Can you tell me a bit about yourselves?
We are Pat & Cat, a couple from Québec, Canada and we live full time in a grey short bus. We started our trip in Québec, Canada where we are originally from and are heading all the way south to Ushuaia, Patagonia in Argentina.
We’ve been together 10 years now, and we are always looking for the craziest adventures to do together, just like this one. We left home on September of 2017 for a 2 or + years trip across the Americas on board of our self-converted skoolie.
Before #vanlife Pat was an industrial electrician & I was a buyer for a manufacturing company. We had trouble dealing with the 9 to 5 routine and hated the constant: “work, pay bills, work some more cycle”. We wanted to travel & explore the Americas while we still had the desire and energy to do so.
Where did the idea come from to buy a van, refurbish it and then travel?
At first we wanted to travel the world on a sailboat so be bought one and tried it out for a summer. Both of us had previous sailing experience so we wuickly realized it wasn’t has simple as we thought. We then decided to put the sailboat proect on hold and find an easier alternative for us.
We searched online and found stories about people doing the PanAmerican highway with campervans and that’s were the idea came from. Initially we were looking to buy an already converted vehicle but the prices were really high and since
Pat is a very handy man and loves to do mechanics we finally decided to buy a vehicle and convert it ourselves which would be more budget friendly. We started looking at different opportunities and we found the school bus idea.
In Quebec, Canada the school buses are very popular for student transport and after 12 years on the road you need to put them away according to law. So you can find cheap buses for sale after 12 years since they can’t but used anymore.
We bought our 2006 GMC Savana school bus for 5 000$ with 250 000 km.
Where have you travelled through so far?
We left home (Québec, Canada) on September 4th of 2017. We spent 2 months crossing Canada from East to West and then crossed from Vancouver Island to Port Angeles, Washington.
We spent 1 month exploring the West Coast of the US and many National Parks like Yosemite, Sequoia, Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon & Joshua Tree.
We then crossed from San Diego to Baja California, Mexico where we fell in love and stayed for 2 whole months exploring the peninsula from North to South.
After that we took a ferry from La Paz, Baja California Sur to Mazatlan, Sinaloa. We continued to travel in Mexico for another 2 months exploring the highlands, Mexico city, the Oaxaca coast and Chiapas waterfalls and incredible ruins.
We went forward with spending 2 weeks in Belize and visiting the islands (Cayes) and doing some incredible diving.
After that we went into Guatemala where we encountered Tikal’s archeological site (one of the largest) and we spent 2 weeks in Antigua Guatemala visiting the surrounding volcanoes and taking Spanish lessons. We went to the Pacific coast for some beach & surf before going to El Salvador.
We visited 2 volcanoes and many beaches in El Salvador and this is also where we met the most welcoming people on our trip so far.
We crossed the 150 km path in Honduras that seperates El Salvador from Nicaragua but we didn’t stop to visit anything in this country since we spent a full month in Honduras 3-4 years ago on a backpacking & diving trip.
We spent also very little time in Nicaragua since the country is currently in a political crisis that might escalate into a civil war. We crossed the country with many dirt roads and detours since there were loads of roadblocks going on at that time.
We entered Costa Rica on June 2nd 2018 and we are there since. We are planning to go back North to visit Nicaragua once the dispute settles down.
What’s the plan for the future – what’s next/ where next?
Our house is rented for at least 2 years, maybe 3 so the ultimate plan is to make it until Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, Argentina. We think we will cross from Central America (Panama) to South America (Colombia) around the month of January 2019.
We also believe we might take a year or 2 to visit the entire South America but this all depends on if our house is still rented or not. We also decided to leave the bus in Costa Rica for the summer of 2018 and fly back to Canada for the summer in order to work and save more money in order to continue the trip.
After the bus trip, we are also thinking of bringing back the initial idea of sailing across the globe. We are looking for some opportunities in order to learn how to sail and eventually exchange or bus for a sail boat and leave for a totally different adventure.
Maybe this time it would be a family trip since we are thinking about having kids and bringing them on board.
What is life like living in your van?
Living in your van is like backpacking 2.0. We seriously don’t know how we will be able to go back to backpacking or normal traveling after that. Imagine having your home on wheels with you wherever you go. This is an amazing feeling and it gives you the ultimate freedom to go and do whatever you want whenever you want.
No need to book shuttle, wait for buses or reserve ahead of time. You go with the flow and park your van where you like everyday. It allows you to save a lot of money on food, accommodation, restaurant and transport as well as give you a home away from home feeling all the time. To be able to cook your favourite meals on the road, after 6 months away from home is the most comforting thing ever. Lots of people write me how we manage to live in such a small environment but to be honest our bus is big enough and we have everything we need in there.
We even did a big clean up lately and gave away cooking pans, bags, containers and many other things that we hadn’t used in 10 months.
The key here is to design your van wisely beforehand to avoid being under equiped and suffer from it.
