A Vanlife Guide To Surviving A Canadian Winter
Are you a dreamer that’s debating full-time vanlife but wondering how it’s possible during the winter months? Are you a current van dweller who is about to experience your first winter season/already in it and wanting more tips on how to keep warm? Or maybe you’re just a curious human who wonders how the hell we do it! Whatever your reason for being here is, I’m glad you are!
This is KEY
First things first; SAFETY! If you’re going to live in any vehicle it should be safe and able to take on the elements. Nancy Jean personally does not run the best in the cold weather, therefore I have to take extra care of her during this season. If you’re able to, I suggest you put the time and money into winterizing your home on wheels well before the season starts. I frankly didn’t do this since I was “just leaving for a summer road trip”(ha!) So I wasn’t concerned about what life in my van would be like during the winter. Also, my camper was already built out so I was unaware of how poor the insulation actually was until it was already mid winter. That being said, I think the main key to living most contently in your home through the winter is having a reliable van with good insulation!!
Location, Location, Location!
All across Canada the winters are harsh, below freezing with piles of snow! Can you and your van handle that? Is that the thought that is stopping you? Well here’s an idea.. jump in your front seat, fill your tank and make your way to Vancouver Island! Why? Because I truly believe that it’s the BEST place to be a Canadian winter vanlifer! Not only are you exposed to the mountains, ocean, rain forest, city, the amazing culture and humans but the Winters here are the most mild. Despite my photo, It rarely snows and when it does it doesn’t stick. The coldest night I had was -5 degrees Celsius, which is still super uncomfortable but that’s very mild compared to the rest of the country. However, In substitute of the piles of snow and crazy below freezing temperatures, we get the dark/gloomy rain. Days will turn into weeks without seeing the sun which wasn’t easy to adapt to at first. But if you and your van can handle that for the few months that is called our “winter” then you seriously need to consider migrating to the Island. The community of van dwellers is very much alive and happy over here.
But regardless of where you are in Canada it’s going to be a cold and uncomfortable few months! So let me spill my secrets, my tips and tricks to surviving this cold season.
1. My Best Tip
I am going to start off by sharing the most significant trick I used to survive this winter; avoid the van.. keep busy! Don’t hibernate all winter like you normally would if you were in a house or an apartment. It’s far too cold and too small of a space for that. You wouldn’t want to come down with a serious case of Cabin Fever.. or should I say Van Fever, would you? For me, it helped heeps that I have a full time job that kept me out of the van majority of the time. But even then, I still found myself in cafe’s after hours or hanging out with friends most evenings. Go discover some local cafes/restaurants/pubs that you’ve never been to. Catch that movie you’ve been wanting to go see. Curl up in a book store for a few hours. Or check out any indoor attractions your town/city might have, such as museums or art galleries. Do anything that brings you joy and gets you out in the community!
2. Gym/Yoga Membership
Another crucial tip I have for you would be to get a gym/yoga membership! This is a great way to keep yourself busy for hours at a time. I personally found a local gym that only charges $2 showers, which happen to be connected to the pool area. I would take full advantage of this, spending anywhere from 1-3 hours at a time in the pool, hot tub, sauna and showers. And if you’re unlike me, and actually use the gym for a typical reason a person would..to work out,then even more convenient! If yoga is your thing, then you should totally look into signing up for a yoga class once or twice a week. Not only will you get a good session and a shower, but you might make some new friends as well!
3. Extra insulation
I was being cheap this winter, just using extra blankets to cover up the main windows. This was some what effective and helped keep a bit of the cold out but I really wish I had known of this next tip, sooner! Buy some Insulation and custom make them to fit all your windows, using velcro to hold them in place. I have seen a few other van lifers do this and I think it’s genius. Great way to keep that much needed heat in. Windows are the biggest way you’ll loose heat so this is a great way to insulate your home without the big renovation.
