“I park near a 24-hour Tim Hortons in CityPlace and use their bathrooms”: How a 26-year-old German engineer is travelling across Canada in his van

“I park near a 24-hour Tim Hortons in CityPlace and use their bathrooms”: How a 26-year-old German engineer is travelling across Canada in his van

Max working as a courier in downtown Toronto

Who he is: Max Schneider, 26
What he does: Campervan maintenance technician
The van: 2005 Ford E350
Expenses: $400 a month for gas, $100 a month for repairs, $250 a month for insurance
Income: $18,000 in 2019 as a Campervan maintenance technician

Two years ago, I decided I wanted a change in my life. I’m originally from Germany, and after high school I moved to Austria to study engineering. After graduation, I was offered an engineering job with an attractive salary. But I wasn’t sure I wanted that life. In my mind, this job would be a shackle that would hold me down to a sedentary life.

Max in his van home

I was 24, and I’d never been overseas, or travelled anywhere extensively. I wanted to see more of the world, and I chose to start my journey in Montreal. I had friends I had met as an international student tutor back in Austria.

My plan was to see all of Canada from the east to west and I needed a better way of seeing it all. At first, I was staying in hostels or couch-surfing, but I quickly realized that Canada was much larger than I had anticipated. I bought a Ford Econoline 2003 E150 in Montreal so I could save money on accommodations and be mobile at the same time. Owning and fixing up a second-hand van was a lot harder than I initially thought, and the repairs ate into all my savings—about $5,700—until I had to survive on a food budget of $2 a day. My meals consisted of an apple and bread or rice and ramen. At times, I wouldn’t even eat pasta because it takes more water to make pasta than rice. Water is free, but I wanted to conserve my resources.

Max brushes his teeth in the morning as he gets ready for work in downtown Toronto
Max leaves his van home after a quick breakfast of coffee

I ended up in Toronto in November 2018, working odd jobs to stay afloat. I was an on-call snow salter and was hired to dump salt along the train stations on the GO line for much of the winter. I also picked up a job as a courier during the holiday season, using my van to deliver gifts or packages. Meanwhile, I spent all my free time repairing my van and building up my YouTube channel as a vanlifer and digital content creator.

I lived and worked out of my van. I have a fridge and sink but would park near a 24-hour Tim Hortons in CityPlace and use their bathrooms. For showering and laundry, I was lucky that one of my followers on Instagram in Toronto reached out and offered to let me use his showers and laundry regularly. I didn’t need too many showers regularly but my back-up plan would have been to sign up for a free gym membership and use their showers there. I have an emergency camping bucket toilet but I’ve never had to use it, fortunately.

Max takes a moment to rest while on his courier job
Max and Jordan Tomasone spend time together in Max’s van home. Jordan lived in a van home in the same car lot in downtown Toronto

Despite having my heater and some insulation in the van, it still gets pretty cold during the winter, so I try to spend most of my free time out of the van at friends’ houses or in coffee shops. I left Toronto at the end of December and continued westward to Regina. It hasn’t been the easiest journey to see Canada but I’m making it work. One of my most memorable moments was meeting up with a few photographer friends after leaving Toronto, to drive up to the lakes in Canmore, Alberta, at night. We packed beers and sausages, hung out in my van and watched the Milky Way. This was the moment I realized I’m now living what most people only dream of.

I’ve had a lot of jobs since I first arrived in Canada, but I’ve finally found my niche. I’m now a travelling fleet maintenance manager at a camper van rental company in British Columbia and Alberta. Though I’m working a lot these days, through this job, I’ve been able to see more of this beautiful country. I have a small amount of additional revenue from selling photo prints, stock images and ads from my podcast, Tiny Talks. Hopefully, working full-time will allow me to apply for permanent residency to stay in Canada now that I’ve been here for two years. I don’t have any plans after that. It all depends on if I am still enjoying what I am doing. There’s still America to see, and after that, who knows? Maybe I’ll move on to Australia, New Zealand or Asia.