What It’s Like Living In a Tent, Car, and Now Sailboat!

[Remember last week when we asked how far you’d go to pay off your debt? Well, our guest today, Kristin from The Wayward Home, chose tiny space living as her poison, and has been living quite the adventure because of it! Here’s her story on what it’s like to live in tents and cars, and now on sailboats. Gotta admire the $hit out of people for having the courage to go after such things! Hope you enjoy!]


I looked around my apartment in plush Mill Valley, a suburb of San Francisco, and wondered what the hell I was doing. I’d given up most of my stuff, put the rest in storage, and was about to move out of my $1,650 per month studio and go intentionally homeless.

My boyfriend and I had calculated we could save upwards of $20,000 if we could live in his Toyota Prius and in a tent on campgrounds for a year.

So, I decided to throw all common sense to the wind and live in a tiny space with a man I’d known for only six months. Luckily, we got along well.

living in tent

At first, we camped in the campgrounds of Mt. Tamalpais, which is about 45 minutes north of San Francisco, where we both worked at full-time jobs – me as a news reporter at KGO radio, him as an electrical contractor. We spent our evenings roasting potatoes and salmon over the fire, playing guitar, drinking beer, enjoying the sounds of the wind in the trees and the owls hooting in the inky night. We spent the mornings getting ready for work at our gym, and on weekends we’d oftentimes play music in a shipping container that served as our jam space.

Camping was fun and felt like a great adventure, until hooligans destroyed our peace one night at the campground. It was just us and them, and when we asked them to quiet down, they began circling our tent and threatening us. Finally, we had to call the cops. An officer came out, forced the crew to dump their booze, and then left. The threats on us became worse, and we sat in our tent, afraid and tense. We again called the cops, and as we waited for them to arrive, we made a run for it down a nearby trail in our pajamas and sneakers at 1 in the morning. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. Finally, a few police officers came and kicked that awful crew out for good, but after that, we started sleeping only in the back of the Prius, feeling that metal and glass were safer than fabric and mesh.

We slept in marinas, in rest stops, in campgrounds, and out near our shipping container. Amazingly, we both fit in the back of the car with the seats folded down, and enjoyed the fresh scent of night air wafting through our cracked windows.

At 34-years-old, I quickly paid off debt that had been lingering for years, and started to build my emergency fund. My boyfriend, who is now 47, and I often discussed the merits of living below one’s means and how it can kick the crap out of debt while also paving the way for financial freedom. I learned that I can live without most things in life, and still be happy.

After four months living in the back of a Prius, I was done, ready to once again have the luxuries of what most of us call “home.” So, I rented out a room in a floating home (houseboat) in Sausalito for $1,450 per month.

But seven months after living in a real house, I was laid-off from my full-time job as a news reporter in San Francisco. Refusing to go into debt again or burn up my emergency fund, I decided to move onto my boyfriend’s sailboat which he’d recently bought and was fixing up for world travel. I got rid of even more stuff and put my childhood mementos in my mom’s garage.

Now, all I own in San Francisco is my car and my clothes packed into the trunk.

sailboat living quarters

The sailboat was undergoing a complete restoration when I first moved aboard, so we had to live without any comforts of home. We had no toilet, no stove, no internet, no running water. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard. But as the months ticked past, more amenities were installed, and now the sailboat is full of beautiful appliances, like a sparkling stainless steel stove that I’ll never take for granted.

The plus side of living on a sailboat is that we only pay about $400 per month for rent, a steal in one of the most expensive housing markets in the United States, where the average one-bedroom apartment is around $3,500.

Our plan now is to live aboard until the boat is 100% ready to go in the open ocean, and then we’re going to live a life of travel while I work remotely as a freelance writer and blogger. First, we’ll head to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico and explore the Sea of Cortez, then we’ll head to the Pacific Northwest and Vancouver Island. After that, who knows. The world will be our oyster.

I’m completely in love with the sailboat now. I love feeling the wind buffet the boat in the marina, and the tinkle of rain on top of the cabin house. I love how connected I feel to nature; that I can smell the salt air while cooking dinner on the stove. I love that when we’re bored of the marina, we can sail somewhere else in the Bay and anchor out for the night. There is a sense of peace and wonder associated with a sailboat, and right now, I can’t picture myself ever living in the confines of a house again.

sailboat deck

The sailboat also forces us to save money in other ways, not just on price of rent. We don’t have cable TV or any other subscription services; we get all shows and movies from the library. Our utility bill runs about $5 per month. We try to cook dinner in rather than dining out, which saves hundreds per month. I buy clothes only second-hand.

Both of us are now incredibly frugal, which will allow us to live a traveling, nomadic life. We estimate that when we’re sailing around the world, we’ll only need to spend $15,000-$20,000 per year. That means working less and living more.

If you asked me a few years ago, I never thought I’d be living tiny. I never thought I’d be obsessed with living below my means and living with less. But now, I can’t imagine it any other way.

Kristin Hanes is a journalist, freelance writer and blogger who lives on a sailboat in the San Francisco Bay. When she’s not sailing, she’s exploring nature on foot, and has hiked 230-miles in the Sierra Nevada. She’s also obsessed with saving money. You can follow her adventures on her blog: The Wayward Home.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s another post you may like along these lines that we featured a few years back: Making money as a virtual assistant while living on a sailboat!

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  1. Ms99to1percent November 17, 2017 at 5:28 AM

    What an inspiring story!

    Love the sailboat, it’s beautiful a practical solution to the crazy SF real estate market.

    And I’m impressed that you only spend $5/month on utilities! Our utilities run about $600/month on a good month!

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 9:54 AM

      Thank you!! Yes, I am able to keep costs super low. I think of it as practice for when we cruise full-time, and it also feel so good to save!

  2. chris November 17, 2017 at 5:59 AM

    that’s amazing..!!!!!

  3. Lily @ The Frugal Gene November 17, 2017 at 6:20 AM

    Ooh hello fellow ex San Francisan. Oh my gosh you were a former news reporter in SF?! Maybe I’ve seen you around and didn’t know! Yes, float by the Pacific Northwest sometimes, it’s beautiful here :) I heard docking fees were very expensive though. They charge $2,000 to dock boats a month here I think.

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 9:55 AM

      Hi Lily! I worked at KGO Radio….were you in the news biz here? I’m from Portland and also worked in radio in Portland and Seattle. Where do you live?

    2. Steve A. November 20, 2017 at 7:42 PM

      Moorage for a 36′ slip in Seattle is currently $500 a month (at Shilshole Marina). Down in Tacoma, it’s closer to $320 a month.

  4. Mrs. Adventure Rich November 17, 2017 at 6:43 AM

    What an adventure! I love hearing about creative/non-conventional housing situations :) The sailboat’s extra savings perks certainly aren’t too shabby!

  5. Mrs. Kiwi @ KiwiAndKeweenaw.com November 17, 2017 at 7:28 AM

    Wow! My husband and I have always said, if things get bad we can live in the car. I don’t know how that would go in practice though. I am very impressed with your four months in the Prius. I am excited to hear about your next adventure!

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 9:57 AM

      Thank you! Weirdly, living in the car can be a fun adventure if you have the right mindset. If you ever need to save money in a hurry I highly recommend it, lol!

    2. J. Money November 20, 2017 at 12:45 PM

      Haha yeah – I’d like to think I could do it too, but really not sure I’d be able to either. Esp with kids!

  6. Accidental Fire November 17, 2017 at 7:44 AM

    Awesome story Kristin! I’ve always wanted to live on a boat, but the old adage is that the two best things about owning a boat are the day you buy it and the day you sell it. But if it replaces an apartment or house, then you’re maximizing profit!

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 9:58 AM

      OMG you are so right. It has to replace a house or apartment, otherwise, its a money and time suck. My boyfriend has been putting work and money into it for TWO YEARS, but then we will be able to travel and live for as long as we want on a super low budget.

  7. Ms. Frugal Asian Finance November 17, 2017 at 7:56 AM

    Wow you have such fascinating and inspiring living arrangements!

    I’m sorry to hear about the tent incident and the layoff. Those unfortunate events are not what we expected, but I’m glad you found the silver lining.

    Best of luck with your endeavors!

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 9:59 AM

      Thank you so much! Yes, silver lining is key, and now I’ve been forced into trying to figure out how to support myself, which translates into remote work which = travel. yay!

  8. Team CF November 17, 2017 at 8:11 AM

    Love the dedication, despite the occasional hiccup, you’ve been doing pretty good in my mind!
    Best of luck in the future and with the travels!

