In this article, I’ll give you a few reasons why living in your car is not the best idea you (and many of us, really) had and what to do instead.
Let me begin by saying that I know where you’re coming from:
- Rent in Los Angeles is very expensive, so you want to save;
- You’ve read about other actors doing that, and it sounds doable.
- It’s romantic, in a way.
All of these things are true.
My goal here is nothing more than to give you some information about living a car in LA, and share my observations down the road.
Remember to let me know what you thought of this write-up in the comments below, and let’s discuss if you believe I made some invalid points or if you have more to add.
Reasons You Want to Live in a Car
Number one. I’ve done a breakdown on the costs of living in Los Angeles before, and the numbers may seem quite scary to some. Unfortunately, prices on everything – not just rent – have been rising ever since.
Curbed.com quote current rent costs for median one bedrooms in Los Angeles at around $1,900.
While the above isn’t an entirely fair analysis (you can find one bedrooms for around $1,400-$1,600 in cheaper areas), it’s still not that far off. Either way, LA is definitely expensive but you can live with a roommate(s).
Number two. It’s true that some now famous actors have lived in their cars while auditioning, taking acting classes and working day jobs. Some of the names that instantly come to mind are Hilary Swank (source) and Sam Worthington (source). Al Pacino did not live in a car, but he was sleeping in a theater, so let’s throw him in there too.
The argument here may be that if they have done it, you can too. The problem with this rationalization is that it’s based on a logical error called survivorship bias which is very prevalent among people pursuing dreams in the show business.
Basically, we hear stories from the few that succeeded, but never hear about those who failed. The latter group is most likely much larger than the former.
Number three. Yes, it is romantic. What else can I say?
I’m not going to go any deeper into this, but I did want you to consider the above.
Summary: Rent in LA is expensive, but you can live with roommates. Stories of actors living in cars are good for PR, but they don’t show the full picture.
6 Reason Why Living in a Car in LA Isn’t the Best Idea
I’ll admit that living in a car while pursuing your goals in show business does have a romantic cling to it. It’s almost the perfect material for an indie film: a character faces adversity with a glorious determination that only pining for the arts can summon.
However, after taking a closer look at this ingenious plan, you may spot more negatives than positives. I’m sure you’re aware of all of this, but maybe reading through it rather than mulling it over in your head alone paints a picture that’s more clear.
1. Property and personal safety
Personal safety is the most important here, while the rest of my points are just gravy. Depending on the area, LA is not the safest. I love numbers, so let’s look at statistics.
In 2016, California was proudly leading the nation with the most car thefts. Not only that, but Los Angeles itself was the number one city for auto theft, according to LA Times. On the bright side, we’re number one at something other than worst traffic.
Wait, it gets better. Over the last few years, there’s been a strong trend toward rise in crime in Los Angeles. LAPD reports that in 2016 specifically, robberies, property offenses and assaults have been going up as usual. Compared to 2015, overall crime rose by 6.3% and violent assaults went up by 15.9%. It’s certainly not peanuts.
This begs serious safety consideration when you’re thinking about living in a car in LA.
If you do decide to try it, then make sure you at least practice caution. WikiHow and some other websites if you look around provide good tips on security measures when living in a car, such as parking in safe places and putting any valuable items in a safety deposit box.
Naturally, security measures like these can make a robbery less economically detrimental, but it can’t actually do much good in shielding you from a possible assailant.
Summary: Crime in LA is on the rise, so you need to consider your own safety first.
2. Feeding yourself
If you’re going to live in a car, be prepared for the fact that most of your meals will come in a plastic container from some fast food chain (best case scenario) or a store bought box that has fake Chinese words written on it.
This doesn’t apply to those of you who own an RV and perhaps have access to a cooker and food that’s less likely to build towards diarrhea or a heart attack (harsh, but true).
Potential health complications wouldn’t be the only thing I would consider though. It’s also about the costs, and healthcare is expensive.
All melodrama aside, unless you do in fact eat only noodles, living in a car may have a significant impact your wallet. Having to buy food at restaurants will undeniably cost you more than it costs for you to prepare your own meals at home.
Should you choose to live in a car anyway, I find that in LA (as in most other cities), the cheapest way to eat “on the go” is either – surprise! – McDonalds, Taco Bell or buying from reduced isles in supermarkets. Find the times they reduce prices and go crazy.
I’ve also previously mentioned a few tips on how to live on a budget in LA here.
Summary: It’s less healthy and more expensive to eat when living in a car.
3. Sanitation and personal hygiene
Again, unless you live in an RV, this is going to be a considerable issue. You won’t have access to water for shower or to simply wash your hands, which, in lesser scientific terms, means that your mobile home will be a cooties infested nest.
You won’t have a bathroom, so no doing that either (whatever “that” is to you). For me personally, not being able to do that is a definite deal breaker.
