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suggestions for living out of my car while I travel the USA (NJ->CA)

Hello my name is Jack Kelleher,

I am 20 years old and taking a gap semester from my college that has conformed to online and  plan to travel from my home on the jersey shore to the west coast whilst stopping at many national parks and camping, stopping for days to visit friends that live along the way. I am planning on traveling cheaply by sleeping in the back of my old Toyota sequoia as well as setting up camp at national parks that allow me to do so. Upon arriving to the western coast I plan to surf the coast before I return home on an alternate route stopping at additional parks and friends homes/schools. 

I fully expect this entire journey to be a learning experience however I would love any and all suggestions one may have for someone in my situation or has prior experience living minimally out of their vehicle whilst traveling the states.



8 Replies

Hi @kellyfish, thanks for reaching out. 

First off, I am SO EXCITED for your trip. There are a lot of factors to take into account, but I'm going to focus on the one that I wish I had addressed first when I took a similar trip years ago. Have you tested out and measured what will be the sleeping area of your Toyota? Find the ideal position and angle to sleep at, and you can gear up to those specifications. Sleeping on such a hard surface can uncomfortable, especially if you are a side sleeper. A firm, closed cell foam pad such as this Therm-a-rest  or the Nemo Switchback  should provide strong protection. 

The best adventures start with a good night's sleep!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Hi @kellyfish .  That sounds like a truly amazing adventure.  One I wish I had the time to undertake.  You mention that you will be traveling in your "old Toyota Sequoia".  How old is "old"?  A road-trip of that length and scope can put a strain on any vehicle, let-alone an older one.  Make sure you have it thoroughly checked out and prepped before you start, and prepare for minor emergencies by carrying some basic tools and spare parts like tire, water/antifreeze, oil, fan belt, etc, and know where to find reputable service facilities along your route.  Hopefully you won't need any of them, but the alternative could end your trip and your fun prematurely.

There are also some good articles and videos online that provide tips on how to best outfit your vehicle to accommodate storage, sleeping, etc.  One good resource is:

Sounds like a great trip!  Enjoy it to its fullest!

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one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@kellyfish You mention camping at national parks.  Bear in mind that there are many state and local parks that are equally satisfactory camping venues.  A good idea might be an annual NP pass...

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

@kellyfish If it was me, I’d get a large but cheap tent I could stand up in, a really thick camp blow up matress, an ice chest , and a coleman stove for starters.

also look at state parks, National Forest campgrounds or blm land Along the route.

REI Member Since 1979

Hey @kellyfish, very cool!

I would think about how you'll keep food cold (if you plan to do cooking), or what your meals might look like - this can be good to plan a budget. I agree with Rob6 that you'll want to have your car checked out before a roadtrip like that, for sure. I did something like this some years ago, & a National Park Pass (like what was suggested) was a super good resource.

Have fun!

Hi, @kellyfish . Sounds like a life-changing experience. I’m having some similar thoughts - not about cross-country travel but about turning my work-from-home opportunity into a work-from-the-road trip. And I’ve found this book — 

I haven’t read it all yet, but it seems to filled with suggestions, major and minor. 
good luck! 


@kellyfish Wooooooo this sounds like such an exciting trip! I've done similar trips in the past between the Midwest and the West, and also a trip from Tucson, AZ that took me all the way up the West coast. I also commute at least once a year from Tucson to Michigan road-trip style to visit my family, so road-tripping + camping + saving money has sort of become second nature for me.

Personally, if you having camping equipment, instead of sleeping in your vehicle, I would just recommend looking for BLM land, which is land that you can camp on for free (we call this "free dispersed camping" - you can look that phrase up to find other options as well). One website/phone app that I love to use while traveling via car is iOverlander.

If you plan to visit the National Parks, GET A PARKS PASS! They will save you so much money! They work at many National Forests and National Monuments as well, and can sometimes even reduce/eliminate camping fees!

I am also going to share a link to a similar post from a while back. I made a lengthy comment on that post about solo car trips across the country, so I suggest reading my comment for more tips! Although this post was originally geared for females doing solo road trips, there's tons of info I think you will find helpful! You can find the post here.

Let me know if you have any questions, and have fun on your trip!

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.
Van tour of a Honda Fit full camper, sleeps two with great gas mileage. Full tour of van kitchen, camping food, sleeping and storage. Instagram: @speakingqui...