Montreal native Julien Roussin Côté has been a what’s known as a “van-lifer” for five years, working full-time out of a van while travelling the continent. He creates content for clients and manages an online community, Go-Van.com, alongside his fiancée, photographer Carolina Krupa.
What does your life look like right now?
We’re filming season two of our TV show, La belle vie avec Go-Van, which airs on TV5 Unis. Every episode, I visit someone living an alternative, eco-lifestyle, like a tiny home or a yurt or an underground home.
For someone that travels for a living, COVID-19 must have been a bit of a shock.
We were in a really good position before COVID-19. We were leading up to summer, which is our busy season. A lot of tourism boards and outdoor brands had booked us for some really cool projects. So our calendar was pretty much full by March. And then COVID happens, and we go back to square one. All of our projects were either cancelled or put on hold.
What did you do with all that downtime?
It was stressful, for sure. I can’t complain because it was hard for every entrepreneur out there. And compared to other companies, it was easy for us to lower expenses because we have no rent. We live in our office. We kept our heads down and focused on some projects that we had put on the backburner, like filming videos for our YouTube channel and working on our online store.
Then the country started to reopen, and everyone wanted to rent a van.
When local tourism opened up, it was a whole different world. It was crazy. Our calendar, that went from full to empty because of the pandemic, went from empty to extra-full in two weeks because of all of the regional tourism boards that called us. We’re now ambassadors for the #BonjourQuébec brand in partnership with the Alliance de l’industrie touristique du Québec. Then we found out that our TV show got renewed. The network wanted to wait until the last episode of season one aired, which was at the end of May, before making their decision.
How did you end up entering vanlife in the first place?
I started an online magazine about nightlife, skateboarding and snowboarding in my 20s, called 33mag.com. Ten years later, I sold it to a big marketing agency and worked for their branded-content division. I made some money and bought a condo, which is what society had told me would be a nice goal in life. But I ended up renting it out on weekends and weeks off to go on road trips. Eventually, I bought a rusty old Chevy van for $4,000 to make travelling easier. I’d come back to my 700 square-foot condo and felt like it was too big for me. I was kind of missing the van. Then the marketing agency shut down our division and I got laid off. I felt like I needed a reboot, so that’s when I decided to try van life full-time.
How do you make a living?
From my experience running the nightlife magazine, I thought about starting an online community for van-lifers. I wanted it to be a place where people could share photos, videos and stories. I wanted to make some content as an example of what people should contribute, so me and a friend took a video of us driving from Montreal down to Baja California, Mexico, to go surfing. We were using drones and all the new video technology that’s popular now, but it was pretty uncommon back in 2015. It was a pretty epic video. It went viral, and we ended up getting hired to film content for big companies. We’ve worked with brands like Acura, Mercedes-Benz, 76 – which is a chain of gas stations in the U.S. – tourism boards like Visit Florida and Visit New Hampshire and outdoor-gear companies.
Is it hard to focus on work when you’re constantly on the road, in new places that you want to explore?
The concept of work has really changed for me. I’ve figured out how to balance work with play. For example, I love surfing, and when the conditions are perfect, you close your laptop and take advantage of it and work later. For most people, they need to work in the day, which is when the sun is out. But this lifestyle allows me to take advantage of the sun and the environment where I am. Why not work later at night and spend more time in the day to do something fun? I tend to be a more efficient worker at night anyway. Obviously, there are phone calls and client meetings that you have to make time for. And if they’re on the East Coast and we’re on the West Coast, we might have to wake up really early. But then the nice thing is that we can be done work at 1 or 2 p.m. and have the rest of the day to ourselves.
Remote working is more common now, making van life more enticing. But what should people consider before they dive in?
With van life, you need to be flexible because the best plan is no plan, as we say. You need to be prepared for anything to happen. And you need to be patient. The No. 1 thing is the ability to adjust. van life brings you to make decisions at every moment. Where do I sleep? Where do I empty my greywater? Where do I fill up my freshwater? For me, those things are good things because it takes me to new places. But some people might find that kind of lifestyle overwhelming.
Do you think your career as a van-lifer is something you can do for, well, life?
There are a lot of people out there producing content nowadays. It got me thinking that we shouldn’t just be relying on that. It’s not good to just rely on one platform. So now we do things like run van life events and meetups, which we’ll hopefully be able to continue after the pandemic. And that’s why we started our online shop. Building our YouTube channel is another revenue stream too.
Is van life just for content creators?
This past winter, I’ve met a couple of nurses that were on the road. They work for a private agency and have gigs for three months. They move from one town to another. In the wintertime, they go down south. Of course, photographers, directors, writers – that type of work is more fit for being on the road. But there’s a lot of work that can be adapted to van life. Who knows, you could be the next van-lifer!
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.