You live in a van? Do you have a bathroom and a shower? Where do you park? How do you fit everything you need into a van? Many questions come up the moment we share with friends or strangers that we are living out of a self-converted Sprinter van. No, we do not have a shower or a bathroom. Yes, we are still working out the kinks of making van life work as we are pretty new to it. Here’s my attempt at answering some of the most common questions.

 

Where do you park?

Places we’ve parked so far:

  • Dirt road off the highway in Nevada
  • Closed recreation area by a lake in Washington, under a “no overnight parking” sign
  • Revelstoke Mountain Resort – has 24hr bathrooms, change rooms, designated overnight parking (Canada from this point on)
  • Revelstoke downtown – has 24hr overnight parking
  • Rogers Pass – has designated overnight parking and 24hr bathrooms
  • Lake Louise hotel parking lot
  • Banff Hostel parking lot
  • Jasper and Banff streets  (esp.  train station with 24 hour bathrooms)
  • Pyramid Lake trailhead near Jasper
  • Lake Louise campground
  • Invermere town street
  • Fernie ski resort parking lot
  • Fernie town streets
  • Side of the highway due to a closed pass (along with some friendly bog rigs)
  • Wallmart parking lot in Nelson – a long standing van tradition

Winter van life is more difficult than summer. What we really love about sleeping in the van is waking up in wild places with beautiful vistas – which usually happens in wilderness areas when we park on dirt roads. In winter, those roads aren’t very accessible and we fall back to town streets, trailheads, ski resort parking lots, and the very occasional campground- though many campgrounds are closed in winter. This also means that we are usually ‘stealth camping’ in a legal gray zone. Despite my reputation as a “Russian spy” in high school, I suck at stealth and it feels like work. That being said, we are 25 nights on the road full time and have yet to have any issues. At least in Canada, nobody seems to care in the winter.

Revelstoke’s designated overnight parking

 

Where do you pee? And you know, go number two?

Off topic, but why are people so scared to talk about poop?!

In all seriousness, we pee the same places you do – coffee shops, restaurants, public bathrooms (Canada wins first prize here – every town has clean, warm public washrooms), in a pee bottle or bucket, under a tree. Oh, you don’t go under a tree or in a bucket? The bottle and bucket are used overnight, then emptied into a snow bank if we are in wild (enough) areas, or a toilet if a public restroom is accessible. No, that’s not apple juice in that jug.

Tip: grocery stores usually have early morning and late evening hours with public restrooms. So we like parking by those in towns.

Eric mounting his skis in the Revelstoke 24 hour heated locker room, which also includes washrooms. We heart Revelstoke a lot!

 

Where do you shower?

Even when we were living in a house with three showers, we only showered 2-3 times per week. On the road, we’ve been showering when we feel the need- typically a bit more than once a week.

So far we’ve showered at:

  • Revelstoke Aquatic Center – this place is awesome! They have a lazy river, hot tub, wading pool, a 3-story slide, sauna, steam room, lane pool, and a deep water soloing wall. All for $5US. Amazing.
  • Evan’s hotel in Lake Louise – Eric’s brother met us here for skiing so we capitalized on his hotel access for pool, hot tub and shower.
  • Jasper Aquatic Center – not as cool as Revelstoke, but also has a hot tub, pool, steam room and showers for a cheap price.
  • Lake Louise Campground bathroom with nice showers.
  • Nelson Aquatic Center  – these really seem to be a staple of the towns in Canada and are very much utilized by the local families. They are really fun!

This is also more difficult in the winter. During summer months I anticipate having access to fresh water lakes or rivers, and ability to shower outside the van with some lukewarm water (we are considering a couple options for this, but they are currently irrelevant).

Hot tub and pool at Evan’s hotel in Lake Louise
Revelstoke’s Aquatic Center with lazy river in the foreground.

 

How do you stay warm?

When outside, I am pretty much always cold- unless I’m skate-skiing on my touring gear to Moraine Lake, then I’m on fire! Inside the van, we have a diesel heater that is installed to blow warm air pointed right at Foma’s bed. It’s been working great, until a few days ago. We learned that the mode we had it on tends to build up soot so now we know. It works with some maintenance. Overnight, I actually get too hot when we have the heater set to 11C, but when we leave it at 10C, Foma shivers in the morning. So, now Foma sleeps in his sweater. We did a lot of work insulating the van and it seems to have worked fairly well as long as the heater does too. Fingers crossed.

Hanging out in the cozy van, thanks to the Planar heater!

 

What about the dogs?

Have you met our dogs? They are pretty content sleeping all day with the heater on. They get about 3 walks per day, each in a new place most of the time. Zoey is within snuggle reach of her humans 100% of the time when we are “home”- so, they appear to be pretty happy.

We had issues when the temperatures were in the single digits F. Van was still cozy but the dogs got super cold on walks very quickly. I got them paw balm, a warm coat for Zoey, and Foma walked in his reindeer sweater. I got Zoey booties, but that was a futile effort. I also never managed to put the paw balm on all 4 of Foma’s paws, before teeth were shown… so he dealt with it, I guess.

Eric often takes Foma on a run in the evening to get out extra energy- this doesn’t tend to be a very long run, given Foma’s advanced age.

Foma also has a variety of meds (for seizures and glaucoma). I ran out of the glaucoma drops and a pharmacist in Invermere filled it for a quarter of the price and hassle that I had in the US. Go Canada! (You bet there’s a Canada highlights post coming, eh!)

Foma thinks he owns the place
Zoey in her new hoodie jacket

 

Do you have running water?

We have a sink with a 6-gallon jug connected to a pump. The sink drains into a 1-gallon water jug. We have to fill the potable 6-gallon jug about every 3-4 days. And we empty the grey water about once per day. The grey water is pretty easy – snow bank, under a tree, bathroom, it can be emptied pretty much anywhere. Finding a potable water spigot for the clean jug is a bit harder. Campgrounds are nice, but most are closed currently. Restaurants are great for that and nobody has said no yet.

Eric cooking dinner next to the sink

 

How did you decide on what to bring?

Gear:

  • Bikes (Eric’s road and my hybrid) – they have yet to be touched, because snow
  • Camping gear – currently in the back next to my inflatable paddle board
  • Climbing gear (rock and ice)
  • Ski gear – skimo and all-mountain for each of us

 

Clothes:

  • Too much. The nice thing about our buildout is that we have a good amount of storage space, so we filled it. I’ve touched about 25% of the clothes I packed. And I could probably get away with less than that. I hope to drop some of it off in Tahoe when we come through.

 

Kitchen:

  • We use a Coleman camp stove that packs away for driving and a Jetboil for boiling water
  • One pot, one large pan, one egg pan, one crepe pan, and the cast iron skillet
  • Amazing cutlery set Colette and Claire gave me for my birthday (thanks!)
  • The coffee set-up (hand grinder, plastic pourover, two steel mugs)
  • Can opener, wine opener, a few nice knives, two small cutting boards, three bowls (plastic/wood). We’ve been looking for some nice plastic or wooden plates, but they are harder to find on the road than we thought. The bowls do fine.

We did a few weekend trips in the van that helped us inform what we would use. Really we just packed things into three piles: van, store, give away. We seem to have enough space for all the things we brought and don’t think we are missing anything we left behind.

 

Those are the most common questions people have been asking. Am I missing something you’re curious about? Please feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll make sure to edit the post or answer your comment!

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