  9. Dads Dollars Debts November 17, 2017 at 8:38 AM

    Crazy story but man I admire her for the tenacity. If someone told me to live in a tent and a car full time I would think it’s nuts. Heck I am trying to get my wife and toddler to live in an Airstream and they are still hesitant….

    Traveling a nomadic life sounds perfect. Honestly I think it was what I was meant for but life (work, family, work, and in the future our sons school) seems to get in the way…excuses I know, but real excuses none the less.

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 10:04 AM

      It’s truly amazing how many people do this with kids. Some people I have interviewed for my blog live in a converted schoolbus with a kid, in a 12×7 travel trailer with 2 kids, and one family has been on a sailboat for 11 years with 3 kids :) But yeah getting the family on board and making it all happen can be tough!

      1. J. Money November 20, 2017 at 12:47 PM

        Do they all home school? I haven’t figured out how to travel with kids long term either myself… Or convince my wife as well to sign off on it, haha…

  10. Dave November 17, 2017 at 8:42 AM

    What a great adventure. I truly admire people who have the courage to take the path less traveled. It also gives you cool content to write about. I am not much of a tent guy, but the sailboat sounds really awsome.

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 10:03 AM

      hahahah yes, the sailboat seems huge compared to trying to share the space of a car and a tent. I still love the tent when we go backpacking; even closer to nature!

  11. Lisa O November 17, 2017 at 9:02 AM

    Wow….enjoying life the way you want is awesome!

    Best Wishes…..

  12. Mr. Saturday @ Seeking Saturdays November 17, 2017 at 9:15 AM

    Wow! These kind of thoughts float through our head often about selling our house and maybe trying out a catamaran. Being in Florida it might be quite an adventure! Seeing others do this is so inspiring! I can’t wait to see what adventures unfold in the coming years. :)

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 10:02 AM

      You could totally do that in Florida! So many people on boats there since its so warm. The sailing community seems huge and inviting. I can’t wait to cut the ties at the marina and go explore.

  13. Jason@WinningPersonalFinance November 17, 2017 at 9:42 AM

    Wow. Those are some gutsy decisions. Seems like it’s all working out. Enjoy your life of adventure. Looking forward to hearing more in the future.

  14. brian @ singledadmoney November 17, 2017 at 9:49 AM

    Sweet!!! Living in a Prius – that’s talent! In a past life, we did tent living for a few months, until the bears decided our garbage was the best place to visit nightly, then moved to sleeping in the back of our 1986 Suburban, while building a 312 square foot straw bale cabin. I long for the days of smaller space living, only now, it will be on a 40-44′ Aft Cabin Sundeck Cruiser after recently trying it in a 30′ sailboat (way too tight for more than a weekend). I’m really thinking winters south on the boat, and summers north in an RV will be the direction we take when ready.

    Great Story Kristin, and thanks for the introduction J$.


    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 10:01 AM

      Wow, cool, Brian! Your boat sounds lovely! You tried a lot of interesting living situations, too!

      1. brian @ singledadmoney November 17, 2017 at 1:28 PM

        ***Future Boat, Kristin. It should be pretty awesome. The local marina live-aboard rates are decent here in southeast Virginia and we’re planning that route for our next savings rate jump, essentially reducing housing cost by 50-60%. The strawbale cabin was a great experience I need to write about one day. Good luck in your ventures and adventures!!!

        1. J. Money November 20, 2017 at 12:49 PM

          YES!!! Please do write about it – that sounds super fascinating!

          1. Brian @ singledadmoney November 30, 2017 at 4:56 PM

            Which one, the Straw Bale house, or the marina living to bump my savings rate? Ah screw it, I’ll write about both!

  15. Kristy November 17, 2017 at 10:13 AM

    Wow, what an amazing story! I could never do that just because I do not like camping, but I have often talked about putting a Pod on our lot after the kids move out! Then we could get rid of all of our “stuff” and live more simply. Great job Kristin!

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 10:24 AM

      Yes! There are so many ways to do it. Getting rid of stuff feels awesome!

  16. Michelle Schroeder-Gardner November 17, 2017 at 10:17 AM

    Love this! Marinas on the west coast seem so affordable – we looked at marinas in southern Florida and they are so much more expensive!

