Weaving through the stars of endless continents, exploring off-grid forests, rejecting working for a wage. No doubt, living life on the road in a converted van feels pretty appealing.
And it seems a lot of people agree. The hashtag #Vanlife has featured in 1,723,352 Instagram posts at time of writing: the feed filled with sunsets, very good looking people and dreamy outstretched roads. So what is it like for the people who actually do it? We decided to find out.
Brighton natives Lauren, 28, and Craig, 34, have been travelling the world for nine years. They've bought and sold five camper vans along the way, backpacking the rest. For them, vanlife is an affordable way of exploring the globe and lends itself to a simple, economical lifestyle. But, Lauren feels the social media-fication of the lifestyle may jar with its beginnings.
Always happy vibes in Daphne the camper 🤗 • Craig was cooking dinner while I wrote in my journal and gawped at the mountain view outside our windows. . . . #daphnesadventures #vanlife #vanlifers #vanlifediaries #vanlifemovement #vanlifeexplorers #homeonwheels #livefolk #campingvibes #ourcamplife #campeveryday #camptrend #welivetoexplore #explorewithfriends #tinyhousemovement #tinyhousetinyfootprint #rollinghome #travel #bbctravel #gopro #alaska #campervanlifestyle #simplelife
"I feel like social media has made it into this mirage. It's not always hunky dory. It can be very difficult to find somewhere to stay, at points we didn't shower for a long time! It's upsetting that people don't get the reality of the situation, and some are leaving such a mess when they leave sites. They need to be respectful, she says.
One thing Lauren and Craig didn't realise before starting their adventure was the importance of being "careful and discreet" when seeking out places to sleep. Being respectful to the locals and finding the cheapest option for overnight parking is paramount – but finding a location that satisfies both criteria is not an easy task.
Even if they plan to stay in a certain area for a few days, they will move their parking location every night, "so that we're not an eyesore for locals".
"When we drove to the Grand Canyon, we slept in a Christmas tree farm one night and then drove to the other side of the canyon for the other night and slept for free. Some people were staying in the middle of it all and paying $30-40 a night," she remembers.
August 2016 | Idaho ended up being one of our favourite states and we hadn't even planned on going there. We aimlessly browsed our map, trying to pick a scenic route to Yellowstone and I spotted the words 'Sawtooth Mountains'. So it was decided, we set off south and fell in love with the state, it's jagged peaks, hot springs, free camping, wild rivers and of course those Idaho potatoes 👌🏼#daphnesadventures . . . #vanlife #vanlifers #vanlifediaries #projectvanlife #vanlifeexplorers #letscamp #camptrend #campvibes #campingcollective #liveauthentic #simplelife #homeiswhereyouparkit #1000contemporarynomads #nomads #vanlifemovement #campingofficial #campmobile #adventurevisuals #travel #wanderlust #gopro #gopro_epic #awesomelifestyle #tinyhouse #tinyhousetinyfootprint #vandwellinglife #simplelife #ourcamplife #idaho
One thing many wannabe vagabonds always tell themselves is that they can't afford the lifestyle. But, according to Lauren and Craig, it can be done. In their travels, they have worked their way around Australia, New Zealand and Canada and volunteered in Scotland, Greece, Morocco and Portugal, returning home sporadically and working bartending jobs to save for the next trip.
New England-based sisters Starling, 22, and Rein, 20, supplement their vanlife experience by running a mobile vintage pop up shop out the back of their van. They drive around, changing state roughly each week, selling vintage clothes to fund their travels.
"We have had our bus for 10 years," says Starling. "It was broken down in a blueberry field in Maine for about 40 years and when we happened upon it and inquired about it, the owner sold it to us for $50."
In keeping with the respectful mantra of the vanlife movement, Lauren insists it is really easily to live sustainably.
"Try and use natural and biodegradable soaps when you wash in rivers - we handwash our own clothes with the same stuff to save using electricity in laundrettes. We've also used a bag shower, which heats via a solar panel. You're supposed to hang it from a tree but we hang it from the roof of the van."
Starling and Rein also have a simple routine that keeps their lifestyle as eco-friendly as possible: "We don't have AC, the only light we use is daylight, we coast whenever we can," Starling says.
Pulled up to camp for the night and this magical double rainbow arched its way over the Rocky Mountains 🙌🏼 #daphnesadventures . . . #vanlife #vanlifers #vanlifediaries #vanlifemovement #vanlifeexplorers #camperlifestyle #campervan #travel #travelblogger #exploremore #rainbow #wowshot #roomwithaview #van #awesomelifestyle #worldnomads #worldbestshots #natgeo #bbctravel #outsidemagazine #outdoorsjournal #canada #imagesofcanada #jaspernationalpark #travelalberta #findyourpark #camptrend #campingvibes #ourcamplife
Remember: contrary to what the beautifully filtered Insta snaps may suggest, it's hard work. Escaping the 9-5 daily grind definitely doesn't mean you evade graft.
Jayme, 26, and John, 31, from St Louis, Missouri, are currently travelling around the US with their two dogs in the back of their van. Although they feel much more relaxed and attuned than they were with their previous suburban life, John insists that things are not always easy.
"We work incredibly hard, but we have the freedom to take a spontaneous day off to check out an awesome waterfall, or go for a hike."
What am I so smiley about? How about the fact that we will be back on the road again starting #TOMORROW!! Cleaning, packing up and running errands today, then out on the open road once more, where we belong! . "Ready" does not even begin to explain how I feel. Knowing when we get in the van with the dogs tomorrow that we will be heading into the woods, back to no cell service, back to yoga under trees and healthy, vegetarian meals for every dish. . I can already see Nymeria's smile, as she jumps around from stone to stone in a #river she never knew she would love to meet. And Crow, interested in where a bug is crawling to, until she finds a comfortable spot of grass she wishes to rest on. I can feel the wind around my shoulders as we count the different birds we see and try to match up the unique chirps to their correct owner, while predicting the conversations they hold. . . I am already beginning to feel the clarity we experience when we wake up in the arms of Mother Nature, alongside all the other living beings rising with the sun at the same time. Gently wishing one another a "Good morning" and "Good day". . I'm also smiling because I'm stoked we will be able to have electricity even if we are parked in the shade! "HOW!?", you ask? Check the link in our bio for more info! 😉✌
From constructing van curtains out of fleece blankets to a broken windscreen on the Alaskan-Canadian border, Lauren and Craig have encountered all kinds of obstacles on the road.
Privacy is also a tricky game - ensuring your own and respecting others. After all, you are likely to be parking up close to other people's neighbourhoods, so a mutual respect of each other's space must be found.
"We've been moved on by police plenty of times, but we've also been caught out showering by dog walkers!" Lauren says.
This day last year we spent the evening cooking, reading and staring out the window at the highest mountain in North America - Mount Denali! #daphnesadventures . . . #Alaska #USA #vanlife #vanlifers #vanlifeexplorers #vanlifemovement #vanlifediaries #ourcamplife #campervan #campingvibes #camptrend #campeveryday #simplelife #tinyhouse #tinyhousemovement #exploretocreate #explorewithfriends #travel #inspiredtravels #worldnomads #happy #homeiswhereyouparkit #campervanconversion #vanconversion #tinyhousetinyfootprint #gopro #goworldwide
But whatever problems they may encounter, Lauren says that their lifestyle is too good to pass up. Even after having visited over 50 countries in nine years, she is adamant that it's a tiny proportion in comparison to what is left for them to see.
"What's next? Africa? Russia? The Middle East? There's a big world out there."