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

Members of the community garden hosted their first seed swap and fundraiser at the Greenwood Mall in Sparwood on Monday. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Sparwood Community Garden hosts first seed swap

Work on the garden at Engelmann Spruce Drive will begin soon

Crews and volunteers responded to a four-hectare wildfire on the lower half of the Aqam community lands near Cranbrook on Friday afternoon. Trevor Crawley photo.
Wildfire season gets early start in the East Kootenay

Fire crews, volunteers respond to two local wildfires, while prescribed burns turn weekend skies smoky

A conceptual image of a multi-family housing development envisioned by Abugov Kaspar Architects to go on a lot in Castle Mountain in Fernie. (Image courtesy of City of Fernie)
City defers zoning decision

A zoning change would permit a development with 15 percent rental tenure residences in Castle Mountain

Rob and Jennifer King run Sasquatch Cyclery out of their garage. (Soranne Floarea/ The Free Press)
‘Hop on it now’: Parts crunch hits cycling

New bikes are hard to get and used bikes are selling at a premium this year

Michel-Natal-Sparwood Heritage Society runs a museum that was established to display the heritage of the "no-longer towns" of Michel and Natal, and the Elk Valley Area. Photo Submitted/Monica Beranek, Artifact Curator
Sparwood Museum requests a leg up to stay open full-time

The museum is volunteer-run, but needs a full-time employee to be able to snag much-needed grants

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
BREAKING: 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)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

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

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to target people ages 40+ in ‘high risk communities’ with AstraZeneca vaccine

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Carver Ken Sheen had almost finished work on a large cowboy carving commissioned by the City of Williams Lake to replace the original overlooking the Stampede Grounds when fire broke out Friday, April 18 at his property between Williams Lake and Quesnel. (Pine River Carving Facebook photos)
Cow boss statue destined for Williams Lake Stampede Grounds goes up in flames

Carver Ken Sheen lost the statue, all his tools and his shop in the blaze

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains. (Hansard TV)
B.C. moves to protect employee pay for COVID-19 vaccination

Most won’t need to take time off work, labour minister says

Most Read