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  • Dean Bainbridge

Kinda Livin' The Van Life

When the pandemic rolled across the world, thwarting the plans of wayfarers everywhere, many turned to an alternative option... Van Life.

I could get used to that view

For some, it is a romantic and inspiring quest. To hit the open road with all your worldly possessions on your back - figuratively speaking - and only a vague sense of where you're going. It used to be the dream of The Semi-Retired before it came back in vogue via those collectors of vintage concepts and fashion, The Hipsters.

With a new audience of venturers, and those boomers with their 'let's spend the inheritance' mindset, the industry has evolved to meet demand. The range of big brand camper vans and RV's now caters for both ends of the market. From high end pimped out rides to thrifty sprinter van conversions, the van parks are filling to capacity. Social media groups now help fuel a community of seekers. They coordinate their loose schedules to meet up. They are just as likely to share stories around the camp fire as they are to post them online.

And to be fair, it's a very aesthetic life.

Kit Whistler from Idle Theory Bus

Kit and JR from the U.S. finished college and hit the road in their lovely little VW christened 'Sunshine'. They lead an alternative lifestyle in their van. They travel in between farms and pick fruit for spare change. What I find most admirable about their quest is that it allows their creativity to sustain them. Kit writes essays on their 'Idle Theory' while JR is a great photographer. Their book 'Orange is Optimism' likely sells enough to keep money coming in and fuel in the tank. And they sure know how to turn a lifestyle choice into an art form on Instagram.

Recently, I started following an impossibly perky couple on YouTube, Kara & Nate. Their channel catalogs their 100+ countries for over one million followers. That's some serious revenue in the kitty while they buzz between backpackers, hostels and the occasional (they say) 5 star hotel. When Covid kicked in, they were grounded. Such was the appeal of Van Life in the States that they bought a Sprinter and take in the sights of their homeland.

Kara and Nate ditch the passport and stay local

Why choose the Van Life? It's never been more accessible. Driving a mid sized van is a lot easier than pulling a caravan and you don't need a special license. Caravan parks and free overnight parking can be found via travel apps and through the huge online community of websites and Facebook groups.

Depending on who you ask, it's not simply a travel choice anymore. It's a movement. Living out of a van used to carry with it a stigma. Downtrodden souls living out of a suitcase. Bums and weed smokers. With all the pressures of modern suburban capitalism and consumerism, Van Life is a stance. We're seeing Gen Y and Z opt out of society's norms and take it upon themselves to life free as a form of protest. They see it as a way to reclaim their authenticity... and monetise their Instagram followers.

Importantly, Van Life adds a new sheen to what had become an old fashioned notion reserved for empty nesters and retirees. Especially to those of us that are used to traveling every other year. With interstate restrictions and unreliable flights, you're better off hiring a van and taking the long way. Our plans for quick trip to Melbourne from Adelaide have been on and off for a while, so we're thinking of hiring a Sprinter and taking a week along the Great Ocean Road. I honestly would not have seriously considered the option even a few years ago. Yet, now it feels like a NEW thing to try.

So lets take a moment to acknowledge the inventors of Van Life. The beatniks, bohemians and hippies of the 60's. They're doing it all again because they can afford to do it.

The original Van Lifers, grey nomads

Though now, they're doing it with a queen size bed, ensuite, outdoor kitchen and a bloody thermomix! All in a van longer than a millennial's rented townhouse with a big old Mercedes badge on the front. Smug buggers.

You might like an adventure, but you can't leave your country. You might enjoy camping but prefer the conveniences of glamping. You might even wish to sample the nomadic life before you're in semi retirement. You want to downsize your stuff and maximise your mindful life with a meaning stronger than a mere address. Whatever your circumstances, if the Van Life is choosing you... what are you waiting for.

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