Think your micro-condo is small? Try living in an 80-square-foot van. With a partner. And no toilet. 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.
Who they are: Julie Gibb, 54, and Christian Morrison, 59
What they do: Graphic designers and bloggers
The van: A 1990 Volkswagen Westfalia
Expenses: $150–$200 a month for gas, $600 a month for campsite permits, $700–$1,000 a year for repairs
Julie: In May 2014, we took a sabbatical from work and spent two months travelling. In Peru, we hiked through the Andes, where families live in small homes with dirt floors and no running water. That experience made us realize we could live with a lot less and still be happy. When we got back, we sold our Roncesvalles home, invested the profits and started our lives on the road.
Christian: We found our 1990 Volkswagen Westfalia on Kijiji. A fellow in Etobicoke was selling it for $17,900. It was 80 square feet and silvery-beige, with an all-grey interior and plush upholstery. When I drove it for the first time, I immediately thought, “This is like driving a living room.” We bought it on the spot.
Julie: The first thing we did when we brought the van home was pull out the carpet and replace it with a grey linoleum. I made gingham curtains and new seat covers. We added a roof rack on top, where we could keep lawn chairs, a roll-up table, a carpet, gas cans and some tools. The guy we bought the van from had already put in mechanical upgrades, like stainless steel brake cables and an auxiliary battery.
Christian: We planned to drive to Newfoundland and try van living for three months. Neither of us had ever camped for more than three days in our lives. By the time we got to Gaspé Bay in Quebec, we were settling into the van life. We didn’t have blackout curtains, so we were waking up at sunrise, at around 5 a.m.—we loved it.
Julie: We don’t have a shower in the van, so we bathe less than we ever have—every three to four days. We’ll shower and use the bathroom at campgrounds. We have data plans in both Canada and the U.S., but we try to take advantage of free Wi-Fi wherever we can find it: coffee shops, grocery stores, even Walmart. For cooking, the van has two propane burners. We also carry a WhisperLite stove so we can cook outside.
Christian: We have a five-gallon water container, which we usually fill at whatever park we’re in. To wash dishes, we use a Rubbermaid bin.
Julie: We never have a plan. We hear about a place, and then go. We like it that way, because we’re never rushed to leave a place that we like. It was amazing to discover how little we need. I realized after living on the road that “home” is wherever we’re together.
Christian: When we were living in Toronto, we were always on a deadline. I suffer from anxiety and depression, and living in a van takes the pressure off: we can go where we want to go at any given moment, and we really live in the present.
Their travels: a random sampling