Becoming 'Homeless' Was The Best Decision I Ever Made

I thought I was hitting the road for an adventure. Instead, I found a home.

Author with her belongings traveling in Texas Author in car | John Archer, KeithBinns | Canva

In December 2019, I made a decision that my family universally loathed. I was going to live (and sleep) in my compact car so I could finally afford to travel.

I saw it as an adventure. They saw it as homelessness.

Less than three years earlier, I had moved from my home state of Colorado to live in Peoria, Illinois, where my parents had grown up and where much of my extended family still lived. Rent prices had risen out of control in the Denver area, and I was looking for a lower cost of living while I pursued a career as a full-time freelance writer.


Developing stronger relationships with my grandfather and many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins was a nice benefit of living in Central Illinois, but one thing I couldn’t have understood until I moved there was that winters there were so much worse than winters in Denver, which were already bad enough to trigger seasonal depression.

Becoming Homeless Was the Best Decision I Ever MadePhoto by John Archer | Property of author


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By December of 2019, I was stuck in this in-between world, where I wasn’t making quite enough money from writing to pay all my bills, but the dog grooming I had picked up on the side also wasn’t paying as well as I had hoped and was keeping me away from finding more and better writing work.

On top of everything, the constantly stone-grey sky and already-frigid temperatures had sent my mind into a very dark place. “I can’t keep living like this.” It’s not that I was suicidal, necessarily, but deep in my bones, I understood that I wouldn’t survive another Illinois winter trying to balance grooming and writing.

For the previous year or so, I had been watching videos of a 20-something girl who had been living and sleeping in her compact car, and that felt like the perfect way for me to reduce my living expenses so I could afford to focus on just my writing while also allowing me to explore the country, if not the whole world, a dream I had long held tight to.


When I made up my mind, nobody could change it. I finished the busy holiday season at my grooming salon, got rid of most of my belongings (either selling them, trashing them, or storing them in an aunt and uncle’s basement), broke my lease, and hit the road on Sunday, January 5, 2020, after a big family lunch.

My mom and stepdad live in a gated community outside the Dallas area, and they kindly offered to let me park outside of their place for a while as I adjusted to living in my car. I eventually wanted to head further south, since even Dallas gets pretty chilly in the winter, but I couldn’t deny their logic that it would be safer to work out all the kinks within the bounds of their community.

I didn’t want to make the roughly 12-hour drive all in one day since I didn’t leave Peoria until mid-afternoon, so I got a cheap motel room in Missouri somewhere west of St. Louis. Trying to sleep on the extra-firm mattress while listening to hooligans messing around outside drove home the reality that most of my important possessions were in my car and could easily be stolen. “What have I gotten myself into?” I thought.

After many hours of tossing and turning, I checked out of my motel room long before the sun arose and hit the road. I found a truck stop that seemed safe and wound up sleeping in my car for a few hours before hitting the road again.


Once I reached my mom and stepdad’s place, I soon discovered that sleeping in my car wouldn’t be a problem at all. Sleeping in my reclined seat seemed to be much easier on my back than sleeping on a bed, and I had enough blankets to keep me plenty warm. Sleep, it would turn out, wouldn’t be the hardest part of living in my car.

Becoming Homeless Was the Best Decision I Ever MadeThe sunrise after the 2nd night of sleeping in my car | Photo by author

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I spent most of my days working in a local Starbucks or Dairy Queen, and I started venturing out some evenings to attend Meetups in the Dallas area, after which I would find a seemingly safe place to park and sleep before dashing back to the actual safety of my mom and stepdad’s place the next day.

On Wednesday, January 15, I made the drive that would change my life and I headed down to Galveston to see the beach. After roughly six hours of driving, I crossed the causeway, and as I did, I felt like I was coming home, even though it was to a place I had never been before.

Becoming Homeless Was the Best Decision I Ever MadeThe first photo I took in Galveston | Photo by author


Growing up in Denver, I was a mountain girl. Although I didn’t ski or snowboard, I still loved “my mountains,” so nothing could have prepared me for the peace I found at the beach on a dreary January day. As I drove through the town and walked along the beaches, I pictured myself happily riding a bike down the Seawall — despite not having ridden a bike in at least ten years.

Galveston had the perfect small-town feel with most of the conveniences of a big city, and anything Galveston didn’t have could be found in Houston, about an hour north.

After a couple of harrowing nights having trouble finding places to safely park and sleep, I headed back to my mom and stepdad’s place, but it wouldn’t be long before I found myself back in Galveston — this time for good.

I spent the next two weeks using my mom and stepdad’s place as a home base for multiple small adventures, but the toll of trying to find safe, legal places to park and sleep when I wasn’t there and the cost of “buying” a table at a Panera or a Starbucks where I could spend the day working started to add up.


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By then, I had picked up some new clients and was making good money (relatively speaking). I made another trip to Galveston, but this time I booked a motel room for a few nights so I would have a place to work and sleep. As my checkout day arrived, I still wasn’t ready to leave, so I found an Airbnb for about a week at a 1900 Storm Survivor Victorian house in the East End.

Every day, I fell more in love with the city, and before my time in the Victorian house was up, I decided to sign a lease for an apartment on the West End.

Becoming Homeless Was the Best Decision I Ever MadePhoto by author


On Thursday, February 13, 2020, I moved into a one-bedroom apartment with only the belongings I had in my car and a few cheap sticks of furniture I picked up at Walmart. Signing a lease is expensive, so all I had for furniture to start with was a cheap desk chair, a TV tray for my laptop, a folding camp chair, and an air mattress to sleep on. But I loved it.

About a month later, the COVID lockdowns hit, as much as you could call them that in a state as red as Texas. I didn’t mind at all. I had a view of the pool and palm trees from my apartment. The weather was mild, despite it still technically being winter. And I didn’t have to worry about where I would go to the bathroom when businesses shut their doors to the public for a couple of weeks.

Becoming Homeless Was the Best Decision I Ever MadeView from my Galveston apartment | Photo by author


Galveston felt like home in a way no place ever had before. After a few years there, however, I grew tired of living in a tourist town and wanted easier access to medical care and other services only available on the mainland. I had given up my car in December of 2020, and getting around (and off) the island was more difficult than I had expected.

Just under a year ago, I found an amazing apartment closer to Houston, and I love it here just as much, if not more so than I adored living in Galveston.

Winter down here is only brutally cold for about one week a year (and that one week happens at a different time every year, which I find endlessly amusing) and is otherwise mild enough to get by with just sweatpants and a hoodie. I don’t love the heat and humidity, but I find it much less dysregulating than cold weather, so the hot summers are an acceptable tradeoff for the mild winters. Spring and fall are delightful here, and I love walking around in short sleeves while seeing my loved ones in Colorado and Illinois on social media showing pictures or videos of snow or complaining about the cold.

It turned out that living in my car and traveling the country wasn’t the long-term solution I expected, but it brought me to where I truly feel at home, and that never would have happened if it wasn’t for my decision to become “homeless” in December of 2019.


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Jennifer Nelson is a writer who covers diverse topics, including autism, ADHD, memoir, mental health, pets, and more