We love vanlife, but there are certain necessities that are a little more tricky to find than others. Reading the title, you may be thinking ‘hang on, since when is internet an essential?’ Well, if you maintain a blog and use email as your most common form of communication then yes, it does become one!
I will also note here that food and camping fuel are also obviously pretty crucial on a long road trip, but luckily they are very easy items to find and store, even in the most remote areas of Canada.
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These tips are aimed at people travelling Canada in small vehicles, typically converted ones like our Astro Van. Some of the advice isn’t really appropriate for people in RVs and truck campers for a variety of reasons.
vanlife essentials 1: Water
If you’ve never been on a long road trip or backpacking adventure, you may not immediately think of water as something difficult to find. Bottled water is of course freely available in shops, but a collection of bottles is both wasteful and bulky. Instead, buy a large water storage container from Canadian Tire or Walmart and fill it up en route.
We use a 20L container alongside some smaller day-to-day reusable bottles (3L and 2 x 1L). This combination usually lasts us 3/4 days, using the water purely for drinking and some cooking. Where possible we also used boiled (reasonably clean and clear!) lake/river water for cooking.
Read next: How to Camp for Free in British Columbia
Recommendations for filling up a 20L container:
Municipal taps – Our favourite source of free water; we really appreciated it when local towns provided a place for travellers to get water.
Visitor Information – Some have a tap outside for RV travellers. If not, ask specifically where to fill up a small 20L container – a few offered us the staff facilities (kitchen, cleaning room) since it was such a small amount.
Provincial, National or Regional Parks – We had great success with Provincial Parks with campgrounds and/or significant visitor services (think nature trails, picnic areas etc). The tap may be in the day-use area or in the campground itself. Again, since we only needed a small amount we never had any problems. Note that the taps are usually turned off in September/October for the winter.
RV Parks/Campgrounds – Some RV Parks charge for facilities such as water fill-up on top of the parking fee. While stopping for showers, we would ask how much it would be to fill our 20L and a few times they did it for free.
Retail stores – With approval from the store manager, you may be able to use an external water tap at big-box stores such as Canadian Tire. Also look for RV service areas – the sani-dump facility usually comes with a charge, but water is often free.
vanlife essential 2: Showers
For those times a cold lake or solar shower doesn’t seem like a viable option, here are our suggestions for shower locations.
RECOMMENDATIONS to find showers:
RV Parks/Campgrounds – RV Parks usually charge for showers on top of the parking rates. Knowing this, we would stop at an RV Park and ask to use the showers. Some RV Parks do not want non-staying visitors coming in and using the facilities so don’t take it personally if they say no. Most are fine about it and will either sell you shower tokens or give change. The most common price we found in BC/Yukon was $2 for six minutes. The showers in Eagle Plains (NWT) were free, even to non-camping visitors.
Marinas – If you’re travelling near the ocean, a marina is usually a surefire place to find showers. Sometimes they are only available for use by members, but if you manage to speak to a staff member they may be fine with it. Again, tokens and/or change are usually needed and the shower will be timed.
Swimming pools – We didn’t try this because JR is not a big fan of chlorine, but one of the easiest options is to go for a swim and have a shower afterwards. A lot of swimming pools seem to have a jacuzzi and sauna, so you could even make an afternoon of it. This is a more expensive option, but definitely more fun than a visit to an RV Park!
Hot Springs – A bit location limited, but the resorts with hot springs in the Rockies (Radium, Banff etc.) have showers alongside changing rooms. In a similar way to swimming pools, this can be a nice excuse for a relaxing afternoon!
vanlife essential 3: Internet
A 21st century ‘essential,’ we tried to find wi-fi every time we were in a large town or city. Any municipality too small for a Tim Hortons/another coffee shop, we would usually just park up and tether our cell phone’s 3G connection to the laptop. We found scarce phone signal outside of municipalities…sometimes none while even in them!
Local coffee shops and cafes – Get your emails and blogging done for the price of a coffee.
Libraries – As an ex-library assistant, I like to support libraries as much as I can. Most BC/Yukon libraries offer 30 minutes or an hour of free internet to visitors (wi-fi or computer). You may be asked for ID. Printing is usually extra, 10c or 20c a page.
Tim Hortons, A&W & McDonalds – Most Canadians towns of a reasonable size will have at least one of these chain fast-food restaurants. They offer reliable and reasonably consistent wi-fi, even if you’re parked outside (…while eating or drinking a purchase from the drive-thru of course).
Visitor Information Centres – The larger versions of these usually have free wi-fi or will know of other local places to get it.
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