Living in your car: Short or Long Term

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Legality:

The first question is, can you live in your car in your specific state? Whether you are permanently living in your car or just doing it temporarily for an economical grand adventure across the US it is always best to check.

There’s not a lot of agreement among experts, it seems. Perhaps one reason is that it’s hard to make a law against something like that. As much as many cities would like to prevent you from living in your car, what can they specifically ban to prevent it? Sleeping? Many drivers’ education programs told us to pull over if you’re getting tired and take a nap. Truck drivers are required to rest a certain number of hours after driving for 10 hours. Should a patrol car come around every hour and make sure they didn’t fall asleep? Sounds like a good use of tax dollars.

Wimsett_Living 2There are a number of cities in which it is illegal to sleep in your car. One example is Palo Alto, California. Those who get caught receive a $1000 fine and up to six months in jail. Even without these vagrancy laws, you could still get charged with indecency for changing in your car. Or you may become victim to the anti-loitering laws.

There’s a movement among cities to ban car living, and cities like Los Angelis banned decades ago, however, it’s a little difficult to tell someone they can’t use their property for a certain purpose. LA’s law was struck down as discriminatory against the income disadvantaged.

This article in compare.com contains a list of cities that have banned sleeping in your car and they point out that if you are intoxicated you can still be given a DUI even if you never started the vehicle up.

It seems many states are against you living in your car…States like Texas ban it unless at a state rest area. Some states ban it entirely but generally, you can get away with it, with a few caveats. According to AskDeb.com it’s considered suspicious behavior to be asleep in a car as you aren’t necessarily the owner of the vehicle. Police can awaken you and verify your identity; they can search your car and since many people choose to commit suicide in vehicles they can spend as long as they desire to determine your mental state. This can be so interruptive that you aren’t really getting sleep.

Where to Park if you’re not Sure:

For those who simply wish to live in their car while crossing the country, truck stops and rest areas are some of the best places to sleep. Perhaps the most commonly recommended places are Walmart’s or other big box stores, which are notoriously tolerant of overnight guests since they tend to wake up and buy groceries. If you do pick a parking lot the park under a street light. Here’s a list of Walmarts that allow it from allstay.com.

Natural/Federal land allows you to park 14 days out of any single month, as long as following guidelines. City parks are an option if they haven’t posted signs against it. Industrial parks, yachting marinas and so on might be good places to park.

The experts are split on the topic of camping along seldom traveled (blue) roads. Might depend on your personal aura—some of us project a natural sense shield that tells bad guys to stay away yet invites the police to come check us out. If you fall into that category then a rural road might work better than a neighborhood street. One caution about roadside campsites is that they’re often privately owned.

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Learn to spot good neighbourhoods—too upscale and you’ll stick out, too run-down and you’ll get swept up with someone else doing what you’re doing and making a mess of it. Look for a street that looks like you’re just parked there overnight while you’re visiting Uncle Fred.

 

 

Safety:

There’s no real way to guarantee safety. However here are some precautions to help you.

Window tinting is a must for three reasons:

  1. Police don’t notice you sleeping inside you won’t get hassled.
  2. If thugs don’t see you or piles of your belongings you’re less of a target.
  3. Neighbors are less likely to identify you as a vagrant if you don’t have mountains of trash and possessions in your car, which is easy to see without tinting.

According to a Reddit post on the topic which distilled several hours of Youtube video advice down to these points:

  • don’t park in the same spot twice in two weeks
  • Come at dark, (sleep, and nothing else) and leave at dawn
  • Never poop/shower/sleep etc where you sleep–take care of that before and after

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Under the Radar is the Best Policy:

Vans can be more spacious and worth the risk, but the rule of thumb is to avoid looking like you’re living in your car so you may want to choose a vehicle that doesn’t look like you could live in it. Still, adequate space is a must.

By that same token, a new car is less targeted by police and neighbors and less likely to break down on your trip. Breakdowns are more than simply annoying in your situation for bathroom reasons listed as you read on.

Use a sun guard in your front window instead of a tarp or blanket. Again the idea is to blend in but to prevent people from easily seeing in.

The ultimate under the radar is, again, not to do your toiletries where you’re going to sleep. Defecating in your car leads to needing to dispose of said waste and having that on hand is not something you can explain away when they police wrap on your window. Don’t get caught with your pants down.

