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BC Summer Van Life: Answering Reader's Questions

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Summer van life is a way of travel that appeals to many. Travelling on the open road, sleeping next to a hidden lake, and exploring hidden locations is endlessly appealing. The slick and well-produced content of stylish influencers makes it seem like van life is full of incredible views, exciting adventures, and exotic travel. We know that those glamourous influencers aren't sharing the nitty-gritty of small-space nomadic living and most of us have questions. I get questions daily through my socials and on the blog from curious readers. Today, I'm going to answer some of the questions that I am asked about my experiences with van life on my summer adventures. Feel free to add your own questions in the comments below.

Planning A Summer Van Life Road Trip

The best road trips include plenty of flexibility for spontaneity. Many of my best memories were created from discovering a place or activity I knew little or nothing about. I tend to really go with the flow on my road trips and rarely have a detailed plan or a specific time or date to be anywhere but most people planning a BC road trip will not have the same luxury of time that I have. My 2023 road trip lasted 10 weeks: from mid-June to the end of August and I covered a lot of ground.

I grew up in this province and have seen big horn sheep, orcas and humpbacks, deer, bears, and eagles many times. I know I will be travelling along these roads again so I don't feel the same pressure to check out every experience on a single trip. For travellers on their first and possibly only trip to BC, I recommend putting a chunk of your excursion budget on expensive (but worthwhile) wildlife tours.

How much do you budget for your road trips?

Road trips are challenging to budget. Much will depend on your route, your vehicle, the price of fuel, accommodations, food & beverage choices, and the activities you choose. Camping or cabanas, even in the fancy private campsites, will be less expensive than a hotel or resort. If you choose fine dining experiences over food trucks, then you'll need to pad your budget differently. Fluctuating fuel prices make accurate budget planning a task beyond my abilities. I pad my budget with an overly generous fuel allowance.

My 2023 Summer Roadtrip daily budget for fuel and campground was set at $80 per day, averaged over the length of the trip. I chose a free recreational campsite or scenic rest stop on at least 5 nights each month. I only chose powered (ie: costlier) campsites when my power needed replenishing and another option wasn't available. My road trip food costs are less than when I'm at home as I tend to eat lighter in the heat. It also helps that the fruits and vegetables that make up the majority of my diet are in season.

I am not super strict about watching the daily budget. Some days I'm not driving, other days I'm paying for a better campsite to have power. Wanda is not a fuel hog, she’s surprisingly efficient. I travelled for a couple of days with a friend who has a comparable converted Dodge Ram. She needed to fill up hundreds of kilometres before I did. My 2023 Road Trip came in well under budget.


Where can I rent a campervan to explore BC?

Again, this will depend upon your preferences, budget, and location. There are several companies specializing in recreational vehicles. I have never rented in BC so I cannot give a recommendation based upon personal experience.


On the mainland, CanaDream is popular for RVs and motor homes. This is the rental company that was most represented in the places I travelled this summer. The next most popular was Wicked Campers. This company rents wildly and (sometimes provocatively) decorated basic campervans. I used this company in the UK and was pleased with the service. On Vancouver Island, Just Go Vans and Farout Wilderness have good customer reviews.

What do you do for meals?

I eat much the same while I'm road-tripping as I do when I'm at home. I do grab some restaurant meals but most of the time I prepare my own meals. Keep in mind that I'm only cooking for myself. Just like at home, sometimes I make meals for a single night. Bigger meals will have leftovers I can enjoy for days.

I have all the equipment needed to prepare whatever I fancy. I have a fridge, an induction stove top, a butane camp stove, a dutch oven, a blender (two actually), a waffle iron, an ice-cream maker (yes, really) and a camp oven. I've fried, steamed, sautéed, grilled, stewed, baked, and roasted. I've yet to discover a dish I make at home that I can't make on the road.

BC Travel Advice


We're coming to BC next summer and want to rent a camper and road trip around. We have about 14 days for our entire trip and want to spend some time in Vancouver, too. What route should we follow?

Have you been looking in my drafts folder? There are lots of great BC road trip routes that suit different travel styles and preferences. I am currently working on a series of BC road trip itineraries based on a two-week visit. I will begin to publish those later this month, so if you haven't subscribed/become a member yet, sign up now to make sure you don't miss any of those road trip posts. I suggest choosing one region to explore well, rather than trying to skip around to several different regions resulting in a lot of driving time. BC has rugged coastlines, mountain resorts, forests and deserts.

In the meantime, Vancouver is a fabulous destination where you are sure to have a fabulous time. Check out the posts about Vancouver and Vancouver day trips indexed under the "Canada" category.


Safety Concerns


What do you do to keep yourself safe? Aren't you scared of camping alone?

First, I need to acknowledge that I am answering based on my experience camping in Canada, specifically British Columbia. The risk of danger from injury or wildlife is MUCH greater than from other humans so that's where my safety planning is focussed.

I'm not scared of camping alone and I take sensible precautions. I live alone in an urban environment where risk factors are much higher. Camping alone in British Columbia is statistically safer than living alone in an urban environment (based on combined injury and crime data). I try to keep a cell or internet connection. I know how to secure my campsite against bears. I have a loud klaxon and a can of wasp spray that will deter most critters or attract the attention of other campers. I lock my doors and turn on the alarm. I have (and have used) auto club coverage. I pay attention to my instincts. I keep track of the weather, wildfires, driving conditions, and news daily with geo-specific alerts on various apps. I keep Wanda up to date on all service and maintenance. I try to make sensible choices based on my personal fitness, skills, strength, and age. I use the protective strategies learned over a lifetime when meeting others along the way.


Van Life Advice: Hacks, Heat & Hygiene


What simple things do you have in the van that are the most useful?

ooo, interesting question! Probably all the sticky things: command hooks, strong magnets with hooks, and sticky pads for temporary sticking. Goop Glue is the best for permanent adhesion.

How do you keep clean? What about showers and toilets?

Questions about personal hygiene and toilets are probably the most frequently asked in private messages. The BC wilderness is a dirty place. If it isn't muddy, it's dry and dusty. Pine needles insinuate their way into any fabric. I am constantly surprised at the difference between my "tan" pre- and post-shower. I use wet wipes on my feet every night before climbing into bed, even if freshly showered. My nails are disgraceful -- all nails, both fingers and toes, are broken and ragged. Keeping the dirt from accumulating under them is a task that is performed multiple times a day.

Showering

The truth is that I don't shower every day but I probably average 4-5 showers per week and hope that swimming takes care of the in-between days. There are options: most municipal and private campgrounds and some provincial campgrounds will have coin-operated showers. Showers are often available in public buildings such as community centers and pools. Full-time van lifers will often have a gym membership, giving them access to showers in all gym locations in that chain. The large highway truck stops offer paid showers -- many are beautiful and luxurious showers that are meticulously clean, others not so much. They can be very expensive. If you're lucky: Professional truckers are provided shower tokens and often have extras. While waiting in line to pay holding all my shower gear, I have been the recipient of a gift token on several occasions.

I do carry a propane-powered portable water heater shower that I can set up to draw water from my tanks or pump from another source. It was one of the first things I bought after purchasing Wanda. It worked wonderfully both times I've used it but it has proved to be unnecessary.


Toilets

Pit toilets or flush toilets have been at every campground, recreational site, and rest stop I visited. All had paper and hand sanitizer. Pit toilets aren't always disgusting -- a few along the way have been sparkling clean. Proper etiquette is to keep the lid closed when not in use. Enough said about that.


I have a portable flushable cassette toilet system that I use for liquid waste during the night. It is stored in a cupboard until bedtime. It is easy to discretely and cleanly dump the contents in any appropriate disposal area (sani-station, toilet). I dump and clean it about once a week and have not had any odour issues.



The best advice I got was to practice dumping it with clean water a couple of times before use. I strongly suggest following the same advice. There are other portable toilet solutions but I felt this cassette system was the simplest for my needs. Campers who do not get up in the night to use the bathroom may be able to do without a toilet system.


How do you keep cool or warm?

A converted van, no matter how well-insulated (Wanda is minimally insulated), is just a big tin can on wheels. Heat and cold will penetrate. It's surprisingly easy to deal with the cold. Wanda is equipped with a diesel heater that is more than adequate to keep cozy. It is a bit noisy but it is very efficient as long as the doors and windows are closed. I have extra blankets that I can throw on the bed if needed. Hot temperatures, on the other hand, are more of a challenge. Doors and windows can be opened and fans can move the air around. My system can't handle running an air conditioner and the evaporative coolers introduce additional moisture (a curse for campervans and RVs), so I need to have good old-fashioned shade. Unfortunately, shade does not charge the solar panels. I place more value on power over natural shade because I've learned I can create extra shade but I can't create extra sun.

