Lisa & Coleman of Lietco - Vanlife and Travel
Up next in our interview series we have Lisa and Coleman of Lietco. They’ve spent time living the #vanlife and just recently made the move to backpacking through Southeast Asia. Join us as we explore the pros and cons of living life on the road and how they’ve enabled themselves to work remotely while traveling! You can find out more about them on their website or follow their journey on Instagram.
Tell us about yourselves. Where are you from, how did you meet, and how did you decide to start traveling full time?
We’re Lisa and Coleman, aka Li et Co—we spent a lot of time on the name, and we know it’s pretty confusing, but hey, it’s a six-letter domain and we own it.
We’ve been travelling the world, first in a van and now with backpacks, and working online together for going on four years now. We’re writers by trade, but manage a variety of tasks and responsibilities as co-founders of our boutique content company, Li et Co Media.
Coleman grew up in the interior of British Columbia. He was basically a cowboy until adulthood. True story. After a few years of travel and post-secondary, he went to journalism school and then moved to Ontario where he got a big-boy job working at a men’s magazine. That’s where he and Lisa met.
Lisa is an Ontario girl, born and raised in a Toronto-adjacent city. She went to university for something called “new media,” which, truth be told, isn’t that “new” anymore. But it did set her down the path to becoming a content creator.
After working together at the magazine publishing house in Toronto for a couple years, we fell in love and, much to the chagrin of our boss, quit to pursue our own thing. The original idea was to get a beach house somewhere hot and with good wifi, but then we discovered the whole ‘van life’ thing happening online and thought, “hey, this could work for us.”
How long were you doing van life and where did you travel to?
We lived in the van for the better part of two years. We’d spend nights in hotels and hostels and at friends’ places or in Airbnb’s often, and sometimes for weeks at a time, but we’d always eventually load up the van and cruise to the next destination.
Our route took us from Toronto, across Canada, down the West Coast to California and Arizona where we spent our first winter. Then, after some health issues beckoned us back up to the free healthcare haven that is Canada, we drove in a straight line across the states from Phoenix, AZ, back up to Toronto. After a summer in the 6ix we packed up again, this time with our cat, and drove across Canada once more, landing in BC and spending the next few months apartment hunting in Vancouver.
Today our apartment is subletted and our van is parked at Coleman’s family ranch in BC while we backpack around SE Asia.
What was the best thing about van life?
Waking up in the wilderness but being in the comfort of your own “home” is a pretty special sensation. Those mornings when there’s nobody around and you get to just slide open your door and make breakfast in the mountains, or in the desert or beside a river, were some of the most memorable moments.
What was the hardest part about van life?
Bathrooms. Because there isn’t one in the van. Haha. That was a real challenge at first, but we got accustomed to it (i.e. trained our bladders or finding 24-hour Walmart/McDonald’s to use before bed and in the morning) eventually.
Honestly, there’s a certain stress that comes along with the nomadic lifestyle, especially when it’s not clear where you’ll be resting your head. Not knowing where you’re going to park at night, or if somebody was going to come up and knock on your window and tell you to move along, can cause some pretty subtle but deep-seated anxiety. It took us a while to recognize what was making us uneasy, but once we did we were able to adjust our process to include more planning, which helped.
What was your favorite/most memorable camping place?
There’s a place called Meat Cove on the Northern tip of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, just off the Cabot Trail, where you basically park on the side of a cliff overlooking a tiny little bay. It’s one of the most scenic campsites in all of Canada, if not the world. We were there during a rainstorm and popped open the back of the van and worked on our laptops while we watched it come down on the Atlantic Ocean. That memory is crystal clear still and we pray it never fades.
Did you ever feel unsafe while traveling in the van?
A few times, but mostly because the old VW is so unreliable.
In all seriousness, not that much. Lisa did realize she was a little afraid of the dark when we first set out on our journey, but that becomes the norm (and indeed relaxing) after some time.
A bear did wake us up by pawing at the sides and snuffling at the windows one night in Northern Ontario, but we’d all but asked for it by leaving an unwashed tuna can in the sink. Rookies. That was frightening before we realized what was breathing heavily outside—there was a moment we thought it was a human out there in the middle of nowhere, scratching at the sides of our van, which would’ve been extra creepy—but once we realized it was a black bear, we made some noise and scared it off and went back to bed.
