If you’re on Instagram, you’ve probably seen breathtakingly beautiful photographs of a sunset, mountain, or other natural landscapes framed by the doors of an expensive, converted cargo van. Perhaps now that you’re working remotely, you’ve considered skipping out on rent for a few months and hitting the road yourself in a converted van or small RV with the savings instead of just living vicariously through your favorite social media personalities.
#vanlife is having a moment right now — why are we all so obsessed with it?
As an aspiring van-dweller myself, I have a few ideas on what’s influencing the latest influencer trend.
- In Case You Haven’t Noticed, Real Jobs Kinda Suck
I’m a Millennial who’s tried their hands at a few different industries: construction, restaurant, and office work. All of them have their own pros, but they all share a few of the same cons: uniforms, schedules, and responsibilities. Does anybody actually enjoy having to wake up at a set time every day, hope you have enough Febreze left in the can to make the armpits of your uniform polo acceptable to wear in public another day, and be The One everyone expects to put out the inevitable dumpster fires when Murphy’s Law rears it’s ugly head? Sure as the Sun will rise tomorrow, I certainly don’t. That’s why I’m trying this whole Internet-Word-Vomit-for-Cash thing here on Medium. That’s why other people are making YouTube videos retelling famous murder mysteries while doing their makeup, or opening Etsy stores slanging their crafts, or taking heavily-filtered, aesthetically-pleasing product placement photographs and posting them all over their Instagram feeds (something I bet becomes very profitable once you’re a van-lifer with a decent following … *cough cough* Bespoke Post *cough cough* sponsor me). Millennials have realized that “Real Jobs” aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and want something better. So we just … went and made better opportunities for ourselves, and now all the Boomers are mad because nobody wants to work at their vacant dive bars anymore.
2. Nostalgia For Summer Vacation
I was raised by Silent Generation grandparents, so I played outside and grew up without cable tv. During the summer, I slept under the stars on clear nights and usually ran around barefoot. A normal adult with a real job can’t doze in a well-slung hammock on a weeknight, since they might miss their work alarm, and probably live in an urban area where walking around without shoes is definitely an ill-advised health risk. #vanlife reminds me of a beautiful, never-ending summer vacation. Now that we’re adults and don’t get to experience three blissful, bullshit-free months during the best time of the year, we long for those experiences again. The youngest Millennials turn 25 this year — long enough to be burnt out and disillusioned by the Capitalist meat grinder. We all could use a consequence-free three months to reset our brains and bodies.
3. Anarcho-Primitivism is The Counterculture Response To Techno-Dystopia
This item is enough of a Hot Take to warrant it’s very own column, but it’s worth mentioning here. We live in a society where I can find out almost anything I want to know about you via the internet, money is obscure lines of binary, and there’s an app where you can compete against your friends to see who can poop in the most public bathrooms . One of the reasons I Zucced Facebook Messenger off my phone was I got just plain sick and tired of being available at all hours to anyone who wanted to reach me about some trivial bullshit. No, you may not message me about designing flyers for your upcoming show at 11:30pm at night and expect me to hop out of bed and hop right on to taking care of your needs. One hundred years ago, people in parts of our country still chopped wood for heat, cooked their own meals from scratch, sat around fires actually talking to each other, and respected business hours gosh dang it. We were much closer to nature, to God, and to each other than we are today. Those Instagram pictures of people doing things the old-fashioned way out in the woods scream to the wild spirit deep inside every single one of us that we’ve had to tamp down for the sake of modern, orderly society. We want something rough, gritty and real as a response to the shiny, bleak modern minimalism we’re currently immersed in. The irony here is that we’re wanderlusting for that rustic realism through heavily-filtered photos on an LCD screen.
4. It’s a Realistic Means To (Kinda) Home Ownership
As an almost 30-something, I should be buying a house soon and checking that off my ‘Adulting To-Do List.’ Like most younger Millennials, I don’t have the credit score, income, or downpayment to qualify for a mortgage amid skyrocketing home prices. Also, student loans *insert horror movie murder music here*. Unless I sell a lot of books or my meme stonks moon, it’s unlikely I’ll ever hit that milestone just by working hard and saving money the way we’re supposed to. Many of my generation are in the same boat — stuck on a never-ending hamster wheel of either paying rent on crowded, dirty apartments or suffocating after moving back into our childhood bedrooms. A $10,000 house on wheels seems more attainable to us than a $120,000 post-war bungalow. Sure, #vanlife might not be the most comfortable living situation in the world (some rigs don’t even have showers or toilets), but it’s a home of our own when many of us had given up on the idea of homeownership. For some of us, having to piss in a Slurpee cup once in a while is worth never being harassed by a landlord or (probably) your mom for smelling like pot ever again. #vanlife represents the freedom and agency we were supposed to have as adults, but due to a amalgam of factors never quite achieved.
I have a few grand more to save before I can buy a rig that won’t break down halfway to Yellowstone, and I still need to figure out this Residual Online Income Streams Thing. Soon, I will join the ranks of the Van Dwellers. For now, I will continue to voraciously consume their content and attempt to answer my most pressing question about this lifestyle: Where do these people shit if they don’t have toilets in their van?
Good thing there’s an app for that!