travel in a station wagon
Van Life

How To: Live and Travel in a Station Wagon

Okay, when I say ‘living’ in a station wagon I don’t mean trying to fit everything you own along with your partner and your dogs into a station wagon and living in it for a year. Because frankly, that just won’t work. If you can make it work, I am extremely impressed. Please give me all of your secrets to success.

Charles and I “lived” and traveled in my station wagon for three months, but we broke that time up by visiting friends across the west coast and popping back in at my parents’ houses for showers and some personal space. I’m not sure the trip would have lasted that long without it.

Why a station wagon?

travel in a station wagon

Why not a van? We wanted to be able to remain stealthy, and parking a station wagon is significantly less obvious than parking a camper van. For this purpose, we actually made fabric curtains that could be placed in all of the windows. Spoiler alert – we never used them! When we were in cities, it was only to visit friends. Because of this, we never actually had to sleep in the station wagon in a residential area. When we were camping in the wilderness, we were never at paid campsites so we never needed the privacy that curtains allow.

The station wagon was also significantly cheaper than investing in a van, and since we were only going to use it for a three month trip, decided that it was better to put our money towards gas and recreation than the vehicle. And on the same note, driving the station wagon is significantly cheaper in gas than a van!

How was sleeping?

travel in a station wagon

Here’s the thing. I’m 5’2”, so I can pretty much curl up anywhere and be fine. I even spent a few days in New Zealand sleeping in the front seat of a tiny little hatchback! Charles on the other hand is 6’3”, so he needs a bit more space when it comes to sleeping.

We first tried to just put down the back seats, but the length of the car was too short for Charles to comfortable sleep with his feet by the boot. To make things work, we actually took out the part of the seats that you sit on (in a Subaru Outback, this works – I’m not sure how the seats are put together in other station wagons) and kept the back of the seats. When we folded these down, the back was almost perfectly flat! For comfort purposes we slept head to toe most nights, with Charles’ head by the boot so he could use the extra leg room of the front.

We slept perfectly fine most nights, and had enough big fluffy blankets to protect us from the cold mountain nights.


travel in a station wagon

Proper organization is the KEY to surviving a trip in a station wagon, especially if you’re traveling with another person. We didn’t bring too many belongings with us on the trip, but even those seemed to get out of control every once in a while.


In order to save on food costs, we took a big Costco trip at the beginning of our travels to stock up on basic necessities. We kept all of these things in a large car organizer which had one large zippered pockets along with smaller pockets on both the inside and outside. This was kept behind the drivers seat, and fit perfectly under the backseats when we put them down.


We each had a small backpack full of clothes, and kept all of our clothes in these bags so they wouldn’t just be laying all over the car. We each had a flannel or sweater that we kept on the back of the front seats for easy access when it got chilly in the evenings.

Books, games, electronics

Sorry world, but I’ve caved into the Kindle. Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE the feel of having a real book in my hands, but I read way too much to carry 20+ books with me on a three moth road trip. Having a Kindle around allowed me to cut down on weight and bulk, and I simply kept it tucked into my purse. It was perfect for nighttime as well, since the built-in light allowed me to reduce the amount of time I used the lights within the car. I carried around my laptop and camera, and kept both of these tucked into my backpack as well.

We didn’t have a lot of room in the station wagon for games, but we managed to find some card games at thrift stores that fit perfectly into our emergency car kit (which we kept right next to the wheel well at the back of the car).

Surviving in a small space

travel in a station wagon

Living in a van can be difficult, as many people who have lived that lifestyle can vouch for. But living in a station wagon is even smaller, and even more difficult! It’s important to only bring what you absolutely need – if you go more than three days without using an object you’re carrying around, do you really need it?

Personal space is also very important. We tried not to spend time in the car unless we were ready to go to sleep. We spent most of our time searching for fossils & minerals or hiking around national parks. When we were hanging out at the campsite, we had a hammock we would string up to relax.

Last, but certainly not least, choose to travel with the right person. Not everyone can spend three months confined to a small space with another person and live to tell the tale!

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