As I write this, I’m sad. Why am I sad? Because these past six months have been some of the best of my life and it’s a chapter that’s soon to come to a close….well, a temporary closure, but still, I’m sad to see it coming. Let me explain.
Six months ago, April 10, 2022, I purchased a mini-school bus, a Minotaur actually. She (I’ve named her Wanda) is a 2009 Chevy Express 4500 with a Thomas Built body and a 6.0L Vortec, gasoline engine. She had about 165,000 kms on her when I first got her (now she’s got just over 173,000 kms on her.
Let me back up just a bit more….
In April of 2020, I got laid off from my job as a travel consultant because COVID effectively shut down the planet and nobody was allowed to travel.
In May of 2020, my sister purchased a brand new RV and we did a few short trips with it. During one of those getaways, I was washing dishes outside on the picnic table (there is a FULL kitchen in her RV, but I chose to wash the dishes outside), the sun was gently warming my shoulders, birds were singing in the trees all around, and I said to myself, “I wish I could wash dishes outside back home”.
“Back home” was a two-bedroom apartment in a century home, five minute walk to the office I was working from (well, laid off from) at the time and 10 minute walk to Uptown Waterloo.
During that time, ie quarantine, I realized that I didn’t NEED 970 sq feet of living space. I was only really using my bedroom, the kitchen, and my livingroom….and of course the washroom from time to time. The other bedroom was used for storing all my art supplies, clothing, and for a brief time (before I got laid off), my desk and office necessities.
Honestly, I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled upon #vanlife videos on Youtube because prior to getting laid off, I RARELY watched YT and when I did, it was about creating art. But regardless, l started watching videos about #vanlife.
What is #vanlife, you might be wondering. Right this moment, if you were to Google “vanlife”, you would see there are nearly 14 MILLION posts about it on Instagram.
The hashtag dates back to 2011 when photographer Foster Huntington used it for the first time. In the summer of 2011, Foster Huntington left his job as a designer at Ralph Lauren in New York City and moved all of his possessions into an off-white 1987 Volkswagen T3 Syncro van.
By November 2011—about five months into living full-time on the road—Huntington announced that he had started a photo project called #VanLife. “It’s a celebration of ships of the open road and the notion that, ‘home is where you park it,’” he wrote. One follower remarked, “Clever idea, I’m sure it will take off.” Boy oh boy is that ever an understatement!
At this point, you might, like I did, think, “This is just for millennials. For young people. I’m too old for that lifestyle.” But, like me, you’d be wrong. She doesn’t know this yet, but Virginia, of “veevanvoom” was my inspiration. I watched her Tiny Home Tours video on Youtube and thought (without any disrespect!), “If she can do it, then gosh darn it, so can I!”. Here’s her video:
Now, Virginia, like many others, could afford a beautiful van, and to have it built-out by professionals, but that’s the first thing I learned in these past six months…
You do you. This is not a competition. And what works for someone else might not work for you.
When it occurred to me that I would love to live the vanlife, back in 2020, I started researching vans, specifically I wanted a Dodge Promaster hightop so I could stand up in it, and back then, in June of 2020, they were available for about $23,000CAD for a used one. That was much more than I could afford and then, as the months went by, in October, the prices had more than doubled to over $50k. I thought, “Well that’s it then, I guess vanlife isn’t for me”.
YT being YT, one video led to another and soon I learned that people were living the vanlife NOT in vans, but in full-sized school busses, mini-school busses, shuttle busses, ambulances….those all being the larger options…I know some people live in just a regular mini-van or SUV but I didn’t want to downsize THAT much.
I thought my best bet would be an ambulance, because they’re built solid, they’d have a good maintenance record, they come with all the electric stuff done already, and heck yeah, it would be cool to drive an ambo. I started searching for them in my area (ie southwestern Ontario). Very hard to find a decent one that wasn’t in rough shape and was also not out of my budget.
So I switched gears (no pun intended), and started looking to buy a school bus….but realized, again, I don’t NEED a 40 foot long vehicle (plus, I’d need a special license to drive it, finding parking for it would be challenging, and since it’s such a big space–relatively speaking–it would cost me more in materials to convert it into a tiny-home-on-wheels). So I switched gears again, to mini-school busses….or “shorties”.
I’ve come to learn that shorties are in high demand. I would find one, and before I could even make arrangements to go see it, it would get sold.
My goal was to find one by my 55th birthday. Yes, that’s right, I’m 55, not a millennial by a long shot. As luck would have it (actually, I don’t believe in luck), as FATE would have it, I found my little Wanda on Facebook Marketplace, listed for sale by a dude in Hamilton (about 45 minutes, each way, from where I was).
I knew I didn’t have time to waste, so my Mom and I went to Hamilton, me thinking, “This is just the first one, don’t get excited, we’re just going to look, just relax”. Fast forward a few hours, and Wanda was mine (with the help of my Mom, who’s lent me the money so I could pay cash).
I paid $10,500.00 for Wanda….a far cry from the $50k+ pricetag on the Promasters….and yes, I DO have “payments” on Wanda, to my Mother, but it’s not like borrowing from the bank (I was quoted 16% interest by the bank).
A few pix of Wanda as I bought her (yellow) and how she looks now, after her first (but likely not her last) paintjob (which I did myself using a roller and brushes):
For just over $10k, I now have a vehicle AND a home….well, sort of….this was the second thing I learned…
Plans change. Always have a Plan B.
Well COVID and getting laid off taught me exactly how much plans can change, but the importance of having a Plan B came into sharp focus once I got Wanda.
