Hilary Shandonay, an employee of Pura Vida Vans, sits in a converted van. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Hilary Shandonay, an employee of Pura Vida Vans, sits in a converted van. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

‘Van life’ culture grows in B.C. as people look for pandemic-era travel options

Maxime Rico, Sun Peaks ski patroller, has been living in his 2014 Mercedes Sprinter for two years

Maxime Rico has been living in his 2014 Mercedes Sprinter for two years, splitting his time between the Yukon in summers and British Columbia in winters. He’s transformed the cargo van into a fully equipped living space with a diesel heater, and the only amenity he requires is a shower.

The 24-year-old ski patroller at Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops, B.C., says there’s been a clear rise in newcomers to “van life”, especially among Ontarians and Quebeckers heading west to escape lockdowns in their provinces.

“There’s more and more people talking about it on social media and the trend has risen a lot,” said Rico.

“I’m really curious to see this summer how is going to look. There’s probably going to be a lot of people out here.”

People in the van life community, who live a mobile lifestyle in converted vans or trucks, say an increasing number of Canadians are experimenting with life on four wheels as a way of escaping the pandemic, and it’s driving up the value of used vans and trucks.

While Rico is living in his van indefinitely, he’s noticed that people are getting into van life for shorter trips that span a few months or weeks.

Pura Vida Vans, which specializes in converting standard cargo vans into fully equipped living spaces, says it’s seeing a spike in demand for its services.

“Since COVID there’s definitely been an increase in demand,” said Alex Hoelk, owner of Pura Vida Vans in Squamish, B.C., who says many people are starting to look at vans as a weekend “plaything.”

“I think a lot of that is people from all over Canada are unable to travel internationally as easily as they used to and they want a different mode for vacation.”

Hoelk said used vans that have already been converted are likely more expensive, especially because many companies that convert vans are booked up for the rest of the year.

Many of his clients spend upwards of $80,000 for a brand new Mercedes Sprinter and another $80,000 for the conversion, which can include features like solar panels and racks for sports gear.

A used stock Sprinter can cost around $35,000 Hoelk said, while some opt for cheaper setups using vans from the ’80s and ’90s.

Those on a budget will even convert old minivans into small living spaces, which can be done for under $10,000

While vans may be more expensive for new buyers, Rico said he’s glad to be insulated from the rising cost of rent in places like B.C., where remote workers have flocked and subsequently driven up the cost of living.

However, not everyone is keen on van life, and there are some who don’t look kindly upon the increase of vans in their neighbourhood. Rico said friends of his who live in vans with Ontario or Quebec license plates have had their tires slashed or brake lines cut.

He said the incidents happened in cities like Revelstoke, B.C., where there has been an influx of van lifers looking to live near recreation centres for skiing and mountain biking.

“People don’t generally appreciate random cars being parked in front of their houses these days — not that they like it regularly — but they hate it a lot more now,” said Rico.

“So trying to find a place to sleep is definitely quite a bit more complicated.”

Certain amenities, like bathrooms and showers, were also more difficult to come by as a result of physical distancing during COVID-19.

“Water supplies, showers, basic amenities like supermarkets were difficult to get to,” at the start of the pandemic, Rico says.

But as people adapted to life during the pandemic, Rico says van life went mostly back to normal.

“It’s definitely been easier now.”

CoronavirusLifestyletravel

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

CVRD offices on Ingram Street will remain closed for another 14 weeks after flooding last month. (File photo)
CVRD headquarters closed for another three and a half months

Building significantly damaged during water leak

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks at a press conference Monday, April 18. (B.C. Government image)
New COVID-19 cases tick down on the central Island

New cases held to single digits three days in a row

Victoria police are asking for help locating high-risk missing man Derek Whittaker, last seen in Victoria April 12. (Courtesy of VicPD)
MISSING: Police searching for Derek Whittaker, last seen in Victoria

Whittaker believed to be driving 1994 red Volkswagen Golf

The IIO is investigating after a police dog bit a man during a traffic stop near Ladysmith on April 17, 2021. (Black Press Media stock photo)
IIO investigating after police dog bites man near Ladysmith

RCMP dog bit man during traffic stop on Friday, April 17

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Wickaninnish (Clifford Atleo) plays the drum while singing the Nuu-chah-nulth song on the court steps in Vancouver In a picture from April 2018. Photo credit, Melody Charlie.
Five western Vancouver Island First Nations celebrate legal fishing victory

Court ruling confirms Nuu-chah-nulth fishing rights in case dating back to 2003

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
Island Health seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

VIHA says Ladysmith-area Chakalaka Bar and Grill also violating water and sewer regulations

Most Read