What to Pack:

You will need a great amount of water, especially when crossing the desert. For practical purposes, you will need an emergency gas can with a couple of gallons of gas inside. Note that gas fumes can be more dangerous than your thinking if you’re asleep, so if you can smell gas put the can outside for the night. Better stolen than dead.

You will also need a fully working camera to record your journey. It is also well worth keeping a journal of your experiences.

Preparing for your Journey:

You may need to rent a private mailbox in order to receive your mail, or you might choose to use the residence of a friend or a relative as a postal address. You may need to put valuables in a safe deposit box in a bank—but never, EVER, put your will in safe deposit box (your executors can’t access it until its officially read. Catch 22 anyone?)

It is always a good idea to have personal ID close at hand, such as your driver’s license and personal insurance forms when the police want to see your details.

It’s a good idea to buy a steering lock and make sure your car’s steering wheel is locked as much as possible. If your car is really your home you don’t want it stolen from you any time soon.

In order to sleep you need a mattress and a blanket. Place your foodstuff in plastic containers when they won’t get smashed.

If you chose to sleep in your car it is my hope that you stay as safe as you can be. Hopefully, your life will pick up soon.

Mobile Living (Part 2)

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In part one of our tour of the mobile living movement and its close cousin, the tiny home, we introduced the concept and the controversies around it. We discussed the types of homes typically included when discussing the topic of mobile living based on the purpose they were designed for. For a recap of that information please follow this link.

In upcoming installments, we’ll explore the lifestyle and potential ways these “newmads” are supporting themselves. For now, let’s delve a little deeper into the types of homes. For our purposes, let’s divide the list into stationery tiny homes and vehicle-based living quarters.

Stationery Tiny Homes (STH’s) Definition:

I’ll define STH’s as dwellings under 500sf, either built in place or manufactured elsewhere and then placed on a permanent or semi-permanent location. Major types of STH’s include Park Models, Shipping Container Homes and most custom-built Tiny Homes (even if they’re on wheels).

Vehicle-based Living Quarters (VLQ’s) Definition:

I’ll define VLQ’s as vehicles designed with living quarters or dwellings that were made to be pulled by a vehicle regularly. Major types of VLQ’s include RV’s (Class A, B, C, or 5th Wheel), and certain Ultra-mobile Tiny Homes.

Notice a couple things about these definitions? I didn’t mention whether or not these homes have traditional residential hookups for utilities, RV style hookups, or are built to work off-grid. This is because you’ll find all of the above in either category.

You’ll also notice that I listed the major types as examples but there are quite a variety of uncommon types of home in either category. An example of an uncommon STH would be a yurt or an earthbag home, but we’ve encountered homes made out of everything from concrete pipes to fuel containers. Examples of uncommon VLQ’s actually aren’t uncommon at all, just not thought of frequently. Economically disadvantaged nomads often choose an urban off-grid lifestyle and find it easier to do with a vehicle that they already own such as a car, which has the added bonus of not looking so obvious that someone is living in it.

What’s not on either list is manufactured homes, which are just non-traditionally built homes with slightly more potential to be transported a second time. It’s not mobile enough to bother with in a blog devoted to commuting and transportation.

So why bother with stationary tiny homes? Well two reasons. 1st because we’ve got some awesome pictures of some unique ones, and 2nd because the minimalist lifestyle enables one to relocate more easily—which is many peoples’ definition of mobile living.

 

Stationery Tiny Homes (STH’s)

I don’t want to spend too much time on these since most people are familiar with the concept.

 

Park Models Features:

As discussed in part one, Park Models are made by Manufactured Homebuilders for the purpose of being more portable and less expensive. If you need to live onsite at a campground or construction site this could be your answer. The downside, and it’s a big one, is that you can’t get a certificate of occupancy or a vehicle license so you have a really tough time with Johnny Law if you leave it someplace for more than a year. On the bright side, it’s larger and more comfortable than most custom-built tiny homes.

 

Shipping Container Homes:

As geo-arbitrage became a way to do business overseas manufacturing created a glut of used cargo containers in the US where goods are imported more than exported. Some ingenious home builders have managed to create very modern homes out of them.

Their advantages are that they can be transported easily to the build site and be customized relatively easily with grinders and welders. They have big double doors and wooden floors (which must be removed because they’re treated with chemicals to repel exotic bugs). One need only see some pictures of what people are doing to appreciate why you someone might want one.

Many shipping containers homes have a square footage that really doesn’t qualify as an STH as we’ve defined it, but the idea of creating villages of them to replace garish apartment complexes gets bantered about continuously as a possible solution to the housing crisis in America. We’ve yet to find anyone who’s doing it, but we’re always looking.

