Living in a car for nearly a year made me pick up number of travel-related skills, here and there. Having limited available space forced “less is more” philosophy on me, and it’s something I carried over into more stationary life. Right now I’m taking a break from car dwelling and living in a small apartment in Bay Area. It didn’t stop my love for travel though, as I’m writing this entry on my flight to Nassau, Bahamas. 5 days at the destination, leisure. One of the many weekends I’m not home.

I’m not traveling alone this time, and my traveling partner has a similar outlook on travel.

Him

Less is more. Every trip starts with packing. I use my eBags Motherlode Weekender backpack, which is about the perfect size for me when it’s compressed tightly. I can probably fit in double the stuff I packed in the backpack, but I love having room in case I pick something up at the destination.

I never have to check in my bag, and it’s light enough to carry on my back without any strain. I can explore my destination as soon as I arrive, without the need to find arrangement for my bags.

I pack minimally, only having two-three sets of each type of clothing. I hand-wash the clothes I wear before I go to bed. I cycle through a total of 3 pairs of undergarments - most dry overnight as I sleep.

Furthermore, all my outfits can be mixed and matched together, so I don’t have to worry about pairing tops, bottoms, and shoes. I like to think I have some sense of style to, for those wondering. Most people I meet won’t likely see me for more then one-two days in a row, and those who do are not likely to pay attention to my small wardrobe - as long as it looks clean and sharp.

Here’s what the clothing items for this trip look like:

  • Business-casual dress-shirt.
  • Two T-shirts.
  • Pair of shorts.
  • Icebreaker merino underwear, 2 pairs.
  • Darn Tough socks, 2 pairs.
  • Jacket.
  • Swimming trunks.
  • Travel towel, for the beach.
  • Flip flops.
  • Workout outfit:
    • Tank top.
    • Shorts.
    • Sports underwear.
    • Running sneakers.

All of the above is contained within a single packing cube and a travel shoe bag.

Doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s plenty (add the outfit I’m wearing on the plane - pants, T-shirt, sweater, shoes, pair of underwear, socks). The above lets me have outfits for all kinds of events, activities, and anticipated weather at the destination.

My personal hygiene stuff fits in a dettachable bag which comes with the backpack. Not much special here:

For entertainment and downtime I have my trusty Google Pixel C (with attached keyboard) and a pair of cheap apple ear buds. Bonus point for USB C standard - I only need to use a single charger for my tablet and a phone.

Her

Traveling with a space obsessed partner (him: Hey!) has forced me to look at packing in a different way. I first experimented with the idea of minimalism after watching The BucketList Family and avoiding airline fees is always a bonus. With every trips, I refined my set up. While I am not as lightweight and nimble as my partner, I have made significant improvements to my travel routine and picked up a few tips and tricks from him.

For example, the eBag Weekender was my first real travel purchase, which I made sure to always have ready for use, meaning that it’s always stocked with toiletries, travel documents and packing cubes. Given my propensity for sweating, I upgraded to a clean/dirty packing cube and a charcoal odor remover for my workout outfit.

For this trip, this is what is inside my bag including the clothes I am wearing to travel:

On me:

  • A tank top.
  • A hoodie.
  • A denim jacket.
  • Lululemon leggings.
  • Bra and underwear.
  • Sandals

In my luggage:

  • Button on shirt.
  • Tank top.
  • T-shirt.
  • Pair of pants.
  • Pair of shorts.
  • Rain jacket.
  • 5 pairs of underwear (one is never too prepared in terms of underwear, and this is where I refuse to become a minimalist).
  • Workout oufit:
    • Leggings.
    • Dry fit T-shirt.
    • One pair of socks.
    • Workout bra.
    • Sports sneakers.
    • Bikini

Toiletries:

  • Foundation.
  • Makeup brush.
  • Travel-friendly lotion.
  • Natural oil for face washing purposes.
  • Feminine hygiene soap
  • Ingrown hair serum.
  • L’Instant de Guerlain perfume (while the current bottle takes a lot of space and adds weight, I have yet to find a travel friendly way to carry it).

If you haven’t noticed, my backpack is bigger, and my setup is a bit heavier. To be perfectly honest, I am not yet fully on board with this whole minimalistic travel but I have got to say, my shoulders are thankful.

Making Yourself at Home

We’ve learned from the bucket list family that it’s really important to unpack as soon as we get to a hotel. Especially since it’s easy to do when there’s little clothing in the bags. This way we feel at home whenever we go, even if we’re just staying at a hotel for a single night. Every item is in it’s place, and there’s no digging through the bags for clothes or gadgets.

We’ve also found that we really value downtime, every day we travel. Taking time to unwind (however long it needs to be) in the hotel room, a coffee shop, or anywhere else helps take the edge off flying and booking accommodations and the subconscious pressure to have fun as a pair.

