Fellow Canadian staring Vanlife

Hey everyone! I’m Raina and I’m a soon-to-be vanlifer from southern Manitoba :slight_smile: I bought a Chevy Astro van back in April last year from BC. When I bought it, it was stripped to bare metal and ugly, quite frankly. But my dad and I worked with the small space we have in the van to build a L shaped couch that converts into a full sized bed as well as we are putting in a small “kitchenette” behind the drivers seat. It’s been a really cool experience to slowly teach myself what it’s going to mean to live in such a small space by myself. What my routine might look like.
I’m leaving in march, so a few weeks from now. I honestly don’t have much planned other than that I’d like to go along the west coast of Canada/ USA and explore. Frankly I’m the WORST at planning, I hate it. But I’m concerned I might be headed for trouble if I don’t??? I’m also a female doing solo travelling and I’ve done some research but if anyone has any tips, feel free to share!
Also I’ve always wondered… do vanlifers ever just see eachother out there, meet up, and travel together? It sounds amazing but I don’t hear of it often…
Idk guys, let me know your thoughts :slight_smile:


Greetings & Welcome!

Sounds like you’re soon to embark on a grand adventure! You’ll meet far more people in actual campgrounds than elsewhere, but this early in the year, most campgrounds are likely to be closed.

You don’t really need to plan your route except for road conditions. You can always google coming towns to find their attractions and decide where you want to go next. A nice leisurely way of travel is to travel no more than about 2 hours at a time, and stay for a couple of days. Avoid rush hours.

The things that do need planning are money first and formost, followed by temperature control and personal hygiene. The cold can kill, and insulation doesn’t help enough without HEAT. Your stove might be sufficient for heat while you’re awake, but stoves and unvented propane heaters are not safe to run over night while you sleep. For this reason, I use wick type kerosene heaters, cookers, and lights, because with ventilation they can be run safely all night. They’re also cheaper in the long run.

Public toilets and showers are the pits, and it’s easy and cheap enough to have your own. A toilet at the very least.

You’ll want enough supplies. food, water, heating/cooking fuel, to last for at least a week, because it’s easy to get snowed in for that long or longer.

Don’t trust GPS, stick to main roads. If you break down or get stuck and there’s no cell phone signal, you want to be somewhere where somebody can find you and help. Get a paper map for a backup, and stay in close contact with your family so they know where to start searching for you if necessary.

SAFETY is a very serious concern, especially when the weather can kill you. You need to be prepared to survive the cold without anything that requires power. Electric heaters only work above like 50f degrees. They don’t put out enough heat to keep you comfortable in anything below that. Hand warmers are a great thing to have, especially the Zippo refillable type ones. It’s eassy to run out of disposables, and they can get expensive. A single kerosene lamp won’t keep your rig warm, but they do work for hand warmers, and some mellow light for the long nights.

I have 12v heating/cooling blankets & seat cushions that I LOVE, but I wouldn’t recommend them unless you have a house battery set up, because they could drain your starting battery and leave you stranded.

Get a reliable mechanic to do a FULL inspection on your van before departure. Check your spare tire, and make sure you have a jack and a lug wrench and know how to use them. I also carry a can of fix-a-flat, and a 12v tire inflator. Learn how to check and fill your oil and transmission, and other fluids including the radiator, power steering, and brake fluids. Carry extra of all these so you can top them off if the need arises. Check them all every time you gas up.

Make sure you have some sort of towing insurance, as well as cell phone service, and make sure they’re good in both the US and Canada. Make sure you have the necessary id and paperwork to get across the border, AND BACK!

Do you have an emergency fund large enough to replace everything, or at least get you back home? What about money? Jobs on the road can be difficult or impossible to find. You might need some sort of work visa to be able to work legally in the US. The time to figure all this stuff out is before you leave home. Costs tend to run 2-5 times higher than expected, be prepared for that. Be aware that lot’s of people try to take advantage of both girls and tourists. You need to be street smart, and if something doesn’t feel right, MOVE! Always be prepared to jump in the drivers seat and leave at a moments notice.

It generally isn’t that bad, but you NEED to be prepared for the worst and be constantly vigilant of your surroundings at all times. Always park where you can’t be blocked in. Pepper spray and bear spray work, but may be illegal in some areas. I keep a spray bottle of vinegar around for cleaning, it’s legal everywhere, but if you spray it in somebody’s face it will at least temporarily blind them so you can escape. Even window cleaner or soapy water is better than nothing if the need arises. Always go for their eyes first. If they can’t see, you have a distinct advantage. A flashlight with a strobe feature can really disorient somebody at night.

Good Luck, keep us posted, and we’re here to answer any questions that arise.


"I arrived to a campsite full of trash, but I left it sparkling clean." ~ CampHappy

1 Like

Follow your instinct. Nothing ruins a great adventure faster than a plan! Part of (if not all of) the beauty of embarking on this lifestyle is the journey itself. Just go, see where the road takes you and listen to yourself along the way (worked for us anyway)! :wink:

Vanlife has changed over the years, but much of it is still a solitary lifestyle. When we first left 7years ago anyone who lived in a van certainly didn’t talk about it broadcast it. If you weren’t in a campground you would never meet anyone (and staying in paid campgrounds kind of defeats the purpose). Now, vanlife is beyond a trend and there technology and apps making it a social lifestyle as well. Meetups and gatherings aren’t daily occupancies but they are happening more and more often and are great way to meet others that you are likely to meet or see again along the road.

Enjoy the journey!!

1 Like

So as a fellow Canadian i can tell you weather permitting that travelling in Canada is easy. The transcanada is a smooth drive cross country. Download Ioverlander, and ParkAdvisor before you go (they have alot of free campsites as well as established parks) the National Parks you will pass are incredible, Grasslands, Riding Mountain, even Elk Island. The drive through the mountains to get to B.C. is definetly where you want to have you vehicle in good shape.

Canadian Tire you can grab a usb charging battery booster for around $50, and a small air compressor for you tires for under $30.

Check your insurance to make sure you are covered out of province. Buy travel insurance for your time in the U.S (AIG travelguard has pretty good rates). Know that Banff and Jasper are going to be crazy busy in the summer.

The drive down the west coast in the states is gorgeous, there is a good mix of boondocking, and established campgrounds, again the national parks in the U.S are incredible (buy a national parks pass, it pays for itself after your first two parks). There is BLM land outside most of the parks, and you can camp there for free.

When you get to the states, chose a cell provider at&t, tmobile, verizon, sprint, walk in to any store and you can get an unlimited pay as you go plan for cheaper than any cell plan we have access to in Canada :slightly_smiling_face:
Passport is all you need for the border (but Nexus can make it quicker) . Try not to have any meat or produce when you cross the border. And having a plan to tell them at the border is a good idea, they don’t always love hearing “i am not working, and traveling”… we pick a spot we are going to and make that the reason for our trip. (You also have 182 days in the U.S, but again as a young person they want to know, you have money, a plan, and that you are not going to work while you are visiting).

Don’t worry too much about making plans, unless you are heading to a touristy place that is in peak season you should be fine, and the best adventures will come in the unexpected, so leave room for it.

Have a great time!

1 Like

Couldn’t agree more… except for that “weather depending” part.
Some of the highlights of our travels over the last few years were winters in the mountains of BC and AB (and you get the icefeild parkway all to yourself!)… just gotta make sure you build appropriately for living in the van in all 4 seasons!! :+1: