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Meet A Vandweller: Riley, Lysa & Kai (Westy Tribe)

By April 13 2015All stories

Life on the road can sometimes be challenging. If most people get rid of their van once the first baby is born, some others keep adding up the miles behind the wheel. Riley, Lysa and Kai from Westy Tribe are still going for it, and here’s their insight about living the vanlife as a family.

Where is your hometown?

Riley : Right now home-base is Calgary Alberta Canada. Lysa is originally from the Vancouver BC area.

Which vessel are you driving?

Riley : 1983 2wd Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia with a gasoline GoWesty 2.2.

How many miles/km did you put on your van since you got it?

Riley : About 40,000 Km’s or (25,000 miles for our American friends) since we purchased it in Sept 2011. It sat until 2012 and we predominantly use it for trips, it doesn’t get a lot of city driving.

You guys did some extended travel during the summer. What was your itinerary?

Lysa : Last year looked a little different as we had our first child, our son Kai, on February 23. We had plans to start some travel right away but unfortunately Kai was in and out of the hospital for about 1 month with some significant jaundice and things were super chaotic for a good three-months. By the time May rolled around we were feeling confident with everything and took off to one of our favourite states, Montana . We went to Whitefish for about a week and it was a great tester for us to learn how to best travel and camp with a baby. Our confidence after that trip grew and in July we hit the road for two months.

Our first stop was Vancouver, BC. Riley skateboards so our travel itinerary often revolves around skate competitions or parks that he wants to skate the most. In July we headed to Vancouver for the Van Doren Invitational Skate Contest at Hastings Park. We camped on the streets in Vancouver in front of various peoples houses that we knew. It’s pretty funny to emerge from a curtained off Van at 0700 with a baby in hand, you certainly get some funny looks that’s for sure! When we camp on the streets we don’t pop the top and draw all the curtains to try and remain as inconspicuous as possible. We also try and camp in front of peoples houses that we know for bathroom services. After the Hastings contest we headed south.

We love the Pacific North West so much and have toured it every year since we started dating in 2009. Originally we started off motorcycling and tenting and now we have upgraded to the Van and have grown into a little tribe of 3! We toured through Washington and the Olympic Peninsula, Cannon Beach, Portland and then spent some time with our good friends from DreamLand SkateParks in Lincoln City. We went a little south to Newport and Eugene and then we went back up to Portland.

Riley was then invited to the Van Doren Invitational Skate Contest in Huntington Beach but because we were low on time to drive to California we ended up flying from Portland to Long Beach. We had an awesome few days in Huntington Beach but were so stoked to get back to our Van in Portland. We camped on the streets and in front of our friends parents house in Lake Oswego for a few days and then went back to Lincoln City. We actually met up with the dudes from The Van With No Plan and Riley had some good skate sesh’s at the Lincoln City Skatepark.

We then made our way back up Oregon and toured through Hood River and then the loooooooong and hot stretch through Idaho. We spent some time in Montana again and then back to Calgary. It was pretty funny actually, no break downs the entire trip but as we were rolling through Calgary about 5 km’s from our house the Van broke down. As we were right in the middle of traffic I took Kai and sat on the side of the road while Riley worked on the Van. Thankfully Riley is super handy and got her up and running again quite quickly but as I was running back with Kai he ended up scratching my cornea so we had to go to the hospital and get that taken care of. It was a long day!

Some people get rid of their Westy once the first baby pops out, but you didn’t. How is it to live the van life as a family? 

Lysa : It’s interesting we were actually just talking this week about how we don’t relate to the mentality of “well we better do this or that now before we get married and have babies” as it seems very limiting and a little narrow-minded. For us “getting stuff out of the way” before Kai came never crossed our mind. We always knew that we wanted to bring him into our lives and continue to do what we love to do but now with the added joy of sharing that with our son.

Of course travel doesn’t look exactly the same now that we have him and we are learning as we go but all and all we are happy to report that life doesn’t have to end when you have a baby! Now we just do less km’s/day but the surprising part is we actually enjoy travel MORE as we have to take more frequent stops to give him breaks and to play and run around and in turn we end up enjoying our scenery as we really have had to slow things down. It’s no longer about how many km’s we do per day, it’s about exploring and enjoying all of those km’s with him. Also, people are WAY more welcoming and kind to you when you have a baby! Obviously there is a certain stereotype that comes along with people that have VW buses specifically and then add a couple of long hairs and a skateboarder in the mix and people have us pegged before they even talk to us! But now they see the baby and you can see them instantly soften. This really helps when you may be camping out where you aren’t supposed to be or when you are broken down haha.

Our advice would be to just do and don’t “wait for the perfect time” because it will never happen. Also if you can, breastfeed! It has been the most convenient way to feed and get Kai to sleep on the road. I would quite often just breastfed Kai in his car seat while we were driving and we could get him to sleep anywhere that way. It was so much more convenient than carrying and washing bottles and buying milk, it honestly made all the difference. Breastfeeding doesn’t always work for everyone but if you can we would highly recommend it for VanLife!

What is your favorite spot where you ever stayed at?

Riley : The Redwood forest most definitely! There is something so magical and humbling about camping amongst 500+ year old trees. It reminds you of how insignificant we are in this world and gives you a glimpse into the way things used to be. Lysa loved it so much she tattooed a couple of redwoods on her arm!

What is the worst bad luck that happened to you on the road?

Riley : All of the bad luck that we have had has either turned out to be good luck or we have been lucky enough to be able to fix it on the road. I truly enjoy van problems because I love working on the Van. I mean it can become a horrible thing sometimes but I can usually find a positive in the situation and enjoy hopping out and saying “let’s tackle this thing!”. The worst to me was the cooling problems we had a couple years ago. We were in Ucluelet on Vancouver Island which is a fairly remote town and our coolant tank sprung a pin hole leak randomly. It seemed to be a manufacturing defect but when I took off the engine cover it was pressurized and misting coolant all the way into the front of the van from the rear engine bay haha. I was able to use duct tape on it for a quick fix and then was able to get to a hardware store to buy epoxy which sealed it really well. That then got us back to Victoria to my friends house where I was able to order the parts I needed and to do a coolant bleed. I have since done the radiator and some other stuff which solved our cooling issues thus far.

The other good one that I enjoyed was on our way back from the Sasquatch music festival the accelerator cable broke rendering the accelerator pedal a limp and useless object. This was also near the Crowsnest Pass which is notorious for no cell service.  Luckily there was a ¼ inch of cable sticking out of the cable casing and I was able to rig something up with a few bolts and some wire I had on hand to recreate the broken cable. It actually ran for several weeks after before I replaced it with the correct cable. I trusted it enough to not even change it but it’s always best to use the right thing for the job.

The funniest part about it was I took out my Vanagon mats while working on the Van and accidentally drove off without them. We were quite far away when I realized and exclaimed “we have to go back, I forgot the mats and they are expensive!!!”. Lysa tried to talk me out of it and was super bummed about having to turn around given the sketchy status of our accelerator cable and the already lengthy delay but they are part of the Van and I couldn’t do it. We went back and got them and I’m happy we did!

You’re planning on hitting the road full time next year. Do you have a particular itinerary on your mind? How can you afford living on the road for such a long period of time?

Lysa : Yes we are planning on it and we are stoked! Riley has been working away at the van, buying and modifying what we need before we hit the road with lots more to do but boy he loves working on it. We don’t have too much of an itinerary set yet but likely it will revolve again around some type of skateboarding itinerary. Canadian winters are very bad for skateboarding so definitely spending some time south in California will be the plan. Skateboarding provides Riley with a little bit of income so the plan will be to travel to some spots where he can film (Oregon, LA, SF, Encinitas, San Diego) and then we will have a slight income that way.

Riley also owns his own sewing business and makes different types of tactical gear (backpacks, armor carriers, pouches, belts, beanies, wallets,) which he sells to the military, law enforcement and anyone that wants light weight, well-made, CANADIAN made practical gear. He has an employee here in Calgary which is why we tend to travel for periods of time and then come home to tend to the business.

This winter has been about building stock and training his employee to take over while we hit the road. I honestly believe that there are many opportunities for people to make money while living on the road and I think we have now seen it time and time again. We had that moment earlier this year where we said “why are we working just to pay rent and bills” when we could significantly reduce our costs by living on the road therefore needing less income but allowing us the freedom to go where we please. We are always the happiest when we are out of a routine with no schedule in mind. Should we decide to go the “buy a house and save for retirement route” later down the road then so be it but if we don’t give life on the road a go now then we will forever regret it and wonder what could have been.

Maybe we’ll only make it a month or two but we have agreed that we need to try. If anyone else out there has advice for us we would sincerely appreciate it!