Before Anik & Tom moved into their rig, they had a simple life. And although it was simple, they found it boring. Doing the same thing every day of the week had them on edge and restless. The small trips they were doing each year were never enough.
So in the summer of 2015, they decided to hit the road in their vintage van. In between van travels, they live in an off-the-grid trailer that acts as their home base and keeps them warm in the winter months.
Square Feet: 50
Make, Model, Year: 1973 VW Type 2 Bus
Years Living Mobile: 1
Well, that’s with our beloved van, Pickle. In reality, it’s a bit more than that. We have traveled a lot before, living out of a car, minivan or backpack for months at a time.
How did you find your rig?
We found it online two weeks after we began searching for it. Fast, right? We got lucky. Before we bought Pickle, he was named Sophie and owned by a sweet old hippie lady in the province of Quebec where we’re from. She used the van to go camping once a year and to smoke a joint once in awhile. She was sad to see her bus go, but glad that we were going to bring it on this crazy trip.
How have you made it your own?
We put some clothes under the bed, threw a sleeping bag in the back and glued maps on the ceiling. The dogs jumped in, and that’s it. Home sweet home.
We’re not materialistic people, so we don’t own much. The van had a folding bed and cabinets, so it was easy to move in. It doesn't have the sink and fridge though. Who likes to drink their beer cold anyway? (Sigh) Over time, we've added extra storage, and Tom did all the electricity and added another battery so we can charge our computer and turn on the lights without draining our van battery.
What sparked you to choose vanlife?
One day, Tom asked me if I would want to leave everything and start living in a van. Hell yeah! I had been asking for years. That’s when the hunt for the perfect vehicle started. Then we started getting rid of our stuff. Oh boy, was it liberating. Being able to go on an adventure in the morning or simply stay in the van to chill all day was pure freedom.
I’m not saying everything is easy. Sometimes the cramped space drives us nuts and we fight. Add two dogs to the mix and it can become a really explosive situation.
But in the end, we always figure things out. It’s been the best year of our lives so far.
Tell us about the trip you are on.
We left with the intention of staying on the road at least a year. We felt like we never had enough time to see everything on our previous trips. We wanted to be able to take our time. We would find an interesting place and just say to each other, "You like this place? Me too. Let’s spend a week here. No rush whatsoever."
Last fall, we traveled across Canada from Montreal to Vancouver Island. After spending a couple weeks there, we discovered the rain was too much. So we headed down to the U.S. at the end of November. Since we knew that we were going back to Canada in the spring, we drove across the Pacific Northwest really fast. Well, as fast as Pickle would go, which is not very quickly.
We spent a great part of our winter in southern California and the Arizona desert. We got drunk with a fellow VW traveler on Christmas near the Pacific Ocean. We fell in love with Utah. We drove to Santa Fe and almost froze to death. We saw every single waterfall on the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. We were blown away by Icefields Parkway. We got married in a drive-thru in Las Vegas. We waited for days for the fog and clouds to clear so we could get a glimpse of Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens.
And then we had our greatest adventure, the one I’ve dreamed of for years: Alaska! The wide open spaces of the north. When we left, I wasn’t sure that Pickle would make it that far. But he did it like a champ. We went across mountain ranges, drove in the middle of bison herds and even were attacked by a big black bear mama (We spotted two bear cubs on the side of the road in British Columbia, so Tom stopped the car and the mama bear got out of the bushes and started running quickly toward us. Tom started the van and we took off.).
I could go on and on with the beauty of North America.
How are you funding your trip?
We saved money while we were still working. Since we’re not big spenders, it was really easy. We also sold all of our furniture, books and records.
We didn’t want to spend our days on the road working—at least not for the first year—so that’s why we saved.
Sometimes, we would play music in the street or find odd jobs on Craigslist. We’re always trying to find outdoor jobs and we’ve been really lucky with that. We found the most amazing people at a vineyard and blueberry farm who let us keep our dogs with us while we worked for them.
We also dumpster dive a lot. We almost never go to the grocery store anymore. We have even found dog food in pet store dumpsters. In Portland, we found one dumpster filled with chip bags. In Seattle, we found a chocolate factory dumpster. Needless to say, we made a stop there on our way back from Canada to fill the van with chocolate.
What's it like living with two dogs on the road?
First of all, you have to know more about our dogs. Jett is a 6-year-old Boston Terrier. She loves people. But she can get a little rough with other dogs. She got bit at a dog park when she was young and now she’s really reactive. West the Sheltie is 2 years old and he came from a sketchy breeder who didn’t socialize the dogs. Even with our best efforts, he’s lacking social skills and now he’s really anxious and scared of strangers. But he loves other dogs. Our dogs are complete opposites.
At first, we were really annoyed that you can’t bring your dogs to some places in national parks. But we found out that you can always bring them to the surrounding national forests, which is OK with us because you can camp there for free. But the love we have for them overcomes any obstacles. Waking up in the morning to see those two so excited to go on an adventure is the best moment of the day. On cold nights, they are the greatest heater. Just put them with you under the blanket. When you go on a 5-minute errand, they greet you like it’s been 2 days. Priceless. They’re also great alarm system when it’s dark outside and sketchy characters are lurking around the van.
Do you plan adventures around your dogs?
Oh yeah! We’re always looking for places that the dogs would enjoy. We love to be in remote places and just let them roam free. Jett is a beach lover while West enjoys forests. Tom and I are mountain people. There’s something for everybody out there.
Sometimes, the dogs are the ones that plan adventures for us. One day, we were hiding under the blanket watching a TV show and Jett was asking to go outside. She wanted to go to the beach. So Tom opened the sliding door to let her out and then he started shouting. I couldn’t understand what he was saying so I checked outside and there they were. The northern lights. The most magical moment in my life. The four of us just stood outside, watching the lights dancing. We couldn’t believe our eyes.
What's a typical day like?
It really depends on where we are and if we’re staying somewhere for a while or if we’re driving. Sometimes I feel like our days are all about coffee and meals. It seems like we just finished eating breakfast and it’s already lunchtime.
Almost every day, Tom has some maintenance to do on the van.
A few times a day, we’ll play with Jett and West outside. Maybe we'll go on a hike, spend time online or read a book. We also spend a fair amount of time trying to find the best camp spot, trying to avoid parking lots and residential areas. We love to watch a movie or a TV show before going to bed. When we visit Starbucks, we download videos to watch later at night or on rainy days.
Where do you shower?
We have a pump sprayer that we painted black and tied on the roof along with a folding bucket. We use this to shower inside the van, but it can get messy and the water is never hot. We sometimes sneak into campgrounds to use their showers. We’ve bathed in rivers, lakes and oceans. We've also met people and friends who let us shower when we pass through, for which we're forever grateful. Oh, and sometimes wet wipes.
Tell us about a time you questioned vanlife.
We’ve never really questioned vanlife. There are challenges. There are bad days. I’ve never been that cold or that wet. I don’t think Tom would have thought he would develop such mechanical skills. That’s all part of the deal. When you break down in the middle of a busy highway ramp or 300 miles from the nearest big city, you might be pissed and scared. You may think that an old VW bus wasn’t the best choice after all. But it’s always in the stressful moments that we have met the most amazing people. They have offered mechanical help, hospitality, money, food, hotel rooms...the list doesn't end.
Why do you continue to live this way?
We've come to realize that we’re not like the majority of people in North America. We don’t want a big house, nice car or 9-to-5 jobs. This is simply not who we are. I prefer to live in a tiny home—whatever shape it may have—and live my life to the fullest. I’m not going to wait until I’m old and wrinkled to do the things I want to do and see the places I want to see.
Will you live this way forever?
Living tiny? Yes, 100%. On the road? I don’t think so. I would love to have a place in the woods, most likely in the northwest. A little cabin with a wood stove, a couple animals and a big garden. Off the grid, so we have a small footprint. I can’t predict the future, but it’s something I see down the road.
What's next? Any news you want to share?
We have a few projects going on right now. We’re currently editing our videos from our summer travels to Alaska and back to the East Coast. Season two has already started on our YouTube channel and I’m trying to add a new episode each week.
We’re living in a camper trailer for the winter months that is also acting as our home base. We found something that we can insulate better than an old VW bus, because winter in Quebec is harsh and we have to stay put while Tom works.
On top of that, we’re about to start a company. I’ve been studying herbalism and we foraged all kinds of medicinal plants this summer. We’ll turn that bounty into products like salve, lotions, oils, soaps, etc. All handmade. We can’t wait to share this with you.