Virginia from Canada has shown us that it is never too late to change your lifestyle. After retiring, she decided to buy a camper van, remodel it for her own needs, and travel the United States. It’s amazing that Virginia travels alone and is not afraid. She loves to inspire people to follow their dream. Don’t just dream ~ DO!
- Please introduce yourself and tell us something interesting about you.
My name is Virginia and I was born way back in the fifties in Toronto,Canada. I have always been a free spirit at heart though in my mid-thirties I settled into being a single mom for a few years, well quite a few years really. In fact I’m still one though the job description has changed now with a 36 year old daughter. Now my parenting job is worry but keep my mouth shut lol. Really the truth is I’m very proud of my daughter and now that she is an adult I can focus on enjoying my retirement. I love a project so October 2018 I bought a used Ford Transit and designed the build just as I wanted it and spent the next year watching YouTube to learn new skills, asking questions to anyone who would listen to me, buying tools and started my build. it took about a year and on Dec 28, 2019 I left Canada and travelled around the USA. and until COVID raised its ugly head I was having a great time.
- How did the idea of traveling in a camper van come about? Did you travel in a van or RV before retiring?
I never loved camping before the van but I have always loved adventures. As a child I grew up summers at a family cottage so there was little need to camp. I did like car trips a lot and as a young adult did quite a bit of this with friends. I also spent a lot of my 20’s living for periods of time (usually 12 to 18 months) in different places in the US. like New York, Florida, or California. I did take my daughter Britney camping in a tent twice but just hated it. Then when she was a young teenager we bought a Caravan and sometimes threw a mattress in the back and went for adventure, not really camping but travelling.
The idea of a van – well my friend Michelle was telling me about how she had ‘gone down the rabbit hole’ watching YouTube videos of people building and travelling in a van. I thought it was interesting but did not give it much thought at first. A few months later I came home from work tired and looking for something on TV to watch but as usual it was all just time wasters. I thought of these YouTube videos Michelle had mentioned so gave it a try. I was up for hours watching, and I though ‘I could do that!’. That was the beginning of my journey.
- What are the best and worst parts of your lifestyle – solo female traveler in a van?
There is a lot to love about this retirement of mine. The chance to meet so many new people of all ages. The instant friendships that can come out of a place I’ve parked for the night or a shared campfire. Then the chance of meeting those same people down the road. The beautiful soul building views I have found out of my van doors. The spontaneity of this life offers has given me so much joy. The honest conversations this life enables. And the kindness I have experienced over and over again. So many times just as I have needed it someone comes along with information, a tool or a skill that I need to get past just what is stopping me. And yet when I need solitude I can always go off by myself and find a lake, a stream, an ocean, a forest or mountain with my name on it for a couple of days or weeks as needed with my very comfortable home with me.
In comparison there is not much on the ‘worst’ side. It can be lonely for short times. My leg can hurt from driving too far in a day, but its worth it. Bad weather can trap me in my van for longer than I like. It isn’t an easy life but the challenge is invigorating and always teaches me to grow and be creative. I miss my friends back home and especial Britney, but that is what phones are for.
Recently my only nephew became sick and died. Michael was only 41 and with COVID my sister (rightly so) didn’t want anyone from afar coming to the funeral that was limited to 30 people by the rules anyway. I hated not being there but understood. I found it harder to process this loss alone. But these things are life and no matter where we are we face hardships. Covid has made me rethink my retirement. I can no longer go to Arizona for the winter but on the upside I have seen more of my own province and Canada than I might have, and have grown to love her beauty. All and all there is much more great than bad.
- Why did you choose a Ford Transit instead of another car brand?
I could not afford to buy new and had a few wants on my list. I wanted low milage. I wanted my van to be a new as possible. I secretly wanted 2 sliding doors that I had only seen once in a video from Germany but put it on my list anyway. I wanted a shorter model because i was nervous of driving and parking a longer van. And I wanted leather seats.I did not care what make or colour of van it was. I know – silly list – but the only thing I did not get was the short van and as it is I love that it is roomier, and have concurred driving and parking Alex very nicely.
- You have designed and together with your friends and other specialists you have built your own van. What priorities did you have when camperizing your van? If you could change something now about your vehicle, what would it be?
Often a van is a work in progress. This is true while building and forever after. My priorities were comfort, beauty and convenience. I love design so that was important to me. everyone need different things in a van, that is why they all look a little different. One can’t have everything in a van as there is very limited space. Knowing what is important to me and what I could live without was a huge process for me.
A lot of people who have seen my videos tell me they could never live without a shower. For me that is a huge amount of real estate in a van. It is also a place where a lot of problems can arise. Dampness and mold can be a problem if you don’t build it exactly right and the road shakes things loose anyway so I did not want to deal with this. This gave me more living space. Most of my friends with a shower only use it in emergencies anyway and would prefer to shower at a gym or wash in the sink or use baby wipes in between. It is hard to see how you will live in a van before you start. Most of us give up showering every day as it takes way too much water and we can only carry a limited amount.
There are so many either/or decisions to make while building, a big fridge with a bit of freezer or a smaller one with extra drawers for storage? A compost toilet or some other smaller method? All valid choices but you can’t have it all. I’m happy with my choices. Things change too. Covid makes it hard to find showers now but I still would rather not put in a shower. I plan on putting in a compost toilet but it is expensive and I’m fine for now. My garage is not finished but I’m working on a design. This is on going in a van and nothing is written in stone.
- Due to the COVID-19 pandemic you are now in your home country – Canada, in Southern interior British Columbia. Please, can you tell us what are your future plans?
British Columbia is not my home, Toronto Ontario is. Right now the I find myself in BC where the Covid regulations restrict travel outside this region except for essential travel. I have rented a small apartment to wait out the restrictions and take advantage of visiting as much of this region as I can. I have friends who also live in this complex and we have made ourselves into a little bubble. It is easy to isolate in a van as mostly I’m the only one in it other than when we are adventuring decide to visit one another. We go off for a few days and hike in the mountains or looking for a water falls. Sometimes I get itchy to move on but for now I’m doing my part to stay within the regulations.
I’m hoping that with the vaccine I can travel out side the region again in spring/summer. I usually do not plan ahead of the next drive so I don’t know where that will be. I want to go back to Vancouver Island and some of the smaller islands. I want to go and see my daughter at some point. If possible I’d just like to be free again and then hopefully I can go south next winter to New Mexico or Arizona. I have a friend Janis in Oregon I’d love to travel with again if it is ever safe to cross the US border again. At some point when the whole world is safe I want to go visit my friend Wendy in Portugal or Beth and Brian in New Zealand again. I’d love to find a van swap with someone in either of those places to trade vans with. The world is my oyster as they say.
- Are you planning where to sleep when traveling with your van? Do you prefer free dispersed camping or public and private camping?
We call it Boondocking and that is what I do almost always. I will do public camping in a large park for the experience but I really do not like private camping as it is too much like a subdivision to me all crowded into rows. No not for me.
- Is it worth exchanging the comfort you have at home for an adventurous life on the road?
In a word yes, if I had had to trade but the truth is I have not had to trade comfort for adventure. I am just as comfortable in my van as in my house. My daughter is living in my house so I hardly ever think of the responsibility of it any more. BUT even if that was not true I would vote for AdVANture.
- What advice would you give to solo female traveler who wants to take a trip similar to yours in a van?
I have trained as a Retirement Coach and what I know is we are all different and what I would do, would not be for everyone. If I was coaching someone to start vanlife I would ask them questions to help them know themselves well and face the truth about themselves. If you don’t know yourself on the road, life will pretty quickly bring that into focus. It is hard to lie to yourself when there is no one to blame. Self acceptance goes a long way. You do not have to be perfect just know what you can depend on yourself for, and be willing not to let that define you but rather as a opportunity to grow. When you know your strengths it’s easier to ask for help in the areas where you need it.That is another thing about van life, if you learn to ask for help you will probably get it. If you let pride stop you it can get frustrating.
I spend quite a bit of time alone so I have things to do that bring me joy when no one is around. When a friend appears I enjoy that to the fullest. Some of us love being alone so the isolation is good for them, if that is not you then perhaps you need to find places where people are, to camp. Still there will be times when you will be alone and then you will get to know yourself much better. Learning to except how things are instead of lusting after ‘different’ is an asset. You will be a much happier person that if you can find contentment.
At the start of my build I watched a lot of YT videos and seeing all the things people had in their van I made a list of all the things I needed/wanted. I put them in 2 categories, what I really needed and then what wanted. I divided the want list into really wanted and just sort of wanted. Then I priced every thing on the lists and wrote down their dimensions and how much room they would take in the van. I used this information to design my van. In the end I had a design that I truly reflected me and not what other people needed that looked cool. I’m happy with my life and my van.
- How has your solo female travel changed you and your view of the world today?
For me it has become clear that finding like minded people does not mean finding people that agree with me. If someone has a different political or religious belief for example I don’t need them to change to my way of thinking. I look more for integrity and kindness than for someone who does not confront my ideas. I listen, sometimes I learn something new, sometimes it is just one little idea that in time widens my perspective. My dad use to tell me «You learn more from listening than talking», it is so true.
I have learned that, what is, can be better than what I tried to push into being. I try to slow down and see what is already in my world, and that can be more beautiful than what I imagined I wanted.
I love many more people and types of people than I did in my old life, and I get much more love and kindness from others now. This life is certainly not for everyone but for those that it is for it holds so much more excitement and adventure than a daily routine. It’s hard work and a bit raw but so rewarding.