A couple who converted a van into a home to avoid crippling rent are now travelling across continents with their two dogs – and the coronavirus pandemic will not change their itinerary.
Crystal Drinkwalter, 25, and Jazmyn Canning, 26, decided to spend £15K ($18,400 USD) buying the 92-square-feet 2006 Mercedes Sprinter and turning it into a cosy home instead of renting an apartment.
The couple, who are currently in San Cristobal, Mexico, believe that the rapid spread of the coronavirus will not impact their travels.
Crystal said: “If we were in a big city, we’d be more worried but we are in the middle of nowhere.
“I feel like we are in the safest position.
“We spent the last few days hiding out in the jungle and only seeing four other people so we’re not too freaked out.
“We’ve seen more sheep than people in the last few days.
“It’s not going to stop us.”
The millennials renovated the van themselves despite not having any plumbing or electrical experience and relied on YouTube videos to show them how to finish the job.
The mobile home includes a kitchen with running water, a pantry and solar panels on the roof – but no toilet.
The couple, from Barrie in Ontario, Canada, both quit their jobs as waitresses and have spent the last year traveling through North America in their mobile home.
They are now in San Cristobal, Mexico, and plan to continue exploring Central America and South America with their hounds Bella, seven, and Izzy, five.
Jazmyn said: “We didn’t want the van to just be a travel mobile, we wanted it to be our own home mobile.”
Crystal added: “The cost of living definitely deterred us from getting an apartment.
“Rent for a one bedroom apartment in the Toronto area starts at $880 [1200 CAD] and then you are paying bills on top of that.
“How can you do the things you want to do when all your money is going into the roof above your head?
“We wanted to make life our job, rather than make our job our life.”
The pair took five months finding the perfect van and a further eight months to turn it into their home.
“We found a 2006 Mercedes Sprinter with no rust,” said Crystal.
“It took us eight months to outfit the van and it was a lot of trial and error.
“We had no prior plumbing, electrical work or carpentry skills.
“YouTube was our biggest educator.
“We were working full time while we were building.
“The van cost $10,200 [14,000 CAD] and the build cost $8,200 [11,000 CAD].”
The greatest challenge was equipping the van to be a “four season vehicle” so that it could survive the bitter Canadian winter.
“We needed a four season van with a heater as it is freezing about eight months of the year in Canada,” said Crystal.
The tiny home includes a kitchen, a reading nook and a pantry – but no toilet.
“At the front of the van we have a bench that pulls out into a small bed and we call it our reading nook,” said Jazmyn.
“We put our kitchen at the right side of the van.
“It has 127 liters of running water.
“We have a cooktop, a sink and a fridge which can hold 72 beer cans.
“We also have a floor-to-ceiling pantry and that’s where we store all our dried goods, pots and pans, dog food and coffee.
“In the back half of the van we have a bed that we can fold away.
“Our electricity comes from two AGM batteries that are fueled by our solar panels on our roof.
“We don’t have a bathroom.
“We didn’t really want to clean a toilet in such a small place.
“There are so many amenities out there and everyone is kind enough to let us use the bathroom.
“We let the dogs out all the time so when they go to the bathroom, we go to the bathroom.
“We use a shovel and we leave no trace.
“But we do have an outdoors shower.”
The van was finished in January 2019 and in February the couple set off on their travels.
They journeyed to the west coast of Canada before entering the United States.
“We went to Washington, Oregon, Utah, California and Arizona,” said Crystal.
“We then came into Mexico, taking the ferry from Baja, a state in Northern Mexico, to mainland Mexico.
“We are almost at the border of Guatemala now.
“We are going to do all of Central America and we will ship the van from Panama to Colombia.
“From Colombia, we will go to Ecuador, Peru, Chile and maybe Brazil.”
In the last year, the couple have only paid for camping once.
“We sleep for free every night,” said Jazmyn.
“We feel a sense of security in the van.”
“The dogs help us out,” added Crystal.
“They are the perfect alarm system when we are sleeping.
“They let us know if anyone is outside the van.”
The couple said that the desire to take their beloved Australian shepherds with them on their travels motivated them to convert the van.
Jazmyn said: “We really enjoyed traveling together but we always had to leave the dogs behind.
“We decided that if we built up the van, we could travel with the dogs and then they could be our adventure buddies.
“They are the sweetest, most intelligent dogs.
“They are honestly our babies.
“They keep us going – and calm and happy.”
As an LGBTQ couple traveling alone together, Jazmyn and Crystal said they have to take extra precautions.
The couple, who call themselves ‘Van Wives’ on social media, even considered changing their license plate which showed the moniker.
“Our license plate says ‘Van Wives’ and we were thinking about changing it.
“But we are just going to be who we are and we get so much more positivity than negativity from that license plate.
“When we were at the American border, the border security officer said: ‘It’s a shame that you two are gay.’
“But we have moved on from it.
“As an LGBTQ couple, we have to do our research.
“We haven’t had any issue at all in Mexico.
“They have a lot of Pride flags all over the streets.”
The adventurous pair have experienced many breakdowns on their travels but they have learnt to fix most mechanical problems themselves.
“Our vehicle is 13-years-old now, so there are issues that come up,” Jazmyn said.
“It just needs some TLC every now and again.
“You need to get new tires, do your breaks, check the ball joints.
“It has never been anything that is very detrimental to our travels.”
Crystal said: “We have learnt so much – we can figure it out by ourselves.
“We’ve done an oil change and we’ve changed the filters.
“We have learnt from all those breakdowns.”
The couple added that traveling in a van allows them to feel a part of the countries they visit.
“It’s just about getting to call those beautiful places home,” said Jazmyn.
“We open the back doors and feel totally present.
“We enjoy that we have each other, food on the table and a beautiful view.”
The pair share their travel adventures on their Instagram account and YouTube channel under the handle @vanwives.