Why We Tried Van Dwelling Before Sailing Away

My partner Jas, and I started out in a minivan for two years before moving onto our boat, so I would highly recommend the road life as a great way to start. A lot of the skills and attitudes required for these lifestyles are similar, yet the van requires much less commitment, maintenance and overall TIME. When van dwelling you can drive to most places; you can drive to work, visit family and friends, and it’s easier to follow the warmer weather. We lived in the van while outfitting the boat too, and we still use it, so it wasn’t a waste of money.

Debt Free Home Owners at 27!

The boat is a 29 foot sailboat. Sometimes I think a bigger boat would be better for the extra room, and having guests aboard. Sometimes I think a smaller boat would be better for the lower expenses and ability to put it on a trailer. Which must mean it’s the perfect size?

Our boat has 2 rooms inside, the bedroom-toilet-room and the kitchen-livingroom, which is just a couch, table, a sink, and a 2-burner stove. No fridge. It cost 8k to buy, 2k to outfit, you can find cheaper ones and more expensive ones, but either way that’s pretty cheap for being a debt-free homeowner. 5 years ago we use to spend 1k a month renting a downtown apartment in the city of Ottawa, so buying the boat and outfitting her ended up being cheaper than one year of rent.  The sailboat is pretty small compared to an apartment, but huge compared to the minivan, so that’s another reason starting out with a road vehicle was a good choice.

What’s best for you? 

Which vehicular domicile will ultimately be best for you will highly depend on your personality and what you’re looking to get out of this.

We knew nothing about boats when we bought it. It was June 2017, and we sailed south that same year, leaving in October to the Bahamas and back. We had a disastrous, almost fatal crash, but a towboat saved us.

In the summers, we stay at a marina which is $1800 for the whole season. Storing the boat on land over the winter is $1200, which you don’t have to pay for if you sail south instead. Next season (April to October) we are debating about not getting a marina, and exploring and anchoring around the great lakes!

It’s not all fun in the sun! Boats require work!

With regards to maintenance, there is always something that needs to be done on the boat. Some things are more urgent than others. If it’s a toss up between varnishing your teak rails or fixing the bilge pump, you might want to repair the pump.  We have found that most of the maintenance happens during the start of the season, April and May, and the end of the season October. In spring you may need to paint the bottom of the boat, replace hardware, buy new lines, lights, and other equipment. We also found that if you are living at the marina, you may not need to spend as much time on the maintenance of your boat, but if you are cruising, you will constantly need to be checking your hardware, sails, and equipment. When one thing breaks, it often is a chain reaction.

Owning a boat can be really cheap if you learn to do everything yourself, but it takes a lot of research, discipline, work and TIME.

When people say a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money, it’s because they have it as a hobby. It’s expensive for a hobby, but as a living situation it can be quite cheap.

How do we make money? 

A big part of what makes this lifestyle possible is having an online job which you can take anywhere & everywhere with you, but another option is to do seasonal work as you travel. Look at the skills you have, find a way to monetize it, if not just start a new skill that allows you to be mobile. It’s easy to learn nowadays with internet resources. If you lower your expenses and avoid dining out, alcohol, and useless splurging, the boat life can be a simple and frugal way to live. We both can work from a mobile data plan, but we generally have unlimited wi-fi at the marinas.

There are also plenty of odd jobs you can get involved with. If you are living somewhere locally, see what kind of help they may need around the community. You can also monetize your sailing abilities if you get a captains license and take people out on your boat! To become a Captain takes years of sailing experience, so it is something to think about later down the waterway once you have your hours.

Where do we go? 

We live in Canada which is quite beautiful for half the year, the other half it becomes a frozen wasteland. In the summer it sometimes gets too hot, then we swim 5 times a day. In the winter we either sail, drive south, or rent someone’s cottage (very cheap in the winter). To get south via a van, it takes 3 days on the road. Sailing is highly variable, from weeks to months depending on skill level and weather.

Visa Requirements: 

For Visa requirements, we Canadians are allowed 6 months inside the USA, 8 months in the Bahamas, so if you can get over to the Bahamas, it’s worth it. Unfortunately the Hurricane Dorian hit them quite hard, so it may take a few years before the charts and infrastructure are back in working order. Different provinces in Canada have different health care requirements, but they usually have exemptions that can be navigated. Learning about Visas of local countries will help you figure out your options. And it’s all online!

Look up /r/vandwellers /r/liveaboard and /r/sailboatcruising to gain more valuable information!

Don’t hesitate to always ask more questions. And good luck to all!

  • The Escape Artists

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