How to Mentally Prepare for Living in a Vehicle

Many people are embracing the shift to vehicle dwelling, whether this is out of necessity or desire. Sadly, for many it is economic necessity that forces them from their traditional home and into mobile living. Still, whether vehicle dwelling is adopted by choice or necessity, it has the potential to be a good life.

Despite the fact that vehicle dwelling can be a good experience, it can also he a difficult adjustment. This adjustment can be hard from a practical standpoint, but may be very hard mentally and emotionally.

I have dealt with the mental challenges of being a nomad during my years of part-time vehicle dwelling, and then again when I started out full-time on the road. Even now, this is still something that I deal with occasionally. The two triggers that often lead to mental stress for me are changes in location to a new or unknown area and difficult financial periods. As a freelancer, work is sometimes abundant and other times sparse. Either of these triggers may lead to mental struggles and feelings of homelessness, desperation, or fear.

Mental prep is the hardest part

Mental preparation may well be the hardest part of adjusting to vehicle dwelling. There are plenty of “how to” resources available now that were not available to new nomads even several years ago. There are few, if any, resources for mental preparation though.

Zach Davis, in his book Appalachian Trials, suggests that it is psychological or emotional struggles that cause people to quit the Appalachian Trail rather than physical struggles. Davis made this observation during his own thru-hike on the AT several years ago. After finding no resources on the topic, he decided to write a book about it.

In my experience, there is a similarity between thru-hiking the AT and becoming a nomad. In both cases, we are striking out into uncharted territory where everything is different. The physical aspects of both can be learned through the plentiful books and online resources or through trial and error. The mental aspects, however, may prove more challenging for many people.

Why mental prep is necessary

Mental preparation is necessary (or at least incredibly helpful) for a successful transition to vehicle dwelling. There are at least three reasons why mental preparation is so helpful.

Vehicle dwelling, or any type of nomadic lifestyle, is a totally different experience from what most of have known and accepted as normal. This unique lifestyle then creates stress when it is first attempted. In many ways, vehicle dwelling can be compared to pioneer living, with the obvious exceptions of motorized vehicles and portable electronics. Still, many things that are easy and automated in a house require more planning, preparation, and thought as a nomad.

Many nomads also encounter resistance or, at the very least, a lack of support from family and friends. Some of them may think you have lost your mind, while a few may admit they are envious. In any case, the lack of support can be a mental challenge.

It is also common for new nomads (and even those thinking about hitting the road) to experience feelings of fear, inadequacy, or incompetence. This is a completely normal experience that everyone deals with to some extent. Those who have spent more time traveling, camping, or living in primitive situations may adapt more readily than others, but it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the number of new things that must be learned.

How to prepare mentally for living in a vehicle

Preparing mentally to live in a vehicle will almost certainly make the adjustment process smoother. There are a number of steps that you can take to ease this adjustment and reduce the stress, but the following ideas are things that I have found useful in my experience.

Recognize that this will require a process of adjusting. This may sound overly simple, but accepting that the transition will involve a certain amount of stress is incredibly powerful. Once you embrace this idea, you are less likely to be blindsided by the stress of learning a new lifestyle.

Be kind to yourself as you adjust to vehicle dwelling. This is a big change, and everyone needs time to adjust. Being hard on yourself because you are experiencing stress or frustration will only lead to more stress and frustration. Give yourself permission to sometimes be frustrated as you try to figure out how to do things on the road. It really does become easier with time.

Be prepared to make adjustments to your lifestyle (and setup) over time. You will almost certainly find better ways to do things as you settle into vehicle dwelling. One large example of this is that most nomads end up trying several vehicles before they find one that is an ideal fit. It is surprisingly difficult to anticipate exactly what your needs will be on the road and which comforts will be most important. Recognizing that you will be making adjustments as you decide what works or does not work helps to reduce stress.

Try to anticipate necessary adjustments and changes before you start vehicle dwelling. Reading honest blogs, watching honest videos, and practicing car camping before striking out full-time are all great ways to begin identifying some of the changes and adjustments that you will face. Knowing in advance at least some of what your experience will look like is comforting and can reduce anxiety.

Community is essential for humans, whether living in a city or camping in the wilderness. Connect with other nomads through gatherings, at popular nomad destinations, or through forums to provide opportunities to meet people with a similar lifestyle. Many nomads are surprisingly friendly and helpful. Having friends who understand what you are doing is a powerful tool for adjusting to the nomadic life.

Virtual community may not replace in-person community, but it can still be a good tool. Join a limited number of helpful and positive social media groups or forums (and get involved) to meet other nomads if you are not able to meet up with others in person. This is also a wonderful way to begin acquainting yourself with some of the people where you may be traveling before you arrive.

Continue work, hobbies, and activities that you currently rewarding, if possible. While some activities may not be suited to vehicle dwelling, any that you can continue will provide a connection between your old life and new life. Reading, hiking, cycling, cooking, and music are but a few examples of activities that you may be able to continue on the road.

Embrace new work, hobbies, and activities that may prove to be enjoyable as well. Since nomads often have more time than they did while living in a house, and not all of your previous activities will be suited to life on the road, consider embracing some new activities. Reading, writing, hiking, cycling, quartz crystal hunting, and music are all examples of activities that can be enjoyed by nomads.

Stay with it long enough to make it past the mental adjustment. It will take time to adjust to a nomadic lifestyle. I would recommend anticipating at least one year to really adjust. After a full year, you will have identified places to camp or work in different seasons and will have a good bit of experience with life on the road. The good news is that the mental struggles will usually improve much faster than one year, but it is not uncommon to experience a relapse when confronted with new situations.

Adjusting to a Nomadic Lifestyle

Mental struggles will be real when you first start vehicle dwelling. This is something that everyone experiences. Being prepared for this reality will ease the adjustment process.

Preparation for the mental struggles can smooth the process. Any preparation that you can do before starting full-time on the road will only help. Do not allow yourself to become paralyzed with preparation though. It is always an adjustment, and planning or preparation can only take you just so far. Ultimately, you need to make the transition and experience the lifestyle.

Remember too that it is okay to admit that you are having a hard time adjusting. This is completely normal. At the very least be willing to admit to yourself when you are having a difficult time with the adjustment. It can also be helpful to talk with nomadic friends who understand and have been through the same adjustment.

The nomadic life, including vehicle dwelling, can be a great life for many people. I hope that your experience is overwhelmingly positive, and that the ideas in this article are helpful as you prepare for life on the road.

Watch the Video

The content in this article is also available as a video. You can view the video below or on YouTube.

How to Establish a Legal State Residency (Domicile) as a Nomad

One of the challenges that almost every nomad faces is where to call home. Of course, most vandwellers and travelers are happy to call wherever they happen to be home. After all, if you are a perpetual traveler and are set up somewhere in your car, van or RV, or if you are a backpacker and have all of your stuff with you, then anywhere can be considered home. Government agencies, however, tend to disagree with this perspective.

There are many nomads, including those who are new on the road and those who have been traveling for many years, who think that the only way to establish or maintain a “legal” address (domicile) is to break the law. Fortunately, this is not the case. In fact, not only is it possible to keep your residency status legal as a nomad, it can also save you considerable expense and trouble in the future.

The situation is complicated because our legal system has been developed around an assumption that people live in a house at a fixed location. People who travel perpetually do not fit into this legal model. As a result, many people resort to either breaking the law or choosing a new state that is more friendly to travelers.

You will ultimately need to do a lot of research on your own to decide which state will best meet your needs. There is not a specific state that is ideal for all nomads, though there is a short list of states that attract many full-timers. It is also not uncommon to find nomads who started with their residency in one state, but later switched to another as their needs changed over time.

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and do not claim to be an expert on legal questions. Please consult a licensed attorney if you are not confident that you understand the legal requirements or complications of establishing or maintaining domicile in a particular state. The information presented on this page is designed to serve as a starting point in deciding which state to choose as a domicile, and is based on my personal, extensive research.

Residency vs. domicile

Residency and domicile are actually two distinct terms, but “residency” is often used interchangeably for both terms. This unfortunately adds to the confusion when trying to decide if you are (or are not) legally a “resident” of a state.

The first concept to understand when considering domicile and residency is that a person may be a resident of multiple states, but is usually only domiciled in one state. For example, a person may own homes in several states and spend time in each of those homes during the year, but only one state will be their domicile.

