• Hayden Seder

Van Life: Kami Doan

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

When you think of “van life” or living in a decked-out car, a Honda Element isn’t usually at the top of the list. But when Kami Doan moved to Provo, Utah for physical therapy school and ran into some roommate troubles, she decided to save herself some money and drama by moving into her car. She lived in it for a full year and a

half while in school (roughly all of 2018 and half of 2019). She’s since graduated and is about to start her first real job as a physical therapist, a job that comes with a salary that is moving her into a real house on her own for the first time in…well, ever. But the Element remains an adventure car for all of the hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, camping, and exploring that Kami loves.

Age: 29

Vehicle type: Honda Element

Time spent in van: 1 ½ years

Hometown: Hailey, Idaho

What made you move into your car?

Kami: I had a weird living situation, my roommate and I weren’t getting along well. I got this car and I thought, ‘I’ve seen people build campers out of Elements, so I’m gonna try doing that.’ And I did it! And I love this car because it’s kind of incognito; I don’t think anybody really expected me to be sleeping in it. I loved this car, I had such a good time living in it. No complaints.

How did you make meals since your car doesn’t have a stove?

Kami: I ate pretty darn raw. I’m vegan, so that was fine and pretty easy. I made smoothies in the morning. I’d go to school and had my NutriBullet there and just made breakfast there and made my coffee at school if I wasn’t buying coffee. I would make salads at school or in my car for lunch. I sprouted a lot of beans and I bought tempeh and tofu. I had a cooler, but I’d also go to the store everyday cause it’s easier to buy stuff than to keep ice.

How did you shower?

Kami: At the gym, I had a membership. But when I lived at The Front, the climbing gym in Salt Lake City, that was amazing. That was the best living situation I’ve ever had. They allowed people to stay there overnight and it was like a community of vans in the parking lot. They had really nice facilities for showering and you got to climb and go to classes. That was the dream. I wish I still lived there, honestly. I would move to Salt Lake to live in The Front parking lot.

What’s something that surprised you about living this lifestyle?

Kami: I was surprised that on one of my first nights, I met someone else living out of their car. That was super shocking and we became great friends; he was a rock climber and a mountain biker. And he was from Chile and I lived there for a year so we got really close as friends. Another thing that surprised me was that I never really had a private moment—I was always in public. I could drive somewhere and go to nature to be by myself, but I could never walk around my house naked, ya know.

What were some of your ups and downs?

Kami: Some of the best things were being away from any kind of distractions like a TV or I hardly ever got on my computer. I’d always find a place outside to eat or to hang out. I could nap in the most comfortable places. The worst thing was probably the heat. During summers, it was awful at night. I was so sweaty.

What about finding places to park at night?

Kami: I had a few issues with cops actually. I had a weird experience at Walmart but it wasn’t the worst. Actually the worst was cops trying to bang on my windows and wake me up and shine lights in my car being like, ‘Are you living in your car?’ It was very invasive. But once I found a good place to park, like the good neighborhood I found eventually in Provo where I felt safe parking, nobody bothered me. And the climbing gyms in Salt Lake and in Provo allowed me to park there. I just talked to the people who worked there, and I was very safe once I had the okay to sleep there.

What are some elements you added to make it comfortable?

Kami: I have a little table that attaches to the back of the bed when the back door is open. I installed a cupboard for clothes. I also installed a fan that connected to my battery, which was nice in the summer. I put up mesh nets on the ceiling for more storage.

What’s one of your favorite spots you’ve camped in your car?

Kami: I really liked going to Lander, Wyoming on a climbing trip. One of my favorite places was in Park City staying in one of my friend’s driveways and I was able to open the back door and just put a screen up and sleep super comfortably because I was in a friend’s driveway and I knew I was safe. I couldn’t do that in a normal parking lot. But that was the comfiest night I’ve ever slept in this car.

How would you say being a female living in your car differs from what you think or know the male experience to be? Did you feel like you had to take further precautions or were perceived differently than men who live in their cars?

Kami: I feel like I was questioned of the choice of lifestyle a lot more than a male would be--by mom, family friends, friends, etc. And maybe because of that influence, I did start to question my own safety on occasion. You know, we grow up as females being told to be careful, so often after I had found a spot for the night, covered up my windows, and crawled into bed, if I heard a car pull up or somebody walk by I would mentally prepare to defend myself. There was a time where I woke up in a Winco parking lot at 2am to two men on the other side of my window trying to steal my mountain bike off my rack (it was locked up, but still) and I scared the shit out of them by banging on the window; they clearly didn’t expect that anyone was in the car and they ran away so fast. But to be honest, I have never slept as comfortably and peacefully as I have in my car! I was in Idaho and Utah though... relatively safe places.


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