We’ve learned this the hard way on our first trip together. Our days were packed with activities and sightseeing stops, and we were at each other’s throats by the end of the trip. Lesson learned.

For the past year or two I’ve been working in the cloud. I use Chrome Secure Shell to connect to my machines, and it works rather well. In fact, I moved away from my work Linux/Mac laptops towards an HP Chromebook, which fullfilled both requirements I had: a browser and a terminal. One thing I missed about a Linux machine though is lack of notify-send-like functionality, especially when working with long-running builds.

Yesterday I pinged hterm team for assistance with this matter, and turns out recent release of Secure Shell supports Chrome desktop notifications! Furthermore, two amazing engineers (thanks Andrew and Mike!) crafted an hterm-notify script, which propagates notifications to Chrome, and by extent to desktop!

I made a few tiny changes, mainly since I don’t use screen, and tmux sets my $TERM to screen-256color for some reason:

#!/bin/sh
# Copyright 2017 The Chromium OS Authors. All rights reserved.
# Use of this source code is governed by a BSD-style license that can be
# found in the LICENSE file.

# Write an error message and exit.
# Usage: <message>
die() {
  echo "ERROR: $*"
  exit 1
}

# Send a notification.
# Usage: [title] [body]
notify() {
  local title="${1-}" body="${2-}"

  case ${TERM-} in
  screen*)  # This one's really tmux
    printf '\ePtmux;\e\e]777;notify;%s;%s\a\e\\' "${title}" "${body}"
    ;;
  *)        # This one's plain hterm
    printf '\e]777;notify;%s;%s\a' "${title}" "${body}"
    ;;
  esac
}

# Write tool usage and exit.
# Usage: [error message]
usage() {
  if [ $# -gt 0 ]; then
    exec 1>&2
  fi
  cat <<EOF
Usage: hterm-notify [options] <title> [body]

Send a notification to hterm.

Notes:
- The title should not have a semi-colon in it.
- Neither field should have escape sequences in them.
  Best to stick to plain text.
EOF

  if [ $# -gt 0 ]; then
    echo
    die "$@"
  else
    exit 0
  fi
}

main() {
  set -e

  while [ $# -gt 0 ]; do
    case $1 in
    -h|--help)
      usage
      ;;
    -*)
      usage "Unknown option: $1"
      ;;
    *)
      break
      ;;
    esac
  done

  if [ $# -eq 0 ]; then
    die "Missing message to send"
  fi
  if [ $# -gt 2 ]; then
    usage "Too many arguments"
  fi

  notify "$@"
}
main "$@"

Throwing this in as ~/bin/notify (not forgetting to chmod +x and having ~/bin in the $PATH) I can get a notification when a particular long running command is complete:

sleep 30 && notify Hooray "The sleep's done!"

A close friend of mine has a story similar to mine. She wanted to share it for a while now, and I’m humbled she chose my blog as a medium for telling her inspiring story to the strangers on the Internet:

I can’t count the number of times I have attempted to tell this story on paper. It all started 8 months ago when my then-husband, let’s call him Carl, told me that he no longer loved me and was in love with someone else. There are a few moments in life that seem to happen in slow motion and this was one of them. Until then, my life had been being Carl’s wife and in the blink of an eye, I had to figure out who I was in a world without Carl. I forced myself to write every thoughts I had, dark, depressed, once a day but it didn’t stick. I bought various domain names hoping that it would give me the final push to start writing all this down but all the sites remained “under construction”. So here is my final attempt to write this up, organize my thoughts and hopefully let someone going through this know that they are not alone. How did I get here? Well funny you should ask, pull up a chair and listen to my tale.

Carl and I met when we were 22 and 18 respectively. It was far from love at first sight but he intrigued me. I had just got out of an unhealthy relationship and wanted something different and Carl was that, unapologetically himself. Up until then, I had always felt pressure to conform to the idea of who others wanted me to be and meeting Carl, who let’s be honest was a straight nerd, was surprisingly refreshing and attractive. We dated for 5 years before getting married. We struggled with money throughout the first years of our relationship so when the opportunity to make more at a job I was unqualified for presented itself, we jumped at the chance. We packed our bags and moved for my job. Thus started the beginning of the end. I was so focused on keeping said job that I overworked, became a ball of nerves and lost all desires to do anything outside of work. While I struggled with the demand of the job, Carl found refuge with his younger, funner coworkers. We started living separate lives, which eventually led up to the fateful day when my husband told me that he loved someone else.

