I recently interviewed Lieselot who is exploring Canada in a van. She is a European who I met (via Skype) while living in New Zealand and is now in Canada with her kiwi partner.
As you know, I’m interested in everything to do with mobile living and Lieselot was kind enough to answer some of my questions.
I’m Lieselot! I’m a traveller who lived 3.5 years in New Zealand and just moved to Canada to experience the vanlife. My partner and I bought our white van (with a mirror on the ceiling!) in Vancouver and have been exploring the country since two months. We’ve done lots of hiking and taken many photos. Vanlife in Canada is pretty awesome!
My partner and I wanted to be flexible when travelling through Canada. Buying a van gives you a lot of freedom, and you end up saving some money too. Our van is our car, our home, our kitchen – almost everything. We do a lot of photography, and being able to sleep in the van gives us the luxury of parking and sleeping close to a photo location.
It is a ’98 Dodge Ram 2500.
The van was in great condition, so we didn’t have to change much. There were seven seats, with the back ones turning into a bed. Because we’re quite tall people it wasn’t big enough for us, so we took two seats out to create more space and extend the bed. We added two big storage boxes to make the bed longer, which also function as our closets.
We didn’t remove much more, but we did add some things to the van. We installed a little drawer, which stores our food and is our tiny kitchen, and also put a cooler in between the front seats, with a cutting board on top of it. In the back, under the bed we had quite a bit of space, and managed to put three more boxes, to store our hiking and other gear.
Here is a video where you can see the changes we made: Our Tiny Home on Wheels
I would love to make it cosier, but we’re no experts in that department. The van is great at the moment, but maybe next year we’ll get the seat/bed out and install our own bed. It would be great if we could also have more of a kitchen area, but the bed now takes too much space – on the other hand we have a very big bed!
My biggest concerns were bears and the cold. As a newcomer to Canada, I had no idea if bears could smell the food in our van and would try to break in at night. It turns out that it’s no problem to have food in the van. And regarding the cold, I’m still concerned about that… haha. It gets really cold in Canada (-30C), and van life doesn’t seem very attractive then. So far we’ve been warm enough with our three blankets, and when it really gets too cold we’ll rent an AirBnb.
How it really becomes your home and you quickly get used to living in it.
I’ve done lots of van-weekends back in New Zealand, but it’s the first time that I’ve lived in a van for a longer period of time. It’s going way better than I thought it would be.
We get fresh water at water taps in town. Canada is great like that. Almost every town has a water tap or fountain. We have 10L water tank. We don’t use that much water, as our van doesn’t have a toilet or a kitchen. We only use water to drink and to cook. And regarding cooking, we try to measure it perfectly so we don’t have any wastewater. In case we do have wastewater, we usually pour it in public toilets.
We don’t have a toilet on board, and I have to admit that I had to train my bladder. Most public toilets in Canada close at a certain time (often 10 or 11pm), so now I just make sure that I go right before they close, and usually I’m good until the next morning.
We try to avoid official campground, as they are very expensive here (30 dollars). There are recreational sites, which are often free to camp. They have toilets, and are often next to a river on in the woods, which makes it even better.
If there isn’t a recreational site in the area, then we just park in town or in the woods. We haven’t had any problems yet, so that’s going well!
There is this really good website, called freecampsites.net. It shows the recreational sites, and indicated if it’s free or paying. I also often google the area where I’m in, to see if there are some spots I don’t know off.
One day the weather was really bad (read: lots of snow), and we felt like taking it easy. We stocked up some food, jumped in bed and did a lazy movie day. We watched lots of series and movies and just relaxed in our cosy van. I loved it!
When we broke our window wipers. As newbies to Canada and the snow we made a rookie mistake. After a huge snow dump in Jasper we turned on the wipers without wiping the snow of the window. The connection broke and they didn’t work anymore. We googled and YouTubed on how to solve this, and managed to fix it. That’s the advantage of travelling in the van, you learn more about cars.
I find New Zealand easier to live the vanlife. There are more locations to park your van, and way more free ones too. On top of that, in New Zealand you are really close to mountains or lakes, while in Canada (which is more touristy), those locations aren’t available for camping. Both countries are great, but I would say that New Zealand is a bit easier to live the vanlife.
When you buy a car, make sure to have proof of you driving in your home country, as the insurance in Canada is extremely high! If you’ve driven 5 or 10 years in your home country, you will get a huge discount. Also, buying a car and insurance is more expensive in British Columbia than in Alberta.
And then as a last one: Just do it! The nature is gorgeous, and what better way to explore it than by van!