As a general rule, the state where you are domiciled will be the state where you live (at least part of the year), work, receive mail, obtain health care, vote, conduct banking, register and insure your vehicles, etc. Of course, some people will do these things in several different states, but once you begin establishing a nexus (that is, a connection) with multiple states you also run a very real risk of having multiple states attempt to claim you as a resident for income tax or vehicle registration purposes. The best way to avoid this unpleasantness is to be careful to maintain a nexus with only one state, and to make a clean break when you move your domicile to another state.

The second concept that is essential to understand when considering domicile and residency is that receiving mail in a state does not mean that you are considered to be domiciled in the state. Mail receiving and forwarding services make it convenient to receive mail while you are on the road, but a mail forwarding address will generally not be accepted as a “street address” when applying for a driver license, for example.

The third concept that is important to any discussion about domicile and residency is intent. As a legal matter, you establish domicile when you are a resident of a state and intend to make that state your home. The best way, and often the only way, to prove that intent is through actions. While you may not have a mortgage or lease in the state that you choose as a domicile, you can and should register and insure your vehicles, conduct your banking, vote, and have medical insurance in that state. In other words, the more of a nexus or connection that you have with a particular state – and the less of a nexus that you maintain with any other state – the more likely it is that your claims to be domiciled there will hold up if ever called into question.

The issue of establishing domicile is further complicated by the fact that each state has its own rules about when it considers a person to be a legal resident. Worse, the rules often vary between state agencies.

Why choose one state over another?

Since as a nomad you are able to choose any state as your “home state,” why choose one state over another? The reason is that some states will better meet your needs than others.

Income taxes are a fact of life in most states, but several states do not have an income tax. Those who are still working can see an instant “pay raise” of hundreds or thousands of dollars just by “moving” to a state that does not have income tax. Similarly, states have different rules on taxation of pensions, investment income, and retirement income.

Sales tax is also collected in most states, but can vary considerably. While it is easy to think of the annoyance of paying sales tax on small purchases, it can add up to thousands of dollars if you need to pay sales tax on a new vehicle. This is particularly concerning to RVers who plan to buy an expensive vehicle in the future.

Vehicle registrations, inspections, and insurance are things that nearly all nomads will deal with each year. The cost of vehicle registrations and insurance varies considerably between states, so it is possible to save a lot of money each year by choosing a state with inexpensive registration fees and insurance. Auto insurance rates can also vary widely between zip codes, so it worth considering this as well when choosing an address. Vehicle inspections are not required by all states, and a few states like Arizona and Nevada have only select counties that require annual emissions or safety inspections. While safety inspections are only an annoyance if your vehicle is in good condition, they do require annual trips back to your home state. Emissions inspections, however, can turn out to be quite expensive. These inspections, and the related vehicle repairs, may be good for the environment, but they can be a financial disaster for the vehicle owner when the vehicle does not pass inspection.

Medical insurance options vary widely between states and even between counties. This is true even if you are purchasing insurance through the government health insurance exchanges. Research medical insurance options if you plan to purchase insurance, and particularly if you have certain conditions or treatments that you will need covered. Another consideration that many nomads face is the difficulty of finding nationwide medical insurance plans. Most plans currently available only cover medical services within a limited network in your home state. This makes these plans nearly useless other than for emergency room care if you seldom return to your home state.

It is also worth considering any current or anticipated need for social services or public assistance. It is no secret that some states are more generous with public assistance than others. Nomads who have limited income, for example, may find it better to choose a state with an income tax that offers more generous public assistance.

Finally, it is important to consider how much time you plan to spend in a state. How often do you plan to return once you establish your domicile in the state? The most popular states for nomads are all on the edges of the country. Despite the fact that you are on the road full-time, you may not want to make a special trip across the country just to renew a driver license or to obtain health care.

It is likely that, for most people, any one of these considerations will not be enough itself to make a decision. However, a combination of these considerations will usually make one state a much better deal.

