“I live in my van, rent-free, in downtown Toronto. Here’s how I make van life work”
For the past four years, Georgia Broderick and her fiancé have lived full time in their 72-square-foot van. Here, she explains why it’s worth it—even without a bathroom
Georgia Broderick has been living out of a van with her fiancé, Alejandro Aquino, for four years. When the 29-year-old music instructor and rock-climbing route setter moved in, the vehicle, a 2016 Ram ProMaster 1500, was basically a tin can on wheels. Since then, the couple has slowly decked out its 72 square feet to include a full kitchen, a freshwater system and internet access, and Broderick has started documenting their lifestyle on TikTok. The home on wheels has its downsides—like no bathroom—but there are also significant perks: it allows them to live in downtown Toronto rent-free. Here, Broderick explains the logistics of sleeping, eating and everyday living; breaks down their DIY renovations; and tells us how she and her soon-to-be husband make tiny living work.
In 2018, I moved to Vancouver from Sydney and soon started working at a rock-climbing gym. That’s where I met my fiancé, Alejandro. I proposed to him in 2021, and we’re getting married this fall. Back when I met him, he was working as a route setter, which means he designed climbing walls, at a gym in Squamish, about an hour outside of the city. He was living in his van: a big white vehicle that looks like it should be used for delivering packages.
While that might have been a red flag for some people, it didn’t seem strange to me. It’s actually quite normal in the BC climbing community. However, these aren’t the sleek, decked-out vans you see on Instagram. When I met Alejandro, his just had a mattress and a little bit of insulation in the walls. It was essentially a metal box with no internet, water system, heater or kitchen, which he’d bought second-hand for $30,000. He kept big water bottles around to stay hydrated.
Eventually, after a lot of driving back and forth, I decided that it would be easier if I got a job at a gym in Squamish. So I moved out of my apartment and into the van full-time in the fall of 2019. I was excited to stop paying rent, but I knew it would be an adjustment. I was a little worried about living with another person in such close quarters, especially because Alejandro is an introvert and needs his space. Luckily, we were both pretty busy and out of the house often, which helped us maintain our independence. Every now and then, I’d head to a café if I needed a breather.
Alejandro had been meaning to make upgrades to the van for a long time, but after I moved in, they became more pressing. In the first six months, we put in new insulation, got a multi-use camping stove and added a bench so we could sit while we were cooking.
The first winter I spent in the van was by far the most uncomfortable. We’d wake up in the middle of the night, frozen in our sleeping bags, with condensation from the windows dripping onto us. We eventually got a stand-up diesel heater from Amazon, which was a major improvement. We also added a partition to separate the driving area from the living area and replaced Alejandro’s mattress with a raised bed, which gave us added storage.
Then, in early 2021, Alejandro landed a full-time job as a route setter at a climbing gym in Vaughan. At first, he moved to Ontario on his own. I wanted him to make sure the job was a good fit before I uprooted my whole life. So, for three months, I lived in the van solo. It was fun to be on my own, and I liked keeping the van extra clean. Sometimes I would feel scared—like when groups of campers were near the van at night—but nothing dangerous ever happened. And when it turned out that Alejandro loved his new gig, I drove the van across the country to join him.
I’ll admit, I was a bit apprehensive about bringing the van to Toronto. I wasn’t sure if it would work as well in a big city as it had in the woods. That hasn’t been a problem, though. Since van culture is less common in Ontario, most people who see us don’t realize that this is where we live, which gives us more privacy. I’ve since started working as a route setter here as well, and I also teach music lessons.
After we were settled in Ontario, we did a second round of upgrades. We added in our very first fridge, which holds up to 90 litres, as well as a stovetop and oven that run on propane. And, in another first, we installed a freshwater system: a massive sink built into a six-foot-long countertop. It can store 50 litres of water, and we replenish it every week. Now, we can cook pretty much anything and easily store a week’s worth of groceries—sometimes two if we tetris things in. We keep kitchen supplies minimal: two place settings plus a frying pan, a pot, a baking sheet and a blender. All in all, the renovations we’ve done on the van have cost about $40,000.
We don’t have room for a seating area, so the bed is the bulk of our living space. We eat dinner there, watch movies, do work. The space only gets cramped when we’re both using the kitchen, so it’s best if one person is in bed while the other is cooking or doing dishes.
We still don’t have a shower or a toilet, so we use the bathroom at the gym where Alejandro works or buy coffees so we can use café bathrooms. It can be annoying in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning, when I have to get fully dressed just to get to a toilet. But we drive around the city a lot, so finding new public bathrooms isn’t too inconvenient.
The best part of living in the van is that we we don’t have to pay Toronto rent. Until recently, we were still paying off the van itself, which was $600 a month. Now, our combined monthly expenses are only gas, propane, phone and internet bills, water, and groceries, all of which comes to about $1,500. Over time, we’ve figured out where we can park for free. Occasionally, we’ll pay to stay in a parking lot if it’s more convenient.
People sometimes wonder how I spend so much time in a metal box, but I find it cozy. I can stand and move around comfortably, and I’m a homebody, so I enjoy curling up in our tiny home. Plus, it allows us to be spontaneous. We can go away for a weekend without booking a hotel. I wouldn’t ever start paying rent again, but I could see wanting to buy a house someday. We’d keep the van for road trips, though.
As for living in a small space with a partner, it’s good because it forces us to prioritize communication. We don’t have a separate room to brood in, so we have to be super upfront if something is bothering us. It helps that neither of us is super rigid about tidiness, and we have a similar threshold for when things get too messy. We’re in the middle of planning our wedding, which will be in September. I think we’ll get a “just married” sign to put on the van.
For our honeymoon, we’ll be putting the van on the open road, starting in New York and driving through Utah, Joshua Tree and Yosemite. Before then, we’ll get an inverter, which will allow us to use the van’s battery to power outlets, and we’ll finally install a toilet. Usually, when we’re travelling or camping, there are places where you can dig a hole and discreetly do your business, but you can’t do that in the desert. Basically, the toilet issue has finally become non-negotiable.