I will not bore you with the details of my attempts to become a stable, contributing member of society. It included a lot of sleepless night, Nutella for dinner, and lies. I would smile everyday as I got to work, joked with co-workers and call family members and friends to discuss everything and anything when deep down all I wanted to do was to crawl in a dark place and wallow in my sadness. This period led to a lot of physical and mental changes. I lost 20 pounds in 2 months due to stress but the vain person in me was happy to see myself get skinny. Mentally, I had to come clean to my family and explain to them how I became the first divorced person in a deeply catholic family. I created a smaller, more dependable community of friends, most of them divorced or separated who could provide me with a different perspective. I had to admit to my manager that I could not continue work as is. Maintaining the lies became exhausting and emotionally draining. One had to give and after a heart to heart with my manager, I decided to cash out all my vacation hours and head out to Southeast Asia for a month.

Prior to Southeast Asia, I had never vacationed alone. For the first time in my life, I was in charge of my itinerary and my own entertainment. It was overwhelming. After discussing the trip with veteran solo travelers, I only purchased one ticket. All I knew was my departing and arrival date from and to the US. I arrived at my first stop, Ho Chi Minh City, at midnight on a blazing hot night. The bustle of the city took me aback and made me question the trip in its entirety. I was running away and I knew it. I have always thought of myself as a strong person but dealing with this separation made me feel like a scared kid. Just as I was going through this mental exercise, my cab driver hit a motorcyclist and the impact broke one of his side view mirrors. The driver angrily got out of the car and argued with the individual he had just hit. They spoke in Vietnamese for what felt like hours and came back without explanations. At that point, I was sure that this entire trip was a mistake and if I had spoken the language, I would have asked the driver to turn and drop me back at the airport.

The rest of the drive to the hotel was much calmer with the occasional surprise looks from locals seeing a black tourist through a taxi window at midnight. Blame it on stress, jet lag or even regret but for the first time in months I slept for more than 4 hours. Somewhat invigorated by the night of sleep, I decided to venture into the city to find food. After multiple failed attempts to cross one of the main traffic arteries, I gave up and sat down miserably looking at a bowl of pho from a restaurant located in the same block as my hotel. The Ho Chi Minh City traffic had won once again. I sat by a window seat, staring into the street, dreading the rest of this Southeast Asia trip. To travel Asia required an adventure spirit and it only took me 2 days to recognize that this was not one of my hidden talents. I told myself, only half believing it, that my second stop might be different but deep down, I knew I was on my way to yet another disappointing time.

Bangkok was a life changing stop for my trip and myself as a person. I had contacted a Turkish-based traveler on CouchSurfing visiting Bangkok during the same time. I was excited to meet up with someone that could understand the struggles of being in an unfamiliar country. This guy learned English by watching American sitcoms but did not let his basic knowledge of English or his lack of Thai stop him. It led to some interesting conversations about the meaning of “Netflix and Chill” and other American colloquialisms. Seeing him tackle the challenges of navigating a foreign city showed me what my journey could look like. Not only did he help me see the wonders of being open to the world, but he also inadvertently started my process of self love. Let me explain. To avoid having to carry a heavy suitcase and pay airline fees, I limited my wardrobe to whatever could fit in a carry-on backpack. As a relatively fashion-focused person, this decision was uncomfortable. With that in mind and the unforgiving sun, I was either dripped in sweat or looking like a lost 1920s explorer. Having someone still think that I looked good in those conditions did wonders for my broken self esteem. We spend 4 adventures filled days and parted ways. We still talk to each other and I am grateful to have encountered him so early on during my trip. I finally embraced the lack of structure and decided to thrive through it. Remember this word “Thrive”, it will come back later on in this story.

After Bangkok, I headed to Chiang Mai for the Lantern Festival. Given my positive experience with CouchSurfing, I decided to continue using it to meet locals and travelers throughout my stops. I used all the lessons learned in Bangkok and forced myself to open up to people. I had a heart wrenching conversation with an American girl trying to find herself in the world despite familial and societal pressures. We quickly bonded and within minutes were sharing our deepest darkest fears. In addition to looking differently at people, I started focusing on things that made me happy. I took a Thai cooking class, a skill I desperately lacked in, and learned Muay Thai. With each new activity I undertook, I felt a change inside of me. I was slowly starting to fall in love with myself.

Next stop: Singapore. A few coworkers happened to be there around the same time and I had always been intrigued by the country. I experienced the country’s renowned cleanliness, mix of cultures and wide array of food options. It was in Singapore that I learned another fact about myself: I loved meeting new people. I struck conversations with random people in elevators, buses or hotels. Not having an itinerary turned out to be a blessing. I ended up extending my time in Singapore and enjoyed some retail therapy from one of the cities’ amazing malls.

