I remember the first time that I saw van life extraordinaire Jinti Fell and her family of three (with a newborn on the way) exploring the Australian coast. I instantly fell in love with her lifestyle: morning yoga, journal entries, recording and documenting her daily experiences on Instagram, going for walks, exploring the world and doing it all with her kids by her side. Even though older generations might scoff at this off-the-beaten-path lifestyle with how uncertain it can be, millennials and Generation Z are eating it up.
With a 312% growth in #vanlife Instagram posts over the last three years, it’s clear that we’re ready for something unique, something different. We’re challenging the linear notion of a desk job that we cling to for 40 years just for health care benefits and the possibility of a pension. Young people are questioning the normative progression from smaller house to bigger house to (maybe) a mansion. With van life as an option, we’re seeking out a life laden with adventure. We quite literally want to go chasing waterfalls (sorry TLC) and with van life, we can chase waterfalls to our hearts’ content.
The History of Van Life
Van life is by no means a new phenomenon. The idea of a camper van first came about in 1855. Dr. William Stables, a Scottish medic filled with an abundance of wanderlust, commissioned the very first touring caravan, named “The Wanderer.” In 1919, after a multitude of crazy proposals, the very first caravan, named The Eccles Motorized Caravan, was produced and became a huge success — in fact, they couldn’t keep up with the demand when it was first created. This caravan was revolutionary because it allowed people from all over England to get around cheaply while experiencing a different way of life. These caravans also promoted quality time with loved ones and a euphoric sense of peace and quiet.
With the invention of the trendy Volkswagen buses in the 1960s and ’70s, camper vans became cooler, more retro and more coveted by hippie-loving campers everywhere. This love for van life has grown throughout history, rooted in its allowance for contemplation, time spent with loved ones and nature. It’s no surprise, then, that when we flash forward to today, we see a movement. #VanLife is trending with over 8 million Instagram posts sporting this hashtag. The posts under #VanLife show photos of decked out, converted vans, hidden-gem locations and friends and family enjoying each other’s company.
Van Life and How To Live It
So why have so many individuals from all over the world subscribed to the van life lifestyle?
The 2008 financial crisis coupled with the launching of Instagram in 2010 undeniably transformed what people wanted from life and gave them a platform to express themselves with. It moved van life from a subculture to a mainstream movement. While millennials questioned the meaning of “home” in the midst of a recession, social media rode in like a prophet, looking for some religious followers — and boy, did it find some.
With myriad money-making opportunities like sponsorships that trade social media mentions for products, discounts and cash, you can still be fiscally responsible while chasing your dreams. In light of COVID-19, the whole idea of the digital nomad is even more of a possibility than ever before, as working from anywhere with the internet has become more and more common. Whether you’re a salesman, lawyer, poet or musician, now is the time to invest in van life and follow through with it. The digital workplace is our new reality and it’s hard to imagine this massive change going away. Why do you need an office with four enclosed walls when your office can be a home on wheels — no walls, but rather the world?
Van life is also a money saver. Besides the initial investment (around $60,000 for a quality van), the monthly bill averages at only $850 give or take. On top of this, van life prioritizes an anti-consumerist culture that focuses more on the simple and gratis things in life (family, nature). This culture in itself promotes money-saving tendencies that last a lifetime. If money is what you’re worried about, the facts are ever in your favor: van life can be a money maker and a money saver.
Making It Work for You
There are cons to van life. It would be biased of me not to mention them, but there are solutions. One of the largest drawbacks of van life is finding a place to park each night. When you’ve been on the road all day and the only thing you want to do is sleep, you don’t want to think about the logistics of where to do so. Luckily, this conundrum has a clear answer that comes in the form of an app: iOverlander. With this volunteer-run app and website, campers everywhere share their favorite (free) camping spots. Without a doubt, choosing where to park might still be tricky; many van lifers find sleeping spots on a whim, but for you planners out there, there is a multitude of resources one click away. The internet is full of resources — take advantage of them!
So, let’s talk logistics. What kind of van life best aligns with your lifestyle? If you want to completely revamp your van, The Vanual has a step-by-step guide to success. This in-depth guide includes the minute details and logistics, including preparation, insulation, flooring, ceiling, walls, bed and kitchen, electrical and solar and finishing touches. Although this might seem like a huge undertaking, it’s an opportunity for some creative release. You by no means need to be a carpenter to revamp a van — you just need a little grit and a strong will.
If the full commitment of buying and revamping a camper van fills you with dread and anxiety, don’t worry: You have options. You can buy an already-restored van or rent one out for a period of time that suits your schedule. Van life isn’t just for those willing to sell everything and completely reinvent themselves. It’s for anyone who wants to experience the lifestyle at some point before they die.
Some great U.S. camper van rental companies include Escape Campervans (hand-painted), Peacevans (Volkswagens, baby), Travellers Autobarn (Southwest here we come) and VanCraft (for larger groups), to name a few. A few companies that sell and revamp vans for you include Van X, Tourig, Sportsmobile, Van Specialties and Sync Vans. With how expansive the van life industry has become, you have many options to consider. It can be molded into whatever version most fits your desires and lifestyle. Van life is yours to bend, twist and shape, until it fits your own personal vision.
Van life certainly isn’t new, but it sure is expanding — and rapidly, at that. If you’ve ever wanted to see the intricacies of this world that we call home, to hike every day of your life, chase waterfalls and explore the wonders of our country, van life is calling out to you to give it a shot. It is a break from the norm and the inundating pressures of consumerism. Van life is a chance to reconnect with nature and the people around you, but perhaps most importantly, van life is a chance to reconnect with yourself.