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 10:24 AM

      Wow, I didn’t know that!! What’s amazing is that you can anchor out, which is totally free, but that means moving every few days, plus the marina provides water and power which is nice. At some point though we are going to completely move out of the marina and go travel :) Can’t wait!

  17. Dave @ Married with Money November 17, 2017 at 11:06 AM

    Great story! I’d have been SO DONE with camping after that scare though, wow!

    I’m not sure I’d like to live on a boat anymore. Almost did it when I moved to CA but didn’t pull the trigger on it. Maybe in another life :)

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 1:34 PM

      ha yeah we haven’t camped in that campground since, but sometimes we do go to another campground on Mt. Tam that has a host on the property where we feel safer. That was definitely a scary night!

  18. Mr. Tako November 17, 2017 at 11:39 AM

    Wow, four months of camping! After about a week or two I’m usually “done” with camping. But I definitely see the saving advantages it can provide.

    Sailboats are an interesting housing hack. I knew a family that spent over a decade on a sailboat, sailing around the world. Just like camping they had to deal with physical dangers (storms, pirates, sinking boats), but for the most part it sounds kind of fun.

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 1:36 PM

      I think it will be an adventure, although I have to admit I haven’t sailed much on the open ocean yet, so that will be a real test! On passages we alternate every few hours with one of us being on watch and another sleeping. I’m not sure how I’ll like that, ha.

      1. J. Money November 20, 2017 at 12:50 PM

        Sounds like having a baby with the sleeping, haha…

  19. Joe November 17, 2017 at 12:08 PM

    The sailboat sounds awesome. I’d love to do that for a while. The 4 months camping sounds terrible. We could only take 4 nights of camping. It’s so uncomfortable. :)

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 1:38 PM

      hahah, yeah, we “glamped” it up a bit by putting a futon and a real comforter, sheets, pillow in the tent to make it more comfortable.

  20. EL November 17, 2017 at 12:48 PM

    It takes courage to live in a tent in the woods. Living in a sail boat cool, traveling with the sail boat not for me, I like land and prefer to avoid the dangers of the open ocean. But good luck on your journey, and all the best with all the financial goals in your future.

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 17, 2017 at 1:38 PM

      Thank you so much! Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing how I like a life on the water, but I’m guessing I will :)

  21. Mrs. BITA November 17, 2017 at 2:02 PM

    Love your story!

    How easy is it to get a spot in a marina in San Francisco? Is the demand high? Are there waiting lists?
    I love the idea of a sailboat, but it could never be a reality for me. I’ve never been out on a boat without spending a considerable amount of the trip throwing up over the back.

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 20, 2017 at 7:55 PM

      There are waiting lists in really nice spots like Sausalito, but none where we are. Plus, the East Bay has a lot of marinas. A lot of people anchor out for free and don’t even pay for a slip. Ultimate cheap living.

  22. Daniel November 17, 2017 at 2:11 PM

    Thanks for your story. I’m in the stage of living without amenities right now, on an RV I bought two months ago. It’s encouraging to hear you come out in a good place. Like you, I’m motivated to retire longstanding debt.

    1. J. Money November 20, 2017 at 12:52 PM

      Ooooh nice! That’s an impressive one to be able to pull off too!

    2. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 20, 2017 at 7:56 PM

      Awesome! Living without amenities is hard. I’m so glad we have a toilet and a stove now! haha.

  23. Primal Prosperity November 17, 2017 at 8:38 PM

    I LOVE this story! I tried commenting earlier, but my computer died. :)

    I used to sail quite a bit myself and I have a pilot’s license for ‘sail’planes…. similar concept. )

    Two of my favorite sailing documentaries are: MaidenTrip about a 14-16 year old girl who is the youngest to sail around the world solo and she made her own videos. The best part is that she says something like: I see people chase money and stuff and I don’t want that…..

    ha! If only I was that mature to realize that at that age. :)

    The other is more sad… it is called Chasing Bubbles. The guy was a Chicago Stock Trader and was miserable and set out to sail without any experience and did it so successfully. He was out on the sea for a few years and encountered and overcame so many challenges. Unfortunately, after his sailing trip, he traveled by plane and he got sick on a trip to India, and died. But, I have to say, he probably lived more than most of us to in our short lives! The documentary is on YouTube if you want to see it.

    Anyway…. you go girl! I will be following your journey!