Shade Awnings

Installed RV Awnings are the obvious easiest choice but are expensive. My inner miser won't let me spend that kind of money when the same amount will get me plane tickets to a fabulous international destination. Portable pop-up canopy shelters tend to be heavy and challenging to set up/strike alone plus they take up a lot of storage space. Most are intended to be erected by two or more people. These are probably a better choice for those staying stationary. For road trips, I have used two shade devices: a vehicle shade canopy and a free-standing screen room.

Vehicle Canopies Portable lightweight vehicle canopies are good for shade, easy to set up alone, lightweight, and take up very little storage space. Most of these are marketed to be used over the tailgate of cars and SUVs and are an excellent choice for those people who are car-camping or picnicking.

The storage size of mine is approximately 50 x 17 cm (19.6 x 6.7 inches) and it weighs less than 3 kg (7 lbs). The biggest drawback is that the canopy is connected to the vehicle which can be a bit of a hassle if you need to drive to a trailhead or to pick up supplies. Because they are lightweight, they are easily moved to follow the sun but they can't be used in windy conditions. The elastic-connected structural poles need to be straightened out and threaded through fabric pockets. I attach one side of the fabric to the top of the van with strong magnets and adjust the height on the other side with poles.

I have configured mine in multiple ways and used it over the side doors and back doors. I was able to use it as a rain shelter by staking it to the ground without poles. I am pretty sure I could figure out a pole and staking system so I could use it at the beach. I recommend using super-strong magnets because regular ones will not be enough to hold in breezier conditions. I got set up (including staking and tying down) down to a routine that took about 40-45 minutes including a lot of climbing up and down my ladder. This was a great little setup but I found another solution that might be better for my needs. I will continue to use the vehicle canopy next season for a variety of shade purposes.

In the last couple of weeks, I bought a Coleman instant set screen room. After asking lots of questions of fellow campers, researching online and then going to a Canadian Tire store to have a look at the various models, I chose the Coleman because it was an instant set-up model, Coleman equipment has an excellent reputation, the open size is big enough to enclose a campsite picnic table; it was the lightest to carry, the storage size fit in my garage space, and the end-of-season sale price was irresistible. The first time, it took me 30 minutes to set it up/stake/tie it down. After that, the entire task never took more than 10 minutes… which usually included me temporarily misplacing my hammer and tent pegs several times. I was able to easily add a side wall and string some fairy lights inside and make it quite cozy.

Its biggest drawback is that the slant-leg design won't allow it to be placed snug against the van. I suspect I will use this screen room more often next season. More experimentation will be needed to cover that gap.


What advice do you have for someone thinking of starting a part-time camping/van life?

Before investing in a campervan of your own, make sure you have spent some extended time travelling in a similar vehicle. This style of travel is not for everyone. Rent a campervan and spend several weeks travelling around in it (hopefully with at least one miserable weather day). Take the people and pets that will be part of your travels with you. Make sure to stay out long enough that tanks need to be refilled or emptied and laundry has to be done.

My conversations have led me to understand that some travellers want to spend their days immersed in nature but their nights in civilization. You can road trip but stay in hotels, motels, bed & breakfasts etc. If you do choose to go ahead and buy, do your research. Reach out to RV/campervan communities and people you know who travel this way (including me). Ask a million questions, run reports, get inspections, and take your time making a decision.

Deep Thoughts


Would you consider full-time van life?

No. I love my home, my little village, central heating, baths, my own laundry machines and international travel. I hate being cold and damp so wintering locally in the van would be a miserable experience for me. I'm not drawn to wintering in the southern US/Mexico.

I'm not prepared to deal with all the practicalities of not having a permanent address. Two to three months of travel is enough for me, then I'm ready to come home. I'm really not a nomadic person. I like having a home base... which is actually part of the reason I got Wanda. She's my home base on road trips. Without her, my road trips would be shorter.


What has been your biggest struggle so far?

My initial thought was dealing with my four days stuck in Trail, BC waiting for my phone to be repaired was my biggest struggle. There was nothing that interested me in town. As a matter of fact, I was horrified by the change in the town since my previous visit several years earlier. I witnessed a general sense of decay and noticed a surge in the number of street people. I hated being stationary without any idea of when I could start moving again and hundreds of kilometres away from where I wanted to be and I was frustrated by my lack of control over the situation.


But, with further reflection, my constant struggle is that I want to "be away from it all" but I also want to stay connected. I rejected several great locations because I had no connection. While I always found places, where I could make/receive calls and browse the internet, finding connections with adequate speeds for blogging work and working with photo and video files, was rare. What takes me about an hour with high-speed internet could take a full day. I will be solving this problem before next year's road trip by getting a Starlink satellite system.


What's the first thing you do when you come home that can't be done while you are travelling in Wanda?

LOL! I greet my birds and then have a deep bubble bath. It is a luxurious extravagance of water and power that I almost feel guilty about.

What's Ahead?

After another season of van life, are you thinking of making any modifications or adding equipment before the next season begins?

Definitely. I am thinking of removing the induction stove top from the counter where it sits above the pull-out trunk-style fridge. I don't use the induction hub and I would rather have an upright fridge with a small freezer space. The construction part is straight-forward and I can do it myself. I just need to find an affordable dorm-style fridge that can run off my in-house electrical system -- that is proving to be a challenge.

As mentioned earlier, I have made the decision to get the Starlink RV satellite system. I will be watching their sales carefully and will jump on the right deal. I'm always looking at various bins, baskets, and storage doo-dads in search of better organization. I don't know that I'll ever get it to the point that I no longer do this.

What are your plans for your next van life adventure?

It is possible that I might get out for a couple of days in the fall or spring but when the weather turns colder, I am not likely to be out in the van. Summer 2024 will see me continuing to explore British Columbia. There is still so much more to see. I haven't been to Haida Gwaii or further north than Quesnel. There are many more islands in the Johnstone Strait that call my name. I am also considering spending some time in the Yukon Territory. My road trip list is getting longer than my international list. I still have several posts prepared from the last few stops on my 2023 Summer Road Trip and I have plenty of local and international adventures planned before next summer. If you are enjoying the blog, make sure to subscribe. You'll receive notifications whenever new content is posted. You can also stay connected through my Facebook page, Facebook Group, Twitter, and Instagram, where I share more snippets, photos, tips and stories from my meanderings.

 

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12 Comments


Guest
Nov 29, 2023

An excellent guide and tips for those who want to organize a trip of this kind and have no idea where to start. I believe that the biggest doubt for most people is actually the cost of a trip in this concept. I think that's what can vary the most and that's why this article is extremely useful.

Nothing like hearing and reading from someone who has experience and knows what they're talking about :) Angela | Home - (blondearoundtheworldtravel.com)

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
Nov 29, 2023
Replying to

As with any type of travel, there can be a huge range of budgets depending upon the choices made. Van Life can be incredibly inexpensive or luxurious. I fall somewhere in the middle. For road-trippers in BC, it will be the wildlife excursions that will hit your wallet hardest but are worth every penny. The more budget-conscious traveller will need to choose their splurge.

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Guest
Nov 20, 2023

I've done a few road trips but never in a camper van. It would certainly intrigue me to give it a go, but like you, I value a stable base and don't think a full time van life would be an option for me. I really liked your personal insights and sharing your experiences with us, especially the section on safety/wildlife was intriguing for me as I would be completely starstrucked seeing a bear in the wild instead of thinking I should better run away from it ha


Carolin | <a href="https://solotravelstory.com/">Solo Travel Story</a>

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Guest
Nov 16, 2023

I love that you're providing your expertise for noobs like us. While the idea has been intriguing, especially following your travels, I do have my concerns. I like your tip of testing it out first before doing 10 weeks. We may do a northeast road trip for the fall and that gave me the idea of renting a campervan so we can really see the fall foliage!

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Guest
Nov 15, 2023

It's nice to be able to read a post from a trusted voice who've been on the road and really knows the ropes on camper van living. This is a wonderful resource for people who are planning to start a certain lifestyle of freedom and everyday adventure. I must say that nothing beats a home cooked meal (that includes baking) and if you can do that in a van while enjoying nature glorious sunsets, that's freedom ;-)

#flyingbaguette


Jan - https://flyingbaguette.com/

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Emma Gilbert
Emma Gilbert
Nov 11, 2023

I love this post, always so many questions about trips like this that I'm glad you created a Q&A post. The tip about just picking an area to visit and travel around if on limited time is probably the smartest. So many people I talk to go on about the different places in BC they want to visit without realizing just how huge it is. I neve really considered that the gas would be the biggest cost but now I can't believe I didn't think of that. Looks like camping fees can be cheaper if you know where to look whereas gas will always be expensive. So nice of people to contribute their shower tokens, that made me

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