Last night I slept in my car.
Before you begin to worry about my well-being, readership, I should tell you that I did it by my own choice. Some late-night work and traffic expectations made it the more practical option, and I’m often prepared to camp out where I need to be to get things done.
“Car camping” an interesting experience. Most of us know what it’s like to take a short nap in the backseat, but for some reason sleeping overnight in a vehicle has a negative social connotation – you’ve failed, you’ve been kicked out of your home, etc. These are very sad things and not to be made light of, but car camping has many uses beyond them.
Here are three things I guess you could say I’ve learned from sleeping in my car – or practicing occasional the one or two-night not-sleeping-in-a-bed stints in pursuit of bigger goals.
1. It’s not so bad after all.
Contrary to what you might expect, sleeping in your car can be perfectly practical and helpful. Most car backseats are enough to sleep one person more or less comfortably, especially if you have a good pillow. You can actually buy inflatable beds made for car backseats (I have one – you know, just in case). With a safe place to park, moderate weather, and some privacy screening around your windows, you can have a passable sleeping place on many nights during the year. There are even Wikihow articles about it – a sure sign of social legitimacy. Just be sure not to knock your spine out of alignment by contorting yourself too much.
In his moral letters to Lucillius, the Roman Stoic Seneca suggested to his protege that he:
“….Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?” It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence.”
Now that I’ve seen the condition which so many people fear – yes, car camping – Fortune can’t scare me quite as much with the old “if you lose your job/status/apartment/salary/friends/family, you’ll be HOOOOMMMELLESSS” trick anymore.
Speaking of fortifying yourself against Fortune….
2. You have some physical and mental toughness.
When you realize you are willing to sleep in your car to make an extra impact on achieving your goals, you become a little less afraid or unwilling toward other “hard” or trying things the next day. Speaking in public? No big deal. Dealing with an angry customer? No problem. You’ve slept in your car, and you aren’t giving a damn today about the small stuff. You will do what needs to be done. You’ve passed the “sleep in your car” test.
3. Maybe apartments and houses are overrated.
Sleeping in a car sets a man to thinking. For me, most of the essential value of my apartment is in 1) storing my stuff and 2) having an address I can write down on government or various identification forms. For this privilege, I pay a large portion of my income every month.
Yes, it’s very nice and important to have a place of your own that you can design your own way. It’s nice to have a comfortable place to sleep and cook and entertain people. But none of these things are technically essential to owning an apartment – a car dweller can meet friends for dinner, decorate and remodel a vehicle, or set up a nice sleeping arrangement as well. If you had the willingness (and some people do) you could live a very comfortable life sleeping in your car every night.
I have an acquaintance right now who’s traveling the country and living out of a converted van. I have friends who are perpetual or at least frequent travelers, living regardless of home addresses. None of them are jobless or shiftless or “failed.” They’re actually quite happy about it. They’re indicative of the changing world.
Software and cloud computing are turning many analog ways of life digital and location-independent. Just look at how Airbnb has made it possible to stay in anyone’s home or rent out your own, anywhere on earth. It may be that nomadism enabled by software and cloud computing is actually the trend of the future. I expect to see a lot of car/van/tent entrepreneurs coming around to take advantage of this opportunity in coming years.
Future projections aside, maybe you should try sleeping in your car one night soon. You might learn something else about yourself.