Adventures with Debra and Robert

Nomad Tips, Tools, and DIY

How to Mentally Prepare for Living in a Vehicle

Photo: Camping at Keyhole State Park in Wyoming

Camping in a state park while living out of a car

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.


  1. Ernie Roberts

    This topic is good advice for all. Other subjects could replace the living in a vehicle, such as death of a friend or loved one, divorce, job loss, not finding good employment after job loss, retirement or in my case. job loss at 61 1/2. I’s tough. Employers want youth and physical strength. I get the very real impression that – I’m so close to early Social Security at 62 – it is easier to be turned down, with the interviewer not feeling guilty for age discrimination. I have gotten some variation of the statement in the last eight weeks “Well good luck. at you can start receiving your Social Security benefits, if your job search is unsuccessful”.

    Early Retirement Dream Come True or Nightmare.


    • Comment by post author

      That is a tough situation and certainly very frustrating. While I have not run into the age discrimination problem yet, I have lived in several areas where the economy basically shuts down each winter and it is impossible to find work until spring. At least that is temporary, but it sure is terrifying when the bank account is emptying and there is no work.

      I do know that many people end up living as nomads for precisely the reasons that you describe – they basically end up unemployed with no decent prospects, whether due to age, health, a changing job market, or something similar. Social Security is designed to pay out the same whether you start collecting early or at full retirement age because of the differences in payment amount, though obviously this depends on how long a person lives. I would think the big question would be whether you anticipate your SS at 62 being enough to cover your living expenses – or at least close to it. Assuming the SS payments were adequate or nearly adequate enough to support me on a monthly basis – and this is purely my opinion – I would consider starting to collect at 62 and try to find a part-time side business or some occasional temporary/seasonal work to supplement and build some savings for later years. On the other hand, if the SS will definitely not be adequate for even a frugal retirement then I would probably try to hold off on collecting if at all possible and do whatever was necessary to find work for a few more years. I realize that depends on someone offering you a job though and do not in any way want to minimize the challenge that so many face these days with the growing divide between existing job skills and those that are increasingly in demand.

      I don’t remember if you are on the road, but I do know that many older nomads find the temporary/seasonal job market much easier to break into than the traditional career-type, permanent positions. I absolutely never advocate that everyone should be a nomad, but if it something that appeals to you then that could possibly be an option. One thing to keep in mind with “work camping” jobs is that they are not all created equal. Many of them will offer an RV/parking spot in exchange for 20 or so hours per week of work with minimum wage for any hours worked beyond that. I would personally steer clear of these type of offers as it will be nearly impossible to get ahead. On the other hand, it is possible to find work camping jobs that provide a free site, pay for all hours worked, and even pay above minimum wage. These are usually the jobs that you would want to be looking at, in my opinion.

      There are a few sites that specialize in these kind of listings. Cool Works ( is free, but many of their listings target younger, single people. Workamper News ( is a very popular subscription site that many people use to find work. Another option is the Caretaker Gazette ( is another great resource with job listings from around the globe. Caretaker Gazette is also a subscription site, but includes plenty of listings that including actual housing rather than just an RV site.

      I hope this information is helpful. It is definitely my opinion though, so this may or may not be helpful depending on a person’s individual circumstances. Each person needs to consider their own circumstances and resources to decide what approach will best meet their needs and objectives.

      • Ernie Roberts

        Thanks for all the information. I don’t want to play the victim. I had not anticipated this event. It caught me unprepared metally for this change.

  2. Edith

    I’m sure this article will help many people!

  3. Carol

    This is a great read for thinking outside the box. Everything you have learned in life usually has you going with the flow. Eventually you figure out what works for you. Leaving all the baggage behind to go out into the great unknown can be stressful or a great relief…you get to choose. Options are what keeps my heart beating.