Choosing a state

The easiest way to legally solve the “home state” problem is to maintain domicile in the state where you already live. Many nomads at least start off with this approach. You will still need both a street address and mailing address though. It is fairly common for nomads to switch everything from their former address to the address of a friend or relative when they are ready to get on the road. As long as your friend or relative is agreeable, trustworthy, and reliable this can be a good and simple solution. Staying at this address whenever you are in your home state, even if you sleep in the driveway, may further reinforce your legal argument that it is indeed your domicile. It is worth considering though whether your friend or relative may tire of managing your mail or may move while you are on the road. Many people who start off by using the address of a friend or relative eventually end up choosing a different option.

A similar option would be to move your domicile to a new state where a willing friend or relative lives. This may be more complicated because of the documentation that is required for obtaining a driver license, but with some time and care you should be able to collect enough mail or bank statements to satisfy the documentation requirements. Still, there remains the possibility of your friend or relative tiring of handling your mail or moving.

Homeless service agencies in either an existing or new state will also sometimes assist with establishing domicile. Nomads generally do not consider themselves to be homeless and may be offended by this idea, but the government generally does consider full-time nomads to be homeless if they do not have a fixed, permanent address. This may be a last resort for many people, and the rules and services vary between states, but it is an option that can be considered if necessary.

The final option for establishing or maintaining a legal domicile is to choose a state that is friendly to full-time travelers. Satisfying the legal requirements for domicile has become increasingly difficult over the years, and particularly in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Still, several states are much more welcoming to full-time nomads than the others.

Popular states for nomads

Even though there are 50 states to choose from for domicile, most nomads quickly narrow the options down to several states. This is because these states have regulations that are at least somewhat friendly to nomads.

South Dakota

South Dakota is by far the most nomad-friendly state in the country. In fact, while most states enact rules that make it difficult for nomads, South Dakota has specifically adopted rules to make it easy for full-time travelers to become residents of the state. South Dakota requires only a one-day stay in a campground, RV park, or motel, an address with a mail forwarding service, and an affidavit of intent to establish residency to obtain a driver license. It also has no state income tax or vehicle inspections. Probably the only significant drawback to choosing South Dakota as a domicile is that it is so far away from the areas where a lot of nomads spend their time. The overall nomad-friendly nature of this state, however, makes it the clear winner if you are willing to return periodically as needed.

Texas

Texas is another popular state for full-time travelers. Texas is also home to the Escapees RV Club which operates both a mail forwarding service and the popular ESCAPEES:HOME program that allows nomads to use the campground address as a legal street address. This combination of services is one reason why Texas is popular with nomads, though Escapees also now offers the same service in Florida and South Dakota. Texas has no state income tax, but does require annual vehicle inspections. The process of obtaining a driver license in Texas is also somewhat more complicated than in South Dakota.

Florida

Florida is the third state that is popular with nomads. Aside from the promise of warm weather and sunshine, Florida also has many mail forwarding services. Proof of your street address will be required in Florida, but Escapees members are able to use documentation from the club to satisfy this requirement. Many nomads report that vehicle registrations and insurance are expensive in Florida, but medical insurance options are reportedly better.

Nevada

Nevada is less popular as a domicile than South Dakota, Texas, or Florida, yet it is still worth considering if you spend a lot of time in the desert like many nomads. Nevada will accept a receipt from a motel or RV park that shows you have been in the state for 30 days as proof of a street address. You will also need a mailing address. Like the other “big three” states, Nevada does not have an income tax.

Wyoming and Montana

Wyoming and Montana are popular states for businesses seeking a domicile for a shell corporation. They are less popular though for individuals. (I previously lived in Montana for several years, and currently am domiciled in Wyoming.) In both states you will have the typical challenges for establishing a street address to obtain a driver license. This makes it difficult to use either of these states if you want to do everything legally. Wyoming offers the benefit of having no state income tax, while Montana has no sales tax.

Which state should I choose?

There really is no perfect state for every nomad. Important considerations like vehicle registration and insurance costs, vehicle inspections, taxes (income and sales), and more vary between each state.

Most nomads end up choosing between one of several states because overall those states have regulations and costs that are friendly to nomads. South Dakota, Florida, and Texas are almost always the top three states for nomads, with Nevada also being worth considering. Still, because each person’s situation is unique, there may be occasions where it makes more sense to be domiciled in a different state (for example, location or access to public assistance)

Regardless of which state you choose as your domicile, it is important to do things legally. There can be significant legal complications that arise from trying to take a shortcut and skirt around state laws. It is worth considering one of the nomad-friendly states for your domicile, even if that means staying for a day (or month) in an RV park or joining a club like Escapees to have access to a legal street address.

The legal system in most states may be structured in ways that are not friendly to nomads, but there are still options that allow full-time travelers to do things legally. Be very careful about long-term ramifications for overtly, willfully and knowingly breaking the law – especially when it isn’t necessary.

How to Live in a Car or Small Vehicle

Car living in the Arizona desert

During the time that I lived out of a Toyota Camry, people often expressed incredulity that I was able to live in such a small vehicle. While this was not my first attempt at living out of a car, it was by far the longest period that I did so. It was also my most successful. (I am now living out of a minivan.)

People would often ask me if it was awful or how I did it living out of a Camry. The truth is that it was not a bad experience at all. To the contrary, I actually enjoyed the experience for the most part.

The most significant issues that I experienced living out of the Camry were not related to interior space. Instead, the issues that affected me were ground clearance and performance in mud. The Camry had very little ground clearance which was often a problem on poorly maintained BLM or Forest Service roads where rocks and ruts might prevent me from proceeding along a road. Similarly, while the car handled great in snow, it was terrible in mud. There were more than a few times when I had to either abandon a road or stay camped longer than planned because it had rained and the roads were too muddy to be passable.

It is worth noting that I am a minimalist, and have been for many years. I like to travel lightly and have at different times in my life lived out of only one bag. In this context, a Toyota Camry provided not only space for the essentials, but some luxuries as well.

One core idea, at least for me and other small vehicle dwellers that I know, is to think and pack like a backpacker. Approaching small vehicle dwelling as if you are moving into a small apartment will likely lead to frustration. Approaching it like a backpacker makes a lot of sense though. Imagine if you were backpacking a long-distance trail for many months or traveling internationally with only a backpack. Everything that you needed would be in your backpack. Thinking about it this way means that a car or small vehicle seems spacious. Your car pretty much replaces the tent that you would use as a backpacker.

Another core idea is to live “out of” the car rather than “in” the car. Spending all of your time in a small space can be claustrophobic. Sleeping (and possibly working) in a car while you spend the remainder of your time outdoors is much easier to manage. In my case, I slept and worked in the car (I am a digital nomad), but otherwise spent as much time outdoors as possible.

Keys to successfully living in a car

There are several keys that, in my experience, are essential to living out of a car or small vehicle. These are things that will make your experience more pleasant and less stressful.

Downsize stuff

Moving into a car or small vehicle will require downsizing. This is particularly true if you are moving from a house or apartment, but will also apply if you are moving from an RV or larger vehicle. While it may seem like this is obvious, it helps to prepare yourself mentally for serious downsizing. As mentioned earlier, thinking like a backpacker will make this process much smoother.

Organization

Organization is essential for anyone living in a vehicle. While it may seem like you could not lose something in a space as small as a car, it will still happen. Good organization makes it easier to find things, and also saves time and reduces frustration.

Most small vehicle dwellers rely on a combination of plastic boxes and duffel bags. Boxes or bins are hard-sided and can offer protection to items that might be crushed or damaged, but take up the same amount of space even when empty. Duffel bags do not offer much protection for the contents, but do collapse to take up less space when they are not full.

Have a plan for camping

You will need to sleep somewhere each day, and having a plan for where you will park is helpful. It is very stressful to be driving around trying to find a place to sleep while you are tired. Boondockers are often able to park for days or weeks at a time, but urban stealth campers often need to park in a new place each night. Planning ahead ahead as much as possible makes it much less stressful when it is time to move camp.

Meal preparation

We all need to eat every day. Planning for meal preparation and cooking is essential to keep costs low and to be able to eat at least somewhat healthy. Boondockers usually have an easier time with cooking because they are able to set up an outdoor kitchen. Urban stealth campers often are not able to cook outside unless they are at a park or similar location.

