find a half descent lady. I met a few women, only one knew of my situation and she was very supportive as long as it lasted. I just lacked the self confidence to be who she wanted me to be. It felt good to have some warm food, a bed to sleep in, and a roof over my head. I ended up becoming friends with a guy who owned a bar in the neighborhood and he lined up a couple of odd jobs for me and invited me to his house. I knew if I was just honest about my situation he would open his doors with no problem. It was just too hard to actually come out and say what I was going through. After so long I started feeling ashamed of myself even though I was doing good in school and I was staying focused. A few people that I had met from the neighborhood ended up spotting where I was located and thought I owned the residence. Only to find out that I was dead sleep in the driver side seat. Once I had to break down my story they were in awe. I acted so everyday normal for a person who had nowhere to go. Unfortunately they weren’t able to help because they still lived with their parents. I just asked them to keep quiet about the whole ordeal because it wasn’t going to last for ever. It was just for the moment. I spent the Holidays with no Family and that hurt my feelings deeply. I occasionally thought about the neighbors and how comfortable they were in their homes and what I did to not be able to enjoy the same feeling. To me Winter was more difficult to deal with in the summer. I think the car fan kind of made it just that more easier. For Houston it did get cold that winter. Temperatures dipped in the upper 30s to low 40s. All I had was a blanket and a sheet set I bought from Wal Mart. Staying warm wasn’t easy, plus it got dark earlier so that didn’t make it any better. The only thing I can say is I got more sleep than I did in the summer. I slept in my car from Aug. 2014 to Feb. 2015 before I met my girlfriend who I am with now. We crushed and one night she gave me a ride home from the bar. Oh, and let me add. I am not a drinker, AT ALL!! I would occasionally have a beer every once in a while when the bartender insisted on buying me one. The bar was just a place to hang out and watch TV and they stayed open until 2am. It was convenient and I met a lot of good people in there who I am still friends with today. And like I said that is where I met my girlfriend. That night in particular I needed a ride to my car cause it was out of gas I believe. So she wanted to sit in the driveway and talk for a while before we ended the night. I could tell things were getting mutual between the two of us so I decided to tell her the Truth about my situation. She was also in shock, she couldn’t believe it. How was I able to pull it off so well? I thought I hadn’t been doing too good of a job of that because I had lost a considerable amount of weight from only eating off of the $1 menu for so long. I didn’t have enough room for a cooler to keep things fresh so I settled for food that was already prepared. From that night on I never had to sleep in my car again. She was my Angel that pulled me out of a Sea of Hopelessness. I ended up graduating that following May and getting a descent paying job in the HVAC/R field. I Prayed a lot and often went to local Churches to give Thanks for what the Lord did provide me with and ask for more Blessings to come. My girlfriend is expecting my first child a month before we got together and she’s graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in the same month. I feel I accomplished what I set out to do when I made the decision to move to Houston. The Good Lord had it set up that way not to destroy me, but to shape and mold me into being the person I was destined to be. So if anyone reads this just take head to my Testimony. Keep the Faith and believe in yourself and God will make a way.

    • Living in my car right now dude for the second time in my life. My wife took my son and got a restraining order on claims I am emotionally and mentally abusive. Now I don’t have any money and not going to my family for any help because they really aren’t family to me. I really don’t believe this is happening and I can’t see my son, he’s 9 months old for 10 days. It just was good to vent honestly but glad you made it out, it’s pretty cold and I got the Walmart setup to with just a blanket and haven’t showered yet, but I do have a gym membership which helps. 2 jobs but can’t afford anything because it was all in to my house. The cops made me leave out of life, seems like it’s giving me another opportunity for change; my wife is not a good wife btw she is not ready to commit herself to me, and even tho I havent been any better then her I realize my downfall and she is also a pretty terrible woman when it comes to relationships and responsibilities. But there are good things as well about her but I can’t get pass these things so life is going to be hard. We barely have anything and now she thinks lying to the authorities helps. idk if I should try to find a new relationship or just try to see if this marriage will work out or not.. siggghs well, good luck to you and congrats on all your success, I learned a long time ago we are never alone but the battle is not yours, it’s the Lords.

  • Great article!! Lots of good info!!

  • I’m female. Much harder to be homeless . My brother on parole threw me out because he wanted my elderly mom to himself and her check. And her house. No his parole officer did nothing. ..soo Walmart parking lots to sleep. . I wear baggy clothes since I’m an extremely attractive female. I have no one , no good family, zilch. Its summer and my truck is hot. I stay cool by going to mall to sit. I have income., But no one would rent to me so it seemed. I look too Haggard and tired, maybe it shows it’s hard. Emotional and tired. I’m sitting here looking for rooms to rent, been homeless now a month. I’m about to go to hospital for exhaustion.

    • I’m on the same boat 🙁 caught xfiance cheating 5 months ago now I’m living in my car my. I stay in Chicago due to a good job that I currently hold. Stay strong! If you need tips or advice let me know.

  • I’ve been living in my car for a couple of years now, here are my tips. Where to park and sleep at night is definitely the most important decision you will make every night. I prefer to park in the parking lot of a major upscale chain hotel, where I am also a Gold-status loyalty member: free breakfast in the morning. Do not get out of your car during the night, urinate in a bottle or something that works for you, I’m a male, not sure how a female would do this. Parking in the lot of a 24-hour business can still attract unwanted attention from security guards, they will see the fogged up windows on your car. I also park in safe, quiet neighborhoods, again, DO NOT get out of your car during the night. A gym membership is essential for showering and hygiene. I do not keep food in my car; to eat healthy, I get prepared foods at Whole Foods Market or Sprouts. There’s water available everywhere, you don’t have to keep lots of water in your car. Wear shorts or pants with elasticized waistband, easy to change in and out of. Do laundry at laundromats. To combat loneliness and isolation, stay in touch with friends and family, let them know how you are, they are worried about you. Forget about dating anyone, nobody will accept that you live in your car. To relieve sexual tension, you have your right hand. To combat depression, constantly remind yourself how lucky you are to have shelter and privacy in your car; visit places that make you happy, like a beach or river or a park. Get exercise. It’s not an easy life, and it’s not for everyone. Good luck. Oh, and I sleep on a big foam pad that I had specially cut to fit the rear of my car, with the rear seatbacks folded forward…always put a sunshade up on the front window for privacy.. Over and out!

    • Why are you living in your car and what state do you reside in? I think location plays a role in being successful at this lifestyle. I also think knowing the reasons behind why you are doing this is the boost one needs to accomplish whatever it is they need to do to eventually get out of car-dwelling. I don’t know if you look at Reddit but you should check out r/vandwellers.

  • Another place to park would be at the hospital. There are always vehicles there. Although some do ask you to pay for parking…… also most hospitals have a cheap and healthy ready to go meals