Climbing high and living free


(First published in Issue 3, August 2021) Three years ago, after completing my Bachelor's Degree in Performance Arts, I moved across the globe, from Sydney, Australia, to Vancouver, Canada, to pursue acting. However, after working a couple of acting jobs in Vancouver, I realized it was not the course I truly wanted my life to take—maybe it wasn’t for me after all.

Back in Australia, I had been working in the climbing industry and absolutely loved it! I never expected it to be a career path for me, but as the saying goes—"never say never." While living in Vancouver and deciding what my next step would be, I was working full time at a bouldering gym and driving up the Sea to Sky highway to climb in Squamish. Squamish is a mecca for rock climbing, known worldwide, and I was lucky to be living only an hour's drive away.

Georgia Broderick sits cross-legged and smiling inside her van, showcasing the efficient use of space with visible storage solutions. The van's cozy interior includes a colorful knitted blanket and an assortment of personal items, capturing a moment of joy in the compact living area of her home on wheels, ideal for those interested in van life and travel.
Georgia in her van - @georgiabroderick 08/2021

After falling in love with the diverse and endless array of climbing options, I began spending all of my free time there. When the weather wasn’t ideal, I would be in the gym training, waiting for the next good weather window when I could go outside and try my projects. When I wasn’t climbing or training, I was working route-setting jobs at a couple of different gyms. My life became consumed with this climbing lifestyle; everything else just seemed so much less important. Climbing introduced me to my partner, Alejandro, and soon enough we decided to move into his van together and start a life in Squamish. As a first-time van-lifer, Squamish was a great place to start because of the massive van life culture. In the summertime, the population almost doubles with people coming from all over, bringing their homes with them on four wheels.

Most people are drawn to Squamish to climb, dirt bike, hike, or mountain bike and, due to the cost of these activities and the high rental prices in town, many people want to live rent-free. Specifically, Alejandro and I wanted the freedom to travel throughout Canada and the United States, hopping from climbing destination to climbing destination.

As a climber, living in a van just makes sense; it cuts down the cost of living, makes climbing destinations more accessible, and you get to bring your house with you wherever you go, which means you have all of your gear with you, ready for an adventure!

When I landed in Squamish, I got a job at Ground Up—the local climbing gym—and kept my performance arts side alive by teaching singing and piano at the local academy of music. Alejandro was also working at Ground Up Climbing Gym as a coach and route setter. It took me a while to notice that a lot of van-lifers on Instagram are living nomadic lifestyles where they move around a lot and work remotely, but the reality is that there are a lot of us who live in one place for most of the year and don’t have to work remotely. This, as well as roughing it or the "dirtbag" lifestyle, isn’t portrayed as much in the media despite it being such a large portion of people living in their vans. Not everyone has the luxury of spending a lot of money on a fancy van that they don’t live in for even half of the year. Having a van to travel with and having a van that you spend at least 8 months of the year in are two different things. Over the past couple of years, I have put a lot of work into learning how to live efficiently and as comfortably as possible in my van, while on a budget. And I have enjoyed sharing that part of this lifestyle—the learning curves and the non-glamorous aspects—on my Instagram and TikTok, not just the luxurious van life that a lot of the media portrays.

A person stands next to a white van parked amidst a wildflower-strewn landscape with a mountainous backdrop under a dynamic sky. The van's roof features a vent, illustrating the allure of mobile living and exploration in a serene, natural setting, perfect for outdoor and travel enthusiasts.
Alejandro next to their van - @georgiabroderick 08/2021

Alejandro had bought our van a couple of months before we met and started living in it before it was fully converted. He was slowly converting it while also trying to live in it, and from this experience, neither of us would recommend this order of events. By the time I joined him in the van, the insulation was already done but not much else. We built cheap prototypes to try and decide on a layout we both liked, which was hard when the space was already being taken up by our day-to-day life. Taking our time and really thinking about our layout was great because in the end, we worked out exactly what we wanted without committing to the wrong layout and having to renovate later. However, living full-time in a van that is not completed is definitely an experience I would not recommend for anyone. After about six months of living in prototype hell, our friends asked us to house sit for them, which gave us the perfect time to renovate. Looking back on this experience now, I have no idea how we lived in an incomplete van, but there is no one else I would have rather done it with.

House sitting for our friends was the perfect opportunity to get to work. We ripped the entire van apart, besides the insulation, and started from scratch. We had about a month to complete it, which may have been an issue, but COVID had just hit, and we were in lockdown with not much else to do. Living in our prototype throughout the winter, we learned a lot about what we needed to commit to full-time van life. In Squamish, mold is a big issue because the level of humidity is super high. This meant we needed to find a dry heat solution that could circulate the air through the van to stop the mold from growing. It also meant we didn’t need solar panels because, thanks to our rainy winters, there isn’t enough sunshine to keep them charged.

These two problems were solved with a diesel heater, a Maxx Air fan, and by connecting our batteries to an alternator. After our month of renovating, we moved back into the van, which was not finished but was much more livable than before. We kept up our renovations while living in the van as we still had to complete our backsplash for the kitchen, the tongue-in-groove for our walls and ceiling, and the storage under the bed. Since we didn’t have a place to build after moving from our friend’s house, these tasks were completed in the middle of nowhere. This turned out to be quite an interesting challenge, especially mixing the grout with a giant stick. But I couldn’t be happier with how it all turned out, and I definitely learned a lot from the experience.

A woman, Georgia Broderick, in a casual pose inside her travel van, with the back doors open to a scenic lake and mountain landscape. A unique 'Free Kisses' snowboard is displayed beside her, with a stylish black backpack hanging nearby, blending adventure lifestyle and nature in one compelling image.
Georgia Broderick in her van - - @georgiabroderick 08/2021

We still have a few things we need to finish a year after the renovation because, to be honest, it’s expensive and climbing takes up most of our time and income. Some things we have left to do are buying and installing a fridge and stove, covering the doors, and all of the little finicky bits. But even without these things, I am in love with our little house on wheels, and it just goes to show you don’t need everything to be perfect and glamorous in order to live happily and functionally in a van. It is amazing to be able to live in the van full-time and have the freedom to sleep near any climbing crag we want. Once travel restrictions start to lift, we will definitely be hitting the road to explore all of the amazing climbing North America has to offer.

About Georgia Broderick
Georgia Broderick, an adventurous full-time van-lifer and avid rock climber, has embraced the nomadic lifestyle for over four years, making the roads of Canada her home.
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