My goal for this trip was not only self discovery but also to be fully emerged in each country’s history and culture. So that meant that I purposely landed in each new locations not knowing anything about religious beliefs, language and social norms. It worked in my favor up until I arrived in Kuala Lumpur. On my first day in the country, I had planned to follow my typical plan and visit the national and art museums to learn about Malaysian culture. Unfortunately, I arrived during yellow and red shirt protests. All local attractions were closed and I ended up smack in a protest. While I am sure I was never in any real danger, being stuck in the middle of a screaming and upset group of people was scary. I took refuge in a nearby mall and ended up being stranded there for 4 hours. No taxis or Ubers wanted to come to my location due to road closures and fears of property damages. With each hour, I got more and more scared and worried. When I was finally able to get to my hotel, I made arrangements to leave the day after to go to Cambodia. I am hoping to go back to KL and get a chance to see all the city has to offer.

After my failure in Malaysia, I landed in Siem Reap defeated. Cambodia was breathtaking. It was the first time that I saw real poverty and luxury in the same location. It was in Siem Reap that I realized how small my problems really were. I saw and talked to people struggling to afford day to day life and here I was suffering from a broken heart. Siem Reap helped me refocus and gave me a different perspective. It wasn’t about what my problems were but how I approached them. I was not as powerless as I thought I was. I could make the choice to not let my situations impact me and move forward. There, I met some of the most life-loving individuals. As we were exchanging travel stories and tips, we all realized that we were into the same type of music. One of the members of the group ran to his hotel room and brought back his turntables. We had an impromptu dance party in the middle of Siem Reap. I sang and danced my heart away to familiar songs in a an unfamiliar land with unfamiliar people. At that time, I realized that I was happy. For the first time in months, there were no hidden emotions behind my smile, it was pure happiness and I never wanted it to end.

I went to Angkor Wat at sunrise and felt lost and transported to a different world visiting all the cultural sites of the country. The Tuol Seng prison and the lives lost there forced me to put my life into perspective. I realized the following facts that I knew deep down but up until then was unwilling to accept: 1) I was getting divorced, 2) I was deeply hurt that I wasn’t enough for my husband , 3) I still loved Carl and needed to respect his choice, 4) This was not the end for me. Weirdly, coming to these realizations made me calmer. I knew what I had to do. I had to use the remaining days of this trip to try to discover as much as I could about myself.

Along with self discovery and adventure-filled days came the not-so fun ones. Thanksgiving day landed while I was in Phnom Penh. As an immigrant, Thanksgiving meant spending time with Carl’s family. Up until Thanksgiving day, I thought about Carl during my trip but never more than “Carl would have loved eating this, or visiting this area or enjoyed talking with this individual”. But as I was staring at my plate of mashed potatoes and turkey, I not only felt a overwhelming sense of loss but also felt shame. Only a few hours prior, I was reveling in the country’s history and congratulating myself in having a fresh new perspective on life. I could not finish my plate and walked back to my hotel room beaten. For the first time since I started on this adventure, I was happy that I was traveling alone. I spent the rest of my day watching TV locked in my hotel room.

After 3 weeks on the road, I headed back to Vietnam for my last week abroad. For convenience, I reserved a room in the same hotel I had checked at the beginning of this trip. I suddenly realized that the person who checked in 3 weeks ago was not the person who was walking in. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was specifically but I felt more confident and more at peace with myself. A former coworker traveling in Ho Chi Minh City at the same time reached out and we connected for dinner. His first words to me were “… so, what is going on, where is your husband?” We hadn’t seen each other for 4 years and apparently, my social media accounts had become a “Eat, Pray, Love” tribute. I explained my current situation, no longer ashamed of the fact that I had a failed marriage, and we traded travel stories. He had not left his hotel room until our meeting because he was overwhelmed by the city, especially the traffic. I can’t put into words how satisfying it was for me to be able to teach him how to cross the road. I fondly remembered my old self, seating defeated in front of a bowl of pho. I couldn’t have engineered a better end to 4 wonderful weeks in paradise.

Of course I glanced over many more experiences, people and locations visited. It would take days to write it all. I came back to the US on a high that I knew would not last but I was determined to keep it as long as possible. I had felt true happiness and connected with new people for the first time in 7 months. I was accepted even after I showed my true, deeply flawed self, but most importantly, I met myself. I discovered the foundations of who I was, what made me smile, happy and tick. I realized that I could survive, not just survive, I could thrive in a foreign environment and to commemorate it, I tattooed “Thrive” on my shoulder to always remind myself of that feeling. Told you that word was going to come back.

It’s time to write more about my adventures. I’ve been traveling and living in my car for nearly a year now, mostly full-time (excluding hotels on infrequent business trips, occasional friends’ couches, or AirBnB a few times I was sick or wanted a home). I’d love to share what I’ve learned over the past year.

