Escape the Rent Trap: Turn Your SUV Into a Mini-Camper and Save

In a previous post, we explored living in a car. That’s definitely tight quarters, and doesn’t work well for tall people or at all for people with claustrophobia. But if you have (or can acquire) an SUV, then you have more options with what you can do in your vehicle, as well as have more room to move around in general.

This video is about camping in a small SUV, not living in it, but the set-up this woman has is so cute, I think it can serve as inspiration–namely for female nomads. Living in your car can be a depressing thought, until you see a set up like this. Who could be depressed with all this pink and lace and cute little appliances? Try leaning into the dollhouse or Japanese kawaii look to lift your mood.

She also demonstrates how to cook a meal–even fry dumplings–inside the back of the car.

This is a video by a guy who has been living out of his small SUV for a year. He has a list of things that he feels is essential to think about or get before trying to live out of your car. His set-up is very bare-bones, and not typical of people who are living out of their vehicles long-term, but it’s actually a good way to get started. Many people recommend buying very little to start with and then figuring out what you need as you go along, because it will never be quite what you expect. This bare-bones set-up also works for people who only expect to be staying in their vehicle for a few months.

This setup in the back of a small SUV is made for two people. It’s tight quarters if you’re having to live in it full-time, but if you’re single, you can replace the second bed with more storage and surface area (including allowing you to cook inside), making this a decent set-up. This build, including a battery-powered fridge, was done on a $1,300 budget with no construction skills required, and everything is removeable, so the car can be restored to its original condition. There are some good tips in here, even if you have a different type of vehicle.

This girly no-build option is also in a small SUV and has an indoor cooking setup. If you’re going to be living in the car full-time instead of just camping, there’s not much storage space. A small fridge could be added behind the driver’s seat, in the passenger seat/floorboard, or perhaps the center console could be taken out, but that still doesn’t leave much (if any) room for things like clothes. To get around this problem, I would consider a rooftop carrier or a hitch carrier. You will still want to find a place inside the car to put a few outfits, so you can get dressed without going out in the rain, but either (or both) exterior storage options are just fine for out-of-season clothing and shoes, hobby equipment, and outdoor living accessories, like folding chairs.

This mid-size SUV has a simple, no-build interior that makes no permanent changes to the car, if that’s something you need to take into consideration. Although there’s no kitchen shown, it is something you could set up inside if you make your storage units double as countertops.

This large SUV gives you more space, and includes a chemical potty and an airplane-like tray table and seat. It does require some carpentry skills, but also includes some shortcuts, like pre-made cabinets, so the skill level required is not high (and you could always use the storage rack bed from the first video to eliminate the carpentry required for the bed in this one).

This rig also features a lot of solar panels. Compared to what I’ve seen other people using, I think this is an excessive amount of panels, and the fact that they hang over the edge of the roof keeps this build from being fully stealth. Others have a much more simple electric set-up using portable solar generators that can be charged from one or two 100-watt panels (which can be mounted on the roof so they’re not visible from the ground) and/or recharged using a 12-volt/cigarette lighter in the car. Most generator models will have at least one plug for a 12-volt camping fridge, one to five standard 110-volt plugs for normal appliances, like computers or dorm room mini fridges, and one or more USB ports to charge cell phones and other small electronics. So if you’re scared to wire up deep cycle batteries and inverters and the like, consider a generator, where the most wiring you will have to do is getting extension cords long enough to reach the generator from all points in the car.

Interested in living out of your vehicle, but don’t have an SUV? There are plenty of other options here: Driven By Savings: Living, Working, and Traveling in Your Personal Vehicle

Want to consider other nomad living options? Check out: On the Road Again – Exploring Nomadic Housing Options


Driven By Savings: Living, Working, and Traveling in Your Personal Vehicle

This series explores how to build out a personal vehicle so you can live out of it to save money, follow job opportunities, or just travel cheaply.

Survival Roadmap: Living in a Car Amid Financial Challenges

In this post, we will review how to live out of your car--be it a hatchback, station wagon, or even something as small as a Camero.

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