Van Life in Canada: What I Learned After The First Week

Yvette Morrissey lives in her 1997 Ford e150 van called Betty

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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.

Girl living solo van life Canada

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.

The inside of Yvette's Ford 1997 E150

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


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34 thoughts on “Van Life in Canada: What I Learned After The First Week”

  1. Sue Krzyz

    Sounds like you will have a trip of a life time remember take your time and lock the doors. Check out, up coming festivals in the area your traveling in could option for a great time of entertainment and meeting people. Google…. festivals and the area your travel in. Friends can always meet at the parks or a great campgrounds. There is a free camp web site Free Campsites dot net …..enjoy your journey. …summer coming looking forward to your updates.

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      Hi Sue, thanks for the great suggestions! I’ve heard there are a few yoga festivals in my area, so I am definitely keen to check those out. That link is going to be super handy 🙂

      1. Have you come across seniors who choose to live in their vans full time?
        Also in the USA you can buy a park pass for about $80.00
        And can travel to all the parks around the southern warm states and pay only the $80.00 per year. Anything like that in Canada?

  2. This is awesome!!! I love that you also talk about the not-so-glorious moments! I always wanted to make this experience as well. Well, maybe soon! We did a similar thing for only 2 months, though – we lived in a Station Wagon. It was funny to see the faces when they asked you where you are staying and you answer “In this Station Wagon there”.
    Thanks for giving an impression of your first week. The tips with the gym and Wi-Fi are great! I will keep it in mind!

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      Hi Nate, there have been plenty of not-so-glorious moments! And there will be many more to come…

  3. I start van life in Canada at the end of the month! So excited!

  4. Nice post! I’ve lived in Toyota Camry for a few weeks in Australia and it sure was interesting experience. This year I’m also planning to go to Canada for a year or so and your article really made me wanna try this vanlife again. PS: Is this a regular van or specially customized for living in it? And doesn’t it get cold at nights (I mean, it’s Canada)?

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      You should totally try Van Life in Canada! I am only planning to live in my van from Spring until October because I’m not sure I could handle living in it during winter. It does get cold some nights, but I borrowed a friends feather-top doona and I’ve had no problems since. I think it’s gotten as cold as -5 since I’ve been sleeping in the van. Warm socks and a beanie are a must. I’ll be writing another blog about Van Life essentials soon so make sure you subscribe to get an alert 🙂

      1. You are allowed to buy bear spray in Canada, technically you shouldn’t use it on ppl but if it’s all you had in your van and you used it to protect yourself you’d be fine.
        There’s a lot of women gone missing on highway in bc.

        1. wayfaringkiwi

          Hi Guy, thanks so much for the tip! I hadn’t thought of that- I’ll be sure to buy some.

  5. It sounds like, despite this learning curve, you’re having a fantastic time! I’m actually so jealous that you were able to go camping in Revelstoke! That’s my favourite ski resort! Also I definitely relate to the van life- my family and I used to go camping in our motorhome for a month every summer down to Hood River, Oregon. (Also along the Columbia River.) It’s strange explaining the need to pare down on belongings to friends and family who don’t go camping, but it’s definitely a great experience! I can’t wait to read more about your camping life! And if you ever make your way further East to Toronto, let me know 🙂

  6. I’m loving your story so far! It kind of reminds my of the vacations I spent in a pop-up camper growing up. I’m looking forward to more!

  7. A great article. I sympathise with being scared the first night. I bought a caravan and had a bad sleep too… but I adjusted.

  8. Greta @ Pickles Travel

    This is such an awesome post. RV life is always so glorified that it’s refreshing to see and read the other side!
    I have camped in my car on numerous occasions and totally hear you on the being scared at first bit! I also had to lol at the gym membership part- ingenious! I never would have thought of that for the shower piece!

  9. I love the part where yiu said you hold onto clothes that are too small. So me. But I give you so much credit. I don’t think I could do the van thing. But such a great way to get a whole new perspective on life. Have fun!!

  10. Samantha

    I just spent a few days in a van last month and you are SO right about organization! We kept having to move stuff around to get to other stuff haha.

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      It’s probably the most annoying aspect- it definitely helps to have the least amount of possessions possible!

  11. I have never read about van life before, and your post is so enlightening! It actually sounds really cool.. except the initial nightmare part, lol. The rest I could get used to! Thanks for sharing.

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      You should definitely try it! It’s a very interesting and humbling experience.

  12. Lula Dolz

    Good for you for following your heart & going it alone! Inspiring 🙂 Enjoy and thanks for sharing!

  13. Sue Holmes

    Hi Yvette, I’m loving this 🙂
    Sounds like you are having a ball and van life seems good to me. Tip : wear yesterdays clothes to the gym in the morn, after your workout , shower and clean them, put your clean clothes on for the day and take washing to dry in the van, voila no more laundry bills. Take care xxxxxx

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      Thanks Sue! Hadn’t thought of that. I still need to get a washing line so I have been spending a lot of money at the laundromat! It’s super expensive. I have had to wash my undergarments in the sink a few times…it’s character building haha

  14. I loved reading this. I always wondered what it was like living in a van! The bit about the gym made me laugh.

  15. Definitely sounds like it takes getting used to. I have always wanted to stay in a van. Unfortunately here in India it isn’t a thing and even if I defied all odds, it wouldn’t be safe. Let’s not even talk about maneuvering it through the traffic!

  16. The Van Cave Project

    We’re yet to experience van life Canada. We’ve got plans for Europe in 2018 and we also spent some time in NZ in 2015-16. Van life is amazing, but I can definitely relate to those ‘laundry troubles’. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Jen Groves

    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.

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      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!

  18. 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?

    1. wayfaringkiwi

      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 🙂

  19. Stephanie

    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!

    1. Yvette Morrissey

      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

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Hello, I’m Yvette! I’m originally from New Zealand, I now call Scotland home. I left New Zealand three years ago to go on an adventure around the world. I help people to go on their own adventures, whether it’s travelling to a new country, hiking or outdoor activities.



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