Hi, my name is Chris Sawey, and 1 year ago I made the choice to live out of my Toyota Prius, my “home” while I figured out the details of life post-college. What started as a one-month experiment to cut back on “unnecessary spending” and to get ahead, turned into a full year of so much more than I could have ever expected or anticipated. I call my home #HotelPrius.
After Graduating in May of 2013 from Emerson College in Boston, MA., I loaded up my newly purchased 2007 Toyota Prius with my belongings and hit the road headed south, towards Austin, TX. I didn’t need much of a reason to go back to Austin. The truth of the matter was, I was burnt out from my degree and was in no huge hurry to start a career. For me, Austin was the safe choice and required no real risk at all. As a kid, I had grown up at a children’s home near Austin and heard they were hiring a new Youth Activities Director and put in my application. Because I had lived there as a kid, my application went to the top of the list. While still in Boston, I had made it through several levels of the interview process and felt really good about getting the job. We discussed the fact that there really was no better fit for the kids at the children’s home than a kid who grew up there. My ability to empathize with the kids was unmatched by the other applicants and I was confident the job was mine. Although the job was not what I necessarily wanted after college, I still saw it for what it was: an opportunity to work and save money while I waited for another to come along. I felt like the job was good fit for my skillsets and at the very least would build my resume and gain me some work experience while I figured out what I really wanted to do.
Before the trip, I had mapped out a route, planning to stop in National Parks and big cities along the way. I had no deadlines or time frames, and my plan was to take as much time as I needed getting to Austin. At this point, I had an insatiable itch to travel and to experience new cities. And that is exactly what I did.
The road trip lasted just a little over two weeks. I went to Maine, New York and Pittsburgh. I visited a few places in the Virginia’s, and stopped in Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, New Orleans and several little stops along the way. I bought a GoPro to document the adventure and planned to start a blog with all the footage, discussing the importance of travel and how to do it efficiently.
After a long and relaxing trip across the east coast, I finally arrived in Austin late one weekday evening. I called some friends a few hours before arriving and booked a bed and a warm shower for the night. We parked on the street outside their home and was greeted with hugs and good-to-see-you’s by our awaiting friends. That night, too exhausted from long hours of driving, we passed out in our separate rooms without even showering or going to the car for our bags. A big mistake. At some point in the middle of the night, someone had broken into our car. With everything we owned in the car from the road trip, it was too hard to immediately assess what had been taken. In the next few hours I would learn piece by piece what the thieves had walked away with. The 7-Up can outside by my tire and the ripped boxes in the back told me they had been quick and sloppy. It was clear they didn’t spend too much time in the car and only grabbed things that were easily accessible. Things like my day-pack in the back seat that was full of my most important possessions. The crooks had walked off with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment, my GoPro and all our footage and pictures from the road trip. They stole my Macbook (laptop), and few other smaller knick-knacks they now seem relatively unimportant. The worst hit was my back up hard drive with every journal, picture and file I had spent the better part of my life working on. All of my hard work from the last 10 years– gone!
Once the bed and closet were installed, the idea of living out of my car, I thought might actually be plausible. Many details still needed to be worked out, things like where to park, where to shower, laundry, free-time, etc, but I knew I would figure it out in time. Not to mention, my friends were going to think I was crazy. But I didn’t care. I was done relying on friends, sleeping on couches, sharing space and feeling like a burden. I knew this was what I needed to do. This was my best option to get ahead. It was a sacrifice to save my sanity, my money and to avoid slipping further into depression. Most of all, it was for my health and my well being and I was convinced it was the best thing I could possibly do in this particular season of life. After all, this wasn’t the first time I’ve slept out of my car. The last time was years ago in my teens, more by force circumstances really because I had nowhere else to go. My own mistakes had brought me to that point the last time, but this time was much different. If I was going to live in my car again, it was going to be by choice. It was different not only because I had a better car for it, but also because I had a place to go, I just could no longer justify the cost of keeping it. For me, it came down to cost-benefit analysis and the benefits of a room with rent was not worth the cost to keep.
After 11 days of preparation and gathering my supplies, I finally was ready. On December 12th, 2013 with my Prius loaded and home ready, I was prepared to embark on my journey. I had paid Julian a pro-rated amount of what I owed him for the month and drove away both excited and a little nervous to start the adventure. Earlier that week I had spent some time scoping out places to park and sleep for the nights ahead and had an idea of where I would go. Around 3pm on a Thursday I sat down for the first time in my new home, not exactly sure of what my newest adventure would bring.
10 of the Most Frequently Asked Questions about #HotelPrius
When people first learn about how I live out of my car, questions always follow. And that’s cool. I get it you’re curious. Here are the top 10 questions I get about Hotel Prius. Hopefully, this will help shed some light on how and why I choose to live out of my car. If you have a question thats not listed below, add a comment, I’ll be happy to reply.
#1 Where do you shower?
For some reason this is the #1 most asked question about hotel prius. Its simple, the YMCA. For $25 a month (student membership) I have access to all the local YMCAs in Austin. Fortunately for me, there is always one close to the areas of town I like to hang out so showering or washing up is never really an issue. The downside is its not anytime I want. It takes a little planning because of their business hours. But other than that, it is as simple as bringing a backpack with my toiletries, a towel, and an extra change of clothes. It couldn’t be any easier honestly. And for only $25. Some people pay more that that on their water bill.
#2 Where do you park?
Anywhere I want really. I have my favorite spots around town depending on what neighborhood I am in and where I want to be close to the next morning. Really, I can park anywhere that isn’t private property and doesn’t have some kind of curfew. I have a few favorite views of the city that I go to more than others, but after two months of really knowing the city I am in, this is really the least of my concerns. Want to know how I find parking? See my other post here: 4 Tips to Finding Places to Park and Sleep While on the Road.
#3 What fits in your car?
Surprisingly alot. More than most people would expect. Maybe that attests to my ability to maximize space or my fixation with efficiency, but with just over two months of trial and error, I now feel my car has everything it needs to live (reasonably) comfortably. I have a soft bed, a closet, curtains, a desk, a kitchen table and chair, a pantry, a bike rack, a laundry basket, a charging outlet, and a balcony (my roof). I even mounted a solar panel for harnessing free electricity during the day for changing at night. I also have a bathroom if you count the nearby tree. Its a small efficiency apartment and its all I really need. The only thing it really needs is an ironing board, but i’m still working on a fold out design concept for that. Coming Spring 2014. 🙂
#4 Does it get Old?
I imagine it could get old for some people but not me. I like it. I’m weird like that. And honestly, after you’ve been doing something for long enough, you get used to it. Things just become easier over time. It’s really all about developing systems and sticking to those systems. See my post on that here: The Importance of Developing Systems
#5 How long are you going to live out of your car?
As long as it takes. For me it comes down to saving money in order to do the things I want to do in the future, while at the same time being able to say yes to the things I want to do now. With the mobility of a moving home, and with minimized bills I have that freedom. If I want to take a week off I can. If I want to drive to a national park for the heck of it and stay in the mountains for a few days (my favorite thing ever) I can. If I get a job and need to move, I’m ready. I’m willing and able to do this as long as needed. If I’m honest with myself though, I wouldn’t want to do this for more than a year.
#6 Where do you do for work/money?
I work in Austin at a 4 star hotel right in the center of town. I work for tips. I work banquets and various lunch-ins and wedding parties during the day and serve tables at night. I really enjoy it. At least for the time being. I meet really great people from all over the world and have really great conversations about life and business and am making great money just being myself and doing what I’m good at. It’s a temporary gig until I’m able to find the next thing. But for now, its my money maker and a great place to be for this season in life. My real passion is working with kids, but finding a salary that I can live on is hard to find.
#7 What is the best part of living out of your car?
The freedom. That, and the satisfaction of knowing that I can make this work. It feels so rewarding to live the life I choose. Because I choose it, and its not forced upon me. I love the the freedom of going and doing what I want and not having the constant pressure of fitting into a mold and a lifestyle that I don’t want or feel I need in this season of life. I am open and free to do what I want when I want, and the limited space that #hotelprius brings me prevents me from buying things that I know I don’t need. I don’t buy the extra stuff i don’t really need simply because I just don’t have the room for it. It’s the perfect kind of accountability and forces me to save my money for more important things, like living life and blessing those around me with things they need. It’s fun.
#8 What is the hardest part of living out of your car?
If I’m honest, being alone. Don’t get me wrong, having my alone time is great and is certainly needed for as much as I am around people everyday. But too much time alone is unhealthy. The truth is, when I spend too much time alone, I have a tendency to start overthinking things and stay inside my head. There is a whole world inside my head and I can go there and get lost if I let myself. Usually when I get to that place I get fixated on my problems and stoop into a weird kind of depression. I don’t like getting to that place and have to stay intentional about finding good friends and good people to stay around. But that is not always available, and in those moments, I find it to be most difficult thing in living in hotel prius. Either that or needing to poop late at night. #kiddingbutnotreally
#9 What’s next for you?
Who knows. Right now I’m just enjoying living life and making the most of what I have. I’m staying open to opportunities and saying yes to them when those opportunities present themselves. I’m learning to let go and let God take care of the rest. Its one of the most liberating experiences I’ve ever had and I really see myself as a blessed person for being able to take such an adventure.
#10 What would you say to someone who wants to live out of their car?
It’s not for everyone. I probably make it look more glamorous than it really is. I mean its cool, don’t get me wrong, but i’d just say be questioning your motives for why you want to do it. If you want to do it because you want to run away from your problems or because you are desperate for change, all you will be really doing is exchanging your problems for different ones, and the change you think are looking for, this might not be it. If you are doing it because you need to minimize your bills and live more efficiently, then this may be a good option for you. I will say this, having the right kind of car is very important. You probably couldn’t do this in a civic or anything of that size. Quite frankly a van is the best way to go if your looking for space, but nothing beats the MPG of a prius. That being said, there are right ways to do this and there are many more wrong ways to go about it. If you are considering this, just make sure you prepare yourself adequately and learn as much as you can from other people first. Learn from their mistakes to minimize yours. And follow this blog. 🙂
You have any more pressing questions, shoot a comment. I’ll answer. Promise.
4 Tips to Finding Free Places to Park and Sleep In a Big City
Whether on a road trip or living out of your car, finding free places to park can be a challenging task. The truth is, if staying for multiple days in a city, it’s not wise to stay in the same place more than a couple times in a row. It draws way too much attention and people start asking questions. So it’s important to switch it up. For me the most important aspects in finding places to park my car for the night must have these very important elements:
The trick is to not to stay hidden, but to stay low key. Staying hidden is almost impossible. Staying low key is tricky, but can be done. Just about everywhere I park, there is at least one person who knows my car is there. However very few people know there is someone sleeping in it. The trick here is park in a place thats is on middle ground, between secluded and not too obvious.
Finding a place to park where you won’t have contact with a single person in a big city is dang near impossible. So really, the best you can hope for is a place that sees minimal traffic. Places like parks, old lots, backroads and even churches provide just enough low traffic to make it work for a few nights at a time.
Like co-workers, lights are great to have but can be super annoying at times. (That’s a joke.) Parking near a light at night can be helpful when looking for something or trying to set up. But when trying to sleep they can be especially annoying. Lights just make it really difficult to avoid attention and get some decent shuteye. Just because you park in a low lit area does not mean you are in hidden. It also does not mean you are in the dark and avoiding the light. The best strategy I find for finding parking is to first try to find an area with lots of trees closed off by roads and street lights. If I can’t find that, my next step is to look for old parking lots or behind buildings. Finding a place in the city with practically no light is almost impossible. To avoid incoming light I recommend curtains. This keeps out light and any strangers trying to sneak a peak.
The second night I ever slept in my car I though I had it made. It was this private little dirt road behind some trees in this section of Austin that saw very little traffic. You couldn’t see my from the road and the nearest light was blocked off from the trees. It was almost perfect. All except the fact that it was right next to a train track. I awoke sometime in the middle of the night to the sounds of a blaring horn through my windows. Needless to say, I never parked there again. Low noise is key because getting a good night sleep is key. The biggest noises to look out for are trains, the constant sound of car doors, and loud people.
Keeping these four things in mind when finding a parking stop while on the road should make things a little easier. Below I’ve given four of my favorite kinds of parking spots to help you when choosing the right camping spot for the night.
Places like parks typically will be pretty low key at night, with the occasional teenager or two scoping out a good place to make-out. The issue with parking in parks is the traffic you face with the morning runners and joggers. You can usually find low light, and noise typically is not an issue. Parks are my number one places to lookout for because generally they are the prettiest and who doesn’t love waking up surrounded by nature. Keep in mind, weekends typically are busier than the week days so you may see much more traffic.
There are good ones and bad ones, and telling the difference between the two is difficult. Some parking lots (not all) are monitored by police. Trust me, the last thing you want to wake up to is the tapping of a Maglite on your window. It’s happened, and its not the most pleasant experience in the world. Generally if this happens, if you are polite and have no warrants, they will just tell you to move. In rare cases they even suggest other places to park. The benefit to parking lots is its pretty low key and doesn’t attract too much attention. The downside, most parking lots see pretty high traffic early in the morning. Lighting can be an issue with the bigger “Wal-mart” parking lots but with choosing of the right spot and proper angling of your car can help alleviate some of these issues. Curtains, again, also a huge benefit.
I like parking at churches on Saturdays. Mostly because the parks are usually busy with people and I don’t have to wake up until 5 minutes before the service starts. I can dilly-dally and be in and out of my car doing things without attracting much attention. I can even get changed in the parking lot without too much judgment. The trick here is to park with your trunk facing away from the building and as far back as you can. Parking with the trunk against a wall or a fence is also helpful to keep people from seeing into your car. Noise level is moderate and lighting varies. Each church is different.
