#VanLife is the contemporary hashtag that’s simply coined a new phrase from an old idea: living life on the road. It used to be that living on the road was an activity reserved for hippies and vagabonds, for those that didn’t have a purpose or were simply too carefree and wanted nothing more than to wander.
How quickly times have changed.
#VanLife today can also be referred to simply as “van life” — the hashtag only adds relevance to the concept itself. Somewhere in the midst of the 2000’s, as millennials grew in number, van life became less of a carefree lifestyle and more of a path towards self-discovery. Some baby boomers grumbled while other elders rolled in their graves. Yet despite their poor attempts to discourage such wanderlust-esque behavior, the idea quickly caught on. Van life is now a mainstream means of living.
But like many other fads popularized by neo-hippies that include Chaco sandals, Coachella, and a resurgence in Grateful Dead apparel, van life has become more about the hype, and less about the practice itself. Nowadays we’re led to believe that in order to live life on the road we’ll need a loaded Mercedes Sprinter with minimalist furnishings that still provide the comforts of home, minus the actual home.
Perhaps this idealized image was generated by the all-too-wholesome photos of Instagram van-goers that depict a model-worthy couple with a Golden Retriever puppy. Or instead perhaps the fad was produced by athletes like Alex Honnold that humbly live life in a van and fittingly portray the ‘I don’t give a fuck about anything’ lifestyle. Regardless of who or what manufactured the idea that van life was the only way to live life on the road, ‘they’re’ wrong. Let’s discuss why.
Van life has established itself as the most comfortable means by which one can live life on the road, and for good reason. A tricked out van will have a sink, a fridge, a bed, and other basic amenities commonly found in and around the home — this is what makes van life the premier option for wanderlust living despite the time and money spent achieving such a setup. But while van life may be the ideal option, it’s not the only option.
As limiting as the concept may sound, car living has become a slow-growing fad that seeks to show van life what minimalism truly is. Those with a car no larger than a Honda Civic install beds, tables, and other necessities that make life on the road far more maintainable. And while camping from your Honda Civic may sound less pristine when compared to the van living you’ve been led to believe is the only option, just remember the 10k you can save because you didn’t splurge on a Sprinter.
Put that money towards your adventures.
For those willing to camp — and yes, you can still live on the road if you just bring a tent — options grow even more plentiful. A combination of campsites, car living, and the use of BLM land turn what was once an arduous or stressful task of car living into a far more manageable option. After all, what’s roadside living if you don’t pitch a tent every now and then on the side of the road?
Perhaps car living and tent life aren’t for you — and that’s fine. These options only seek to illustrate that you, yes you, have options. Yes, we’d all like a big van with a full-sized bed and air conditioning and heat. If someone threw a loaded van and a loaded car in front of you and simply said “choose one”, odds are we’d all choose the van; we’re not dumb.
But van life, like so many fads before it, has limited our scope of what’s possible.
Van life has simply distorted the notion that you can only live life on the road by adhering to van life’s standards. You need a boxy van, you need a comfy bed, you need a sink and a fridge and a stable WiFi connection that provides you with access to your email and Netflix to keep up with the latest episodes of Stranger Things. But do you really need any of that?
Truth be told, you really don’t. You can live from your car for months at a time. You can rough it and really show the van-lifers what it means to live minimally on the road. And most importantly, you can still enjoy that crucial period of self-exploration that so many of us strive to experience these days. We all want to discover ourselves as we discover our world in the process. And we want to do so in as humble a fashion as possible — by living life on the road.
And you don’t need a van to help you get there.