    • Comment by post author

      Thank you, Carol! You are so right that it is easier to go along with what everyone else seems to be doing. It can be scary stepping out into the great unknown, but it also provide the most opportunity for growth and adventure. Options are wonderful!

    • Ernie Roberts

      The best thing about being 61 1/2 and SS at 62 is not 60 and laid off with two years to 62. I will look it as ” a great relief…” thanks.

  4. Ernie Roberts

    The best thing about being 61 1/2 and SS at 62 is not 60 and laid off with two years to 62. I will look it as ” a great relief…” thanks.

  5. Calvin Rittenhouse

    I still need to work through the mental prep despite having unusual advantages in that realm. My generation of my family traveled by car without hotels, etc., long before I ever heard of it having its own name. I participated in that and learned practical urban “vandwelling” back in the 1970s. I have been on my own a few times, too. All the same, part of me does not want to do without my microwave, TV, and what not. I also worry about vehicle breakdowns. I actually already know how to get around all but the breakdowns, but mental preparation still matters.

    • Comment by post author

      Calvin, I started out traveling across the country and sleeping in the car like you. I have always been a nomad at heart, and keeping the costs down allowed me to take many more trips. Now staying in a van while I travel is a real luxury!

      We keep it pretty simple and do not have a microwave or TV, but I actually do not use those things when I am in a house anyway. I do know plenty of van dwellers and RVers who do make use of a microwave and TV though so it is certainly possible. The TV is not too difficult with a decent battery bank so long as you have enough solar or an isolator/solenoid to recharge each day. The microwave is possible to run on battery power with a large enough battery bank, pure sine inverter, and adequate solar or the ability to recharge from the engine. Bob Wells has done a few videos where he talks about the specs as he also uses a microwave. I think (If my memory is correct) he recommends at least four batteries, a 2,000 Watt pure sine inverter, and plenty of solar.

  6. Oz

    I’m enjoying catching up on what’s been going on in the world of houselessness since I was forced into it by TBI in 2002. It’s sure easier to be living out of a car now than it was then. There were no usb devices, or battery bricks that you could recharge in your car or coffee shop or library, which is how I do things now. Everything ran on batteries, and there was no Dollar Tree. And, Amazon only sold books. Remember books?
    Rechargeable showers, headlamps, e-readers, audiobooks, and lights have been game-changers for me.
    Lights of all kinds and fans that run on 5v usb ports are a miracle, to me.
    Butane stoves and cans are so cheap here, and efficient. So many thrift stores are bursting at the seams, thanks to Marie Kondo. lol
    I had a Coleman stove that screwed onto a 1 pound tank, and had to find water, a shower, and a way to recharge my laptop 18 years ago, and it wasn’t as easy as it is now.
    Part of that might be attributed to the lack of social media and apps that make so much information available to us now, or perhaps it was there, but I couldn’t access it because of my brain damage. I don’t know, or care, at this point.
    Living out of a hatchback, and a tent with a blow-up mattress and no yoga pad was more challenging then, and yet, I grew to love it. I’m here to say that it’s an adjustment, but well worth the change.
    All I know now is that I’m still alive and thriving 18 years later, living in a tiny house on wheels that my family provided for me to make me ‘safe’ and healthier than I was before.
    Now, I need to help others who are struggling, as I did. Paying it forward.
    We all need to help one another. It’s so sad to see the way we’ve been trained to judge and discard humans who don’t live up to the “American Dream”(so called because you have to be asleep to believe in it.) I worked so hard, I got so sick, and now, people want to spit on me for not living in that sticks and bricks that they’ve mortgaged their lives for. lol I have a better life than they do, because no bank owns me anymore. It was a really difficult lesson to learn, but I have.
    They have no idea of the freedom that being unencumbered by the debt process is. I ain’t got much, but it belongs to me, not the bank. And if it goes, well, tomorrow is another day. I ain’t dead yet, either.
    Happy trails to you. I’ll be in Parker for the van build, if all goes according to plan.

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