Instagram Makes it Look Easy: The Truth Behind Life in a Prius
No agenda to keep, new cities every week, and a weirdly strong opinion about Taco Bell.
It might not be what 28-year-old Jordan Thornsburg expected when he graduated from Miami University in 2012, but the daily grind of post-grad life in Dayton, Ohio had him rethinking his priorities.
Some people buy an RV, others renovate a van… Jordan Thornsburg lives in his Prius. The videographer and creative mind behind Macroscope Pictures has been living in his car since March 2017, and gave me a glimpse into his incredibly unique and often hilarious life on the road.
Where, how, and most of all, why? He answered all of my questions and more about a lifestyle we’ve all thought about in passing, but never really had the guts to make happen.
Leaving His Old Life Behind
As with most major life-altering decisions, it all started with a break up.
“I had a really great relationship that ended right before 2016 when she decided to move to the UK and I did not. That severance was the catalyst for a lot of soul searching about the course I wanted my life to take. According to a 2010 census bureau survey, Ohio residents are the 3rd most likely to still live in their state of origin. I knew I wanted to defy this trend, but I didn’t know where to start. How exactly does one decide where they want to spend their life when they’ve experienced so few of the options?”
Although traveling the country seemed like a faraway, fleeting thought, it soon turned into an obsession. He scoured Youtube daily for ideas, saved money for months, and finally landed on his escape plan.
“A few DIY projects and Goodwill drop-offs later, I quit my job, and on March 1st, 2017 I told Siri to set a course for yonder.”
So, what makes Jordan different from the rest of us? Not much, really. He’s just a college grad who was underwhelmed by the monotony that adult life often becomes. Traveling the country and living in his Prius was the solution, and so far, he’s loving it.
Jordan recommends the lifestyle for “those who seek to challenge themselves, collect less bullshit space-consumers, and live while they’re alive. You can work for 50 years at the same job in your hometown saving smart for a retirement of travel adventures, but not only are you going to be the least physically capable of enjoying it you’ve ever been, there is also no guarantee you won’t die before the time comes.”
And if you need a little more inspiration…
“We gave a manbaby [Trump] access to a button that could trigger the end of every conscious creature on the planet. Go for broke!”
The Day to Day Life of Living in a Car
Many of the basic amenities we take for granted in an apartment are non-existent in a Prius. So, what exactly does the day-to-day routine of a car dweller look like?
“Ironically while I set out intending to escape routine, I ended up discovering its value. When you are hopping from one place to another nearly every week, keeping a routine that sets you up for physical and mental flourishing becomes much more challenging.”
Jordan hoped that getting away from the distractions of every day life would help him become a better version of himself. So far, it’s a work in progress…
“On an ideal day I go to the gym, meditate with Headspace, chip away at a creative project, cook, journal, and read/listen to philosophically enriching or educational content. The daily reality involves failing to do half of those things, eating out, and wasting time on Tinder.”
I’m glad Jordan mentioned Tinder, ’cause I was feeling like it was time to get pretty up close and personal. Specifically, how does showering work when you live in a Prius without running water? The answer is “hobo hygiene,” and it’s easier than you think. He pays $32 a month for a YMCA membership that grants him access to 2,700 gyms across the country, effectively solving all the problems associated with trying to smell like an upstanding citizen while living in a car.
Showering may be one thing, but internet access is a whole different beast when living on the road. Can you imagine life without unlimited wifi? For Jordan, that’s been one of the toughest aspects of the lifestyle, but also one he’s grown to appreciate in a certain way.
Jordan “shares” (aka uses 95% of) a 15gb month family cell phone plan with his parents. Even that’s not enough, though, and local libraries and Starbucks have become frequent haunts for him. Still, limited internet access could be a blessing in disguise for a lot of us who have become addicted to our screens.
“An unlimited data plan is very tempting, but at the same time I actually appreciate the limitation. It’s an incentive to put my phone into airplane mode and experience the world, rather than sit in my car and gorge on Netflix.”
Most Priuses don’t come with an open kitchen plan, and cooking outside on the hitch on the back of a car sounds less than ideal. Still, it can and does happen (although, pretty infrequently). Jordan only owns a single fold up burner, a spoon, and a pot.
To be honest this sounds like my own personal version of hell, but some people just really don’t care that much about food variety. When your fridge is a high-efficiency cooler only sporadically refilled with ice, something’s gotta give.
“Despite having all the gear I need to make meal magic, I can’t help myself from analyzing the time and resource investment it takes vs. optimized drive-thru fast food orders. My diet right now is in large part made up of healthy choices from Taco Bell.”
He usually opts for one of two options every time he goes. Two mini skillet bowls fresco style or two tostadas fresco style (no chipotle sauce!) both run him only $2 — $3 for a filling 300 calorie meal.
