What I Learned from Living in My Car for Two Weeks

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subaru impreza in skalkaho pass

A crazy notion was planted in my head mid-spring; a two-week-long camping trip that would take me through the mountains of Colorado. I would be traversing from the Northern Rockies that surround my hometown of Missoula, Montana to the southern portion of the Rocky Mountains that houses Telluride, Colorado. This lit a flame in me and inspired me to convert my Subaru Impreza racecar into a Subaru Camper.

guy laying on a bed in a Subaru Camper

The following months were filled with tinkering on my car in the form of maintenance and adding features to make this extended camping trip more enjoyable and the wagon more functional. Weekend camping trips around Montana proved to be a tease and made me anxious for the trip ahead– while also allowed me to fine-tune many of the camping features that I had implemented into my Subaru.

Foggy Mountains with a Subaru Camper

These two weeks living almost primarily out of my car changed my outlook on life for the better. Many of the thoughts that fully came into fruition had been lingering in the back of my mind for some time, but this trip just solidified them and ingrained them into my being.

Nothing is better than waking up to a phenomenal view of the natural world.

campfire and mountains in a subaru camper

The first morning that I had awoken on the top of a mountain with the fresh light of the day gently caressing the landscape around me, I was hooked. Days that I awoke with a sky encompassed with gloom were even more relaxing. It gave me permission to wake up slow. I didn’t wake up in a room full of electronics; I woke up to a glistening mountain peak in the distance and the nearly overwhelmingly refreshing intake of air with every breath. Now, you can get the same sensation while tent or hammock camping, but the fact that I rolled up the mountain in the darkness of the night, had my campsite set up in under 5 minutes, and taken down in the morning in even less time just makes naturing seem so much more feasible. Plus, setting up a tent in the wind and rain isn’t the most enjoyable way to kick-off a camping trip.

Mass amounts of living space aren’t required when you have surroundings to play in.

waking up in a subaru impreza outback sport

My little Subaru Impreza wagon granted me just under four feet of width from rear strut tower to strut tower. With the front seats pushed all the way forward, I was teetering on the six-foot mark for length. Being 5’11”, it was just enough– however, there was plenty of room when situated diagonally. Sure, it would have been nice to have enough headroom to fully sit up, but other than that, I lusted for nothing more. I really only spent the moments just before my eyes shut to the moments that my eyes opened in the morning in my vehicle. The rest I was out and about. With folding chairs and a compact folding table, it was easy to set up a workspace outside– where I belonged.

I don’t need many possessions to live happily.

Subaru Camper in Colorado

In the midst of packing for two weeks, I stocked my car with food, fluids, cooking equipment, and the likes of clothing and my camera gear. Over the course of time, I didn’t find myself yearning for the things that I left behind at home. Rather, I realized that nearly everything that I had back in my house I didn’t actually need. My wagon was already loaded with more possessions than I required. It was the sense of making due with what I had on me that came with an overwhelming sense of happiness. I never felt weighed down, overwhelmed, or distracted. Nearly everything that I had with me served a purpose to aid in my survival, whether that be physically or mentally. Returning home and waking up in my bedroom that first morning was borderline overwhelming.

My days were much more relaxed and contained a euphoric feeling.

bridal veil falls in Telluride Colorado

Building off of the points that I just stated– the less that I had, the less I had to worry about. Distractions were limited to the point that I was able to fully immerse myself into the moment that was happening right then, not five minutes ago or five minutes from now. That appreciation for the current moment allowed the thoughts in my mind to melt away– taking with it any anxiousness, doubt, and duties that didn’t need to be currently addressed. It was freeing and allowed my mind and body to retune itself to the things that are important in life. We spend so much time worrying about things that are outside our realm of control– past experiences and what-ifs of future endeavors that numb us to the feelings that we have at the current moment that we are presented. While stresses and responsibilities are standard in life, when you learn to harness the present you will be more fitted to take on the future. But, don’t dwell on the future until it becomes the present. Embrace the moment of now as if it is the most important scenario that you’ll experience. When you eliminate the fog of irrelevant thoughts you will find your mind in a state of content and your body in an almost unparalleled state of relaxation. All of this, however, is the ultimate state of being that we can be in. I don’t exist here all of the time, as life does present itself and the powerful functions of the mind can take over and cause me to lose sight. But, keeping the general mindset of the present in mind most certainly helps to pull me back and balance my life.
[I apologize if that was a jumbled mess.]

Freedom comes in the form of a camper vehicle.

subaru impreza gravel road

Choosing a smaller vehicle to transform into a camper does limit you somewhat when compared to a designated camper; however, a smaller vehicle typically obtains much better fuel mileage, and the smaller size not only makes trekking around new towns easier, but it also allows you to venture up mountain roads that are completely unsuitable for an RV or truck/camper combo. While I do use my Subaru Camper as my primary daily driver a decent amount of the time (because I love driving it so much), I have it setup to the point that at a moment’s notice I can jump in the driver’s seat and take off. The sense of freedom comes with having it always ready to go. I don’t have to spend hours packing and creating checklists. I grab some clothes, camera, and food then I’m ready to hit the road. While campgrounds are convenient, being able to comfortably sleep in my car opens up backroad camping, truck stops, and, yes, even Walmart Parking lots. Extended trips can actually come with a very small price tag, and weekend trips cost only what fuel does. There are fewer reasons as to why you can’t go exploring.

subaru wagon Rocky Mountain National Park

I understand, car camping to this extent is not for everyone– I totally respect that. But, if you’ve ever had the itch to disappear for awhile this is the way to do it. My two week trip cost well under $1,000.
Nights were spent situated on National Forest Land and a few Walmart parking lots– neither of which cost anything.
I am already looking forward to next season when I can go explore the coastline of Oregon and Washington, the National Parks of Canada, and anywhere else that my wanderlust motivates me to go and experience in my Subaru camper.

Tip: If you are looking for free campsites, you won’t find a better resource than FreeCampsites.net.
I utilized that website many times on this journey.

New adventure rig as of 2017:

Honda CR-V in the mountains of Montana at Hungry Horse Resevoir
Honda CR-V Camper in Moab
People laying in Honda CR-V Camper in Moab




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Ross M Perkins

Creative Wanderlusting Mechanic at Wanderlust Northwest
Thinker of stuff, Doer of things. There isn't much that makes me more happy than finding myself in new surroundings with camera in hand. Roadtrips are standard life procedures and the maps in my home are there to inspire me to travel even further. When it comes down to it, I just really like nature..