 

Custom-built Tiny Homes (even if they’re on wheels):

Tiny Home manufacturers are springing up around the country. What isn’t keeping up is the number of places you can locate that will let you live in one. Zoning laws can be stricter some cities than others but very few really welcome tiny homes. It is sad because they provide an opportunity for more fiscally responsible living that is less impactful on the people and environment around them.

The big difference between tiny homes and other towable living options like 5th wheels is the building materials and design. RV’s were never meant for year-round inhabitation and it will ultimately become obvious to anyone attempting to do so. Tiny homes have incredible insulation and offer monthly winter utility and heating bills as low as $50. They’re also designed with some unique features that reduce the feeling of being in a small space and they’re built to last decades longer.

 

 

Drivable VLQs

Starting with Drivable VLQs where lots of options abound. Sources include (https://www.expeditionmotorhomes.com/blog/what-is-the-difference-between-class-a-b-c-motorhomes/) and (https://rv-roadtrips.thefuntimesguide.com/rv_class/).

 

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Class A

 

Vehicle-based Living Quarters (VLQ’s)

Class A RV’s Features

Typically built on a bus chassis, Heavy Frame and Large Wheels, bad fuel economy (8 to 10 mpg), and measure up to 45 feet in length. Advantages include lots of storage, homelike feel, and ability to tow up to 5,000 lbs. A big reason some owners select Class A’s is that up to 8 passengers can converse while in transit. Disadvantages include fewer places to sleep overnight guests and did we mention the bad gas mileage because it’s worth saying twice.

Class A’s typically market well with couples and serve best as luxury touring coaches and as such tend to be pricey (starting around $75,000). One more thing worth noting about Class A’s is that some have diesel engines (diesel pushers) which are desirable and retain value a little better than gas equivalents.

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Bus Conversions Features

Do it yourself bus conversions are on the rise alongside tiny homes. A surprising number of first timers to both construction and mobile living have decided to wing it. Some of them spend quite a chunk of change.

A few custom bus conversion specialists have thrown their hat in the ring, but not as many as van conversionists. Here’s a link to one a site where you can buy bus conversions at various stages of conversion. Here’s a link to a basic how-to take on a project like that. Notice at both of these sites, the intimate connection between bus converting and tiny houses.

 

Class B RV’s Features

Built on a van frame but modified to allow someone to stand upright inside. They are self-contained, meaning they have bathroom and kitchen facilities although typically very modified and lacking features—for example, they commonly use a wet bath where the toilet and sink are inside the shower. Advantages include good fuel economy, easy to drive/park, less expensive than other models. Disadvantages include low livability for more than one person for more than a few nights in a row.

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Van Conversions Features

People have been doing there own van conversions for decades, the most famous of these being the VW van. Most recently, however, is the kit conversion which allows a cargo van owner to install the Class B features onto a standard Cargo Van. Many dealerships offer to professionally install the conversion on your new van purchase and can sometimes finance the entire purchase on a 15-year loan instead of a typical five or six-year auto loan. Here’s a link to a website with more information.

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Class C RV’s Features

Class C’s are built on a cargo van chassis, with an attached cabin space. They are visually distinct because of the cab-over space much like campers have, which adds a lot of storage or sleeping room. If they look like a cross between the class A and B…it’s because they are. The fuel economy, storage, sleeping and towing ability right between the two other types of motorhome, however with just enough extra room to allow better common areas which vastly increase the ability for more than one person to live in them for a longer term. This could be a better option for the typical family size looking for more extensive travel than just the occasional camping trip.

It’s also worth noting that they tend to be shorter than class A’s (20 to 33 feet long) which means they’re easier to maneuver and can fit into most campgrounds. Also, a big plus is that because they’re made from standard cargo van lines like Econoline, Ford or Chevy Express it’s easier to get parts and mechanical than a big diesel bus.

A final word about the difference between Class B and Class C, because both are built on a cargo van chassis. Plan to spend about as much on a Class B despite getting less room and cramped amenities, but what you’re getting in exchange is ease of maneuvering and fuel economy. With a longer Class C, one with a rear bedroom, for example, your rear-end is overhanging the wheelbase by a lot and that can make cornering tricky. It can also be an issue to store a Class C when not in use, while a Class B fits anywhere a large van does.

