Here's why living in a van is trendy now

Emily Inson says the pandemic gave her the push she needed to pursue her dream of living in a fully retrofitted van. She purchased the rebuilt 1977 Ford Econoline from a couple in Red Deer, Alberta, and drove it back to Ontario last month.

Emily Inson of London, Ont., gave notice on her apartment this week and plans to live in her van full-time

Emily Inson of London, Ont., drove to Red Deer, Alberta, to purchase this fully retrofitted 1977 Ford Econoline from a couple who flipped the van to make a profit. (Sarazin Photography)

There's a growing community of people who are calling it quits on expensive mortgages and pricey rents and instead moving into fully converted livable vans. 

And for a lot of them, it took the pandemic to make the leap.

After months of scouring online ads, Emily Inson of London, Ont., found the van of her dreams in Red Deer, Alberta. She bought a one-way plane ticket, and after getting a mechanic to give the fully rebuilt 1977 Ford Econoline the once-over, she handed a $17,000 cheque over to the couple who transformed it.

The 1977 Ford Econoline was rebuilt with a new engine and completely retrofitted inside. Inson says it's like a mini condo. (Submitted by Emily Inson)

"COVID gave me the confidence," Inson said. "I was already an at-home worker, but I also live alone. I have a high-risk mother, so I really wasn't seeing anybody. I think it just made me have a different perspective on the world." 

This week, Inson, a freelance social media manager, gave notice on her apartment, with plans to move into her van full-time next month with her miniature wiener dog, Marty. 

She'll give it a go for six months, she said, and then reassess. 

The insulated van has a brand new engine, running water, a fully functional shower and lots of storage space.

"I wanted to be more creative and I feel very clouded in a city," said Inson.  "I just wanted to go out and live in the forest and be able to think, simplify my life."

Inson is also hopeful she can save some money in the process.

'I could be anywhere'

45-year-old Adam Flint of London, Ont., is currently remodeling a 2016 Mercedes Sprinter van he bought for $36,000 last spring. 

"I was looking for something to sort of put my energy into rather than watching the news," he said.

Flint runs a small digital health company with his sister, and has worked at home for a decade.

Adam Flint purchased this 2016 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van for $36,000. He's about two-thirds finished converting it. (Submitted by Adam Flint)

"I was staring at my home office walls thinking 'I could be anywhere right now,'" Flint said.

Although Flint and his wife do not have plans to give up their home, they do hope to hit the road often. "I could be hiking in the morning on a trail, go to the van, have a shower, get dressed nice and go to a meeting."

Flint has been turning to the wildly popular van-life YouTube channels for help converting his van, which is about two-thirds finished. "It's sort of a daunting task, to get up on the roof of your van with a jigsaw and cut a big hole in it. So, it's nice to to watch somebody do it."

The van-life trend has been catching on. In fact, Flint recalls being in the parking lot of a Home Depot when a man pulled up next to him in the same model of van, looking for advice on how to convert it.

"He lived in downtown Toronto and was paying $2,000 a month or something for a condo. Because of lockdown, he wasn't able to go anywhere, was stuck inside this condo and said, 'Well, forget it. I'm going to get rid of this expensive condo and I'm going to buy this van and I'm going to live in it,'" Flint recalled.

And while Flint isn't committed to living in a van full-time, he understands the draw.

"The experience of being able to just sort of pull over to the side of the road by the ocean, open the door, cook some lunch. I mean, it's all quite appealing," he said.