Pandemic Van Life

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How do you keep livin’ the dream when the world is on lockdown? Short answer: You don’t. Welcome to Pandemic Van Life.

Well, that was a short jaunt back on the road. When we left Alberta in early March in search of greener pastures, we were so excited to be back on the road, out of the cold and surrounded by nature. We spent a little while in Vancouver before boarding the ferry back to Vancouver Island, where we planned to stay until the summer. At the time, we were very much in the loop with the rapidly increasing global scare over coronavirus and the inexplicable toilet paper crisis that somehow came along with it. Although we weren’t blind to the fact that it could affect us in many ways even if we weren’t infected, it didn’t seem like it was going to throw much of a wrench into our lifestyle. Boy, were we wrong.

Generic Van Life - Pandemic Van Life - Alone in the Woods
Throwback to 3 weeks ago when we were enjoying being isolated in the woods

We spent a nice weekend in the woods, sitting by the campfire and forgetting the fact that Covid-19 exists. Our usual spots were undeniably busier than normal but we just attributed it to the nice weather and brushed off the idea of people starting to quarantine themselves in the woods. When we got back into cell service on Monday morning, we were greeted by a barrage of text messages from friends and family asking if we were ok and what our plan was going to be for stocking up on food and supplies. We didn’t dismiss those concerns but admittedly, we weren’t feeling too stressed about it. As the day went on and we were flooded with news from every angle advising everyone to “just stay home,” we started to realize that this was all for more than shock value.

Generic Van Life - Pandemic Van Life - Pierogi with the Campfire
Pierogi in full campfire mode. She tried to start a Sweet Caroline sing-a-long shortly after. Didn’t happen.

So, how do you “just stay home” when you don’t have a home? I mean, of course our van is home to us but living in it requires that we have access to a network of public services and that we have a safe place to park it during the day and night. Sure, we could hole up in the woods for a while, but we need cell service and internet in order to work and stay connected to our friends and family. That meant that we had to spend a lot of time in public, whether we liked it or not. With coffee shops and libraries closed, we found parking lots with wifi that made for a half-decent home office – that was until the public bathrooms closed.

We immediately headed to the public pool to get showers before they shut their doors indefinitely later that day. We popped by McDonald’s to get breakfast and to use the washroom but the bathrooms were closed off and that’s when things started to get real. When you’re in the woods, you can go to a bush to pee or dig a hole to poop but when you’re in a busy parking lot, that’s not really an option. Even with our emergency toilet, having to put window coverings in just to go pee isn’t really ideal. I stopped drinking coffee in the day in hopes that I could hold my poo until we got out of the city at night (TMI?); we were practically dehydrating ourselves so that we wouldn’t have to drive to Walmart to use the bathroom (with the added possibility of having to wait in line just to get into the store).

Generic Van Life - Pandemic Van Life - Big Bay
The dream – having a place like this all to ourselves WITH stable internet connection

As much as we so badly wanted to be on the road living freely and without a dependence on public services, it just wasn’t feasible. We had to prioritize work and being connected to the internet is the only way we could do that. Elon Musk, if you’re reading this, we will totally be guinea pigs for Starlink – having internet access in the middle of nowhere would be life-changing! Anyway, dreams aside, we started looking for a short-term apartment because the alternative of staying at an in-town campground or RV park didn’t seem like it was going to be a reliable option. Rightfully so as they officially closed National and Provincial Parks shortly after. That’s also when our sink broke, we found out that the truck stop wasn’t filling up propane, and we were reminded that we couldn’t fit into 90% of drive-thrus. Real winner of a day.

We ended up finding a spot that’s usually an Airbnb that we jumped on immediately. We’re going month-to-month and are really unsure of how long we’ll be here. Wishful thinking was a month but now the government is advising at least three. We’re not sure how the rest of the year will play out (is anyone?) but for now, we’re just happy to have a toilet and a shower. With all public facilities closed, we went nine days without showers and yes, there were a lot of baby wipes used.

Generic Van Life - Pandemic Van Life - BC Rec Sites Closed
Photo taken from a local Facebook group showing rec site closures

All in all, I think everyone can agree that this is a super weird time to be alive. We’re happy that we made the decision that we did for peace of mind, especially when we heard that the provincial government had even shut down camping on public lands. I would normally try to load a post like this with useful links and resources but things are changing so quickly that I can barely keep up myself. For now, we’re just focusing on how fortunate we are that we have the option to rent an apartment because there are many people who don’t choose to be “homeless” like we do. With that, we hope that everyone is safe, healthy and sanitized and that people realize that we’re in this together and that that pair of shoes you want to go out and buy is probably not that important right now. I hope that others living in their vehicles have found a spot to park up and hibernate for a while, whether it’s at the dead-end of a forest road or in a friend’s driveway. Here’s to things getting back to “normal” in due time, whatever your “normal” may be.

And of course, a HUGE shoutout to all the healthcare workers, grocery store employees and everyone else working overtime right now to keep the world spinnin’.

  1. Thank you for sharing this story

    We are so happy knowing you
    Are safe
    We hope that one day soon
    We all can get back to living dreams
    Missing you ? always
    J O P

  2. I feel your pain. We are expediting all iver the country in sprinter cargo van and the only place is good to take showers is truck stops. We are getting gas at Pilot travel centers and having free super clean shower rooms for free, otherwise is cost $12 and you can use it for as many people you want. Plus always usually clean bathrooms, the best coffee and WiFi. Just a thought))

  3. Glad to hear you two are safe. I am curious to hear of an update. I am currently looking into van life and felt your post was a really good breakdown of the actual possible outcomes when the world shuts down. All of those zombie movies with people living in their vehicles doesn’t seem possible now…I was curious to also see if you were or currently are apart of a van life community on facebook or and app that other people have used to connect to others?

    1. Hey Brian, thanks for checking out the article. Since we both work remotely and rely greatly on wifi access, we sadly had to move out of the van and into an apartment for the foreseeable future so we could continue working. There are still plenty of people living in their vehicles (the woods are absolutely packed) but everything is just that much harder. With things re-opening, it seems to be getting much better – as long as a second wave doesn’t happen.

      Not sure where you’re located but in Canada, we are part of the Facebook groups Vanlife Canada and Vancouver Vanlife but there are also a bunch of general groups like Van Life: Dwellers, Nomads & Vagabonds and the subreddit r/vandwellers. Lots of resources and inspiring stuff out there!

      All in all, this might not be the best time to hit the road but it’s a great time to work on a van build and do some research and once you do get going, it’ll be that much better!

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