Towable VLQ’s

Shifting into towable living spaces lets look at three options. Sources include (https://www.hensleymfg.com/travel-trailer-vs-5th-wheel/) and (https://rv-roadtrips.thefuntimesguide.com/rv_trailers/). There’s a myriad of layouts and features in either design so here are some basic differences that may not be initially obvious.

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Travel Trailers Features

Have the biggest variety of size and features to fit your needs. They start around 8ft long which can be towed by anything, and go all the way up to 40 feet to rival 5th wheel for space and comforts. The ability to be towed by almost anything with a trailer hitch makes this much more versatile option for most people. However, larger trailers require several things beyond just a bigger engine. The wheelbase of the vehicle (the length between the front and back tires) greatly affects the length of the trailer it can tow. Also, larger trailers are much easier in high winds and corners when your vehicle is equipped with sway bars and other stability options specific to vehicles built to tow.

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Trailer weight plays a big part also, with both fuel economy and stability on the road. Regardless of the type of trailer, you’ll need to consider what the trailer weighs when loaded with the things you need to live, work and play. Most trailers now come with either a raw weight or a burdened weight so that you know if the number includes typical extra weight or not.

5th Wheels Features

The weight of the 5th wheel lands in front of the rear axle which allows the weight to distribute onto all four tires instead of connecting at one single point at the rear. This radically increases the stability while in transit. It also puts some of the living space over the truck bed minimizing the overall length of truck and trailer combined. That factor makes it possible to back the trailer more easily which is what allows 5th wheels to be longer. It also means there are stairs in a 5th wheel, which bothers some RV owners.

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Ultra-mobile Tiny Homes Features

Ultra-mobile tiny homes are the ones built to be towed around the country. They include all the features of STH tiny homes only the size is typically even smaller and great pains were taken to use the lightest materials available. For example, if you’re building a tiny home in a large barn and then towing it once to a plot of land where it will stay, you might not worry too much if it nudges over 15 high at the peak. Ultra-mobile tiny homes need to stay below 14 feet with the tires inflated so they can go under bridges and overpasses. Ironically, you’re more likely to see RV hook-ups on ultra-mobile style Tinys because it can be harder to locate a good off grid location as you travel around the country. The unique features you can build into one of these makes it interesting to some freedom seekers who just don’t want to live in an RV.

 

Campers Features

While you don’t technically tow a camper, you carry it, this is the closest category for it to fit into. There are several sizes of camper, which must be matched to the bed size and carrying capacity of your truck. Like a trailer, you can store it easily at your single family home when not in use and regain the full use of your truck. Campers come in two main varieties, self-contained and not. This refers to the amount of bathroom in the camper. Given the tight amount of space and availability of bathrooms at campgrounds, rest areas, and truck stops many people like the option of not having to deal with hauling a stinky bathroom with them everywhere they go. This saves a lot on maintenance too, as things can go wrong with plumbing and the minimum you’ll have to do is drain your holding tanks.

If your wife doesn’t mind a little hike in the night to pee, a non-self-contained camper can be an affordable option, that still keeps you warmer, off the ground, and more bear-resistant than a tent.

 

In Summary

Regardless of the type of Towed VLQ there’s an advantage to having a separate living space from the vehicle in that once you arrive at a location you’ll be able to unlink the two and drive around normally. If you need to grab some groceries in town, it’s hard to decide if you’ll try to find a store with a big enough parking spot for your motorhome or if you’ll pay for a rideshare into town.

The Rise of Route 66

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By Paul Wimsett

A blog like the Kicker is about transportation and that’s a bigger topic than just vehicles. The greatest roads in the world predate the car by several centuries. And the road which would become Route 66 (at least in part) is (or was) certainly one of the world’s greatest roads. The famous shield logos were put up only a year after the Route 66 became operational.

The origins amazingly go back to hunting trails going back as far as 9,000 BC which in turn were used by later explorers in search of gold. Its next incarnation would be a wagon road as Lieutenant Edward Beale set down markers (the fact that he needed to do this would suggest that the “track” was more or less invisible in parts.Wimsett_route 66a.jpg

Instead of wagons, the preferred method of travel in the 1880s was the train. Even these would follow similar routes as the later Route 66. But it’s not until the Twentieth Century that it was rechristened an “ocean to ocean highway” and became a paved road. The group who had the privilege to build (or rebuild) this great route were the Corps of Topographical Engineers.

But who exactly were the Corps of Topographical Engineers? They were a strange body in many ways, firstly because they consisted entirely of officers. As well as mapping regions they also helped design lighthouses, harbors and navigational routes including lake and creek surveys and boundary and railroad surveys.

Unlike modern highways, which were developed as part of the war effort to act as impromptu runways, a route like route 66 was a deliberate effort to cobble together a path across country by linking up existing roadways. Often routes meandered overtime as needs and opportunities changed. Apart from staying roughly along the 35th Parallel route 66 would change too. During paving, someone decided the road would go through Peoria instead of Bloomington. The old trail was abandoned between Oklahoma City to Amarillo as the Postal Highway had already had already been developed.

Wimsett_Route 66_chain-of-rocks-bridge_1920That’s not to say that elements of original dirt track can’t be found, try looking to the north of Cajon today. It’s a genuine part of the pre-highway history of the USA.

But the road was still not suitable for two lanes of traffic so a number of changes would have to be made. After lobbying the American Association of State Highways the contract was won by Cyrus Avery and John Woodruff. But they decided that the old name; “National Old Trails Road” wasn’t the best name for a legendary road.

The name “Route 66” seems only for alliterative purposes, there being no Route 65 or 67. On November 11, 1926 the new name for the road was confirmed and the acclaimed Route 66 was born. In turn the road would be promoted by the US 66 Highway Association. Its promotions were adverts in magazines and distributed souvenirs.

The main feature as regarding promotions seems to be the International Transcontinental Footrace or, as the journalists named it, the Bunion Derby with a huge $25,000 grand prize. It seemed that, whether walking or in vehicle, everyone wanted to be part of the Route 66’s history.

The story of Route 66’s further rise to fame and eventual decline will be told in a later blog.

Planning for Your Historic Route 66 Road Trip

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Route 66 has become iconic with the days of old. Popular during the 1940s and 50s, it is fondly referred to as the Mother Road and was one of the first highways introduced with the US Highway System. It used to connect Chicago to Los Angeles and was approximately 2,500 miles long. Sadly, it is not possible to drive the original route in its entirety anymore. However, some states have taken steps to designate portions of the old route as historic state roads and there is much to see along the old route in places like Missouri, Arizona, and Texas. When planning your Route 66 road trip, here are some spots to keep in mind.

Food ChoicesS Larson_route66 Burger

There are an abundance of food options along the Historic Route 66 route. Starting just out of Chicago, try your taste buds out at Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, which is known for its yummy fried chicken as far back as 1946 when it first opened. Interested in a great steak dinner? Then look no further than The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas which is famous for its 72-ounce steak challenge. If steak does not fit your fancy and you are looking for that old time diner, soda fountain feel, then try the 66 Diner in Albuquerque or the Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain in Pasadena. Both historical spots have been around since the hey-days of Route 66, but not as restaurants. The Fair Oaks Pharmacy as you can guess was once a pharmacy while the 66 Diner used to be part of a mechanics service station. Along the way, do not forget to stop in to The Mid Point Diner in Adrian, Texas, which marks the halfway point of your journey on the Historic Route 66.

S Larson_route66 Museum Museums and Unique Attractions

What Route 66 road trip would be complete without seeing all the unique attraction along the way? If you are interested in seeing a giant man holding a hot dog or a landlocked whale, then check out the Muffler Man located in Illinois and the Blue Whale of Catoosa in Oklahoma. Interestingly, the blue whale was built in the 70s by Hugh Davis as a gift to his wife who loved whales. A must stop location is definitely Gary’s Gay Parita, a 1930 gas station replica. Owner Gary Turner is a wealth of knowledge about Route 66 history so pull up a seat and grab yourself a cold soda. A few other unique places include POPS Soda Ranch, home of the largest collection of soda; Henry’s Rabbit Ranch, which has the cuddly versions and a unique monument made entirely of Volkswagen Rabbits; and lastly the Jesse James Museum, dedicated entirely to the memory of outlaw Jesse James.

 Lodging

There are many interesting and unique hotels along the route, but none more famous than the Blue Swallow Motel in New Mexico. This motel has been around since 1939 and has been serving Route 66 travellers for its entirety. Want something different than your typical room? Then try one of the wigwam hotels located at various points along the route. They boast a unique Native American flare and have become one of the iconic mainstays of the historic route.S Larson_route66-2

 

 

Route 66 is full of unique and interesting history and these are just a few of the attractions that await road trippers on the historic drive. Brush off those old maps, plan your next trip, and go see what it has to offer.