Finding Van Workspaces While Traversing Canada
traveling in canada
how to find a van workspace
We kicked off #vanlife right about when Shelly had to leave the U.S., before having a chance to complete the van.
Hell, we didn't even have a bed platform. Our van consisted of a (super nice, if I dare say) laminate wood floor, insulation (life saver!), wood paneling on the walls, and... three tennis ball sized holes in the roof from taking out the rear AC.
So yeah, one of our first priorities after getting to Canada was to find a workspace ASAP to continue building the van. In the end, our trans-Canada journey consisted of jumps to garages, work spaces, parking lots, back alleys, drive ways and other scattered locations across the country. Living and building in the van at the same time (with all our stuff) was definitely a challenge, but it can be done with some planning.
Here are some tips!
Tip 1: Kijiji is your friend
Craigslist isn't as popular up north as in the U.S., especially as we left the west coast. Kijiji.ca was by far the better online platform to find second-hand stuff, great deals and a workspace.
When looking for a workspace, we mostly searched Kijiji's real estate section, under "Storage & Parking," "Short Term Rentals," and "Commercial..." using these keywords:
Our dream was to find a garage large enough to fit Pebs inside, especially as the weather got colder. But it's incredibly difficult to find a garage that's tall enough for a high-top Sprinter (just over 9 feet): a classic trade-off of buying a vehicle that's tall enough to stand in. It was easier to find a normal garage, load our stuff there and work outside.
Several things that we wanted in a workspace:
- heat & insulation (this was harder to get, and we loosened this requirement later)
- proximity to a Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Princess Auto and/or other places for building materials
- proximity to Tim Horton's or other coffee place
Tip 2: Find More friendS
This is perhaps the greatest tip of all. Through Kijiji, we found a local in Lethbridge, Alberta who was also seeking a garage for his van conversion. We reached out (hey Ryley!), and we agreed to keep each other posted if something turned up. Sure enough, he found a great, heated garage space in his area. We ended up sharing it for a month and gaining a friend.
It's inspiring to work next to another van builder: to exchange ideas, share tools, make coffee runs, commiserate frustrations and celebrate little build victories. Ryley and his van are especially cool. He's converting a 4x4 Toyota Hiace that he imported from Japan. It was formerly used as a school bus, so it arrived with hilarious Japanese cartoon animal graphics and decals. We hope he keeps them, even though they would make stealth camping comically impossible.
The #vanlife movement is rapidly growing in Canada especially on both coasts, so it's definitely possible to find people to share a workspace and split the cost.
Tip 3: Jump on the Forums
#Vanlife and Sprinter conversion forums on Facebook were a life saver. We got our first workspace in Vancouver, BC by going on the forums and asking if anyone had a driveway to spare. Incredibly, someone did! We stayed there for about two weeks and completed the first version of our bed platform. To make room in the van for work, we rented a tiny space from a chain storage company on their $1/month promo.
Similarly, our last work space in Montreal, Quebec was also a commercial driveway. An incredibly kind business owner who specializes in Sprinter conversions responded to our space-seeking post, and he let us work on his lot for about two weeks. This was a lifesaver: it was around -20C or colder (with -40C windchills) in Montreal and having a place to park with electricity access allowed us to run our space heater along with the Espar D2 when it got really, really cold. We pretty much installed most of our ceiling there.
The online forums that we usually go on are:
- Sprinter Buildout International (closed group, need to ask for access)
- Sprinter Van Owners (closed group, need to ask for access)
- Sprinter Vans Unlimited
- Sprinter Van Camper Conversions (Worldwide) (closed group)
- Sprinter Quebec
- Project Vanlife forum (this is a new one)
These forums are incredible places for inspiration, help and encouragement on vanlife and van conversions.
I'm still blown away by the kindness of strangers who share a love of vanlife and van conversions. In many cases, we were offered the workspaces for next to nothing – like a bottle of wine – even though we were more than happy to pay. We really can't thank these kind souls enough!
Tip 4: maker spaces Aren't Made for Vans
Maker spaces were initially the first places on our list of possible workspaces. They're hubs of innovation, motivated people, shared tools and overall good vibes. We spent considerable time trying to find a co-working space in or around Vancouver, then expanded our search throughout British Columbia.
Unfortunately, we learned that most maker spaces can't accommodate a van build. The one that had space for a van (a loading entrance) quoted us about $400/week for limited access, plus membership fees, which was more than we wanted to pay.
Kijiji worked out far better for us.
Tip 5: If You're a Customer, Why Leave?
We can't officially recommend this, but if you keep going back to the same store to buy materials and tools to build your van interior, isn't it better for everyone to just work right there in the parking lot?
Would We Do it Again?
To be perfectly honest, building the van on the road wasn't easy. There were days when we were just trying to survive the harsh winter, and build progress was slow. But looking back we met some really awesome people and had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was an adventure and a challenge that made us grow.
Having survived this journey together, we decided to get married.
Have tips for finding a workspace or building your van on the road? Let us know in the comments below!