    1. J. Money November 20, 2017 at 12:53 PM

      Crazy!!! I totally believe there’s a whole world of people doing this same thing though out there…. amazing what different lives we all live.

    2. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 20, 2017 at 7:54 PM

      I’ve seen Maiden Trip – amazing movie! The other one sounds really interesting as well…I’ll have to see if the library has it. Thanks for reading!

  24. Sara @ Gathering Dreams November 18, 2017 at 3:31 PM

    A pretty amazing story! As much as I consider myself frugal, I am not sure I could live in a tent and then a car for so long! The longest I spent in a tent was 1 night and I though wild animals would kill us :)

    I admire you tenacity, and I really wish you good luck with your nomadic life. I am sure you will have an incredible time and so many stories to tell, sailing around. Looking forward to following you!

    1. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 20, 2017 at 7:53 PM

      Thank you Sara! Yeah, its definitely not for everyone. I don’t think I’d live in a tent and a car again. But a van…maybe!! :)

  25. Mike November 18, 2017 at 5:08 PM

    Wow, very nice! You’re living the life that so many people, me included, are dreaming of.

    We plan to live on a sailboat, traveling and raising our family all over the world. Soon, very soon…

    So glad to see someone else living this dream.


    1. J. Money November 20, 2017 at 12:54 PM

      I bet the odds are good you pull the trigger on it too from the look of your blog :) I think starting blogs around your passion amplifies your commitment by like 800% haha… I wonder if there’s any research around that? :)

    2. Kristin @ The Wayward Home November 20, 2017 at 7:51 PM

      That is great, Mike!! I’ve talked to quite a few sailing families who have lived on a boat with kids, and they have found it so rewarding and fulfilling. Good luck!

  26. Michael CPO, From the Far Side of the Planet November 25, 2017 at 9:51 PM

    I live in Asia here .. so we only camp and canoe? when we are back home visiting folks which is cheap, cheap, cheap! … So we don’t camp here but do live with the in-laws – Grin!? :) … So life in Asia can be very inexpensive too … Japanese restaurants though can be a bit pricey here but still cheaper than in North America…. In Asia …American staples like Cheerios even in Walmart and Costco cost double, triple and quadruple as in the States —- so chocolate pudding cups are a luxury here … not to mention a steak restaurant like Friday’s or the Outback etc …. the price for a so-so steak is out this world here … to save money as international expat here we eat local fare and seeing my wife and in-laws are from here … we are living all together sharing the costs and it helps with child care too .. and I like big families too! :) … which helps … we actually have 2 maids … and a driver … the savings helped me become a multi-millionaire ….. seeing I re-invested the savings in stocks, rental real estate, business etc which I have written a bit about… see above link if ya like …. we also save on nursing home care seeing the maids help with the father-in-law who is wheelchair bound … hiking, skiing and cabin-ing? :) are catching on over here, but boating and camping is less common … anyway a great posting – Michael CPO

    1. J. Money November 27, 2017 at 3:28 PM

      fascinating set up you guys have over there!

  27. ZJ Thorne November 27, 2017 at 4:07 PM

    I am intrigued by the idea of living in a houseboat, but I worry if it would be safe docked since I would be a woman living alone. Do you think you would have done it without your boyfriend?

  28. Robert Makinen March 17, 2018 at 6:13 AM

    I’m in the process of throwing away everything I own and living out of a car and a tent for the second time in the last year. Same thing, different supplies, and location. I’m right by Seattle, an. Any tips or ideas? I pulled it off in Hawaii on the Big Island with little help, but this area is a whole new ball game.

  29. Heidi November 1, 2018 at 3:38 PM

    This is hogwash! She was a reporter $$$, and he had enough money to, after fixing up his yacht, would be able to travel the world??? This isn’t realistic with what you would call car and tent living. And to be able to save $20,000 a year isn’t even close to those of us who are REALLY living this way! You still have bills to pay; even without an actual roof over your head! So to those REAL car and tent dwellers, yes my husband and I live in a tent and are both working in Washington State, we wouldn’t even come CLOSE to being able to save that much in a year; due to our “regular Joe” type jobs.
    Give us a RRAL story, and then we’ll take you seriously!

    1. J. Money November 2, 2018 at 12:02 PM

      It’s still a real story whether their circumstances are different than yours/others. I don’t know anyone in my life who’s doing this and found it pretty inspiring!