Here’s how a typical conversation with someone who just learned I’m living in my car goes:

You live in that?

Yes I do. I think I need to start from the beginning.

About a year ago I wasn’t in a very good place emotionally. I’ve been going through a divorce, my dream company declined my job application (spoiler: I got the job this year, yay), and my landlord decided that 12 tiny houses on a property isn’t enough and it’s time to kick everyone out to build a more dense apartment complex. I didn’t do much outside of going to work and sleeping.

I think I saw an opportunity to do something drastic with my life, and I decided to take a leap of faith. I gave away everything I couldn’t fit in the back of the car, and set on a road trip across continental United States (after spending a month doing test drives and adjusting my setup dozens of times).

The experience turned out to be more enjoyable than having a house.

How do you even fit in there?!

Everyone I talk to thinks the space is really cramped up, and I have to sleep curled into a ball in the trunk (or something along those lines).

I’m 5’11”, and I have a flat twin-width bed in that’s around 7 feet long (it’s been awhile since I measured). I sleep on an inflatable pad wrapped in a sleeping bag, on top of another sleeping bag all wrapped in a silk sleeping bag cover - my composite mattress is about 3 inches thick. I use regular blankets and pillows, adding or removing a few depending on the temperature outside.

It’s one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept on.

Poor soul, want to crash on my couch?

This is an offer I get as soon as somebody learns I’m living in a car (it’s right up there with “You must be saving so much money not paying rent!”). Most people are really nice, and offer a place to stay. I think it stems from an understandable notion that one probably would only live in a car because of being in a bad situation.

Oddly enough I really enjoy the lifestyle, and I always reject the offers (always appreciate them though). Sometimes I contemplate getting a small RV or a van, but I’m way to attached to air conditioning on demand and 50 mpg on the highway. But I probably won’t need to crash on your couch.

I think the TL;DR here is that majority of people are really nice, once you get out and get to interact with them enough.

Why on Earth are you still living in a car?

There’s more than one reason at this point. Part of it is that it has become a habit now. The biggest reason is probably all the fun things it has forced me to do.

I’ve met a lot of cool people, tried out so many things I would’ve never considered trying, and found exciting hobbies I would’ve never had otherwise. I’m also now in a great shape physically since I usually have to hit up the gym to shower.

It also made me confront my inner demons, since car living tends to consistently provide me with time to be alone with my thoughts - be it driving somewhere, or falling asleep in an area where I wouldn’t want to use electronics. I feel more in tune with myself, and I can close my eyes without being afraid of stream of thoughts keeping me awake at night.

That’s cool! What else is inside?

The front

I try to keep driver’s seat and front passenger seat area clean and empty, with storing some low key items in passenger seat leg space – portable 12V vacuum, water jug, water boiler/thermos.

The front seats are separated from the back by a dark curtain. Unless you shine a (powerful) flashlight inside a car it’s almost impossible to tell the curtain is there.

The back

One of the passenger seats is lowered to make a bed. The bed is extended with a wooden panel specifically made for this purpose which creates a flat surface about 7 foot long. A mattress with a blanket and some throws creates /a nice homey look.

Under the bed is “the basement” – large clear container where I store winter clothes and things I rarely use. If I’m camping extra water jugs go here as well. And some bicycle maintenance stuff, and extra pairs of shoes.

I use the other rear passenger seat as my primary relaxing area when I’m inside the car. There’s a little trashcan stuck to the floor in between the seats.

Cargo and the bike

There’s an old suitcase I use for organizing various cooking and camping supplies. It’s split into nine compartments by some separators I’ve put together. This is where I have some freeze dried veggies, spices, grains and pasta, cooking oils, camping pots and pans, equipment for cleaning the dishes, etc. On top of the suitcase is a backpack where I keep clothes. There’s also a propane burner, camping table and a chair, as well as a toiletry kit. Dirty laundry goes in a dry bag.

I also have a bike strapped to the outside of the car, exploring places by bike after arriving to a new city is very rewarding!

Isn’t it dangerous?

You often read stories of people suffocating in their own cars, and it’s something to be aware of. There are a few rules I follow to be safe, and there are three main dangers here:

  1. Carbon monoxide poisoning.
  2. Carbon dioxide poisoning.
  3. Extreme temperatures.

I sleep with carbon monoxide alarm not far from my head, and my car is a hybrid – meaning it only turns itself on once in a while when batteries need to be recharged. Sometimes I sleep with my car on, and sometimes not. The alarm never went off so far (it works, I check regularly).

Carbon dioxide (stuff you exhale) poisoning is not a silent killer (unlike carbon monoxide), humans are pretty good at detecting high concentration of CO2 – panic attack on par with a headache are a rather clear sign of this happening. I keep windows cracked open most of the time, plus my AC is often on.

I love sleeping at low temperatures (50-60F is my comfort zone for snuggling up under a blanket), but if local forecast suggests the temperature will drop below 50F at night - I make sure to sleep with AC on. If it’s below freezing - I roll up the windows, otherwise I still keep them cracked open a little.

And if it’s really cold and I don’t want to run AC all night, or I just feel like I want to stay inside for a bit - I can just get AirBnB for a couple of nights. Speaking of, by pure chance I stayed at Gayle Laakmann McDowell’s guest house few weeks ago, and I left with great memories and a signed copy of Cracking the Code Interview. Bonus point for meeting cool people.

How does Prius AC work anyway?

This question pops up often enough to address here (along with condensation concerns from seasoned vandwellers).

It’s a hybrid with two electric motors assisting the internal combustion engine. The electric motors power up from a ~1.3 kWh battery, which is recharged using the engine and regenerative brakes. That battery is connected to the 12V battery, and as long as there’s gas in the car – both batteries will be charged. In practice, if the car isn’t moving, engine turns on every half an hour or so for a little under a minute to recharge the batteries.

This allows one to keep the car on and use the AC throughout the night. AC also keeps the moisture level at bay, preventing condensation. I also noticed that when I don’t use the AC cracked windows help with condensation (I have rain guards for stealth and keeping the rain out).

Um, how do you do bathroom stuff?

If we’re talking about changing - there’s plenty of space in the back of the car to change.

For hygiene - I use gym showers (I take quite a lot of classes), or wet wipes if I’m out camping or shower is otherwise unavailable. I’m now kind of an expert on all sorts of wipes. Any restroom works for brushing my teeth at night, and in US it’s very difficult not to be within the vicinity of a public bathroom.

Where do you park at night?

Rest stops are the best when I travel, since everyone on a rest stop is just resting/sleeping in their car.

There are so many places to park: since this is just a passenger car, anywhere where cars can park is good. Usually somewhere with either a lot of foot traffic (or the exact opposite). Parking lots of 24/7 business, residential areas, anywhere and anytime.

What do your friends and coworkers say?

Most colleagues and acquaintances don’t know, since it’s not really a topic that pops up during a normal conversation. I go to work and social events well groomed, with clean clothes, and (I’d like to think) demonstrating a sense of style.

Few friends and colleagues that do know that I live in the car don’t see it as anything out of the ordinary (past the initial shock of course). I can’t remember the last time conversation got stirred towards car living with any of my close friends. A few are rather jealous but reluctant to make the move. I try not to preach.

My love life surprisingly didn’t suffer. Maybe it’s because I tend to pursue women just as odd as me, but me living in a car didn’t have any negative effects, and even got me a date or two. If someone doesn’t want to go out with you because of living arrangements - they would probably not make a good partner in a long run.

Do strangers bother you?

When you observe people you start noticing how much everyone’s concerned with what people think of them. In fact, most people so concerned with themselves - that they don’t look around. Encounters with people who notice I live in a car are nearly non-existent. Nobody cares to look inside one of the hundred cars in a parking lot or parked on the side of the street.

I’ve had a few rather friendly encounters with parking lot security, with people usually just demonstrating concern. Until I share my setup that is, then concern is often replacement with mild jealousy.

Most encounters with strangers approaching me happen at rest stops, since I usually don’t hide much – there are enough misfits and travelers. Every encounter like that I’ve had was positive, with people commenting on how amazing my setup is, how they wished they could do a similar thing, or sharing a story about their own travels.

How do you not go crazy?

This is where the fun part starts. You see, the thing about living in the car is how boring it is. There’s really not much you can do in a confined space. So I have to get out of my way to entertain myself.

I take a lot of classes like various martial arts or archery. I tried miniature painting, rock climbing, long distance cycling. There are numerous things I’m “forced” to do in order to keep myself entertained.

There are a lot of things I do inside the car too. Writing or coding (even though I prefer coffee shops), rare indulgence in video games (I recently picked up a gaming laptop for this), guitalele (it’s a ukulele-sized guitar), reading. Drawing, keeping a journal, or just relaxing.

And of course there are people. When I travel I end up meeting a lot of different people. I often get invited to join somebody at a campsite, and we’d cook a meal together or share some stories. Or somebody sitting next to me in a coffee shop works in the same industry and we grab lunch to mingle and share interesting ideas. Wherever I go I get lucky enough to make friends for a couple of minutes, hours, days, and sometimes months.

What’s next for you?

For now, I’m used to living in a car. I sometimes pop by AirBnBs or friends’ places for a couple of days, but I wouldn’t say I enjoy being tied down to a single location for a long period of time.