Were there any problems you’ve had to overcome while doing the refurb?
To be honest Pat is really good at building stuff. In fact, he built 4 houses back in Canada so he knew how things worked and he didn’t have any major issues with the built. I believe the hardest thing was to decide on the design before starting the bus conversion.
Also, Pat decided to add air conditionning to the vehice which didn’t have it when we bought it and this was a little bit complicated but he achieved it and we really appreciate it, especially in April and May when it is cooking in Central America.
We also started the conversion in February in Canada and we didn’t have a big enough garage to but the bus in so it was freezing cold when we first started to work on it.
Similarly have you had any problems on the road?
No mechanical issues on the road so far. we have been very lucky and we hope it will continue that way. The major issue here is that finding parts for our vehicle is very difficult. Just a regular off the shelf air filter took us 1 month to find and we finally needed to have it shipped from Texas, US into Mexico since we couldn’t find it in Mexico. Funniest thing is that once we opened the box, it was written MADE IN MEXICO on the air filter.
We heard loads of horror stories about cops pulling you over all the time to try to get money of you but we didn’t really have that experience in the countries we have visited so far. We got pulled over once for no reason and the police asked us for money and we said no and left and that’s it since we didn’t do anything wrong. We didn’t feel harassed by the Police or anybody during our trip. Only friendly & nice people that we met.
Pat got his wallet (with no money) and iPhone pickpocketed in Mexico city’s metro station but apparently it is very common and many mexicans told us you need to empty your pockets before entering the metro. Maybe it was our fault since we weren’t careful enough but we have never been victims of violence, intimidation or felt in danger ever at any point in our trip.
Can you briefly describe your daily routine please?
The point of leaving our jobs and hitting the road was basically to get away from the daily routine so I am proud to say we don’t really have a routine and we intend to keep it that way. We try to go with the flow and with the people we meet, the recommendations that we get through the locals and stuff. We love to go and see even if people dont recommend an area, we like to see from our own eyes and judge after.
The closest to a routine that we have would be that Pat always wakes up before me (Cat). We both wake up around 7ham and slowly have breakfast and plan the day. Depending on where we are and what there is to do we go for it and we often bring some lunch if we leave for the day or we come back and cook something. We both love to cook & eat ! We normally come back also come back for dinner or go out to eat depending on where we are and if there are dinning options in the area. We go to bed around 22h depending if we are alone or with some other travelers. We really like to do campfires and do movie projections on the bus with our projector.
What do you love the most about this kind of travelling and lifestyle?
The freedom of going where we want to go, when we want to go and with who we want to go.
Meeting other travelers with similar thinking and attitude to share the trip with.
The amount of time we have to do what we love doing.
All the time we have together.
The minimalist lifestyle.
Is there a particular message you want to convey – what would you say to someone who wants to do this too?
Everything is possible if you setup a goal and make all the efforts to achieve it. Many people write to us all the time asking how we can afford this lifestyle and what do we do to fund this project. My answer is: WE WORKED !
We worked a lot in order to be able to do this and we had many compromises to do. It is not easy to work 2 jobs full time for 6-8 months to but enough money to leave for a full year but it is totally worth it. The best advice I could give is to clear up all the debts that you have beforehand because you won’t be able to sustain this lifestyle if you have payments to do back home.
We had to pay everything off and rent our house in order to have 0 payments and be able to leave like that for a year. You can do it, we did it and many people do it so if you work hard and fovus on your dream you can also do it.
We think that we need to enjoy life before retirement because we see so many people retirering and not being able to enjoy life and realize their dreams because of health issues or engagements. We think, why wait for later when we have the guts, the energy and the desire to travel now?
We don’t want to risk it and enjoy life as much as possible when we are able to.
What do people say when they see this with their own eyes? What’s the reaction?
When people see the bus they are really entrigued to see what it is especially because it is not yellow anymore and people are wondering what it is exactly. We often get waved at in Central America because locals think it is a ”collectivo” which is public transportation. When we say it is like a campervan they understand but they could never imagine we have a double sink in there with a full size fridge, a fixed bed and so many storage with an oven.
When people come inside the bus they are usually stocked by the conversion that we did with the bus ad they love the barn wood and the living space that we have inside the bus since it is larger than a Sprinter Van or other vehicles. People also love our outdoor setup with a BBQ, awning, roof rack and movie projector.
I think backpackers envy us to have our home on wheels and to be able to cook banana bread for breakfast.
Please describe what we see in your images in your own words?
The most stunning places that we have visited. The world is amazing and mother nature is incredible.
We feel so small in this huge world of beauties.
A few quick facts:
How long did it take to complete the refurbishment: 6 months from February to July 2017
How much did it cost to refurb the van: 10 000$ CAD
Make and model of the van: GMC Savana 2006, Duramax Engine Turbo Diesel
How far many miles have you clocked up so far: around 30 000km
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