Last week we received an email through our website from the mother of an eleven-year-old boy who was interested in how we manage to sustain a life in our van, and why we decided to embark on this adventure of a lifetime. We were so flattered by his interest in us that we wrote back right away. We realized that perhaps he is not the only one with questions about our lifestyle, so we decided to post for you our response.
Message: Hi - I showed my 11 year old son your blog and he has some questions. What is your plan? How long can you travel without a job? Why did you do this? Will you get a job later? How old are you? I am just trying to show him that anything is possible when you decide to do it. Thanks. Bridget
Response: Hi Bridget!
I just got your email and we are flattered that your son has taken an interest in our blog. It was our goal to inspire people to live the life they choose, whether that be to settle and have a family, or live in a travelling van, or explore the far reaches of the globe. Whatever the heart desires!
A little about us:
We were born in 1986, making us 31 this year. Braden and I met in 4th year at the University of Ottawa, he is originally from Oakville and I am from a little town called Campbellford, near Peterborough, Ontario. We lived in Ottawa for about 13 years, opting to stay in Ottawa after we graduated from university. I was working as a server / bartender at The Atomic Rooster and The Rowan, and Braden worked for Eurocom as their marketing specialist. He would visit Nita every Friday with his coworker, Nick, for lunch. Often, he brought home Ten12 in growlers for the weekend.
After working for almost a decade and saving up as much as we could (I paid my student loan of $39,000 in three years - anything IS possible; Braden didn't have school debt, lucky him) for our future together, we decided that we wanted our future together to be full of travel and unique experiences. Braden's brother and his girlfriend were already travelling in a converted Mercedes Sprinter van and we were inspired by the freedom this allotted them (check them out @fiftyfivesquarefeet on Instagram!). Restless and jealous we decided to take the leap.
We were lucky to have found our own van, a GMC Savana which was already mostly converted, for a very affordable $6000. With our combined savings, we estimated that we could conceivably live without a job for about a year, albeit modestly. Living in a van means you don't have rent or mortgage payments and NO BILLS (woo!). Our biggest expense is fuel, but the van gets 12L/100km; better than we expected.
As for food, well, you have to pay for groceries wherever you are, and we actually buy less food because we have limited storage. This means WAY fewer condiments, snacks, spices, etc. We operate with just the basics, which are fruits, vegetables and protein which we BBQ (we have a small camping BBQ with a full sized propane tank, and also a single burner butane stove (very cheap at T&Ts). Sometimes we will splurge on a fresh loaf of bread, pasta, or rice. This does not mean we eat an uninspiring or boring diet. As a passionate home cook, I happily accept the challenge of our limited pantry and try to keep each meal interesting.
As for our plan, we've always wanted to drive across Canada, so that is what we've done. We took our sweet time and in a matter of about two months we made it to Vernon BC, where Braden's folks retired to. Currently, we are using their home as a hub for our travels around the province, and as a place to do some minor repairs on the van, namely rust removal. Ultimately, we hope to avoid the winter, so come late October we will head south to California. We also want to explore Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, etc. We would like to live in the desert for a few weeks; from what we've heard the lights of camper vans and bonfires glow like fireflies across the vast darkness of the desert at night. Slowly we will make our way east through Texas, Louisiana, etc. and up the East Coast back towards Canada. This is a loose plan, as it seems that our list of things to see grows longer every day. Also, everything depends on how much we want to spend. Our goal is to return with at least half of our life savings left.
As for your question about returning to work, it is easy for me to find a job wherever we eventually land (we are not tied to the idea of returning to Ottawa and are open to moving to a new city if we find one that fits). It seems servers are in high demand wherever you go. Ideally though, we will be able to fund our travels WHILE travelling. I have an English degree and am trying to build a portfolio for freelance work; it'd be great to be able to telecommute from the van. We've also considered becoming professional house sitters. Many people need sitters to watch their homes for months at a time, and in that situation I can work as a server and be paid for living in a home in a cool new city. Alternatively, we recently watched a YouTube video of a woman who lives in her van in the US. She said that she takes one year off to travel in her "home" for every five years she works. Living in her van enables her to save lots of money, and five years worth of work at a company implies both diversity and commitment on a resume. She's never bored or restless and prefers to enjoy travelling and having new experiences spread throughout her life instead of waiting for retirement when she may be too old, tired, sore (etc.) to do the things she loves to do. I love that idea.
I hope that this answers all your son's questions and more! I'm happy to keep correspondence if any other questions come to mind. Please assert to him that we are just your average couple, we had average paying jobs, shared the rent of a one bedroom apartment and were careful with our money which allowed us the freedom to live the life we want. We are not exceedingly lucky, we just worked for it. Your son can do and be anything he wants. Tell him to be responsible with his money and save it for the things that REALLY matter (not just on new sneakers and bar benders when he's in his 20s). The restraint is totally worth the payoff.
Thanks so much for writing. Dream big, live BIGGER!
Lyndsay and Braden