Restaurant meals are an option for urban stealth campers, but can quickly become expensive. Having a way to prepare meals at your vehicle (whether indoors or outdoors) is important. Those living in a car probably will not be able to cook inside and will need to rely on cooking outdoors or preparing meals that do not need to be cooked. In any case, it is a good idea to carry some food that can be easily prepared inside the vehicle.

Privacy

Privacy is an important consideration for all vehicle dwellers. Urban stealth campers need to be able to stay out of sight while they are sleeping. All vehicle dwellers also need enough privacy to be able to sleep and take care of personal hygiene. While privacy may seem unimportant for boondockers, there are many places (like the desert and prairie) where it may not be possible to park out of sight of other campers.

Window tint is a great tool for enhancing privacy. Tint is a good investment as it provides a good degree of privacy when you are inside the vehicle. Inexpensive film tint can be purchased at Walmart or any auto parts store and applied as a temporary measure if you cannot afford professional tinting.

Blackout curtains are an effective way to provide privacy. Black fleece is probably the most popular option for blackout curtains, but other fabrics can be used as well. Blackout curtains are particularly effective when used behind tinted windows as it just looks like the windows are very dark. Curtains are also essential if you plan to use electronics or lighting at night as the glow will still show though tinted windows.

Sleeping

Sleep is essential for health, comfort, and mental functioning. Unfortunately, most cars are not very comfortable for sleeping. Some car dwellers have successfully removed seats to build a bed, while other are able to fold seats flat to make a comfortable bed space. It is worth experimenting with different sleeping options before moving into the car to be sure you have a system that will work.

Personal hygiene

We all need to attend to certain matters of hygiene each day, whether we live in a car, van, or house. Planning for this is essential.

Public toilet facilities may not be available at all times – particularly for boondockers. Most vehicle dwellers end up using some sort of jug or wide-mouthed container for urine, while a bucket (two-gallon to five-gallon) with a plastic bag liner is commonly used for excrement. Cat litter or cedar shavings can be sprinkled in the bag to control odor until the bag can be disposed of in a waste receptacle. This may not be glamorous, but it does work for those times when you cannot access public facilities.

Bathing and changing clothes can also be a challenge in a vehicle. Showers at truck stops or fitness centers can help with bathing needs, but may be prohibitively expensive or not always accessible. Privacy tint and curtains make it easier to take care of these things inside a vehicle, but it is still worth experimenting in advance to be sure you have a system that will work in your vehicle.

Boondocking vs. urban stealth camping

These keys to successful car living apply whether you are boondocking or urban stealth camping, though with some obvious variations. Meal preparation may be less essential in the city while privacy may be even more important, for example.

Boondocking is much easier than urban stealth camping in almost every way. This is especially true if you are living out of a car or other small vehicle. Still, both styles of camping have advantages and challenges.

Boondocking

There are two considerations that make boondocking a more realistic option for some people than for others. The first consideration is income, while the second is location.

There are very few people who are able to live without money, and the percentage of car dwellers who have a sizable savings account is also limited. Most people who live out of a car will depend on having some type of income each month. Some of these car dwellers may receive social security, disability, or a pension. The rest probably need to work in order to earn money. Freelancers and those who are self-employed with businesses that can be operated from anywhere are able to boondock so long as they have access to needed services (electricity, Internet, etc.).

Location also plays a role in being able to boondock for long periods of time. The western U.S. has considerably more boondocking opportunities than does the eastern U.S. While there are certainly some places in the eastern U.S. where a car dweller can boondock, the options are much more limited. Anyone planning to boondock while living in a vehicle would do well to consider positioning in the western U.S. if at all possible.

Urban stealth camping

There are also considerations for those who rely on urban stealth camping. These considerations include access to jobs and medical care.

It is much easier to find a job in a city than it is in small-town America near many boondocking locations. Those who need to maintain traditional employment usually find it better to rely on urban stealth camping somewhere close to their job.

Access to medical care is another consideration that may prompt some vehicle dwellers to rely on urban stealth camping rather than boondocking. Those who have conditions that require frequent access to medical care may find that boondocking would be too inconvenient. Staying close to medical care may outweigh the other benefits of boondocking.

Success in a small vehicle

These ideas should at least provide a good starting point for anyone who is considering or just starting to live in a car or small vehicle. Some of these keys to successful car living will be more or less applicable depending on individual circumstances.

