Van Living Couple Shares Everything About Their Life in a VW Van

Live. Travel. Play

We are Janice Liwanag and Gregor Brandt. We are from Calgary, Canada and are currently in Winnipeg, Canada visiting family before shipping Lucky, our van, to Europe next month. We are both mountain people, we love mountaineering and hiking, although the beach has also called us every now and then. I would say we are both somewhat shy but fairly outgoing.

How and why did you get into traveling and adventuring?

We have been traveling and adventuring since we first met over 20 years ago, taking small vacations and longer trips over time. We went full-time on January 1, 2015.

How we stopped dreaming and started doing is a long story, but to keep it short, we were growing our business and realized that the amount of work we were putting in was stopping us from doing the things we loved, we also had a close friend die in a mountaineering accident, showing us how quickly it could all be over. Once we realized we were working too hard and it could end the next day, it was easy to stop the dreaming and start doing. About six to eight months later, we were on the road to South America. Preparation was basically getting the van ready for long term living, getting rid of possessions and selling our house. It was a very stressful time, but well worth it.

Live. Travel. Play

Why is adventuring important for you?

That is a hard question because change happens slowly and when it happens to ourselves, it is not very noticeable. I think we are both more relaxed, we are more open to changes, and certainly better communicators than we were before. Life now, mostly, happens at its own pace.

What we notice the most is that our stress is different than before. When working and living the typical North American life, there is a constant level of stress, the kind that makes you sick over the long term. Travelling has stress as well, but rather than constant, it spikes during situational experiences (like crossing a border). And the stress is different, it’s exciting and clarifying. When it’s over it just provides clear and sharp memories and no real lasting bad effects.

Live. Travel. Play

What have been the best and most difficult parts of your adventures and travels?

Seeing the world — together. We have become much closer as a couple over the last 2.5 years. That is the best part. Secondary, but still important are the people we meet and the places we go. Seeing these people and places give perspective to how we live, or how we should live, within our planet and with each other. If you are asking what our favourite country or place was, so far Colombia is first and Mexico is second.

There seems to be a cyclical ‘thing’ that happens, we call it the 8-month burnout. In talking to other travelers, this has also happened to them. It seems that every 8 months, we get a little tired, a little bored and quite a bit frustrated with living out of a van and living with the daily struggles of extended travel in a foreign country. These periods are always difficult, our solution is to find a place to stay for longer than a week, and just relax and do small jobs on the van or for ourselves.

We did not experience any dangers on the road in daylight hours. We tried to never drive at night, but a slow border crossing one time had us driving in pitch black. Many dangers then, people walking on the road, cycling on the road with dark clothes on. Cars with no lights and even a drunk person sleeping on the road.

Live. Travel. Play

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

We typically buy local food from the markets and make our own in the van. We do go out to eat to sample local cuisine, more often in cheaper countries and far less often in expensive countries.

We live in our 1987 Volkswagen Vanagon (T3) with a Westfalia conversion. It has a bed, two burner stove, fridge and running water. Our fridge is a 12 volt ARB 35 litre fridge. 90% of the time, we slept in our van, mostly in campgrounds or hotel/hostel parking lots. In countries where we feel very safe or in remote areas, we will find a quiet place to pull over for the night.

How do you balance normal life with traveling?

Right now, traveling is our normal life. We hope to do this for two more years and then start the balancing act of work/income and travel.

Live. Travel. Play

How do you prepare and finance your adventures?

Staying in shape on the road is difficult, we get out of the van as often as possible for walk and hikes. For planning, we use travel books and the internet and advice from locals and other travelers. Locals know all the good places to go.

We had some money from our business and I worked two days a week as a software developer. Those two income streams paid for our first 2.5 years. For our next leg of the journey, we are working entirely off of savings. We expect/hope that this will last us two more years and then we have come back to Canada to work and save for more traveling. We are currently spending 100% of our money on travel. We limit the amount of new gear we buy, preferring to make our existing gear last as long as possible.

What is your best advice for new adventurers?

Our first advice is just do it. Stop thinking, planning, saving and do it, now. It will all work out in the end, it always does. There is no ‘wrong’ way to adventure, there is your way to adventure. Go out and live it.

Live. Travel. Play

What has been your best adventuring-related purchase below $100?

I think our most useful purchase under $100 was a water filter. We purchased a 4.0L Platypus GravityWorks Filter System. We were able to filter water to fill our on board tank from any watercourse.

A few other items:

  • Headlamps: We bought a Petzl Reactik Headlamp for each of us. Very bright and the batteries last forever;
  • House shoes/slippers: We purchased warm slippers in Ecuador, very handy for those cool/cold nights.

Our other favourite purchased-item is our fridge. It makes a world of difference in how long we can live without going into a city or town. We bought a 12/120/240 volt fridge from ARB. The 37 litre one is perfect for two people and for the space available in our van.

Another favourite item are our Arcteryx Atom AR Jacket for Men and Arcteryx Atom AR Jacket for Women with hood. This jacket is warm, light and super comfortable, which you can use it from cool to cold weather.

Live. Travel. Play
Janice and Gregor in Colombia

What will the future bring?

For adventures, we are shipping our van to the UK in October, we plan to travel to Northern Africa, Iceland, most of Europe and perhaps into Asia over the next two years.

Follow Janice and Gregor on their website, Facebook, and Instagram

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