Not long ago I was living in a van. I had quit my job, sold my home, and traded the comforts of familiarity for the comforts of a camperized Chevy. For the six months that I travelled in it I had everything I needed, including million dollar vistas that cost me nada. It made a lot of sense. And, yes, I was often down by the river.
It turns out, it makes a lot of sense to a growing number of people who have chosen mobile dwellings. Some are employed full-time, some pick up contract work on the go, and some just focus on recreation. But the common thread is drastically reducing the cost of living without compromising the fulfilling lifestyle that they’ve chosen. In other words, #vanlifers, like our two friends below, are out skiing and biking and climbing while most people are working for the man.
The Thomas Flat Nose
Brittany Gustafson, a yoga teacher by trade, arrived in Revelstoke this past winter in a customized school bus that she built in Kelowna.
Revelstoke Mountaineer: What is your set-up?
Brittany Gustafson: I own a 2002 Thomas Flat Nose school bus. I bought the bus for around $5,000 and have put at least $5,000 into it. I stripped the bus down and then started from the ground up. I built walls and flooring and framed out a bathroom.
RM: What amenities have you packed into this 40-foot bus?
BG: There are two couches at the front, one can be used as a guest bed. The kitchen has a four-burner propane stove, mini fridge, drawers, and pantry. There is a fold up table along with some seating. In the back of the bus there is a wood burning stove and a bed at the very rear. There is also a bathtub/shower and space for a toilet.
RM: Why a bus?
BG: I love living in something completely my own that I am allowed to change and move at any time. I want to be able to put my effort into actual living and traveling. The bus is able to go almost anywhere and although it doesn’t have solar just yet I am able to live in it off grid, which I think is amazing. The roof of the bus also makes a killer deck to chill out with some friends and watch the sunset.
RM: Any downsides?
BG: Struggling with moisture in the wintertime and then trying to survive in the sweltering hot summer. I have learned to appreciate living in a house. Being able to wake up warm and take a nice long hot shower. It sure is a humbling experience but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
RM: Plans for the future?
BG: Continue to travel in my home. Also might use the bus for Airbnb as I travel to Australia come winter time next year.
RM: Any advice for a would-be #vanlifer?
BG: Insulation isn’t something to cheap out on.
The 1986 Vixen
In 1986 a sleek and compact RV, the Vixen series, hit the market with all the amenities of a much larger machine. Despite critical acclaim, only 587 Vixens rolled off the line before production ceased in 1989. Today, they are a rarity on the roads and David Koewler and his partner Jean were lucky enough to get their hands on one of these collectible machines.
RM: What is this unique RV?
David Koewler: It is a Vixen 21 TD. It was made by the Vixen Motor Company in Pontiac, MI in 1986. The whole thing fascinates me.
RM: Can you give me a breakdown of its amenities?
DK: There’s a tiny little bathroom onboard with a flushing toilet and a sink and the whole thing turns into a shower. There’s a kitchen sink, hot water, a two-burner stove, a fridge with a functioning freezer. There’s a full-ish size bed, tidy little cabinets throughout, and a four-piece dinette that also converts into another little bed.
RM: And the top pops up like a Westfalia, except sideways. “Hot dog style” as you put it. It’s bone stock?
DK: Except for the subwoofer and fancy speakers and amplifier because I love loud music.
RM: Do you live in it full time?
DK: Right now, yes. When we get back to Seattle, maybe. We will definitely live in it on weekends and Airbnb our house, but have been pleasantly comfortable in it on this trip so far and may potentially do full-time.
RM: How has it changed your lifestyle?
DK: My previous lifestyle was to live in a house and go to work every day. We always wanted to travel, but we like to have our nest. We spent the fall traveling around South America and loved it, but it just would’ve been so much sweeter with this thing. Having the ability to wake up somewhere new every day, cooking your own food, listening to your own music, and having layers of your favourite things all around you. That and waking up to coffee and then snowboarding 20 minutes later. But getting nickel-and-dimed for little things that you need is awful. I’ve spent so much money on screws.
RM: Where are you headed after Revelstoke?
DK: We’re going to see a Winnipeg Jets game and are pretty excited about it.
This article first appeared in print in the April/May issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.