4. Layer up
I feel like this is stating the obvious, but DRESS APPROPRIATELY. I am one of those humans who hates wearing clothes. So as much as I wish I could go back to summer nights when wearing clothes to bed was optional.. it’s Canada and it’s fucking cold! Theres been nights where I’ve had to wear my wool sweater, socks, toque and mittens to bed. So please just be smart and dress warm, even if it’s uncomfortable to sleep in.
If you don’t already have a collection of pillows and blankets then I suggest you get stared on that! And not because I’m trying to push this personal addiction onto you, but because having a cozy bed will make your nights a lot more comfortable. Trust me! Your bed should look and feel like a snug little nest. Also, if you don’t have carpeted flooring, then It might be smart to buy an area rug for your floors. They’re going to get very chilly on your feet if you don’t! Even with my rug I was still doing a little dance every morning, trying to keep my feet off the ground! I know these are all materialistic items but they really do help, cute and practical!
6. Hot Water Bottles
Notice how I pluralized that? The more the merrier! Heat up your hot water bottles and throw them under the blankets so that by the time you’re ready to get into bed, your nest is heated. I often found myself curled up in the fetal position, cuddling the shit out of mine! I didn’t get one until mid season, so take my advise and plan ahead of time. Investing in these little guys will be a game changer!
7. Propane Heater
I am fortunate enough to have a built in furnace that is run off of my main propane tank. When I get home from work I’ll come in and turn it on for about 30-40 minutes while I tidy up. Then when I make dinner my propane stove continues to provide heat. If you don’t have a propane system like myself, then there are a variety of portable propane heaters you can and should buy! The Mr. Buddy heater is a popular choice among many of my friends!
Disclaimer: always leave a window open while using any propane heat source! Carbon monoxide poisoning is serious, so don’t fuck around!! I have a carbon monoxide detector inside Nancy Jean, so I suggest you get the same if you’re planning on using propane.
8. Hot drinks
I have never been a fan of hot drinks until now. You sort of have to be when you live out in the elements. And if you’re already a fan then your appreciation is about to sky rocket! I would suggest using good mugs or bottles that can contain the heat for longer. However, drinking many fluids is going to lead to lots of peeing. So if you don’t already own one, get a pee bucket! You wont want to be walking to a public restroom or popin’ a squat in the cold every time you have to pee.
9. Couch Surf
Sometimes it gets too much and it’s nice to just crash at a friends place for a night. There’s no shame in this! There’s been multiple times this winter when I was hanging out or drinking at a friends place and they offer me the couch or bed. Sometimes this just makes more sense. Take a break from the van, it’s ok! Id you don’t happen to have any friends in the area, check out the couch surfing app.
10. Cuddle Buddies
And lastly, the best type of heat.. body heat! Friends of mine in this community have spent nights together making sleeping a little more comfortable. I as well, have had a couple guests in the van. The company is nice, and who doesn’t love a good cuddle buddy! Again, if you don’t have any friends in the area that want to share a winter vanlife experience for a night or two, then have no fear, that’s what tinder is for (if you’re into that type of thing) No judgments here!
The Untold Truth
Your mind and body are going to go through a difficult transition as it changes with the season. You will grow, having to learn and adapt to everyday life in an unnatural feeling climate. Be prepared to experience a bit of lost identity and purpose as well as enduring some mental, physical and spiritual challenges. It’s not fun living in the van through the winter. By no means am I saying that I was unhappy, it’s just that it was so different and often unpleasant. It didn’t feel like I was “living the dream” anymore. The winter blues had me wondering why the hell I’m still doing this. Although this may sound intimidating, I promise you it will be a beautiful self growth journey! I have pushed my boundaries much further then I ever thought possible. I feel very satisfied knowing that I just conquered something that so many people told me wasn’t a good idea or even possible. You will likely go through similar doubts and feelings, in which case I want you to just keep on believing in yourself and look for the positivity in each situation.
Would You Survive?
Not just anyone could handle a Canadian winter in a van but I believe you can do it if you’re passionate enough about this alternative lifestyle! I hope this guide helps your own personal experience to be more pleasant and comfortable, that it brings you lots of insight and answers to your questions!