- ELLEN RIOPELLE
- In 2016, there were 14,870 Nova Scotians were living in movable dwellings—from mobile homes, to houseboats and recreational vehicles.
From the outside it's nothing more than a large white cargo van, but inside, 71-year-old Gail McGinnis has done her best to make it feel like home.
In 2018, McGinnis sold her house and most of her belongings to try out living in her van.
"I could have rented an apartment, but I didn't want to because I wanted to travel," says McGinnis. "So, I bought my van, tossed my two cats in and away we went."
It's been over a year since McGinnis made the move into her car and she says nothing about it is very glamorous.
Inside the van, the walls are lined with reflective silver insulation held on with blue duck tape. A bed takes up half the floor space and there is an array of baskets and shelves overflowing with clothes, trail mix and empty Tim Hortons cups. (No Insta-ingredients in sight—no ring light, glamorous hiking pants or macrame, not even all the coffee-table books about minimalism that will fit.)
"It's not all snazzy like the ones you see online, but it's quite serviceable," says McGinnis.
In the past few years there has been a growing number of people trying out life on the road, with over 6.5 million social-media posts for the #vanlife hashtag on Instagram.
But, McGinnis' decision to live in her van had nothing to do with being trendy—it was primarily a financial decision. Living in her van is much more affordable than paying the increasingly high rent prices in her hometown of Hamilton, Ontario which saw a 5.8 percent increase in average rent prices in 2019, up to $1,133.
This has been a trend throughout the country as rent prices continue to rise. (Rent prices in Halifax were up by 3.8 percent in 2019 to an average of $1,113 a month).
During the summer months McGinnis spends a lot of time parked at campgrounds, but during the winter things get a little more challenging.
She hasn't found any places to park her van legally in Nova Scotia during the winter, so she usually parks on back streets or in different parking lots.
"The secret is not to be there more than one or two nights at the most," says McGinnis. "You need to be really incognito when you do this."
Finding a place to park isn't the only challenging thing about living in a van. McGinnis says it can also get lonely on the road.
"Just knowing what to do with yourself each day, you know, that's hard too," she says. "Some days I just want to stay put because I'm tired, but you pretty much do have to keep moving."
When she told her friends of her plans in October 2018, they were worried—"They thought I was totally crazy"—not just because it was getting cold, but because she'd been ill.
McGinnis lives with arthritis and had both her knees and hips replaced. After her surgeries she was bedridden for several years. When her pain from the surgery went into remission, she decided it was time to do the travelling she always wanted to.
A few of her friends died in the past few years, and she realized if she wanted to travel it was now or never.
"I just felt like this is my last chance. It's either get up and go or lay here and wait to die," says McGinnis.
She's loving Nova Scotia and could see herself settling here one day. But for now, she wants to keep travelling while she has her health.
Next stop: BC and Alaska.