The Vanlifers: Kristen and Siya

They purged their possessions, traded their comfy homes for cramped RVs and hit the road

Think your micro-condo is small? Try living in a van. With a partner. And a dog. The soaring price of real estate is the biggest factor spurring Torontonians to give up the stationary life, but they’re also chasing the freedom and romance of the open road. And they’re far from alone. At last count, #vanlife had over three million posts on Instagram. It started as a social media– and nostalgia-fuelled minimalist movement and has grown into a vast community of boho bloggers. In this Toronto Life series, we spoke to some recent converts about the highs and lows of going mobile.

Siya, Kristen and their terrier mix, Atlas

Who they are: Siya Zarrabi, 31, and Kristen Jacobsen, 31
What they do: Travel bloggers and videographers
The van: A 1976 Airstream Sovereign
Expenses: $150 a month for gas, $1,000 for parking

Kristen: In 2016, we were renting an apartment by Old Mill subway station, but we were always travelling for work. We started thinking seriously about mobile living when we realized that we were paying $1,400 a month for an apartment that we never slept in. I found an Airstream on Kijiji that was listed for $13,000. We fell in love with it and used up our savings to buy it.

Siya: When we brought it home, we started to gut it immediately. The shell was pristine, but the walls were mouldy and the subfloor was rotten. We kept the Airstream at my uncle’s house while we saved for another year to fix it up and furnish it. Once we’d saved enough, we recruited a metalwork shop that redid the frame for $10,000. Through Instagram, I found two women in Indiana who renovate Airstream interiors. We drove eight hours to meet them.

Kristen: Three months later, on the Canada Day long weekend in 2017, we drove down again to pick up the Airstream. The moment we walked inside, we started crying—we were so happy. All the money and time we’d invested had paid off. We moved in right away with our terrier mix, Atlas.

Siya: It’s very similar to a studio apartment—it has a bedroom, a kitchen and a living area. The walls are white, so the space looks much bigger than it is. The renovation cost us about $47,000.

The space below the bed doubles as a storage
The kitchen has a fridge, a stove, a propane oven and a deep copper sink

Kristen: Most of our furniture is multipurpose: the space below our bed doubles as storage, our dining table converts into a guest bed, and the benches in our dining and living area are also cubby spaces. The kitchen has a deep copper sink, a fridge, an electric stove and a propane oven. We have a composting toilet. The pee goes into one bucket and the stool goes into another. We mix the stool with coconut shavings and cedar chips to mask any smell. Once the buckets are full, we pour both buckets into the woods. The first time we used it, we didn’t close the stool bucket properly, so flies got in.

Siya: We have solar panels to charge our batteries, which power the entire Airstream when we’re not plugged in at an RV park.

Kristen: We can get in each other’s way occasionally. Sometimes I just want to have my own space, but whenever one of us needs alone time, we’ll go out to a café.

The dining table converts into a guest bed, and there are cubbies beneath the banquettes
The bathroom has a composting toilet: pee goes in one bucket, stool in another

Siya: RV living is a lot of work, but it’s incredibly rewarding. We were in Malibu this winter, and we had the same view as Cher, but she lives in a mansion. We’re able to leave for places like Thailand at the drop of a hat since the cost of storing the Airstream is only $100 a month. How could a traditional homeowner do that?


Their travels: a random sampling
Alberta. Travel photos courtesy of @hopscotchtheglobe/Instagram


More vanlifers