The best, if not the only, option here is to get a gym membership and shower there. To be honest, I have seen quite a few people brush teeth and shave in the gym, and it doesn’t look that bad.
Summary: It’ll be difficult to maintain good hygiene, but joining a gym can solve the issue. No toilet or shower breaks whenever you want, though.
4. Internet connection and electricity
Whatever your attitude is towards Internet, you can’t get around the fact that as an actor, you absolutely need it. In 2017, using online casting websites is the only way to find auditions. Moreover, you need to do this daily, and preferably a few times a day.
Unless you’re auditioning for a part of James Dean, you’re also going to need to contact the outside world every once in a while, and that includes work/acting related things.
Instead of doing all this from the comfort of a couch, you will have to consider either sending smoke signals to your fellow creatives, setting yourself up with mobile connection for a laptop or finding cafés with free Wifi connection
Aside from the signals, the other two options can come to cost you time, money – you’ll have to order something at the Wifi haven you’re seeking refuge in – and concentration (screaming 12-year-olds wearing party hats is a trademark of McDonald’s).
Of course, some working environments are better than others, and undoubtedly going to a public library will grant you more peace of mind than a noisy burger shack, but nevertheless, you’ll need to go out of your way to get Internet access.
Summary: Internet and electricity are two of the greatest inventions of the 20th century, and you’ll get neither if you live in a car. Get a library card.
5. Personal comfort and workspace
On a similar note to the point above comes the issue with creating personal comfort.
Do you recall road trips where after about 3 hours your legs and back start to stiffen, and you’re overwhelmed with an itchy need to get out of the tuna can of a car? No need to imagine that feeling now, because you’re about to get very familiar with it.
Living in a car in LA means that you can’t personalize your living quarters to make them accustomed to your wishes. Even if you’re not an interior design geek, you’re bound to experience the backlash.
It turns out that everything from ceiling height to curvature and colors of furniture to lighting can noticeably influence your mood. Surprisingly, these findings are based on actual research (and here I was, about to make a joke).
Once again, this is not a be-all and end-all of the argument, but it does add yet another reason to consider your plan of living in a car more carefully.
Summary: Living in a car will keep you more tired throughout the day.
6. It’s not always legal
There’s an ongoing legal tug-of-war when it comes to living in cars in Los Angeles. In short, the city doesn’t like it and they keep going back and forth.
Take a look at these headlines:
- October, 2010: California Cracks Down on People Living in Vehicles
- June, 2014: It’s No Longer Illegal to Live in Your Car in Los Angeles
- April, 2015: L.A. will seek to impose new ban on living in vehicles
- June, 2016: L.A. Considers Banning People From Living In Vehicles, Again
- November, 2016: LA City Council Approves Ban on Sleeping in Cars
With all of this hoopla going on, it’s difficult to predict what future holds for aspiring actors wanting to live in cars in Los Angeles even within the next 3-6 months.
If you’re interested in brief details, in June 2016, LA city’s municipal code was altered and living in cars became legal. This was in part due to Section 85.02 being vaguely phrased, ridiculously leading to things like having food in your car being warrant for an arrest.
Despite this change in the municipal code and some folks already packing their cars with Tupperware and leaving for the city of angels, in November this decision was reversed.
Now, there’s a concept of “safe parking”, where people are only allowed to park in certain parts of town (like in church parking lots) and only during specific times of the day.
Not only does this limit your parking options, but the committee’s suggestions seem to mainly focused on homeless people, thus there’s a risk that living in a car might not be an option for creatives at all, given that they are “homeless by choice.”
Even if the new law isn’t restricted to only homeless people, the “safe parking” concept will only free up a couple of parking spaces in entire LA, and there were more than 4,000 people living in cars in LA in 2016 alone, meaning that you are snubbing living space from a homeless person who doesn’t have the luxury of not living in a vehicle.
Summary: LA doesn’t like people living in cars, so they make it illegal.
Take Home Message
My underlying tone in this article may have been decisively negative, but for good reasons. Whilst living in a car in LA might initially present as a golden alternative to insanely expensive LA apartment rent costs, this option can come to cost you more than you might think.
That’s not to say that you can’t live in a vehicle, but it just means that everyday luxuries like choosing when to go to the bathroom and when to re-Tweet a sassy quote from Robert Downey Jr. is no longer at your own disposal.
With that being said, let’s be honest: is it possible to survive living in a car in Los Angeles? Absolutely. It will take an extra level of determination, self-discipline, careful and smart planning.
Can living in a car save you some money? Definitely. It may not save you as much as you initially thought, but it is undoubtedly cheaper than paying $1,500 for a one bedroom.
With that said, living with roommates in LA will not be that much more expensive than living in a car, and you will be safer, healthier and much more productive.
I do acknowledge that a certain level of naivete and ignoring the facts is sometimes necessary to break through as an actor. If you absolutely have to do this, practice safety and work towards decreasing the length of time you need to live in a car.