I’m contemplating getting an RV to be able to stand up inside and have more room and privacy, but potential difficulties with air conditioning at night, atrocious gas mileage, and inefficient and noisy generators for my power usage are a concern of mine.

Once in a while I contemplate getting myself an apartment. Since it’s now winter I end up staying in AirBnBs more often, but I feel like having a place to call home makes it harder for me to a fight a lazy person inside me. I like when that person is forced to learn, explore, and create.

My Saturday just disappeared, quickly, and barely with any trace. You could find leftover scripts all over my hard drive here and there, all pointing to Hackmud. One moment I had plans for the day, and the next it was well past midnight, I was listening to the 90s hacker movies inspired soundtrack while cracking locks and farming for credits with a script I crafted.

I’ve spent ten hours in game, and it was glorious.

Hackmud is a text-only MUD (multi-user dungeon) set in a not so distant future, where humanity was wiped out by a combination of Welsh Measels, killer rabbit outbreak, and multiple other disasters. All that’s left is a trace of old corporations, dead user accounts, and AIs roaming the net. That’s you, an AI.

Game has a heavy 90s vibe to it, and the atmosphere reminds me of Ready Player One. References to popular TV shows and dial up sounds included.

You start in a training area, a vLAN without access to the rest of the network and other players. You quickly learn all-text interface, and simple bash-like command line - it’s based on JavaScript, with a few syntax changes. Hackmud is very much a puzzle game, and lets you take your time with a tutorial: you’ll need a few hours to go through all the puzzles, cracking locks, installing upgrades, learning about security, and finally - escaping vLAN.

Here are some basics I picked up:

  • You can have multiple user accounts within a game, and so can everyone else. Be on the lookout.
  • “Locs” are account locations, something similar to an IP or a domain name. You can launch an attack against a user or a dead account if you know their loc.
  • Scripts are just that - scripts written in JavaScript (outside of the game). Hit #help and Google to get started, but at least some basic programming background is necessary here.
  • Locks protect accounts - one can be behind multiple locks. Lock usually requires you to guess the correct combination, like a color, correct lower order prime, or a keyword.
  • Upgrades are installed on user accounts and include locks, script slots, character limits, etc.

At some point I successfully struggled through the tutorial and escaped vLAN. And that’s where the open-ended social nature of the game shines. You’re thrown into a global chat channel with users trying to trick you into running their malware, players and corporations providing banking services, selling breached account information, locks, and scripts.

The game encourages lying, betrayal, deception, ponzi schemes, money laundering - you name it. And players take advantage of such freedoms to the full extent:

It looks rather confusing, but tutorial prepares you well for the chaotic flow of characters on the screen.

I really wasn’t sure what to do next. The tutorial taught me how to get money out of dead accounts, so I decided to try to find one or two. After asking about in the main channel and being offered a few dozen “risk free scripts to get locs worth millions”, I decided to set out on a search. I looked through a list of scripts.fullsec, and found a few corporations.

After digging about in their files for a good few hours, I found a way to get to employee registry and get a dozen of dead user locs. The locs were protected by different kinds of locks, and I went through the first batch manually. It took me a long time to get all the combinations and pull out some cash out of the accounts.

I found my second batch of locs shortly after, and decided to try automating some manual attempts through scripting. After struggling with syntax and being aggravated by having only 120 seconds at a time to crack a lock (in line with the 90s feel of the game, one needs to be connected to a “hardline”), I wrote a first sample script, and started to play around with game concepts.

Hackmud is in no way an accurate hacking simulator, but it’s a really fun puzzle game, and it doesn’t make any outrageous mistakes. It allows you to write your own scripts to use in game using valid JavaScript with access to a game library. Game developer (it’s a one person project) implemented his own JavaScript interpreter, so it has bugs here and there - one should be careful using obscure language features.

The worst part about scripting was character limitations: one needs quite a bit of money to be able to install first upgrades, and default limit of one active script and 500 characters per script is straight-up rage inducing. Before getting my first 1MGC to finally upgrade my rig, I wrote a bunch of tiny scripts, one per lock type, struggling to keep to the character limit. I ended up with ugly monstrosities like this, manually passing results from one script to another when encountering multiple accounts:

function(o, g) {
  var
    a = {},
    b = "ez_35",
    c = ["open", "release", "unlock"],
    d = "digit",
    r = "",
    s = false,
    t = g.target.call;

  for (var x in g) {
    if (x != "target") {
      a[x] = g[x];
    }
  }

  for (var i = 0; i < c.length; i++) {
    a[b] = c[i];
    r = t(a);
    if (r.indexOf(d) > -1) {
      for (var k = 0; k < 10; k++) {
        a[d] = k
        r = t(a);
        if (r.indexOf(d) == -1) {
          var m = b + ":\"" + a[b] + "\", " + d + ": \"" + a[d] + "\"";
          return { ok:true, msg:r + "\n\n" + m };
        }
      }
    }
  }
  return { ok:s, msg:r };
}

It was really interesting working with the limitations:

  • I couldn’t write scripts longer than 500 characters (spaces not included).
  • I couldn’t have access to one script without unloading the other first.
  • I had to debug and test the scripts within 120 second windows.

Few more batches of locs later, I was finally able to afford to initialize my system to tier 1 and install upgrades I bought and accumulated from hacking accounts:

Now I can write all the scripts I want! Excited, I built my first t1 (tier 1) lock breaker, which automatically cracks a loc with any number of t1 locks on it:

function(context, func_args) { // {target:"#s."}

  var digits = Array();
  for (var i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
    digits.push(i);
  }

  var
    COLORS = [
      "purple", "blue", "cyan", "green", "lime", "yellow", "orange", "red"],
    DIGITS = digits,
    LOCKS = ["open", "release", "unlock"],
    // ez_prime lock seems to only request low order primes, hardcoding this
    PRIMES = [2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59,
      61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97, 101, 103, 107, 109, 113, 127, 131, 137,
      139, 149, 151, 157, 163, 167, 173, 179, 181, 191, 193];

  var hackMultLevels = function(target, args, levels) {
    for (var i = 0; i < levels.length; i++) {
      var
        item = levels[i].item,
        itemDesc = levels[i].itemDesc,
        itemList = levels[i].itemList;
      for (var k = 0; k < itemList.length; k++) {
        args[item] = itemList[k];
        ret = target(args);
        if (ret.indexOf(itemDesc) == -1) {
          break;
        }
      }
    }
    return ret, args;
  }

  var hackEz21 = function(target, args) {
    return hackMultLevels(
      target,
      args,
      [
        { item: "ez_21", itemDesc: "command", itemList: LOCKS }
      ]);
  };

  var hackEz35 = function(target, args) {
    return hackMultLevels(
      target,
      args,
      [
        { item: "ez_35", itemDesc: "command", itemList: LOCKS },
        { item: "digit", itemDesc: "digit", itemList: DIGITS }
      ]);
  };

  var hackEz40 = function(target, args) {
    return hackMultLevels(
      target,
      args,
      [
        { item: "ez_40", itemDesc: "command", itemList: LOCKS },
        { item: "ez_prime", itemDesc: "prime", itemList: PRIMES }
      ]);
  };

  var hackC001 = function(target, args) {
    return hackMultLevels(
      target,
      args,
      [
        { item: "c001", itemDesc: "correct", itemList: COLORS },
        { item: "color_digit", itemDesc: "digit", itemList: DIGITS }
      ]);
  }

  var hackC002 = function(target, args) {
    return hackMultLevels(
      target,
      args,
      [
        { item: "c002", itemDesc: "correct", itemList: COLORS },
        { item: "c002_complement", itemDesc: "complement", itemList: COLORS }
      ]);
  }

  var hackC003 = function(target, args) {
    return hackMultLevels(
      target,
      args,
      [
        { item: "c003", itemDesc: "correct", itemList: COLORS },
        { item: "c003_triad_1", itemDesc: "first", itemList: COLORS },
        { item: "c003_triad_2", itemDesc: "second", itemList: COLORS }
      ]);
  }

  var
    args = {},
    i = 0,
    locks = [
      { name: "EZ_21", func: hackEz21 },
      { name: "EZ_35", func: hackEz35 },
      { name: "EZ_40", func: hackEz40 },
      { name: "c001", func: hackC001 },
      { name: "c002", func: hackC002 },
      { name: "c003", func: hackC003 }
    ],
    ret = "",
    target = func_args.target.call,
    unlocked = [];

  ret = target(args);

  while (true) {
    i++;
    var flag = true;

    for (var k = 0; k < locks.length; k++) {
      if (ret.indexOf(locks[k].name) > -1 &&
          unlocked.indexOf(locks[k].name) == -1) {
        ret,  args = locks[k].func(target, args);
        unlocked.push(locks[k].name);
        flag = false;
      }
    }

    if (flag === true) {
      return { ok: true, msg: ret };
    }

    if (i > 10) {
      return { ok: false, msg: ret }
    }
  }
}

Rather rough around the edges, not easiest to read, but it works - and I was really proud of finishing it (and too tired to go back and refactor). With this, next dozen of t1 locs took me a few minutes to crack open. Success!

That was the logical conclusion of my Saturday, and left me feel really satisfied. The game is rough around the edges, and has numerous bugs here and there. But the text-only world of Hackmud is alive and atmospheric, and puzzles and exploration of the derelict world through randomly-generated documents pulls you in, making you lose track of time.