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Why We Quit Full Time Travel/Vanlife

Back in late 2017, I wrote a post that declared we would be travelling full time indefinitely. We had quit our jobs in Penticton, BC, and were preparing to cross Canada in our (not yet converted) van.

Almost three years to the day we left, I felt it was a good time to give you an update! After just over two years on the road, JR and I stopped travelling full time at the end of January 2020.

In that time, we ended up visiting 11 countries and road tripping over 100,000 kilometers across Canada and the USA in our converted van. It was an amazing time, with many, many highs (for more details, check out our 2018 and 2019 end of year round ups).

White van with doors open, Gemma and JR stand inside looking at camera
Summer 2019

Disclaimer

This post (published December 2020) documents our personal experience with full time travel and vanlife from 2017 to 2020. We really did love the experience (it was the best 2+ years of my life) and so stopping was not a negative conclusion for us.

There are probably many ways we could have made our life easier and continued for longer, but we were happy with our decision to stop. It was the right choice for us at the time. We continue to travel extensively in our van and will travel internationally again when it becomes possible.

White van parked in front of large waterfall plunging out of rockface
Yoho National Park, BC

The end of full time travel

I’ll be straight with you – there was no dramatic reason we gave up full time travel. While we were still enjoying it, we had fallen a little out of love with the overall experience. The decision to stop was actually set in motion by an offhand comment.

The end began when we were visiting friends in Penticton back in September 2019. Over a few drinks, we discovered that the tenant was soon going to be moving out from our old place.

The plan, up until that moment, was to continue travelling in our van until the end of the summer and then spend the winter in Europe. We already had tickets to the UK booked for late November.

The prospect of living in our old place, however, changed everything. We had loved living in Penticton and, since leaving, had come to the conclusion it was our favourite town in Canada.

A couple of weeks later, we asked the rental agency whether we could move back in. After compromising on a move-in date, we booked our return flights from Europe to Penticton in late January.

And, as it turns out, that ended up being a very good decision. Only five weeks later, Canada asked closed the borders and asked residents to stay close to home. We had stopped travelling at just the right time.

Gemma standing by pile of rocks at top of mountain summit with view of Penticton city centre behind with lake and surrounding mountains
We love living back in Penticton! November 2020

Falling out of love with full time travel

For the most part, we really enjoyed our nomadic lifestyle. It was not perfect, however. We had some day-to-day challenges as well as some more prolonged issues. The latter definitely contributed to us falling a little out of love with full time travel, which, in turn, prompted us to make the decision to stop.

Work was difficult

I feel exceptionally lucky that I am able to earn a living online. I worked for years to achieve this goal with the plan that we could travel full time and work on the road.

On a superficial level, you could say it was successful (I increased my income from 2017 to 2020) but overall, I found it very challenging.

For half the year (usually November to May), things were fairly good. We’d travel to somewhere warmer than Canada, find accommodation with good wi-fi and I’d work pretty consistently.

The problem

The other half of the year (May to November), things were a little trickier. The plan was to work in the van while we travelled Canada. Connectivity, however, was a major issue.

Canada is one of the most expensive countries in the entire world for mobile data. Things became even more difficult when we were in British Columbia, where data coverage is practically non existent outside towns and cities (see map below).

I tried working offline in the van and then utilising wi-fi at libraries, coffee shops and fast food restaurants. Unfortunately, this took longer and reduced my productivity. The varying quality of wi-fi was also frustrating. Spending time in urban areas wasn’t something we particularly enjoyed either.

To cut a long story short, working on the road was more stressful than I had anticipated. I admire anyone that can do it!

Mobile coverage map of British Columbia, showing that coverage is only available in major town and cities
British Columbia is my favouite place to be in Canada….but those mountains do hinder mobile connectivity!

Travel became a little less special

Both JR and I have a long held love of travel. We actually met while traveling in New Zealand back in 2009. With trial and error, however, we have discovered that neither of us like constant, fast moving travel. Not only is it tiring, but we also find it harder to appreciate places.

Consequently, we travel fairly slowly. A route that most people spend a few days driving? We’d probably take two or three weeks.

But once we were doing it all the time, even slow travel became to wear us out. Constant decision making (regarding where to sleep, what to do, where to find water, where to spend the winter etc) wasn’t quite as fun anymore.

And when we started appreciating awesome mountain views slightly less, we knew it was time to stop.

View from back of van with doors open showing coastal scenery on Vancouver Island with calm ocean and kayak on grass next to water
One of our favourite camping spots in all of Canada, on Vancouver Island

We wanted a home

I firmly believe that home can be wherever you are in the world. Our van, for example, was our little home on the road in Canada. But after two years of travel, we wanted somewhere to return to.

The reasons were pretty practical but also a bit emotional too. Considering the latter, I missed being able to tell people where we were from and where they could visit us. I missed having that connection to a specific place in the world. I felt a little rudderless and not in a good way.

An address

As soon as you don’t have an address, you notice how often you need one. And not just to send mail to! Kind friends and family let us borrow their addresses temporarily but for some things, it just became too difficult.

Contents insurance was a good example. We wanted a policy to cover our kayaks and other outdoor equipment. But not physically living at a property means that most contents insurance policies are pretty worthless when it comes to actually claiming. We did have one for a while, but it didn’t work out after they snail mailed us some important information that we didn’t receive until a couple of months later.

Backcountry blues

Another frustration was related to our backcountry adventures. Have you ever been hiking for a week in the woods and come out muddy, wet and a little smelly? That’s a pretty normal occurrence for us the summer.

All I really want to do in that moment is grab some fast food, go home, have a looooong shower, chuck all our dirty clothes in the wash, clean our gear, have another shower and then sleep in a real bed.

Our routine in the van was a little difficult. We still grabbed some fast food but then we needed to try and dry out the tent and other gear (and hope nothing gets damaged), put the gear away, try find a laundromat, try to find a shower and then find somewhere to park for the night. It’s doable but having a base to return to is just so much more convenient.

Gemma and JR selfie in font of coastal scenery in UK
One of our last big international adventures was the Isle of Wight Coastal Path in the UK (112km, mid Jan 2020)

The future?

We’ve now been living in our new-old place in Penticton for 10 months. It has been a huge source of comfort doing this weird time. Spending more time indoors has been something of a novelty for us, however strange that may seem! And I’m immensely grateful for it. All things considered, I haven’t regretted our decision to stop travelling for one second.

Our plan is to be based in Penticton for the foreseeable future. If we want to travel for an extended period again, we will likely sublet our place. I think always having a base is the way forward for us.

Related posts:

GMC Savana Van Conversion: What Worked and What Didn’t

25+ of the Best Campgrounds on Vancouver Island, BC

A Tour of our GMC Savana Van Conversion

OffTrackTravel’s Best Adventures in 2018

OffTrackTravel’s Best Adventures in 2019

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