There's been two points of my life I've lived in a car. The first was by choice, as a late teen I took an extended road trip around most of the United States. The other was due to circumstances outside of my control, and I found myself homeless, with my car the only shelter I had from the world.
Looking back, I can tell you one truth from both experiences.
Living out of a car is tough.
But it's a scenario you need to prepare for. To be prepared for. Lose your job and without a safety net you may be in a similar situation. Or have a crisis hit with your home is in the disaster zone, your car becomes your only choice. The only option you have to survive.
But follow these tips and you'll find yourself in a much better position.
Don't attract any attention
Police don't look too kindly on people living out of their cars (they see it as barely a step above being homeless), and you also don't want all your worldly possessions on display to whoever happens to look in your window. There's some bad people out there, especially in the aftermath of a crisis.
You need to black out your windows. I used garbage bags and duct tape on the rear and back windows, so people couldn't peer in at me sleeping. To shield from the front, a couple of small hooks held up a blanket, that gave me quick access to the driver's seat without making it obvious I was sleeping in the back. It worked so well that even with a flashlight on inside, you couldn't see the glow or tell I was in there during the night.
Where do you park?
Finding a good site to camp out can be tricky, especially in a populated area. I made a rule to never park in the same neighborhood on two consecutive nights, and always try to blend in. You want to find car parks that are busy enough you won't get noticed, but without security guards to move you along. Shopping malls are good, and I've lost count of the amount of churches I've parked behind. The streets around colleges get lots of traffic and can help you blend in, not to mention parks, libraries, and even hotels and apartment buildings, anywhere you'll slip by unnoticed is a good park.
Safety is the most important aspect
In a crisis you can expect things to get really bad, really fast. You will need a means to protect yourself if you're living in a car. I'd always lock myself in at night while I slept, but I also had a tire-iron handy along with a can of pepper spray.
On more than one occasion I have been woken up to the sounds of someone trying to open the doors on my car (I usually just stayed silent in case they were looking to do more than just rob me). Thankfully I've never had anyone determined enough to break in, but I was ready to defend myself if that happened. One night though I heard a few guys talking about smashing a window, and I simply jumped in the front seat, started the car and took off. I think they were more surprised than I was that the car wasn't empty.
Get comfortable for the nights
Cars are generally terribly insulated, and if you're camping out on a highway or roadside the noise will keep you awake. Not to mention the cold. I didn't have a fancy Sprinter you see all the hipsters living out of these days. The first time round I had an old Pontiac. The second, a beat-up Ford Econoline. And yet I survived without a $60k renovation to my car. You just need a decent mattress, a sleeping bag that's been rated for proper cold weather, and a space to lay it flat. My gear got stored in a couple of plastic tubs, which doubled as a table when I was inside. That's it.
Remember to stay sanitary
When you're living out of your car, you can get pretty nasty quickly. And bathing outdoors is not fun when the temperature drops. When I was camping I used to heat water in my little propane cooktop for sponge baths, and you can never have enough wet wipes. If the weathers a little warmer bathing in a stream is nice, but make sure you're using an eco-friendly soap. In the city however, the best thing you can do is join a gym. I definitely got my money's worth from my Planet Fitness membership, as I'd get an early workout in, along with a shower and a shave to start the day.
What about going number two?
Probably the most frequently asked question when I was living out of my car was how do I poop? I don't understand why, but people have a fascination with it. And I don't recommend keeping a portable toilet in your car, those things stink. Realistically, you just find somewhere when you've got to go. There's always a diner open or a 24-hour gas station, your gym too, and if you're camping there's often facilities on site. I did have a shovel and a roll of TP for emergencies, but in almost two years living out of my car, I never had to use it. At night though, you'll probably want a pee-bottle.
How to cook and eat
This gets much easier when you're not on stealth mode, as you can fire up your cookstove on a campsite and go to town making whatever you want. In the woods, I'd fish most days so on good days it'd be pan fried fish, on the bad it'd be tinned beans and toast. And a whole lot of ramen noodles in between. To keep things stealthy while I was in the city, I had a cooler I'd occasionally fill with supermarket salad packs, and a few ingredients to whip together a cold sandwich.
Keeping yourself entertained
Finally, it can get incredibly boring when you're in your car. There's no television, and well these days I suppose you've got your phone and Netflix, but your data (or the battery) will run out soon enough if you've not got a solar charger. I kept myself busy by going hiking and fishing, when the sun was out, and hitting up yard sales every few weekends to stock up on books for the rainy days and the nights. A handful of paperbacks would usually only set me back just a couple of bucks, and provide hours of entertainment.
Living out of your car isn't for the faint of heart. But it may be your only option when the SHTF or you experience your own personal crisis in your life. Knowing what you're getting yourself into will help you survive, and I hope my personal experience can shed a little light on what you'll need to be prepared for. Here's to your survival.