There is a movement, both in the U.S. and abroad, of people who live in their vans. This is known as Van Life #VanLife.
Some are adventurers. Some are unable to afford rent or purchase of a home. Some are living their best life. Some considered themselves homeless until they found their van as their home.
Vanlife is slightly removed from RVs in attitude and equipment. Vans are generally more accessible in that it is often less expensive and are always more versatile. RVs are more likely those special weekend “rigs” while vans become the everyday abode.
Perhaps the biggest difference is generators. RVers expect them (if no campground hookups are available). Vanlifers detest them. Outside of the generator issue, vanlifers are generally more accommodating while RVers are more territorial.
While the current iteration and style of mobile living has made a great evolution recently, this is not new. People have been living in their cars or vans for almost as long as there have been vans or cars. With the advent of the “Sprinter” Vans along with other technologies, such as solar power and mobile high-speed Internet, the idea of a mobile #VanLife has gained many adherents. A search on YouTube for “#vanlife” returns 222K videos and 20K channels. In researching the building my van, I’ve watched a not-insignificant percentage of those video (as long as you consider .3% as not insignificant!). There are video on every topic from designing, building and maintaining your van, from the joys and agony of van life, and everything in between, including van toilets.
These advancements and instructional videos catapulted vanlife into an easily-attainable realm of “off grid” where all the essential everyday needs are self-contained in the van. Solar panel and battery supply electrical power, water is held in fresh and “gray water” tanks, and a bed and full kitchen are included.
High speed internet, generally delivered by cell towers or satellites, allows people to work remotely, either at a “regular” employment job or a self-employment business, which might include generating and posting social media content. This, of course, is a form of being connect to a “grid” if you consider Internet to be a utility in the same way that electricity and water are delivered via a “grid.”
There’s also the reality that vanlife generally relies on petroleum products and water acquired “on grid.” The goal for some is to be very loosely connected to the “gird” in a way that they maintain much control.
While many of the more popular YouTube channels are by people who live in their vans full-time, the majority of the viewership consists of part-timers or people who do not have a van (yet?). Until my son graduates from high school, I will definitely be a part-timer (once my van is built!). There is a lot of overlap between RVers and vanlifers, including this part- full-time split, however the communities often have a good bit of separation. Vanlifers generally avoid RV parks and/or campgrounds, preferring remote locations or parking lots where overnight parking is allowed.
As for me, I will probably avoid all but the most remote/primitive campgrounds (like Cooper Creek). I plan to have no obvious signs of being a camper so as to be able to go “stealth” and park just about anywhere. I will also go visit my siblings more, especially as our parents are now passed, since my biggest obstacle is that I generally want to sleep in my own bed – I just want my own space and to not impose on anyone.
The future of VanLife
The pandemic was a very mixed bag for vanlife. YouTubers now report dropping ad revenues form their video after a surge during the pandemic. Travel was more difficult, yet vanlifers had it easier than most other travelers. The price of the preferred “high roof” vans is still high, albeit seemingly dropping as more are retired from business uses. The price of used customized vans is still quite high.
It still seems as though vanlife is a trend that may have hit its high point. It isn’t going away completely. There are some who are moving more comfortable although less versatile RVs. Many tire of the life on the road and find a permanent abode (often assisted by the revenue from selling their van!). While there are some middle-age vanlifers, there is an over-representation of young people just starting out and retirees who don’t want to stay put.
I don’t know what the future holds, however I’d like to see the lifestyle to become more accepted. I’d like to see fewer of the many hundreds (thousands?) of YouTube videos being labeled “Solo female” when there are like 2 labeled “solo male.” I’d like to see more videos of people of color. It seems so white on YouTube.
As for me…
My personal future travel plans will have me off YouTube and out on the road. I will be doing genealogy research trips. I will be going on backpacking trips. I will visit family and friends. And I am taking my son to his second eclipse viewing in April 2024.