I dropped out of college to live out of my car. My lifestyle has taught me more than college ever could.
- In my sophomore year of college, I found myself disillusioned and restless.
- I decided to quit school for a while and travel the country, living out of my car.
By May 2022, I was fed up with college.
I enrolled in fall 2020, coming off a virtual high-school graduation and several months of nearly complete COVID-19 isolation.
I entered college with an economics major and the vague sense that I'd figure out what I wanted to do with myself somewhere along the way. Most of all, I was hoping to broaden my horizons, gain some life experience, and come out with more skills than I started with.
But two years into my college career and several thousand dollars' worth of debt later, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd wound up where I started. So I dropped out and decided to live out of my car instead.
It became clear to me that college was not preparing me to be an independent adult
For me, college was basically summer camp. I attended classes, joined a club, hung out with people in the same stage of life, and acted irresponsibly on the weekends. It felt like high school with bigger egos and more alcohol.
I quickly realized I wasn't learning how to pay bills or manage my affairs. I still didn't know what I wanted to do, I was still experiencing life through screens, and I was still paying thousands of dollars a semester.
To my parents' consternation, I dropped out, with the goal of "having an adventure" — whatever that meant.
I first applied for a job in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, building hiking trails with AmeriCorps
When I got the gig, I worked four days a week. I would camp out with my crew in places like Rocky Mountain National Park, Vail, or the side of Mount Elbert — the tallest mountain in the state. During those days, I would help repair forest-fire damage and build staircases out of stones and logs.
The other three days of the week, I lived out of Lady Hercules, my ancient Ford Escape Hybrid, camping out in national forests and on public land with my work friends. Over my entire two-month term, I didn't sleep in a building once.
I received a living stipend of about $350 a week, along with an electronic-benefit-transfer card from the state. Since my meals were comped on days I was working, my only regular expenses were gasoline and propane for my camping stove.
It was a bit like college, in that I was surrounded by people my own age, with little supervision, and most of my needs were taken care of. The difference was, I was semiferal in the Rockies, and it didn't cost me a cent.
I fell in love with living out of my car and in national parks, so I never stopped
As somebody born in the Northeast and raised in the Midwest, I didn't realize that the West was full of public lands. There are national grasslands, national forests, and huge tracts of unused scrubland managed by various federal agencies. If you can stomach sleeping under the stars, pooping in holes in the ground, and eating from a cooler, you're allowed to live on these lands for free for 14 days at a time.
Now that I had adjusted to this lifestyle, I started planning more trips. I realized that I didn't have to worry about accommodation, and all I had to pay for was gas. I could go wherever seemed interesting and keep living like I had been. So I did.
For the past year, I've been going around, camping out here and there, working when I need money, and quitting when I get bored.
It's been far more rewarding than college ever was.
I've gained a lot from being voluntarily homeless
Don't get me wrong; it's lousy to live out of your car for many reasons. It's hard to bathe regularly, for one thing. For another, it gets tiring to cook meals over a propane stove and have to critter-proof your campsite every night. It's well-nigh impossible to keep a vehicle organized while you live out of it, and in many places, the cops don't want you around.
I've slept on the side of buttes in Nebraska, gotten flooded out in Wyoming, and scared away bears with a harmonica in Pennsylvania. Once, I accidentally strayed onto private property and was escorted off the premises by an angry landowner with a shotgun.
But all of that is why I love it. You just don't get the chance to overcome challenges like that in a college setting.
I don't intend to live like this forever. When I do return to civilization and get an actual home, I know my vagabond experience will have taught me more about the world and the people in it than college ever could.
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