Who are you and what is your backstory?
I am originally from Vancouver, BC. I have worked in Event Planning and Management for the better part of my career and love the hospitality industry. To me, Mondays are my favourite day of the week, because they’re hospitality's weekend!
I’ve been doing solo travel almost exclusively for the past 16 years and absolutely love it. Other people just slow me down! For most of my life, I hated road trips and would avoid them at all costs. It wasn’t until 2016 when I took my first solo road trip that I understood what everyone was talking about. I’ve never liked camping. I still don’t, but I don’t consider my vanlife camping. I have all the mod-cons of a home, I get to sleep inside and nothing smells like campfire!
Until 2020, I was living in Australia for the better part of a decade. I was living on the Northern Beaches in Sydney when the pandemic hit. I was furloughed, resigned, finished work, packed up my life, sold, donated and shipped my belongings and flew back to Vancouver, BC within 11 days. It was a complete whirlwind. I was in isolation for 14 days upon my return and after that, I had no life plan or idea of what I wanted to do.
One of the best parts of vanlife for me is that I have a better understanding of my utilities. I know how much water I NEED on a daily basis, versus what I would USE. I understand how little electricity I actually use in a day, just powering my laptop or phone, maybe a couple of appliances and lights. It has made me aware of the differences of what we use versus what we need on a daily basis.
I still don’t have set plans for life. I have things I’d like to do, which I’ve never really had before. I’ve never planned my life or thought of planning it before. It was more of a “you get a job, you live in a place and that’s that” mentality. It was all out of necessity and obligation and what people expected you to do. I never really enjoyed any of it, it was just “what you do”. Now that I have a bit more clarity on things, I can see my previous patterns that I’ve fallen into and am aware of what I need to do in order to avoid those traps again.
Take us to the moment you decided to begin your Vanlife?
It actually wasn’t too big of a deal when I decided. I decided to do a cross Canada trip when I moved back to Canada, and wanted to be travelling for about a year. I figured having a van would probably be about the equivalent of buying a car and paying for accommodation for a year.
Normally when I travel, I am on a very strict schedule, but for this trip, I wanted it to be a bit more loosey goosey and to be able to go with the flow. Having the van would give me the freedom of not having to have a schedule or book accommodation in advance, so I thought, “sure, why not”.
I just kind of decided one day & started looking into it. It didn’t seem like anything noteworthy at the time, I don’t even really remember when it was that I made that decision. It wasn’t meant to be my full-time home, it was more of a means for traveling. With travel restrictions in place, it became my home by default out of necessity.
Tell us about the advantages to the Van lifestyle?
For me, the biggest advantage of my vanlife has been housing. After moving back from overseas and not working, finding an apartment rental would have been impossible. The van has given me my own home to live in without having to worry about credit checks or employment references.
One of the best parts of vanlife for me is that I have a better understanding of my utilities. I know how much water I NEED on a daily basis, versus what I would USE. I understand how little electricity I actually use in a day, just powering my laptop or phone, maybe a couple of appliances and lights. It has made me aware of the differences of what we use versus what we need on a daily basis. Now when I’m in a house I get a bit horrified at the electricity or water consumption that is unnecessarily wasted.
The van has also given me the gift of time. It’s given me the time to take a minute and figure out what I want and where I want to be. Had I not built the van, I would have rented an apartment and gotten a job without even considering any alternatives. I would have fallen into old routines which weren’t necessarily healthy situations for me to be in. I like that the van has given me the ability to slow down and assess what is important to me, and to think about what challenges and opportunities I want to pursue. I have never done that before, which seems crazy.
Tell us about the biggest challenges and downsides to the Van lifestyle?
For me personally, I am the biggest challenge to my vanlife. I’m not handy, not mechanically inclined and not technically savvy at all. I can’t fix anything myself, and when I try, it usually ends up breaking or looking like Swiss Cheese. I don’t have too many people in my life that are able to help, so I’m constantly having to find someone and pay them to help me. I knew this going in, so I was prepared. But after 5 months, it’s getting pretty tiring.
If anyone follows me on Instagram, they’ll know what I’m going to say because I’m like a broken record. If you’re building a van or having it built for you, design your layout around your lifestyle. Prioritize how you live and make a list of non-negotiables for your build. Have your van work for you.
Showering is a big disadvantage for my particular vanlife. I intentionally didn’t plan a shower into my build to save space. I had initially planned on using gyms, community centres and campgrounds to shower. Due to the pandemic, most facilities are shut or have restrictions of use. Based on my situation, a gym membership hasn’t been cost effective due to the high joining fees and because I have been in and out of the van for the first few months. Starting vanlife in winter added an extra layer to this, as many lower priced campsites were closed and staying in higher priced campsites has proven to also be financially straining.
Looking online, most of what you see is sunny vanlife. European and American sunchasers. This was a massive disadvantage to planning my build. I poured over hours of videos and posts about electricity and plumbing, not taking into consideration what Canadian winter was like. Dark and cold. I have 440Amp/h of AGM batteries and 300W solar, and during that long dark winter, I definitely needed more juice as solar was minimal if any, and my driving was almost non-existent some days. Had I thought about it realistically, I would have added additional batteries, gotten cold weather lithium instead of AGM and gotten much less solar on the roof.
How do you find a sense of community when you’re always moving? How do you maintain and build relationships on the road?
I tend to keep to myself and like living solo, so I don’t typically get lonely. Alone isn’t lonely!
I’ve made my “vanlife friends” virtually through Instagram and am thankful for the relationships I have cultivated. I have also built an online community through coaching programs I am part of and keep in touch online with my virtual friends.
With pandemic restrictions, I am as isolated living in my van as I would be in an apartment. Having lived away for almost a decade and moving back to Canada during a pandemic, I haven’t been used to regular visits with friends and family, so it hasn’t been too much of an adjustment to our relationships. If anything, we’re in more frequent contact than we were pre-pandemic/vanlife! I count myself lucky that I am still able to connect with people in a way that works for me.
How do you support yourself financially?
Until now, I have been living off savings. It’s felt like a bit of a retirement having this past year off! But unfortunately, retirement must come to an end, and I am about to start a new full-time role.
Over the past year, I have started a compact living lifestyle blog, “Simple Small Space Living”. I am wanting to develop this business further and add it as a long term revenue stream. I would also love to partner with some brands that are relevant to vanlife and share that with my community on Instagram @emsvanlife.
What is your one piece of advice for people who want to do what you do?
If anyone follows me on Instagram, they’ll know what I’m going to say because I’m like a broken record. If you’re building a van or having it built for you, design your layout around your lifestyle. Prioritize how you live and make a list of non-negotiables for your build. Have your van work for you. The worst thing you can do is design a build around what looks good on Instagram, or what someone else says works for them, and then have to live your life the way your van tells you to.
Rent a van, rent many vans, tour vans before you build. Try before you buy. See what works for you and what doesn’t. I rented a van with a convertible bed and within a day I knew that was not for me! I’m far too lazy to build furniture multiple times a day, so one of my non-negotiables was a permanent bed. That also gave me the gift of extra storage underneath in my wine cellar (aka the garage) - another non-negotiable.
What have been the most influential and helpful books, podcasts, blogs, websites or other resources?
My main vanlife inspiration comes from Instagram and YouTube. Instagram is mostly for decor and lifestyle ideas, as well as meeting like minded people. I love watching van tours on YouTube. I learned so much while I was designing my layout, and now I watch them for new ideas and concepts for potential future builds. My favourite would have to be Ladi & Margaret. Margaret does van reviews - she watches a van tour and points out amazing and less desirable things. It’s been interesting to see what I agree/disagree with a seasoned vanlifer on!
In terms of apps, iOverlander has been a good app for finding parking spots, dump stations and where I can fill my propane tank for the stove/heater/water heater. There isn’t too much available in the general area that I live in, but what I have found has been helpful.
What does the future look like?
I have never been able to properly answer the questions, “Where do you see yourself in 1, 3, 5 years?” It was always a confusing question because it seemed so sad to me that people would know what they would be doing in the future. It never occurred to me that people would plan things to do! As much as I’m a planner, I’m not a life planner, I know what I want now, and that’s about it.
That being said, I’m in the process of moving to a new community and starting a new job as this comes out. We are restricted to staying without our immediate communities in BC, so I am excited to explore an area new to me in the short term.
Long term, I still dream of exploring Canada North to South and Coast to Coast. I would love to start with a lap of Vancouver Island and then possibly head up through British Columbia to the Yukon. Retreating to the desert in Arizona for a few months one winter is also on the wish list!
Vanlife definitely is not a long term life for me. It was only ever meant to be a year at the very most. I can see with my new job and this being my stationary home now, that continuing potentially for an additional year? Even just saying that seems unlikely. Long before I ever heard of vans, I was drawing tiny home layouts. Building a tiny home is my eventual goal.
Rapid fire questions
What are the top 3 Van essentials that you couldn’t live without?
- Vanmade Gear Insulated window coverings
- Reversing camera
Top 3 favorite places you’ve visited?
None yet - travel has been restricted the whole time I’ve lived in the van! Looking forward to exploring once it opens up again.
Where are you now?
In my home province of BC, Canada
How long do you usually stay in one place?
I live urbanly, so I don’t sleep in a spot more than 2 days in a row, if that. I move my location a few times a day and then head to my sleeping spot after dark. A rolling stones gathers no moss!
When did you first start Vanlifing?
Officially moved in full-time November 2020.
Are you full-time or part-time Vanlifing?
How many weeks have you spent in the Van in the last 12 months?
What kind of vehicle/rv/trailer/setup do you have?
2014 EcoDiesel Ram Promaster 2500 159” wb
Where can we go to keep up with you and your adventures?