Saturday, August 10, 2019

Real #vanlife

Some days you click on one of your favorite sites expecting to read about cars and instead discover an article about your own life.

Young writer Anna Merlan and photographer Tod Seelie set out on a road trip to discover the gap between the Instagram #vanlife image of nomadic living and its more common reality. The story starts with them sweating to death in a Phoenix parking lot. Not glamorous.
You won’t find these realities on Instagram, of course. In the past few years “vanlife” has become a bona fide social media phenomenon, a way for beautiful, mostly white, mostly heterosexual couples in Sprinters and Volkswagens to #partner with #brands to make a living selling a pristine, minimalist, aspirational lifestyle of sunrise beach yoga, morning acai bowls and romantic nights with two pairs of feet on the mattress facing towards some beautiful sunset mountain view or a lightly photoshopped sky full of stars. (Vanlife is now so popular that whole accounts exist to re-post vanlife photos from other vanlife accounts, usually hashtagged with robotic enthusiasms like “#couplegoals” and “Looks so cozy!”) 
...This is, of course, leaving aside that the beautiful heterosexual whites in their expensively-converted Sprinters did not invent “vanlife” or, more broadly, life in a van. Traveling by RV or van is a fact of life for a lot of people who earn their living through seasonal, migrant labor, as Jess Bruder’s exquisite book Nomadland chronicles. Living in a car is a reality for many, many homeless adults and children throughout the U.S., a reality often complicated by laws that deliberately make it hard for them to park anywhere for too long. And even that leaves aside that self-expressed Vanlifers who aren’t white face a particular host of challenges, hostility and harassment on the road.
I nodded in recognition as I read. It’s very accurate. You can learn a lot from only two weeks on the road—if you’re looking for the truth rather than trying to live the myth.


  1. I was one of those white heterosexuals in an expensively-converted Sprinter. I'm so glad Bob's group always welcomed me anyway. I tried to pay it back by contributing what I could. Sometimes to the soup pot or turkey dinner. Sometimes by filling other's water bottles as I prepared to move on. Sometimes by donating to the freebie exchange of stuff. After all, we are all in this life together whatever our mode of transportation.

  2. Convincing people to live on the road for profit via social media, is dangerous. Getting on the road for many, is the end of the road. The only assurance of survival on the road is abundance. Don't sell the farm, put it in storage. If you don't know, don't go, IMHO. Solitary
    loners like me do well out here long term, Im comfortable with the decision, the final road I drive, has no exits.

  3. Sesame seed oil is a great mosquito repellant.

    1. But it makes you tastier to wolves and bears.

    2. I'm thankful predatory insects are not the size of footballs.

  4. #partner with #brands ... I have a new term: "scare hashtags."