How I ended up living out of my car instead of the $75k /year engineering job
The plan was just that, a plan.
I graduated college.
I was going to road trip from Florida to California.
I was going to travel for 3 months up the west coast, camping, climbing, and visiting family.
I was then going to relocate to LA where I would work for a defense company doing guidance, navigation, and control engineering. I’d be working for the same team I interned with last year.
I don’t actually consider myself a spontaneous person. The 3 months I planned to live out of my car wasn’t really a risky move. I had a plan. Plus, most of my peers were in Europe backpacking for a month post-graduation. I wasn’t doing anything too different.
Of course, I didn’t have an official offer letter from the company that was scheduled to be my employer. There were some budget cuts earlier in the year and my boss had to wait for things to clear up before he could extend me an offer. We had a constant line of communication so I had faith that everything would work together for good.
At lunch one day my dad asked, “What are you going to do if you get out there and the offer isn’t available?” I gave my typical spiel regarding how easy it would be for me to find a job in my industry and how I had family in California that I could use for a backup if things started taking too long.
The truth? I didn’t care. I just wanted a break from all the grinding and hustling I had done in the past five years (read this article for more background on how I graduated debt-free). I wanted to rock climb, meet new people, hike, explore, camp, photograph, and experience. I wanted to experience a change of pace. In fact, I think I subconsciously hoped that my job would fall through. Those thoughts were mixed with the terrifying reality that the rest of my life would suddenly seem so aloof. And those thoughts were mixed with a bit of reality showing that I had the means to make it happen.
I have a degree in aerospace engineering with a relatively high job prospect and security in the foreseeable future.
I have no student loans, car payments, or a mortgage.
I have $10,000 in savings (my proudest accomplishment to this day, I think).
The dream that I’d give up for the unknown.
A general framework for how I saw the next ten years of my life played out. I would work for five-ish years, learning as much as I can about guidance, control, and navigation (a pretty small subset of engineering in high demand).
During that time I would continue living as frugally as possible and saving nearly 75% of my income. I would purchase a Mercedes Sprinter Cargo van and would then use the company workshop (and access to free materials) to transform the van into a tiny home (this was before I realized I suck at woodworking).
Then I’d quit my job, live out of my van, and rock climb. The goal was always finding a way to work 3–4 months out of the year, and travel the rest.
Sounds pretty good, right?
I spent two weeks at home after graduation preparing for my 3-month adventure. I built a wooden, platform bed in the back of my 2003 Subaru Forester. I made a few necessary purchases like a quality cooler and new hiking shoes while getting rid of nearly every “excess” possession that I had. One week before my cross-country road trip I got the email.
“Regrettably, I cannot offer you a position at this time…”
I started crying. I couldn’t stop myself. I think I was even a little excited but my body wasn’t portraying that. Instead I felt choked up for an entire day while I processed my new reality. I think I do that when things don’t turn out how I expect them to, whether life-changing or not. However, this seemed life-changing.
A day later I was totally fine. I didn’t know how it was going to work, but I knew I’d be fine. I could live off my savings for two years if I was really smart about it. I told my mom about the email and my plans to continue westward. She, of course, was supportive and believed in my ability to make sound decisions more than I probably did.
I continued preparing. The spontaneity of my life was beginning to get a bit too far outside my comfort zone so I began preparing a little extra. How would I find places to shower? How would I meet people to climb with? What if I met a random person to climb with and decided I didn’t want to climb with them? What if I get bored with living on the road? I knew I just needed to get out there and figure it out. I just needed to begin the journey.
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