Creating wonder: U of S alumna renovates van to have a house on wheels

By in Culture

Have you ever fantasized about leaving everything behind — school included — and travelling the continent? For one University of Saskatchewan alumna and her husband, this dream has become a reality.

In the fall of 2017, Vanessa Hickey — who graduated with a master’s in environmental management in 2012 — and her husband Adam converted a 2008 Dodge Sprinter van into their new home after selling their house in Thunder Bay. The van is big enough to sport room for a bed, some bench seating, a removable table and a cleverly designed kitchen.

They’ve also designed the van to be off-grid, so they get the energy needed from solar panels installed on the roof. For Vanessa, the compact and sustainable focus has changed her perspective on living.

“You don’t really need as much as you think you need,” Vanessa said. “We get to be really happy and fulfilled with more simple things, and to live a more simple life. We also get to explore a lot more.”

Adam and Vanessa Hickey in their van home.

Vanessa and Adam started their trip in Thunder Bay in October 2017 and travelled to British Columbia. Since then, they have been all across the United States as well, from Washington to California. They plan to return to British Columbia in the spring to do a coast-to-coast trip in August. After seeing much of the North American continent, Vanessa says Sedona, Arizona, was her favourite.

“It has a very dramatic landscape wherever you look. I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Vanessa said.

For the Hickeys, living in a van has given them a newfound emphasis on relationships. They are able to spend more time focused on each other, and the people they have met along the way. Since they are always travelling and are separate from a local community, Adam believes that they have entered into a global community.

“We’ve learned lots of different perspectives — you get to meet a lot of interesting people along the road,” Adam said.

Since they aren’t tied down to focusing on a job or maintaining a house, the Hickeys feel that they have been given the freedom to explore their own path through the world. This lifestyle has also allowed both of them to be more creative and follow their passions.

“I guess our focus has been on having experiences over having things,” Vanessa said.

Although living in a van may be considered an alternative lifestyle to some, Adam believes that their lifestyle is not that different from what others choose to do.

“Some people might say, ‘Why are you doing this — you’re in your prime years,’ and other blanket statements like that, but usually, when people are retired, that’s what they do — they rent an RV or go around and travel,” Adam said.

Ultimately, the Hickeys’ decision to live in their van was just that — a deliberate one. For Adam, their lifestyle is something that many people could have if they put their mind to it.

“We worked towards it,” Adam said. “We didn’t have that much capital or influence — we just decided that that was our goal, and we were going to go after it.”

To learn more about how Vanessa and Adam turned their van into a home, and to follow their journey, be sure to check out their website You can also follow them on Instagram under the handle @createwondr and on their Youtube page, Create Wondr.

Isabelle Cook

Photo: Adam Hickey / Supplied

Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk