I get this question a lot, “Sara, of all the vehicles you can live and camp in, WHY a Toyota Prius?!

Let me break it down for you.  



The first, and most glaringly obvious reason to choose this car to be your adventuremobile, is because it absolutely kicks ass in the gas-to-fun ratio.  The gen 3 prius — and my model, the 2015 — gets 51 city / 48 highway miles per gallon of gasoline.  That means I’m spending less money, wasting less time to fill up, and destroying the environment just a tiny bit less.  

The prius focuses on function over form, and most of its modeling is for efficiency over speed.  Some complaints about the car criticize its boring handling and slow acceleration.  I’m not in this car to rip around, I’m in this car to go see some shit.  That said, the car can and will accelerate and you’ll be able to keep up.  Let my multiple speeding tickets attest to that.  

Ready mode

A huge draw to the prius is its ability to exist in what’s called “Ready mode.”  Basically, the car is on and powered by its massive hybrid battery.  The car can idle without the engine running, conserving gas and running what you need it to do, quietly.  As the battery discharges, at a certain point the car kicks on the engine here and there to refuel the battery, for a few minutes here and there, perhaps once every half hour to hour, depending on the battery usage.  If you’re running AC, for example, it will kick on more often as the battery drains faster.

The ready mode provides an important function to folks who choose to live out of their prius — climate control.  I have to make no other additions to make the prius liveable — ready mode comes already standard in the car and I have no need to worry about working 8 hours out of a sweltering parking lot in Moab, Utah in the Summer or keeping warm on a cool Adirondack night, if I choose to remain in my vehicle to sleep or work.  And because the battery and engine work together to conserve power, using the prius in ready mode costs less than a gallon of gas to idle for 8-10 hours.  That means for less than $3 a shot (depending on your gas costs, of course) I can have total comfort during my workday or overnight.  This is also nice for stealth reasons, because the prius runs very quiet. 

Hybrid Battery

The prius hybrid battery is a beast, a 202 V nickel-metal hydride creation that comes warrantied out the door for 8 years or 100,000 miles.  In addition to the MPG and the ready mode, the hybrid battery also comes with perks in that I can run an inverter off my electronics in the car and easily power up my devices without worrying.  I use a Suoaki power bank for this purpose — if I need to charge a device that has a two-pronged connection, I can connect the power bank to charge off the car and then charge my electronics in tandem.  

Aren’t the hybrid batteries expensive to replace, though?”  

When I took my prius in to be serviced initially, I asked that they test the hybrid battery’s ability to hold a charge.  I wanted to be sure I was investing well, right?  The mechanic at the dealership told me that so far in the years he’s worked there, he has not replaced a battery on a 2010 model (gen III) or later yet.  These things last a looong time.  And as hybrid vehicles become more popular and common, the price of battery maintenance, repair, and replacement decreases.  To get a new battery in my prius might cost me around $1500 now, and I expect to see that price continue to decrease.  While that’s certainly a pretty penny, I believe that’s worth it given the savings I face on gas, especially since I will probably get at least another ten years out of my prius battery.  


Photo by Intricate Explorer on Unsplash

Although I’ve dealt with more than my fair share of car troubles, the prius is an undeniably reliable car, rating extremely low in terms of yearly maintenance costs.  On top of that, the prius’s durability and reliability, and the ubiquitousness of parts contribute to its ability to be a bonafide apocalypse vehicle.  The amount of old priuses on the road, and the fact that they are often used as taxi cabs, speaks to their ability to take a beating and just keep on driving.  I wanted a car that can last on the road all over and not leave me stranded, and that can transition back to my regular daily commuter life when I’m back home: the prius does all that and more.

Stealth ability 

Me, every time I see a prius.

Let’s face it, we don’t drive the prius to be cool.  It is a boring car.  And that works to my advantage when I am trying to be inconspicuous and live out of a car.  Unlike a sprinter van, people won’t look at my prius and think, “This bitch is living in her car.”  When I park on a trailhead or on the street or in a lot somewhere, people aren’t going to be thinking I’m sleeping in my car, or that I’m in there at all.  It’s hard to imagine someone could fit in the back of these things.  So the hassling will be at a minimum, and I feel safer because I stand out less.  

Personal comfort

I had a pretty major back injury years ago that made sitting for extended periods of time painful and irritating.  When I was able to move closer to my job and dodged an almost-hour commute, my spine and legs thanked me, and that pain was alleviated in a large way, leading me to believe that commuting was a major player in my pain.  Hanging out on a barstool can be impossible, lounging at my desk for long periods can be torturous.  Needless to say, I was worried about sitting for long periods in my adventure wagon.  Upon my first forays into this lifestyle, I was pleasantly surprised with little pain, however.  I find the prius seats to be comfortable and not confining, and I had an ability to stretch out.  Not to mention, the new model I will be travelling also comes with adjustable lumbar support.  I’ve faced good fortune in my back health while travelling in my prius, which could also be due to my tendency to be up and moving more than in my normal life.

I also like the rear of the vehicle and the flexibility for it to be a sleeping space, or to allow passengers to be in my vehicle.  I get asked a lot, 

In a prius??  But it’s so small!

Sure, if you’re used to being in a sprinter van or a schoolie where you have a kitchen, shower, sitting space, and bed, the prius is absolutely miniature.  But I’ll be the first to say, outside of work and sleep, I’m almost never in the car.  The point of all this is to be exploring, right?  So I’m out hiking, eating, at the gym, showering, or hanging out with the locals.  I like being pushed from my comfort zone to have to be out “in the wild.”  And, when I am in my vehicle, I have plenty of room for the necessities.  

The prius offers a bunch of options to make the space liveable.  Some opt to put a full size mattress topper in the back and stretch out for sleeping.  I personally prefer to put the 60/40 seat down and use a twin sized bed and have the other half of the car for storage and seating.  And, I can easily pack my things away and have the back seat totally usable in no time.  

Cute community

I love the vandwelling and digital nomad communities.  I feel a deep community with them, as their striving for creativity, communing with nature, and connection with others and the world around them feels almost like a generational battle cry of deep importance.  That said, my hesitance at driving an enormous and identifiable vehicle and my desire for simple living superceded my want to participate in that exact type of nomadic lifestyle.  After spending years watching the community and dreamily thinking, If only, I happened upon a few in the lifestyle who opted to live out of a Toyota Prius, and everything about that just made way more sense.  I began following channels like Live Easy Drive Hard and Intricate Explorer, and scoping out the r/priusdwellers subreddit.  It took a few years before I was comfortable with (and able to financially) pull the trigger on this.  But the community is so helpful and hopeful and makes me feel excited to try new things and report back.