You can’t just park overnight wherever you please. Living in a Prius involves a certain amount of stealth, and Jordan’s sleep game has been slowly evolving over the year. “I started out sleeping in Walmart parking lots. Later, I discovered how much I get a kick out of sleeping in a downtown area where a hotel would cost a fortune.” Jordan will let you aspiring Prius dwellers in on a little secret: “most metered parking spaces in excellent locations don’t start charging until 8am.”
If you can get your ass out of bed early (not too hard when the morning sun is cooking you, Jordan says) these become convenient places to settle down for the night. And when he’s not checking out new cities, Jordan likes to sleep in nature. “Lastly,” he says, “I got hip to the wealth of Bureau of Land Management properties, where you can camp for up to 14 days straight free of charge.” He also recommends Freecampsites.net as an enormously helpful resource for car dwellers in the country.
Let’s Look at the Finances
We’re all wondering it, so I asked it. How can you make money when you live in a car?
Well the honest truth is… you don’t. Jordan saved up money before he went on the road so he has the freedom to go where he wants, when he wants, and only take on paid work that he really enjoys.
Over the past year he’s worked on freelance shooting and editing projects and a few corporate video gigs. However, most of his time is spent working on passion projects, like the #ShotsOrShots drone challenge he and his friends complete every week on his Instagram, or the videos showcased on his Youtube channel.
On average, Jordan spends between $500 and $650 a month to live in his Prius, depending on how often he goes out for dinner and drinks with his friends. However, I noticed that health insurance wasn’t listed on his budget breakdown. Jordan may be different from most millennials in a lot of ways, but the cost of health insurance is still f*cking up his life like the rest of us.
Instead of doctors, Jordan uses “peppers to absorb my toxins and crystals I bought on Ebay to provide healing energy.” He’s just kidding though.. kind of.
“I use the kind that’s imaginary and I pay $700/year in penalties. I looked into buying healthcare and it would cost me $3000/year and not even begin covering me until I’ve spent something like $5000 out of pocket. On principal, I’d rather die.”
Lifestyle: The Pros and Cons of a Living in a Prius
Since Jordan started traveling, he’s been able to spend weeks in each of the top three cities he always wanted to live in: Denver, Austin, and Los Angeles, and that’s just the start. The list of places he’s traveled to was over 30 entries long, including Miami, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and national parks throughout the west.
I wondered if there’s a car or van life culture that’s hidden to the untrained eye, and Jordan says he’s met a few others like him. However, the lifestyle is so nomadic that he didn’t really see any common threads that tie them all together. “I’ve been surprised about how much variance there is. Variance in upbringing, wealth, motives, political affiliations, physical health, mental health, diet, etc. But if you judge the “culture” by the 25,000 youtube channels on the topic, you could begin to think they’re all vegan bloggers.”
As far as the worst parts about living in a car, Jordan says it’s hard to keep a healthy morning routine, and (despite the amount of time he spends on Tinder), dating is difficult and the logistics of his love life have become pretty interesting.
However, one of the best parts about it is pretty clear. He has “the freedom to pick up and go wherever I want, whenever I want. My friend was talking about how she really wanted to visit Taos, NM. One Google search and an hour later, I was on my way there.”
Stand Out Moments
Every adventure has it’s memorable moments, and Jordan’s is no different. We discussed some of the scariest events that he’s been a part of on the road.
“In New Orleans I found myself feeling extremely tired, so I pulled over to take a nap in an unfamiliar part of town. After putting in my ear plugs and masking my eyes, I heard what was very clearly gunshots. Despite this realization, I drifted to sleepy boy land. Next I woke to a cop shining his flashlight through my windshield. ‘This is not the place you want to do what you’re doing,’ he told me. He was obviously right.”
What’s as scary as gunshots and cops in the night? Easy: “Being on a road in Texas. Any road.” Jordan has found driving in the Longhorn state to be more terrifying than anywhere else he’s been in the US.
“You’ll often hear excessively long horn blasts and dramatic skidding to a stop. During one week there I saw two minor collisions. Another time I was first on the scene where a vehicle ran off the road and tumbled into a ravine. The driver was fortunately okay enough to crawl out and attempt to act sober… That said, I still love Texas.”
So, How Long Will it Last?
Traveling the world is fun but can also be romanticized, and I know it’s definitely possible to get disillusioned with the nomadic lifestyle. I asked Jordan if he has any plans to get a permanent place soon, and put the Prius lifestyle behind him for good.
“I don’t have an end date in mind but I’m not in any hurry. With my Prius I feel like I’m lacking nothing, and the cramped space reinforces my motto: Sleep in your car, live in the world.”
Right now, finances are fine and life on the open road has only just begun. He gets to see the world, push his creative limits, and hopefully become a better version of himself along the way. Exploring and creating are major perks, but most importantly for Jordan “living a life self-defined comes with a sense of pride.”
Originally published at slightnorth.com on March 2, 2018.