Backroads and Alleys
In Texas, a backroad just means a road less travelled. Finding the backroads with little nooks and dead ends typically is what I look for. With a backroad and a dead end you are looking at one or two people possibly knowing your parked there, but as long as it’s not private property, you should have no issues. Backroads are great with low traffic, noise and light. It’s the low key part that is hard to get away with. A random car parked on a backroad should raises a few eyebrows, but in my experience, the only thing I’ve run into of concern is the slow drivers trying to get a peep in through my tinted windows. I just stay low and let them pass. They get curious, but not curious enough to investigate further.
I like to park here on the days that it’s raining. It provides great cover and typically I’m not bothered too much by heavy traffic or excess light. The downside to parking garages is noise level. The slightest sound like the closing of a car door is amplified by 100 and can be heard on pretty much any floor. This can be troublesome if the garage you picked sees heavy traffic. Some garages, typically the ones outside city limits, and the ones you can get into without having to pay aren’t too bad. I wouldn’t recommend making a habit of parking in garages. They serve as my backup when I can’t find anything else.
So whether you are on a roadtrip or just in transition like me, these tips should help you if sleeping out of your car. Again, it’s not a good idea to stay in the same place every night because it can draw too much attention. But if you can find away to rotate between your favorite spots without having to find new places you will have a much more pleasant experience. Stay safe out there and remember to lock your doors.
The Start of #HotelPrius (Short Version)
“Sometimes the best option is to stick to what you know. It may not be ideal. It may not be glamorous. But if you know it well, you can make it work .” -Me
Posted on December 16th 2013 (4 days in):
Hi my name is Chris, and right now, I’m a man in transition. I graduated college in May of 2013 and am still scrambling to find a job that sticks. I’ve given up on finding my “dream job” for the moment because I know that kind of stuff takes time. What I’m looking for now is a job that will keep me busy, put some money in my pocket, and hopefully if I’m lucky, give me a reason to get up in the morning. But sadly, hitting this “tri-fecta” in this economy, in my niche field, it a challenge so many people today are familiar with. So instead of blowing my money on an apartment I don’t need, I have chosen to live out of my car. I call it Hotel Prius.
Efficiency. It’s no mystery that the Toyota Prius is one of the most fuel efficient vehicles on the road (and surprisingly spacious too). It was the reason I bought it in the first place. This May, I needed to move my things from Boston Mass to Austin Texas in the cheapest way possible. After hours of research I decided the Toyota Prius was my best option and finally bought one during the last week of my senior year. To maximize my space economy I bought an old roof rack from a friend, mounted my mountain bike to the top, and took a two-and-a-half week road trip across the East coast in a carefully thought out, efficiently packed, Toyota Prius. And of course, stopping at National Parks and landmarks along the way. I learned many valuable life lessons about traveling, but perhaps the most valuable, is that if you really wanted to, if you had to, you could actually live in one of these things. So after about 6 months of bouncing around, from part time job to part time job, desperately trying to make rent and catch up on the huge spike in my car insurance, I was left with two options, 1, continue doing what I was doing (which was clearly not working for me), OR 2, cut back on “necessary” spending and wait this thing out. I chose the latter. Because truthfully, what it really comes down to is “necessary spending.” The truth of the matter is, in any other part of the world, having a home (not to be confused with a roof) is a luxury – A luxury, that on average costs you hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars a month to keep, and for the most part is, nor ever will be your own. So why pay it? From my experience apartments are not worth the return on investment, unless renting to own. So, because I don’t want to pay (a.k.a can’t afford) rent at the moment this is my best solution. I make it work.
Another reason I choose to live in my car is, It doesn’t limit me. Having the mobility to go anywhere means I can literally keep my options open to take a job anywhere. Most apartments come with lease agreements and lease agreements usually mean contracts, and contracts means – getting tied down. If something were to fall through with a job (like they have been lately) and I’m in a lease agreement that’s just more money I have to come up with. Its just not worth it. Yes, I’m aware of temporary (non-leas/contract apartments) but still there is deposits and application fees and other nonsense that I’d have to pay for and quite frankly, I’d just rather live in my car. It gives me options and in this economy its good to leave those options open. You never know what could happen, so I stay ready.
So what about food, warmth, showers, electricity, coffee, laundry? Where do you go when it rains? Where do you take your morning poops? What about money? Where do you park? So many questions it seems like and I want to answer them all. I will. In time. But honestly, I’m still figuring things out along the way. I don’t claim to know everything, but I do know some stuff and what I happen to know, helps me very much in situations like this.
So here is the deal, when I learn something useful, or interesting, or funny, or whatever, I’ll share it. I’ll post it to this blog and just see what happens. Feel free to check out the 10 Most Asked Questions post or just stroll down to read more.
So if ya want, tag along for the ride – metaphorically that is, because this baby only fits UNO.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment