Life on the Road

5 Things to know before moving into a van

If you are like us, when you are getting ready to move into your van, you’ve done a ton of research. But there are always some things that fall through the cracks in all that excitement. These are the top 5 things we wish we knew before moving into the van!

  1. SLOW DOWN

    Before we moved into the van we had never traveled without a looming end date. We had always been on a mission to get from point A to B, and didn’t leave much time for meandering scenic drives. We still haven’t gotten the full hang of traveling slow but Cedar is definitely teaching us now! Don’t be in a rush, take time to go into the little towns you pass by, and take the back roads, far from the busy highways. You never know what you’ll find there!

  2. Don’t leave your warms clothes behind

    This is for all you Canadian’s out there thinking about tanning your buns off in Arizona in December while your family and friends freeze their buns off at home. We saw all these beautiful pictures of people in bikinis chillin in their vans and thought we were going to be spending our days basking in the glorious heat of the sun. We were unpleasantly mistaken. Average temperatures were just one of those things that didn’t occur to us to check before hand. Friends, just know that if you plan on being in the southern states, especially the desert, you will need warm clothes.

3. EXPECT to visit the mechanics

We had to do some MAJOR work on our van shortly after hitting the road. It was a huge bummer, but everyone we talk to, seems to have this issue, especially if they own an older vehicle. Make sure you have some… several thousand $$$ set aside for work on your van. It’s a bummer to have to get work done, but as you do, you will have a good record of what has been changed out and a good service record. We would also 100% recommend getting the Black Card RV Packaged from CAA or AAA. It is well worth the membership fee and gives a huge piece of mind to know you can get a couple free tows if you need it. I can say that we have put out CAA membership to good use.

4. DON’t over pack

When your thinking about hitting the road you are most definitely thinking about all the gear you’re going to need. We can tell you from experience that you are going to need a lot less than you might think. If you have a hard time giving it away before you leave, and you don’t end up using it while you’re on the road, then take some time to go through everything and get rid of the things you are carrying around that no longer serve you. If you haven’t used it for a couple months, then let it go!

5. Get travel APPS

Some travel apps are totally worth it and others, not so much. We have found iOverlander and Allstays to be great tools when looking for a camping spot. We also use Gas Buddy regularly to find the best fuel price. And Alltrails is a awesome app to use if you’re into hiking

Starting van life with a baby

We were starting to get stir crazy in our apartment. It had been good, really good to have this permanent place to rest and recuperate after Cedars birth. A place where we could take time to settle into our new roles as parents, but now that Cedar was bigger, and more aware we were itching to hit the road again. We missed our home. It sounds funny that something so small could feel like a home, but our van does to us. It’s cozy and warm, and we put a lot of thought and love into building and designing it the way we wanted. We were also so excited to share this adventure with Cedar. The only thing that had prevented us from hitting the road sooner was the difficulty I was having breastfeeding and the fact we had to wait for Cedar’s immunizations. Now that both those things had been figured out, we felt ready. 

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We intended on leaving March 3rd but the weather has other plans so we were stormed stayed in Halifax until the 5. Even though we delayed our departure, it was ok because we got to spend a bit more time with family. 

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We didn’t know what traveling with a baby would be like, how far we’d be able to get at each stretch or each day, but we expected we have several long days ahead of us.

It took us 3 days to get out of the snow and into spring as we drove south to Florida. We would cover 5 hours of ground but it would take us 10. A baby forces you to slow down. We would get one 3 hour stretch in the morning before we’d have to stop so I could nurse Cedar. The stop would be about an hour or more because we’d play with him and have something to eat. Everything takes longer. Then we might get a couple more shorter stretches in. 

Cedar has been amazing, I’m so impressed with how relaxed he is, how content he is just going with the flow.  He has not made traveling difficult. Yes, it’s different then what we were used to, but it’s good and we are finding a new groove. Ultimately, we are glad to be sharing these new experiences with our son, so the challenges don’t seem so hard to overcome.

Top 10 MUST HAVES for Van Life

Before van life was a reality for us, we had already purged our lives of any and all unnecessary items. Things that took up space, clothing we never wore, kitchen items that serve only one obscure purpose. We decided that we had certain criteria that any new product had to have in order to buy it.

These criteria were: Would it be going in the van with us? Does it serve multiple functions? Is it made to last? Do we feel like the company is ethical or sustainable?

Obviously not everything can meet all of those criteria, but it’s the list of things we thought about for every purchase we made before moving into the van.

The following items are OUR Top 10 Must Haves for Van Life. They may very well be different then what you’d chose, but for us, we can’t live without them.

1. 3 QT INSTANT POT

We love our instant pot and can easily recommend this to anyone living in a van or a house or anywhere! It’s a rice cooker, pressure cooker, slow cooker, steamer… Well I think you get the picture. It has multiple functions, uses only 700watts of power, and with it’s pressure cooker abilities means that you can basically cook anything in under 30 minutes. We use ours at least once a week, making chilli, curry, lentils, rice, etc.

2. Berkey Water Filter

Before we moved into the van we knew we wanted to have some kind of water purifications system. After a lot of research we decided to go with the Travel Berkey. The Berkey system can be permanently set up on our counter unlike a lot of bag filtration systems, and it removes over 200+ harmful contaminants including bacteria, viruses, pesticides, heavy metals, etc. which means that we can essentially get drinking water anywhere!

3. Hydro Flask

Following along with recommendation #2, is having somewhere for that water to go. It doesn’t matter to us what container you choose to drink your water out of, just that you don’t use disposable bottles. Find a reusable bottle you love and always have that with you. We love our double walled, vacuum insulated bottles because it keeps our water cool all day, which is amazing when we we’re hiking in the desert! It also keeps hot things hot because who likes cold tea?!

4. Vitamix

We love our smoothies. Having our vitamix was a priority for us, we even made sure our solar system could handle this one appliance that’s how important it was for us. We have had other high powered blenders before but nothing can compare to a Vitamix. Not only does it fulfil our smoothie needs, but Vanessa often make banana ice-cream in there, as well a cashew creams and fruit sorbets.

5. Patagonia synchilla & nano puff jackets

Both of us found these jackets on sale and we LOVE them! Adam has the Synchilla Fleece and Vanessa has a Nano Puff Jacket. Everyone needs something comfy and we love what the Patagonia brand stands for and represents. These are purchases we knew we’d only need to make once. Both can also serve as an insulating layer under a rain jacket making a good combo for cold weather.

6. Marley Bluetooth Speakers

Our van speakers suck. We could have upgraded the factory sound system, but the thought of spending thousands to upgrade was not at all appealing. We decided to go with a simpler solution: portable bluetooth speakers. We looked at a couple different options and settled on these Marley speakers for a couple reasons. We liked the way they looked, they has one of the best water resistant ratings, and the sound out of them is great.

7. Manduka Yoga Mats

A yoga mat or pilates mat definitely comes in handy while on the road. It’s small and easy to pack up and you can roll it out on an old blanket and get a quick workout in. It also fits perfectly in the “hallway” of our van so if need be we could have a little yoga sesh wherever we like.

8. Wandrd bag

We needed a bag that served multiple purposes. We needed a camera bag that could hold more than just camera gear but could also be a regular bag as well. The PRVKE21 by Wandrd was the perfect bag for us. It holds all our camera gear when we need, but the '“camera bag” compartment can be removed, then we can us it as a regular backpack, or a combo of the two.

9. Coffee Dripper

We’re not BIG coffee drinkers, but every now and then we do like a really good cup of coffee. Sometimes, you can’t beat a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning. That being said, we didn’t want anything complicated or big in the van so this simple little coffee dripper works perfect. We use undyed bamboo disposable strainers on the road, but if we’re in an apartment we have a reusable one. Not to worry if you’re not a big coffee drinker, you can you this for loose leaf tea as well.

10. Amazon Kindle ereader

Vanessa loves to read, so when we moved into the van and she had to give up her precious book collection, getting an eReader was a must. She decided to go with the Amazon Kindle and has been enjoying it, and the access to great books since.

How Living in a Van Prepared Us to be Parents

Before we built out our custom van and hit the road, we honestly didn’t know if we wanted kids or not. We enjoyed our ultimate freedom, time to work on our business or personal projects and the ability to pick up and travel with ease.

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We got married after 2 years of knowing each other but waited another 9 years to have our baby. Many people wait until they have steady jobs/income and a house and the security that comes with it, we did things a little differently. The saying is: “there is no perfect time to have a baby”, because there will always be questions and challenges, and doubting your abilities as parents. So why wait until we were nomadic to start a family?

We had good jobs - left them.

We had a newly renovated home - sold it.

We lived close to family - became nomadic.

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The answer is that if felt right . We trusted ourselves and our instincts which led us to the decision to start a family. When we told our family and friends that we were pregnant, they were shocked. Frankly, they had given up on the idea we would be parents!

Our baby was conceived in one of the most beautiful places in the entire world, Arches National Park in Southern Utah. We found out we were pregnant while camping in an almond orchard after spending the day, with friends hiking to lower Yosemite Falls and doing photography at Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park. This experience would have never happened had we not committed to our vision.

We are lucky to be bringing our baby into a world where we are less stressed about money, work, and hectic schedules. We have the ability to spend more time together as a family, and a space that allows us all to learn, grow and adventure together.

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Our van is a physical object made of metal, moving machinery and mechanical engineering, but it has given us the experience and perspective to see that we are ready to be parents. So there may not be a perfect time to have a baby… but we feel that we’re the exception to the rule., because it feels pretty perfect.

Looking back 1 year

It's crazy to think about all the things that have happened this past year. From where we started to where we are now. If you've been following along from the beginning you know that last year we finished the full renovation of our house and sold it. We then immediately, and I mean immediately went out and bought a Sprinter van and built it out. It took us about 1.5-2 months to build out our van and hit the road. 

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We left in October and for 5 months we travelled all over the western states: Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Utah, and visited 18 National Parks. It was so amazing, and we met so many wonderful people. People who saw our van and wanted to see it, people who had been following our journey online and invited us to stay or visit or have coffee, other van lifers, and travellers; our paths crossing just for a moment in time. The memory of these places and people will always stay with us. 

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Now we're back in Canada, and we've just finished building out a second van for someone else to adventure in. Now, we're thinking ahead to the transition to apartment life as we wait for the arrival of our baby this December. We love our van and the tiny house we've create in there, it's familiar and comfortable and home to us unlike any apartment has ever been. It might be a challenge for us to make that transition, but we've never shied away from challenges, and we know this will only be temporary. That's right, we are planning on continuing our travels with our baby. We love this life we've intentionally created and we can't imagine not sharing it with our child, so we will be hitting the road in the new year with Caeden and the baby along for the ride. What that looks like and when we'll leave is yet to be determined. Right now we're enjoying time with family and getting excited for baby's arrival.

Desert Silence

Desert Silence

There's a different kind of silence in the desert. It's something you would never think of, but when you spend any time in the desert you realize it's like living in a vacuum. There is true silence in the desert. No birds chirping or crickets and even the wind is silent as it flows over the dry sand.

Two Months In

Two Months In

We have been in the van for over 2 months now. We are settling into #vanlife and the ebb and flow of the day. Our mornings are related and easy going. Our voice of where to go and what to see is totally open: one day its a beautiful hike, the next its  stroll downtown in a new city.

We have met lots of interesting people along the way so far. There are so many people living the freedom of van life but their reasons for hitting the road are all different.