If you’ve followed any of our journey already, you’ll know a little of our stumble into the Vanlife community. But for many of you, you might be wondering what “Vanlife” actually is, and to be honest we were exactly like you a mere 3 years ago. We’d never heard of the term, we knew people who had caravans and motorhomes, had even stayed in them ourselves and we’d lusted over VW campervans when going to events in our Beetle… but we just thought they were things for holidays on campsites. Arrive, set up your camp for the week, use the site facilities, explore the local area – a very typical UK summer holiday.
But when it came to spending a week in Scotland and wanting to explore as much as we could…a bed on wheels came out as the perfect solution. You can read more about our journey from empty van, to camper van in our upcoming blog series, but for now, let’s get into exactly what “Vanlife” is, and why you see that term and hashtag floating around so much.
When we started researching campervans and self converted campervans, we expected to find a range of people with family motor homes, some small VW-type campervans, and maybe a handful of people living “alternative” lifestyles on the road. But instead what we discovered was the amazingly supportive and friendly community of people who called themselves vanlifers. Dotted across the world, some in tiny micro campers or cars, some in huge RVs or converted lorries, some living in their vans full time, some weekend warriors, some working full-time office jobs, some making money on the road.
Put simply, Vanlife is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s the idea of your life being focussed around and based from your van, whether full-time or part-time. It focuses around the idea of a nomadic simple lifestyle, giving the ability to travel with ease and tap into that sense of freedom. Vanlife is an aesthetic, a mentality, and even potentially a ‘Movement’. A rise in 20 and 30 somethings who ditch the traditional bricks and mortar home, office commute, and societal expectations (even if only for the weekend!), and instead take to the road with surfboards, dogs, and social media accounts full of aspirational images.
But with that also comes the desire for something simpler, the tinkering and manual labour that comes with getting and keeping your van on the road, the make-do attitude that comes with parking in car parks and using solar showers in freezing cold UK weather.
A quick scroll through the hashtag on Instagram and you’ll see glossy photos of sun glistening from windscreens, bikinis, and perfect views. Many of the larger full-time Vanlife accounts depicting lifestyles funded by sponsorships and brand partnerships. The people behind the account working hard to maintain an image of perfection for their income. Reality for most is a little different, dig deeper into Instagram and you’ll find people working into the night cutting wood to build cabinets, dealing with leaks in ceilings, engine failures, and parking in supermarket car parks.
But behind all those posts (glossy or otherwise) you’ll find the people, some of whom Vanlife is a dream, some of whom had no choice but to live in a vehicle. The generation that went to college and university with big dreams, and came out to face a declining job market and rising house prices, found a solution whether by choice or by circumstance to the world they’d ended up in.
Whatever their background, whatever their current lifestyle – there is a sense of community and camaraderie that you cannot overlook. Everything we did in our van during our first build was learnt from fellow self converted van owners, we scoured posts for advice on plumbing, asked questions on wiring set ups – and each time we were met with advice, links and support that proved to be invaluable.
For us Vanlife is a part-time adventure, #weekendwarriors if you like, we both still work standard 9-5 jobs, albeit predominantly remotely, we still own our own home and didn’t sell up to hit the road, and for most of the year, we are doing exactly what society deems as normal. But we see the van as our second home, we’ve worked hard to kit it out with what we need, the bare essentials plus some luxuries. As a couple who rarely holidayed, we now have the perfect combination of holiday and home. For us, Vanlife is not a lifestyle, but an escape, a chance to switch off from the daily stresses and have an adventure. Some of it is far from “Instagram worthy”, but some of it is picture perfect. As troublesome as some of the perceived perfection is on those glossy accounts, if you get the chance to open the van doors overlooking a stunning landscape or view – you can be forgiven for dreaming of endless days on the road too.