On April 18, I made the transition to #VanLife. You may be familiar with this hashtag; commonly posted on social media such as Instagram or by your hippie friends on Facebook.
Van life in Canada is becoming more and more common, especially with travelers. You quickly learn that travel is an expensive hobby to have, and that to have the best experiences you need to afford to pay for them, and before you know it you’re sharing a room with nine other people or…living in a van.
Here are the nine things I’ve learned from my first week living the van life.
Van Life Canada: 9 Lessons From my First Week
1. You Will Be Judged
Your friends will think you’re weird. Your parents will worry. You’ll get asked this question on a daily basis: “You’re just living in your van until you find accommodation, right?”
To tell you the truth, one year ago there is no way I would have believed I would be living in a van in Canada. In New Zealand, I had a corporate job, a house, a partner, and amazing friends. Then the urge to travel the world full time took over.
I’ve chosen to live in a van for a number of reasons- to save money, to test my character, and to teach myself to stop taking things for granted, to name some. Travel changes you; the uncomfortable becomes comfortable. You start craving an even more simpler life.
Read: 10 Common Questions About Vanlife Answered
2. The First Night Is Terrifying
The first time you sleep in a van by yourself isn’t the most relaxing experience. I parked up at a free campsite overlooking the Columbia river and Mount Revelstoke Resort. My van couldn’t quite fit through one of the shingle roads that lead down to the river, so I parked in the bush. It was eerily quiet, and at one stage during the night I awoke screaming from a nightmare that there was a bear outside the van who was trying to eat me.
I spent the rest of the night hiding under the sheets like a child, praying for daylight.
Sleeping in a van by yourself does get easier, however expect the first few nights to be a little uncomfortable.
3. You Need To Be Organised
In order to live life in a van, you have to be incredibly organised. I rearranged my entire van several times during my first week of living in it. You learn that half of the stuff you own is completely useless, like clothes that are too small for you but you hang onto anyway because one day you might fit them.
This reminds me of the scene in Wild where Albert tells Cheryl to dispose of her condoms and deodorant in order to lighten her pack- because why would you bother bringing condoms and deodorant on a 1,100 mile hike?!
Carrying too much excess wastes time that could be spent having fun, and space you don’t have. You should only really take with you what you need at the time.
Read: Dealing with vanlife and loneliness
4. Sometimes The Only Place To Pee Is In A McDonald’s Cup
A friend who had lived the Van Life for three months gave me this gold nugget of advice: Just before bed, make sure you go to the ladies, and hold on like hell when you wake up the next morning.
One evening I forgot her advice and I awoke to raging abdominal pressure. I was parked outside a friends house, so peeing on the lawn was not an option. My only option was a McDonald’s cup I had (thankfully) forgotten to put in the trash.
5. Van Life Gets You To The Gym A Whole Lot More
To live the van life hygienically, a gym membership is a necessity in order to have access to a shower and washroom. As a result of driving to the gym every day you have even less of an excuse to not work out. During my first week of van life, I calculated I had sweated out nine gym sessions. The moral of the story is, if you want a six-pack, just live in a van.
6. Having Friends Over Is Hard
“Want to come over to my van to have a few drinks?”
It’s not really the invite your friends are hoping for.
I now dream for the day where I have my own house again and can invite friends over for dinner and drinks.
7. Snails Have Got It Right
Having all your belongings in one, mobile room is the most convenient thing about Van Life. You don’t have to go home to get changed- your home is parked outside. You can go on a road trip, and not have to worry about packing, because everything is already there.
If you don’t like where you are based, you can leave at a moments notice and go on a new adventure. Van Life really is the most convenient way to travel across land.
8. Where Art Thou Wi-Fi?
To survive living in a van you need three things: baby wipes, a phone-charging port and free access to Wi-Fi. One of the first things you should do is go for a drive and figure out where the free Wi-Fi spots are.
This will help you to save money on buying expensive data. Downloading the offline map of the area you are in is a good way to save your data.
Areas where you can park up and access Wi-Fi are great- think libraries, information centers and fast-food chains such as Tim Hortons or McDonald’s. It’s super relaxing to cuddle up in bed and stream the latest episode of your fave Netflix series.
9. You Will Resort To Cleaning Your Socks & Underwear In A Sink
You’d think in this day and age using a laundromat wouldn’t be an expensive feat. Incorrect. The cost to wash and dry two loads of washing set me back $11!
So there I was, fresh out of clean socks and having to recycle my dirty ones (NOTE: try and avoid recycling socks- it’s horrid). I had witnessed people in hostels wash their laundry in the shower before, but I thought I was above that. It was now my turn, however, to be on the receiving end of catching odd looks as I washed my undergarments in the bathroom of a fancy hotel.
Read: What it’s like moving into a house after vanlife
Saturday 17th of September 2022
haha^^ I know the feeling!
For the pee situation in a van: I keep a 5L opaque vinegar type jerrican in the van (a water bottle would do the trick, but we're two in the van, so it's better to have a bigger "storage" option). Also the jerrican is easier to hold with the handle while peeing and easier to empty without everyone seeing that you're going around with your pee in a bottle^^ and along with that I use a *Female Urination Device* (i have the brand Sunany, found on Amazon. It's large and easy enough to use so you don't get accidental drops and easy to clean. I've seen other brands like "shewee" but it's very very narrow. I would be afraid to use it). I then rinse this Sunany with water while it's still in the bottle and dry it with some toilet paper, then "off it goes" in its little bag until the next need! I seriously recommand any women to get one. Even for roadtrips in a car, or if you really need to pee in public toilets that are not really clean and you don't want to over above the toilet seat, trying not to touch it ^^
To clean the bottle, i just rinse it with water and add a little vinegar from time to time to not have any smell.
Friday 8th of February 2019
thanks for the tips
Saturday 5th of August 2017
Love this! I'm not living in my van, but I am using it (dodge grand caravan) as a traveling camper, and it's absolutely wonderful. Strap the kayak on the roof, bike on the back, and I'm good to go. Thank you for sharing! Looking forward to following!
Tuesday 8th of August 2017
Ahhh isn't that the best! I have a canoe I can borrow and I'm going to attempt to fit it in the van and take it down to the local river
Tuesday 4th of July 2017
Haha Wow! This is so interesting! I don't think I could do it - so power to you! Cant wait to look up all your posts on Canada. Would you do Vanlife again?
Wednesday 5th of July 2017
You definitely could do it! I actually planned to do vanlife for 3 months, and now I plan on doing it for 6 months. Not paying rent and spending my money on cool experiences makes it all worth it :)
Wednesday 14th of June 2017
Yvette I'm dying at the imagery of you washing your panties in the sink at like, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Hahahaha. I commend you for living the van life, I simply could not give up my cats and having lived in a small space with just one of them I think living in a van or RV with ALL THREE OF THEM (plus the dog) would just send me to a very early grave, haha.
Wednesday 21st of June 2017
I judged myself a LOT that day ha ha. But living in a van makes you do strange things! I honestly think you should try the van life with your animal fam for one week and then write about it- it would make for an excellent story!