What type of van do you have and how did you choose it?
A 1983 Volkswagen Westfalia, chosen because it’s a product of the 80s like us! Also, it’s a campervan, so it had basically everything we needed already. And they hold their value well. Mostly because it looks like the Ninja Turtle’s van, though.
Did you renovate the van yourselves? What were the costs of renovating/purchasing the van?
The Westfalia is already set up with two beds, a kitchenette with two propane burners, a fridge and a water tank, and lots of other practical stuff, so we didn’t need to do that much tweaking. Most of the changes we made were aesthetic.
To that end, Lisa did a great job of making it feel more homey and modern by painting the interior cabinetry white, and whipping up some custom curtains and seat covers (her mom did most of the latter two, bless her). Then we brought our personal belongings inside, put up some artwork on the walls, magnets and such, and kablamo!, instant home.
Describe your van setup. What are your favorite features? Anything you wish you had changed?
Two seats in the front (both swivel to face other directions) and a bench in the back, which folds down into a bed. There’s also a pop top, which opens up another bed and some canvas windows (we used the bed space for storage when we popped the top).
The “bedroom” is at the back and connected to the “dance floor,” which also contains the “kitchen.” And then there’s the part we drive in. We also threw a big Thule storage box on the roof for extra stuff, plus our bikes on a rack on the back.
The pop top is a cool feature. Kids love it. Coleman’s nephews will just hang out up there like it’s a fort. OK, we won’t lie. We do it too...
Was the cost of living in a van more or less than you expected?
More. It’s always more. Any kind of travel is always more than you think it’s gonna be. Right? In all, however, it ended up being about the same (maybe a little less) than our Toronto-based life.
How do you finance your travels? How did you transition to being able to work remotely?
#DigitalNomadism, baby! We work on the road. Being writers, the market really opened up for us in a digital way about ten years ago. Our jobs positioned us in such a way that we were able to take advantage of our skills, experience and contacts to launch our own media company – which you can learn all about here on our only slightly antiquated business site – the day we quit our day jobs.
It took some planning, though. We drew a big bubble chart with all our dreams and ideas, then translated that into a workback plan with events like “buy van” and “quit job” next to specific dates. That was super helpful and kept us on task.
How do you maintain a work/life balance while on the road?
It’s been interesting finding that balance. At first we felt kind of guilty for not working during the traditional hours, and then we felt kind of guilty for working too much and not taking enough time to be in the moment while travelling. Like, we’d be sitting next to a coastline with a gorgeous sunset but have our heads down in our laptops the whole time.
But then we found our rhythm.
We generally work for a few hours in the mornings after we’ve exercised a bit. Then we’ll break for lunch/play and do another shift in the afternoon. Working digitally also means we’re always doing little jobs here and there on our phones and whatnot—answering emails, launching social posts, etc.—but our best work happens in the mornings.
Why did you decide to switch from van life to traveling in SE Asia, and what do you have planned for the future? Would you ever go back to van life?
The thing is, it’s COLD in Canada. Not always, but most of the time. So when you’re living in a van, it’s not exactly the place to be. That plus the fact that Lisa had never been over to this part of the world prompted us to park our van on Coleman’s family’s ranch and buy tickets to this gorgeous and blissfully warm place. The plan is so work and live here until… well… TBD. No return flights booked…
The van will be there when we get back – hopefully not too overridden by rodents—and we 100% plan to get back into it. One day we may even have a kid or two to bring along with us.
Any tips for people thinking about doing van life?
Do it! Don’t dive head first into it because you will get a giant laceration on your forehead and probably a concussion from all the rocks that are hiding just below the surface, but definitely do it.
The trick is to plan. Plan emotionally. Plan financially. Plan strategically. Write your plan down. Make it public or share it with a friend so you’re accountable to it. Put dates and dollar amounts beside action points. Make you plan colourful and fun so you want to spend time with it. Blend your plan and your dream together until they become one, and then step into your new reality.
Also, embrace the community. Many people have done it before and are more than willing to share. And on that note, if anyone reading this has any other questions about #vanlife, #digitalnomads or #anythingelse, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re open books.
Thanks for joining us! Be sure to check out the last interview with Aaron and Viv of The Dharma Trails and subscribe below for more!