Geek Out

How To Live In A Car While Working In IT

About eight years ago I was working as a UNIX sysadmin for a national Australian ISP and lived in my car for about six months. Here is a short description of that time with some tips for technical car campers who may find themselves in this position.

This is a guest post by Dylan O’Donnell of DNA Digital, an Australian hosting, web design and optimisation company. Republished with permission.

I wouldn’t consider myself wealthy now but I’m doing ok for someone who used to live in their car. There is a longer story about my own personal development, but this is an interesting chapter, so I’ll stick to the car story.

Truth be told, it wasn’t because I was hard up. I was just between leases. My boss at the time sold me a beat up old massive Toyota troop carrier for $5,000 which I bought with the proceeds from selling my other car, a tiny white Barina. These two cars could not have been any more different really.

Anyway, I decided to sell almost everything I owned over the course of a few months on Ebay, then fitted the 4WD with a mattress and a 2-stroke generator. I bought a nice DSLR camera to document this six month period of my life. (I credit my time living in the car to learning most of what I know about photography.)

My Tips

At the time, I was a sysadmin. I still had to come into work but at night I’d go off and find interesting places to “camp”. Here are my tips for living in your car while working in IT :

• Find someone who is happy to collect your mail at their address. The government don’t like vagabonds and they won’t accept a PO box on your drivers’ license.

• Get a nice laptop with long battery life. Even if you have a generator it’s noisy, smelly and generally inconvenient to run so having enough juice for an evening is ideal. I bought an iBook at the time which was great.

• Make sure your laptop has Wi-Fi. These day’s the 3G network is great, but at the time I had to wardrive for open hotspots.

• Don’t sleep in residential areas if you can help it. Rural / park type places are much nicer and private (especially if you want to run a generator) although commercial areas can be quiet after dark as well.

• Get a pool membership; it’s a nice place to get a shower and use the bathroom etc. Oh and a swim, if you like.

• If you have a van with windows, make sure you can cover them from all around so you can be inside with a torch or other light but still look like an empty van from the outside.

• In NSW there are blocks of land called “Travelling Stock Routes” or TSR’s which are a carry over from the days when stockmen ran cattle across the state. They are public land you can use and even have a campfire on. Just don’t take wood away.

• State parks are also good.

• If you are a web dev, run Apache locally on your laptop so you can dev offline and save network / power.

• After a while you will notice other car-campers as you get familiar with the best spots. It’s best you keep to yourselves, there can sometimes be a certain shame living in one’s car. For me it was a little adventure though.

• If you have a girlfriend to mooch off, ask if you can use her laundry once in a while, otherwise you’ll have no choice but to use a coin laundry in town.

• Sleeping on the side of any road is perfectly legal. Remember, you pay tax and the roads are public property. Police can ask you to move on and that’s fine but the roadside is ours to share. Besides, you are encouraged to “stop, revive, survive”, right?

• If you’re feeling lazy, just sleep outside your office. You usually have access to Wifi and a bathroom there anyway.

• Change location frequently. I slept near waterfalls, lakes, mountains, rivers and all kinds of interesting places that look beautiful against a sunset or a sunrise.

• Get a solar mobile charger if you can, but get a good one. I had a cheap one that blew up one day and started a fire on the bonnet of the car. Not good.

Appreciating What’s Important

I hope these practical tips help you should you ever need to car camp and work in IT at the same time. Having shed most of my earthly possessions during this period of my life made me appreciate that what was most important to me was my mobile devices and data (and a guitar). Once I had returned to normal life in a house I had saved a large chunk of money and generally spent less on everything. I required less. I hoarded less. Before long I had a deposit for my first permanent house + mortgage.

Maybe I’ll get into all the rest later. Hope you enjoyed reading.