Many of us dream about ditching our “normal” life and hitting the open road. Canadian couple Isabelle and Antoine are two people who have made it happen. “We lived a comfortable life,” the former engineers recall, “but when reaching our mid-thirties the years seem to repeat themselves.” Determined to make a change, they decided to take the leap and quit their jobs to become nomads who live in a converted van.
The active couple loves being outdoors. “We’re not attracted by luxury,” they say, “except for mountain bikes!” Traveling across Canada and the United States would mean more ski trips, biking, and experiencing great craft beers. To get to this point, however, required sacrifice. Isabelle and Antoine saved money to finance a van and fund their impending lifestyle. They bought a new vehicle, designed its interior, and worked to make it feel like a home. Additionally, they got rid of stuff they wouldn’t need on the road and sold their house.
All of these sacrifices were worth it. July 14, 2017 was their last day of work and August 15, 2017 was when they officially began full-time life in the van. They have been on the road ever since and detail it all on their website, FarOutRide. It’s a journal as well as a comprehensive guide to anyone interested in starting their own vanlife. Isabelle and Antoine have kept meticulous records of how they converted the van and their monthly expenses of being on the road.
We were excited to speak to Isabelle and Antoine about their experience converting a van and traveling across North America. Scroll down for our exclusive interview.
What was the initial inspiration for hitting the road?
We both backpacked quite a lot in our young adulthood. Then, we did what “normal” young professionals do: get a house, cars, careers and the routine that comes with it. Life was good, actually, as we splurged on our hobbies and on short intense vacations. We reached our thirties and realized this pattern would repeat until we finally get to retire and THEN live our life to the fullest… if we’re still healthy that is. We started dreaming of a lifestyle with fewer expenses, less work, and more time to enjoy ourselves as life goes on; why report it later?
Fast forward a few years later, and here we are living in a van and riding our mountain bikes/snowboards pretty much every day. People often assume we’re just “lucky” or we had access to a ton of cash somehow… it’s really not the case! We’re just “normal” people who decided to get their sh*t together, plan and act. It was years of compromises and sacrifices, but now it’s payback time!
Your van conversion is incredible. How did you prioritize what would be included in the conversion?
Thanks! We had specific needs for our full-time vanlife: we wanted our mountain bikes inside, real insulation and heater for winter, quality electrical solar system, a water system that works in winter, full kitchen including a stove, a composting toilet, and LOTS of storage. We didn’t want it to feel like a long van-camping trip; we wanted a functional and welcoming home.
Did you design the van?
We shopped around and couldn’t find a van that answered our needs, so we had no other choice than to build our own! And of course, we saved a lot of money by building it ourselves. As engineers, we were not afraid of the “design” phase, but we had no experience of actually building something with our hands. There was a long learning curve, but we’re super proud of what we accomplished together!
Knowledge is power, so we decided to share EVERYTHING about the conversion of our van on Build Journal. It has technical considerations (for those who don’t have a technical background), how-to's, material, products, cost, labor, etc. It really is an open book. Our goal by sharing all of this is to empower others to build their dream van too!
Is there something you wish you had included in your van before converting it?
We’re planning nerds, so we pretty much nailed our layout for our needs. If we had to start over and build another van for a full-time living, we would most likely do the same. That being said, each entry of our Build Journal has a section called “On Second Thought”—we keep that up-to-date as we progress in our travels.
You're very transparent about the costs associated with living a Van Life. What inspired you to be so forthcoming—even though it might be uncomfortable?
For the same reasons that we share our van conversion documentation: to help people make it happen! To plan adequately requires real-life data, so we’re providing that. We wish this information was available a few years back when we were planning our own trip; this would have eliminated the guess-work. Now, keep in mind that the cost of living in a van depends A LOT on your lifestyle. We don’t live in a van to be frugal, we live in a van to do MORE of the things we love: eat well and healthy, experience local craft beer and savors, keep our mountain biking/snowboarding gear in good shape so we can ride every day. The expenses we share are the results of the choices we make: use this as a starting point and use your judgment to adjust it to your own lifestyle!
Our Vanlife costs are updated each month here.
How did you both adjust to living in a conventional home to the nomadic lifestyle of your van?
Most full-timers that we meet will move often and drive long distances. We’re doing things a bit differently. Our goal is to put the “life” in vanlife. We like to travel at a slow pace and spend more time at each location. For example, we really like mountain biking in Squamish (British Columbia), so we stayed there for a few months last summer. We got to know the place, some people, and had a small routine going on; it felt like home until we were ready to move on. It’s important to find the sweet spot between traveling/living.
To grasp what living in a van looks like, we share our monthly wandering and some tips here.
Where are you off to next?
We’re currently exploring the backcountry skiing zones near Revelstoke / Rogers Pass, British Columbia. Our plan is to slowly make our way to Terrace BC and spend a month or so there. Alaska is on our radar, but we’ll see if we can make it happen or not before the ski season ends. We’ll then start our mountain biking season in Squamish, and later during the summer, we’ll head to interior BC (Revelstoke, Rossland, Fernie) to sample new trails.
Where else are you planning on traveling in the future?
We both backpacked overseas in our young age, and right now we’re fully committed to our riding. Discovering the best mountain biking and backcountry skiing places is what makes us feel alive at this stage of our life. So North America has plenty to offer. That being said, we sometimes get caught planning a trip to bring the van down to Patagonia, or Europe… who knows!
What are your plans for after your trip ends? Do you see a more “conventional” lifestyle in the future?
We still fully enjoy being nomads and we don't feel the need to settle yet. Living in a van is definitely re-shaping our perspective on what is “home.” What is home, exactly? Does it have to be permanent? We still don't have the answer to these questions, but that's OK; time will tell…