From a 1974 Westfalia to a 1978 Wanderlodge, vanlife has been in our life for over 20 years.
Based in Québec, Canada, we now share our time between off grid homesteading, traveling the world and promoting industrial hemp as Hempbassadors. This is an overview of how we got to do the split and try to find our family balance in it.
At 18 years-old, after dreaming of it for years, Francis bought his first VW Westafalia.
It became his main home for the next 10 years. From Québec to Western Canada to the US, he loved living free as a bird, playing outdoors, working, and visiting ecological alternatives communities along the way.
At the same time, living in France, I (Marie) had already travelled to more than 20 countries, from Russia to Libya to Norway. From the age of 10, I was eager to discover the world. Despite (or because of) growing up in a small village with non-traveling parents, my wish to travel grew with reading and conferences about traveling. At 23, I found my first work experience in an outdoor magazine in Montreal. So, I moved to Canada and haven’t left since.
When Francis and I met 11 years ago, we had a few plans for exploring the world together…
But we also agreed on having a place of our own to homestead, off grid in the countryside. We shared environmental and social concerns and wanted to live a sustainable, healthy and balanced life. It was important to be close to nature, grow our own food and be as self sufficient as we could.
So how the hell do you combine these two main and hard-to-mix targets: traveling and homesteading?
To make it even more exciting, we decided to add another one! As we also wanted to be activists for change, we launched a social economy business dedicated to urban agriculture, Les Urbainculteurs, which was just beginning to emerge. This meant living in the city for a while but also fulfilling our needs for commitment and bringing a revenue for our future home.
At the same time, we shortly found our dream place to settle: an Earthship made of stones built in the late 1970’s in a remote village of Québec. It was abandoned for almost 7 years and needed love. At the time, we had all the motivation to renovate it and make it our nest, our shelter aside of society.
With a house we were renovating ourselves (with little skills to do it), starting an organization and, soon having a baby, it’s safe to say that road trips were not top priority. However, we managed to get our dose of traveling each year through smaller trips. Despite not owning one anymore, Francis never gave up his passion for vans, daily checking the internet for anything van related.
Then one day, we decided we wanted a camper again!
Four days later, we were heading to the Adirondacks in our « new » 1986 Toyota Escaper. We fell in love again with the freedom of the road and did several short family trips. Being directors of a successful and busy organization with employees, offices and shops, longer trips were harder to come by.
The big shift started with an article I read about a family living full-time and working on the road in a 35 feet Wanderlodge, Road it up. Never underestimate the power of a Facebook post! Ten days later, Francis flew to Regina to get the bus he had found on the web, a 1984 Wanderlodge. Ironically enough, as he was driving home, he found a bus more well-suited for us, a 1978 model. It was in great condition, with a color scheme of green and beige. So we bought this one too and then sold the previous one! We thought, let’s just be crazy!
Shortly thereafter, we decided to leave our city rental and fulfill our longtime dream: live in our homestead, which was almost renovated.
We thought we could keep our jobs and manage the urban agriculture organization from a distance, either traveling in the bus or being in our country home. But, after a couple of months, we realized it was hard, above all, we had completed our mission. We needed a bigger shift; we needed more freedom. So, in three days, we decided to quit!
We shortly escaped in our Escaper, which was easier and cheaper to ride than the bus. We were in bliss on the road again; we really enjoyed the feeling of freedom we had after being so committed for eight years. Mexico was our first plan but we felt too exhausted for such a large trip. Instead, we decided to meet friends who were sailing in Florida. Keeping in mind the perception we have of Florida, we didn’t plan on staying there. But we went off of the beaten tracks and loved it! With our then four- year old daughter, it was the perfect and sunny place to hike, bike, swim and discover rich wildlife.
After these three months in Florida and our first full-time gardening season at home, we hit the road again.
From Québec to Yucatan, we spent four months traveling in Mexico and fell in love with the country. So much that we even thought about leaving the van there in storage for the upcoming winters! But when you’re used to deciding moment by moment, it’s hard to plan a year ahead…
Back home this spring, we decided it was time to start a new project that would fit our new life and values. That’s how we became Hempbassadors and launched a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of industrial hemp. With thousands of uses from superfood to hempcrete to biodegradable plastics, this wonderful plant grows easily and quickly everywhere without any pesticides and little to no irrigation. It is a comprehensive ecological solution to many of today’s environmental problems!
In conclusion, that’s how the green and beige Wanderlodge found its new purpose in life. It became an amazing home on wheels, promotional vehicle, and booth as we tour Canada for the sake of hemp. This summer, we started with Québec province and met several committed hemp activists. From producers to insulation manufacturers to self builders, we enjoy meeting others with the same passion. Check out our social media to watch for upcoming interviews as well as a tour of our vintage bus.
If you want to know more about our off-grid homestead/life, check out this great video by Explorative Alternatives.