This article cover the same content that is found in my recent video, How to Live in a Car of Small Vehicle. The video is posted below.

How Debra Insulated a Cargo Van: Fast, Easy, Affordable, and Attractive

Debra's insulation in her cargo van

Insulation is critical for most vandwellers, particularly those who live in cargo vans or who stay in extreme climates. Vans without insulation will be very hot or cold, depending on the weather.

Most tutorials that you find for insulating a cargo van rely on an approach similar to insulating a house. The usual approach is to install insulation against the exterior walls, build wooden framing, and install paneling or a similar material on the interior.

My friend, Debra, needed to insulate her cargo van, but did not want to lose precious inches to framing or to tackle a large project. Debra devised a simple and attractive idea for insulation that many people told her would not work – but it has worked beautifully.

You can see a video tour of Debra’s van insulation, as well as a demonstration of how you can do the same thing, in the video below. This video is worth watching even if you plan to do something different just to be aware of the options – and how simple it can be to insulate a van.

Watch the Video

How to Stay Warm in Cold Weather

Frosty morning

One of the great things about being a full-time vandweller or RVer is the ability to move with the seasons. As a general rule, this makes it possible to avoid the worst weather of summer and winter. Still, there are times when it is too hot or cold for comfort. These are some things that I have found useful for staying warm in cold weather.

Stay Dry

Staying dry is critical in cold weather. Moisture allows heat to be lost much faster than if you are dry.

This applies to taking care to stay dry during rain or snow, but also to avoid sweating while exercising. The best way to prevent sweating is to dress in layers.

Dress in Layers

Dressing in layers is more effective than just wearing one heavy layer. Air is trapped between each layer of clothing, which helps to keep you warm.

Layers also make it easy to adjust throughout the day as the temperature or your activity level changes. An outer layer that is waterproof or windproof is also essential if it is raining or windy.

Plan for the Sun

Parking your vehicle with large windows facing the sun allows the sun to heat the vehicle during the day. Opening curtains or taking down sun screens either before bed or first thing in the morning can make a big difference once the sun starts shining.

Warm Sleeping Bag

A warm sleeping bag or blanket is essential for staying warm during cold weather. Since night is the coldest time and many people do not run a heater at night, it is important to be able to stay warm both for comfort and for safety.

Blankets can work well if you sleep with someone or if you have a larger bed. A sleeping bag may be a better choice if you sleep alone or have a narrow bed that may feel drafty with a blanket.

Many people find it preferable to use a sleeping bag that is rated for colder weather than they expect to encounter. Adding layers of clothing before bed, wearing a hat while sleeping, and using some type of sleeping bag liner can also help you stay warm at night.

Insulate Your Vehicle

Insulation on exterior walls and the ceiling makes a big difference when it comes to staying warm during cold weather. There are several approaches to insulating vehicles, and which one is best for your vehicle will depend on a number of factors, including your budget. A search of any vandwelling forum or Facebook group will reveal plenty of ideas for insulation.

It is also a good idea to seal any gaps and possibly replace any worn or damaged door seals. Even a small gap or tear in a door seal can lower the temperature inside a small vehicle.

Supplemental Heat

Mr Heater Portable Buddy
Mr Heater Portable Buddy propane heater

Depending on where you travel and your tolerance for cold, it may be possible to stay warm enough without a heater. Many people, however, find it necessary to have some type of heat source.

The most popular option for heating vans, trailers, and small RVs is the Mr. Heater line of propane heaters. These heaters are designed to be safe for indoor use without an outside vent.

The Mr. Heater Portable Buddy unit puts out between 4,000 and 9,000 BTU which is more than enough to heat a van or small vehicle. I have this unit in my 6×10 trailer and can only run it for a short time before it is too hot.

NB: These heaters are designed for indoor operation, and are equipped with an oxygen sensor for safety. It is still necessary though to open a window or roof vent slightly when using the heater. It is also a good idea to not use the heater while sleeping.

Staying Warm

These are some of the techniques that I use to stay warm in a car or trailer during cold weather. I know many other nomads who use the same tricks to stay warm as well. Good luck in your travels – and stay warm!

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