Who are you and what is your backstory?
Hello! We are Vanessa and Adam. We both love the outdoors, hiking, travelling, gardening and good vegan food. Vanessa had spent years as a student, first getting her undergrad, and then her masters in Sustainable Environmental Management and Adam had gone from working as a drywaller/painter/interior finisher to owning his own business.
Life was busy, and we found ourselves seeking out a way to make our lives more focused on the things we loved, so in 2015 we began putting into action a plan to make that happen. It took two years of planning, and hard work but we are so glad we made the decision to follow our passions and our gut.
"... there is so much I love about raising our son in a world where he gets to experience new people and places daily. What a beautiful gift we can give him by doing that!"
In 2017, we sold our home in Ontario, which we’d just finished renovating, and bought a 2008 Sprinter van. Our families thought we were crazy, we had a successful business and a beautiful newly renovated home. Everything, most people hope for, but we wanted adventure, we wanted to travel, we wanted something different. So we sold it all, we sold the house, we sold pretty much all our belongings and we committed to our dream.
For two years while we renovated our home, we’d been planning and designing our dream van, so when the day arrived that we actually owned the van we were ready to get to work.
It took us about two and a half months to convert our van and hit the road. Watch our van tour! This new-found lifestyle was everything we hoped it would be for us, it gave us the freedom to explore our interests and be creative, we started a YouTube channel and were able to help others get on the road. We had time for ourselves, and time to slow down and reflect on what was important to us.
It was at this time we decided to have a baby, and we were lucky this happened quickly for us. In December 2018 our son Cedar Fox was born, and we’ve since been able to share van life with him.
Since hitting the road in 2017, we were able to make two 5 month trips through the States (we’re Canadian), one as a couple and one as a family of three; we built one van for ourselves, and 4 for others, started a van conversion company here in Nova Scotia, Canada called Heartwood Custom Vans, sold our original van and are now in the process of building another van for ourselves: the ultimate family adventure vehicle!
Take us to the moment you decided to begin your Vanlife?
For us, “van life” started way before we were in the van. For years we had been traveling across the country for work or school, and every time we had to sell, pack up, move, resettle, buy new stuff, etc. It was too much. After our fourth or fifth move, Vanessa said “we need to be like turtles and carry our home with us!” That’s the moment van life really began, and Vanessa started down the rabbit hole of researching how we could be just like turtles.
"If you want to experience van life, or make any major lifestyle change, commit to it. Take baby steps, start downsizing, tape your layout on the floor, rent a van for a week, start saving, see if and how you might be able to start working from home with your current job, etc."
First, we started with RVs, then bus conversions, and finally settled on a van. We made a list of things that were important to us in a vehicle, and began crossing off vehicles that didn’t match our list, eventually we determined that the best fit for us and the lifestyle we were trying to create was a high roof cargo van like a Mercedes Sprinter, Dodge ProMaster or Ford Transit.
After determining that a van was a perfect fit or us, we spent 2 years researching and planning our design. This is something we stress in our DIY Van Conversion eBook, just how important the planning process is. Having a well thought out build plan is going to save you a ton of stress and money in your conversion.
When we hit the road we were nothing but excited to actually be doing the thing we had spent months, and years working toward. All the pieces had fallen into place, or, really I should say were strategically put into place. We had sold everything we didn’t need, we closed our business, we had savings set aside, we’d built our van out exactly how we wanted it (and we never wanted to change anything, even after 2 years on the road), we had an idea of the work we wanted to do moving forward. We were prepared and it paid off.
Tell us about the advantages to the Van lifestyle?
Van life is not for everyone, but we love it. We love the freedom this lifestyle brings, and the ability to see and experience new things daily. For us personally, we would not be parents if we didn’t take the leap into van life. Before we were so busy with our business, working all the time, and we just weren’t willing to bring a baby into that. Once we hit the road we had time again, we were able to put our energy into something that excited us. That was a major shift for us.
There are so many memorable moments on the road, so many amazing places I could tell you about, but for us one of those wild moments will always be the day we found out we were pregnant.
We had woken up in a field surrounded by almond orchards in bloom. We were just outside Yosemite valley, where the previous day we’d spent hiking and exploring this iconic National Park. We’d hiked up to lower Yosemite falls, and Vanessa was exhausted and cranky. After the hike all she wanted to do was sleep but it was close to sunset, and we couldn’t miss the view from Tunnel Viewpoint.
Adam and some friends had decided to hike up to a higher viewpoint, while Vanessa decided to take a nap. But the view was too enticing so she grabbed her camera and set it up with all the other photographers. The view was breathtaking, and this photo will always remind me of this moment and the following morning when we learned we’d be parents.
We’ve also been able to travel with Cedar, and there is so much I love about raising our son in a world where he gets to experience new people and places daily. What a beautiful gift we can give him by doing that!
Tell us about the biggest challenges and downsides to the Van lifestyle?
The challenges to van life are as varied as the people who live it. For us, it has been breaking down and being stuck, your van is your home and it’s a big deal when you break down. We have been towed, and we’ve limped into a mechanics shop more times than I’d like to admit, but they’ve all turned out ok in the end.
Once we were in down in the 11th Ward in New Orleans at rush hour on a busy street, and all of a sudden the van lost power and the steering wheel became hard to move. Adam was able to pull the van over without an issue, allowing the traffic to continue. After several calls to CAA (AAA) and different mechanics to see who had experience working on Sprinters and who could fit us in, we finally found someone.
We then waited for a tow. It was very worrying watching our van get pulled onto a flatbed truck, barely missing the low power lines and branches crisscrossing the road. We were absolutely terrified that one of them would take off our solar panels. We sat on pins and needles in the tow truck as the driver drove us to the shop, blasting metal music and telling us about his excitement for his first ever tow! Not something you want to hear when your entire life is bouncing precariously about on the back of a truck!
It can also be very draining to be in new places all the time or not knowing where you’re going to park that night. We trust our gut and don’t stay somewhere we immediately don’t feel safe. If you’re a solo female on the road, or you’re a person of color you’re going to face other challenges like safety or discrimination.
Our experience of that van life community has been very inclusive, so we suggest finding people you connect with before even hitting the road, ask questions and begin developing those relationships so that when you’re on the road you might be able to meet up. It can sometimes feel very lonely on the road, so having friends you can meet up with from time to time makes it all the more special.
How do you find a sense of community when you’re always moving? How do you maintain and build relationships on the road?
This definitely builds off the last two questions! We have met the most amazing people while on the road. We’ve made lifelong friends. People who have connected with us on social media (Instagram and Facebook), or people we’ve passed in a parking lot, started chatting with and now we can’t imagine life without them.
Van life means you are often starting and maintaining friendships from a distance. It can be hard, but at the same time, we find it easier than maintaining friendships from home because everyone living van life has that shared experience and understands the importance of maintaining these friendships.
How do you support yourself financially?
We have seen so many different ways people fund their travels and van life. We have friends who are writers, bloggers, YouTubers, accountants, engineers, graphic designers, interior designers, construction workers, farmworkers, seasonal workers and ski instructors! With a little creativity, we believe that most people can find an income stream that works for them, and they don’t all have to be remote online work.
What is your one piece of advice for people who want to do what you do?
Commit! If you want to experience van life, or make any major lifestyle change, commit to it. Take baby steps, start downsizing, tape your layout on the floor, rent a van for a week, start saving, see if and how you might be able to start working from home with your current job, etc. As soon as you commit to doing this and make those little steps it’s going to bring it that much closer to reality.
What have been the most influential and helpful books, podcasts, blogs, websites or other resources?
Of course, we have to say our own websites and corresponding YouTube channels: vanessaandadam.com and heartwoodcustomvans.com! Vanessa & Adam is all about lifestyle and traveling with a baby while Heartwood Custom Vans is all about van building and helping the DIYer. We also recommend our DIY van build eBook which takes you through the whole van build process from planning to hitting the road.
We also recommend going on Instagram and connecting with anyone who inspires you. Go to their website and see what they offer, and how they can help! So many van lifers have great websites and offer inspiration or help. This is where we started when we were getting interested in van life. We started following people on IG, asking them questions about their builds, getting inspiration, and combing their websites. Some people that inspired us from the beginning were Exploring Alternatives, We’re the Russos and Our Home on Wheels. We’d also recommended checking out So We Bought A Van, Chasing the Wild Goose, Eamon and Bec, and Bound For Nowhere.
What does the future look like?
This is a challenging question! Since we sold our van in the fall, we had been renting a house in Nova Scotia. We recently bought a house, and are setting up our van building shop and building out a new van for ourselves. There is a lot on our plate right now! But we’re excited about everything. Excited to be able to help others get into their dream van, and we’re excited about having a permanent home base to adventure out of, and we’re excited about building out a new van for ourselves.
For the time being, full-time van life is done for us, but we won’t count it out for the future. At the moment, we’ll be grounded here as we’re booked into 2021 for builds, and then the plan will be to stay at our home for the summers and travel for the winters. If this changes, that’s ok too, if there’s one thing you learn from van life it’s to be flexible!
Is there anything that you need that you can’t find or anything you are seeking help with?
Right now we are in the process of converting our new-to-us century home and building a van conversion workshop. We are booked for builds into 2021, but if you’re in Canada and looking for a van conversion company, check us out, we’d be happy to help you on your project. We’re also always open to collaborations on our blogs!
Rapid fire questions
What are the top 3 Van essentials that you couldn’t live without?
- Bluetooth speaker
- camp chairs.
Top 3 favorite places you’ve visited?
- Sedona, AZ
Where are you now?
Nova Scotia, Canada
How long do you usually stay in one place?
The longest is 3 months, the shortest is a day.
When did you first start Vanlifing?
Are you full-time or part-time Vanlifing?
We full-timed for 2 years, now we’re on pause as we build out a new van.
How many weeks have you spent in the Van in the last 12 months?
6 months give or take
What kind of vehicle/rv/trailer/setup do you have?
Our new van is a 2019 Ram ProMaster 159”
Where can we go to keep up with you and your adventures?