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

Hotel Zed Tofino has won a Vancouver Island Real Estate Board Commercial Building Award. (Westerly file photo)
Hotel Zed Tofino wins commercial building award

Vancouver Island Real Estate Board holds virtual gala.

The District of Ucluelet is fast-tracking temporary use permits for RVs/campervans as seasonal housing. (Westerly file photo)
Ucluelet reviews 11 applications for RVs as seasonal housing

“Housing is so essential to everyone, and an issue that cases a lot of stress to business owners.”

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht public works dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

The Village on Third in Nanaimo won the Judges’ Choice award as top overall entry at the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board Commercial Building Awards. (Photo submitted)
Top developments north of the Malahat honoured by Vancouver Island Real Estate Board

Nanaimo’s Village on Third takes top honour at VIREB Commercial Building Awards

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds are in the Comox Valley for their annual spring training. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Suspected bird strike grounds Snowbirds plane during training in Comox

Pilot followed protocols and landed the aircraft on the ground without any problems

The Village on Third in Nanaimo won the Judges’ Choice award as top overall entry at the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board Commercial Building Awards. (Photo submitted)
Top developments north of the Malahat honoured by Vancouver Island Real Estate Board

Nanaimo’s Village on Third takes top honour at VIREB Commercial Building Awards

BCIT. (Wikimedia Commons)
BCIT apologizes after employee’s ‘offensive and hurtful’ email leaked to Métis Nation

BCIT says employee’s conduct has been investigated and addressed

An adult male yellow-breasted chat is shown in this undatd photograph on lands protected in collaboration between the En’owkin Centre and Penticton Indian Band with support through ECCC. The rescue from near extinction for a little yellow bird hinges on the wild rose in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, a researcher says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, A. Michael Bezener/ En’owkin Centre 2020 *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Rare yellow birds need wild roses to survive in British Columbia: researcher

The importance of local wild roses emerged over a nearly 20-year experiment

RCMP officers search around rows of luggage carts as screens block off an area of the sidewalk after a shooting outside the international departures terminal at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Police say gang conflict in Metro Vancouver may be behind shooting death at airport

Police said this generation of gangsters is taking things to new level and have no regard for community safety

RCMP are looking for information on an alleged shooting attempt near an elementary school in Smithers March 10. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Man killed in brazen daylight shooting at Vancouver airport

Details about the police incident are still unknown

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

Most Read