Toronto, ON

Does liking the city make me bad at van life?

We bought our Westfalia in Gatineau, Quebec over a year ago, and proceeded to sell everything in exchange for the nomadic van life. When Coleman and I left Toronto, I wondered if we’d ever live there again.

Surprise, past self: we’ve got an apartment TO for the summer! And it kind of feels like we never left at all.

Those stressful moments, like homeless in La Jolla, California, have since morphed into precious memories. Did that really even happen? I think back on the year that was, and it feels more like gauzy daydreams, the ones that make the corners of your lips curl skyward without really realizing it, all stitched together. For 365 days we slept alone under the stars just as often as at small-town Walmart and neon-lit casino parking lots. We drove busy, multi-lane freeways and deserted dirt roads. We learned how to change a fuel pump on our own, using just a Swiss Army knife. I saw saguaro cactus in Arizona and giant sequoia in California for the first time.

But here I am in Toronto, genuinely enjoying the noise, the busyness, and the endless concrete. And yet, I feel oddly guilty about it.

City life means access to delicious street festivals every weekend, like Taste of Little Italy.

Guilty because van people aren’t supposed to like cities–not the ones I follow on Instagram, anyway. They’re all about the nature, mannnn; finding ultimate inner peace at the top of some epic peak in Moab, Utah, or changing their name to suit their new-found self.

Not me. I’m still Lisa.

Currently, I’m writing this from my subleased backyard deck on the edge of Toronto’s Little Italy. The sky is swirling with grey and purplish clouds, and it’s threatening something fierce; rain drops are lightly pattering down on the second-floor deck above me. The neighbours to my left are outside, too, so close I’d might as well be a part of their conversation. It may sound like there’s little privacy, but the anonymity of the city is kind of the ultimate privacy. 

I feel so at home in this first-floor apartment, despite it being the third place I’ve lived in the last 10 weeks–fourth, if you count a few weekends spent in the van. Nothing in this space is mine, really, other than the clothes (all of which I carried inside in two small weekender bags), a duvet, and the blue-and-white woven plastic rug my feet are currently pressed against.

Our adorable little backyard with string lights., and my current view as I write this piece.

The rest of my possessions are in the van, which is parked underground about 25 minutes from our current subleased space. On a few occasions we’ve received notifications on Instagram from visitors who’ve spotted the Li et Co decals on the side of our rig and wanted to let us know how rad our ride is. The branding is working even a few storeys under the earth!

So, yeah, the van has a temporary city home and we have a temporary city home. I like it.

It’s been so easy to slink back into urban life. I’m thankful I kept my suede Isabel Marant boots and some of what my best friend would call “city-girl clothes.” But it’s not just the stuff that makes Toronto livable and lovable. That I can tell you for certain, my wardrobe is 75 per cent of what it once was. It’s that it feels comfortable here. We have friends and business here; my family is here. Plus, Coleman and I fell in love here. There are bars and parks and streets scattered throughout the downtown core that will forever be “Hey, remember the time we ate/drank/laughed/kissed/biked/worked/ran/enjoyed-being-together here.”

Also, summer is just getting under way, and Toronto shines when it’s 25 degrees and warmer. It’s a world class city June through September; we’re back at the very best time. So, I’m not going to let myself feel guilty about being here. And I’m also not going to feel like I’m failing as a van person. Also: I’ma do my very best not to wish away the summer in return for the next adventure, which will happen early September when we start the drive across Canada, British Columbia-bound.

I am exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.