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  • Writer's pictureGary Grewal

Why the Toyota Prius is the BEST Car for Nomad Life

So my original plan was to make a video about this so I can actually SHOW you why I feel so strongly about my Prius. Mind you, it’s not one of those rusted-out ones you see climbers living out of in Oregon. Rather mine, as you can see in the picture, is a beautiful fully -loaded 2018 Prius 3 Touring. This baby has leather seats, navigation, voice-command, backup camera, you name it. But that’s not why this car is so amazing. It also gets an average of 52 miles per gallon, is super smooth, and incredibly reliable. If you’ve read Financial Fives, you’ll know my affinity for cars; I used to flip them once a year for a profit!

Then, after parting ways with my beloved 2011 G37 last year, I got a screaming deal on my 2018 Prius. I mean, not a lot of buyers in rural Tennessee are elbowing their way in to get some tree-hugging hybrid. So it sat there and sat there, and I eventually negotiated a price under dealer auction. But negotiating the price of a car is a whole other story, it's even one of the first chapters of Financial Fives, so go read up! This is about why a Prius is the best car for nomad life, which was my life from January - May of this year as I moved from Chattanooga to Dallas, Austin, and Tempe, along with all of the road trips I did in between.

1) You Can Sleep In It: This is one of the biggest perks I learned about when owning this car. It’s a hatchback, and the rear seats easily fold down flat to create a truck bed-like loading space. I’ve placed my bike in there, lumber, a Christmas tree, and a blow-up mattress with no issue. Why is being able to sleep in this car make it good for nomad life? Well, just that, you can sleep in it! Think about it, when you are on the road to your next destination, on a road trip, or spending a week in Boise, Idaho like I did this summer, you’re going to need to sleep somewhere.

I slept in 5 nights on that trip and saved probably $1,000. While decked-out vans and camper folks proudly throw around the #vanlife while sipping espresso in their Patagonia jackets, none of those vehicles hold a candle to the fuel economy and ownership cost of a Prius (more on that below). With hotel and Airbnb prices easily into the hundreds of dollars per night, you can save major cash by sleeping in this car, and take it from me, it’s comfortable. I’m a 6’2” dude, and I can lay down just fine in this thing. It even has a nice little reading light near the trunk window, how thoughtful! (I know, it’s probably there to see cargo for a normal person).

And if you’re thinking about campgrounds, they are becoming few and far between as more people find out about them. Some campgrounds I’ve seen are even running for $45 per night to sleep on the ground. Plus, if the weather turns on you, the Prius is well-insulated I might say.

2) Maintenance Costs: My Prius takes synthetic oil, and that will take it 12,000 miles, which is way more than I drive in a year. That and tire rotations. The widespread popularity of this car means that many independent shops and places like JiffyLube can do some of the services for you. Plus, because there are so many Toyota dealerships, they usually price match or have coupons listed on their site. Compare that to a converted van or something else with electrical, TV, or other bells and whistles and you probably have more maintenance costs on your hands. In addition, having a ubiquitous car means that wherever you are in the country, you're probably close to a service station that can help you no matter what the issue. Check out this cool breakdown of van life from FarOutRide to get a sense of the costs.

3) It’s a Hybrid: So before all of you, Tesla fans come after me saying Tesla’s take NO gas, hear me out. Whether you have a Tesla or another electric car, if you find yourself in a remote part of the country, or camping out in a National Forest, do you really want to take the risk of not finding a charger in time? So, in my opinion, the best next option is a Hybrid. You’re still saving money and doing your part for the environment, but you’re not risking being stranded somewhere if you don’t make it to a charger in time.

Now, I hope one day I’m wrong and as a country, we build out a vast charging network, because I also want to be able to buy an electric car one day. The battery on this Prius is also a beast. I can charge my phone, charge my outdoor lights, and anything else I need, without running the engine and polluting my surroundings. Another cool thing is because speeds are low in National Parks and all, it can be in EV mode and not bother other people who are trying to hear nature and birds, not guzzling engines.

4) Reliability: I see a lot of people talking about how they bought some 1992 Ford E-Series or an Aerostar (remember those?), and then spent $2,000 to outfit it for van life. They boast about how they got a great deal and set off on the road with grand plans. However, older cars, especially when customized with various electrical, plumbing, etc, have a greater likelihood of breaking down. Not only is that going to burn a hole in your pocket over time, but what are you going to do when you’re 70 miles from the nearest town?

It’s one thing to have an old car to drive around town. That’s fine, you can probably walk or take the bus, or have a tow available. Reliability is super important when you are on the road because there’s nothing more frustrating than derailing your travel plans and spending hundreds of dollars on tow and repair, not to mention safety depending upon where you are. The Prius, for 2021, was named the Most Reliable Vehicle by Consumer Reports.

5) Storage Space: So yes, you might be rolling your eyes and thinking “Um, pretty sure a VAN has a lot more space than a PRIUS!” You’re right, and in this case, I’m arguing for the versatility of storage, not total storage space in general. For cars of a similar size, the Prius has proven to have well-thought-out space and storage options. Aside from the obvious things like cupholders and such, there are thoughtful places to put things like your phone (charges on the console without a battery), pens, maps, and a first aid kit.

I like how the wheel wells are flush with the body, so I have little nooks and crannies to put things to the side when I want to roll out my bed. Check out this post from CarScoops and see a Prius towing a trailer in action! So, it also has a little bit of muscle under that quiet little hybrid hood. The Prius is also compatible with a bunch of trunk bike racks, so you don’t have to worry about that Giant almost falling off behind your camper.


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