My original plan was to explore Ontario this summer, then, in the fall (which is now), I would drive east to the Maritimes to collect beach glass for jewelry projects, and then drive cross-country to British Columbia, to spend Christmas and New Years with my daughter and her significant other, and THEN I’d either spend winter on Vancouver Island OR head south to Arizona for the winter.
But plans changed for several reasons…..I need to back up again.
In late October 2021, after getting tired of my recall to work date getting extended (for the seventh time!), I found a job making pierogi. When I took the job, I honestly didn’t know if I’d last out the week as it was (and still is) very hard on the body. Standing for six hours, doing repetitive work, I would go home (which at the time was my sister’s house as she’d invited me to stay with her) in such bad pain that I could barely stand up straight, I used to put Rub A535 on every day after work, and take extra strength ibuprofen for the pain. Every. Day. Until my body got used to it. Now I still have pain (mostly in my left hand, which is my “pinching hand”) and I’ve lost some feeling in my left hand, but our bodies are incredible and can adjust to a lot.
So anyway, I thought that pierogi pinching job would just be for a few months….but as it turns out, I work for a lovely family, my boss, his wife and their son are just wonderful. Being acknowledged and appreciated by your employer is something new to me.
Another big factor in my changed plans….gas prices went sky-high when I first got Wanda. I calculated, it would cost me, roughly, about $3000 at minimum to drive West (meaning I wouldn’t even do the eastbound trip to the Maritimes) PLUS if there were any mechanical issues along the way, who knows how much it would all end up costing me.
Added to this, I feel an obligation to stay in Ontario until I pay my Mother back for Wanda.
Another thing I’ve learned these past six months living the vanlife, and if you’re considering vanlife, or skooklie life, you might want to consider this too….
Be realistic. Yes, you CAN do more than you think you can, but know when to accept your limitations.
For instance, I personally HATE winter driving. I hate ice of any kind, especially black ice, and I especially hate winter driving in town (out in the country it’s not so bad, but I don’t live out in the country). I KNOW I would be a nervous wreck if I were to drive Wanda this winter.
Wanda’s a dually (meaning she has two sets of two tires in the rear), she’s a rear-wheel drive, and she weighs just under 4,536kg (or about 10,000lbs). If I were to hit a patch of black ice and even just slowly slide into a vehicle (or, even worse, a pedestrian), I could cause some serious damage/harm.
So I decided to put Wanda in storage this winter. Which is why I’m sad.
Over these past six months of living in Wanda, exploring Ontario with her, meeting other vanlifers (including the lovely Virginia from “veevanvoom”), I’ve learned so much about myself, about what I’m capable of, of what’s important to me, and what isn’t.
I LOVE having freedom to roam, to just point Wanda’s nose in a certain direction, put my foot on the pedal and go.
For the next five months while she’s in storage, I won’t have that freedom anymore.
I don’t mind taking public transportation, in fact I like it a lot (don’t have to worry about construction or traffic or bad weather, I can read my book, listen to music/podcasts, and just relax), but it’s very structured (as it should be) and you have to go on someone else’s’ schedule (ie Grand River Transit in this case). Which leads me to lesson four…
Notice and acknowledge the small blessings in your life.
I’m very fortunate to have a lovely place to stay this winter (at my Mother’s house), and I found a lovely space for Wanda too (on a farm about a half hour away, in a brand new building, it’s nice and dry, Wanda won’t be rusting, and she’ll be sharing the space with about 140 other rigs).
My three pets (dog Tia, cat Tabi and bird Tony, aka the TTrio) will be warm and safe all winter.
I’ll be saving money (Wanda isn’t horrible on gas, but each time I put gas in her it’s anywhere from $75 to $200) and thankfully repair costs have been minimal, but with the savings I’ll be able to pay Mom back by the time Wanda comes out of storage in the spring.
Lesson five….being “different” is not so different.
I’ve not felt like I truly belong, ever since my divorce (in 2002).
When you go through a divorce, you lose people…I mean friends, or who you thought were friends, take sides, and since I was the one who instigated the divorce, I was the “bad guy”, and so the people I thought were my friends took my ex-husband’s “side”.
The people I worked with in the office were for the most part either married or in long-term relationships, I was one of the few single women.
In social settings, I would withdraw, as I’m an introvert, and I don’t feel comfortable at events where there are lots of people.
So I resigned myself to a life of solitude and quietude.
And I still have that, BUT, now I’m part of the #vanlife community (thanks to a lovely new friend, love you Tara!). I attended three meet-ups this summer, and I finally feel like I belong.
Sure, there are many married and paired-off people who live the #vanlife, but there are also many others like me, introverts, solos, creatives, who live on the road, either part time or full-time, and so I finally feel like I’ve found my “tribe”.
Bonus things I learned:
- you NEED far less than you think you do
- people are very interested in learning about skoolies
- don’t invest a lot of time and money in materials right away; LIVE in your rig for a few months before converting it (I’ve changed my layout MULTIPLE times already)
I know it’s been nearly a year since my last Post here, but half of that time I’ve spent having the time of my life, so “sorry, but not sorry” haha. Whilst Wanda’s in storage, I’ll have more time to write, and so there will be more information forthcoming on topics such as travel in Ontario, converting a vehicle into a home, safety on the road, costs of vanlife/conversion, “how to”, FAQ’s and much much more, so if you haven’t done so already, maybe consider subscribing to this blog.
P.S. In November of 2021, I signed a new contract with my employer, and became an Independent Travel Consultant, which means I can always stay in touch with my clients, even while I’m on the road, I can work remotely, and I can set my own hours. Perfect for #vanlife.
P.P.S. I’m still in contact with “the dude in Hamilton” who I bought Wanda from, so if YOU’RE interested in connecting with him, drop me a note and I’ll make it happen.
Some of my most favourite images from my first season of #vanlife #skoolielife: