The pandemic has inspired many new trends, but perhaps the most adventurous is #vanlife.
To be fair, people explored new places in vans that doubled as their home’s long before the pandemic, but the lifestyle has increased in popularity after a year of being cooped up.
Why it matters: COVID-19 has changed the way we live. And van life is an example of adapting to this new landscape of life during a pandemic — though it’s pricier and more drastic than other pandemic adaptations we’ve seen.
How it works: After conversations with six local folks trying van life (two couples and two individuals), I’ve learned there’s really no right or wrong way to do it. Four of the six people I spoke to tried van life because of the pandemic, and the ability to work from anywhere.
- Everyone I spoke to is going to remote places and keeping their distance from others in order to stay COVID-safe.
Setting up the van is a matter of personal preference. Space is limited so most folks prioritize a couple areas, and get the rest of what they need at campsites. Because van renovations can be so expensive (from around ten thousand dollars to the price of a Myers Park condo), everyone I spoke with did most of the work themselves.
Choosing destinations is all about preference too, but the Charlotte-folks I’ve spoken to are mostly heading for warmer weather and national park hopping. They’re saving any trips up north for the summer.
Technology is the most important for those who are taking their jobs on the road.
- “The only thing I’m nervous about is if my double hotspot coverage won’t give me what I need for work,” Kaylor Wells tells me. She works in finance but plans work from her van (WFV?) for a couple months at a time.
An outdoorsy nature is the one thing everyone I spoke to had. You’ve got to be comfortable with roughing it, and you should love camping and hiking to get the most out of the experience.
Pets and babies are welcome on the road too. One couple I spoke to brought their dog, another plans to bring their toddler, and another person brought their cat.
Cost varies quite a bit based on the above preferences, but for most people the priciest part of van life is the actual van (again, unless they pay for a full renovation).
- Just like yeast when bread-making was the top pandemic trend, vans are harder to find, (especially with Amazon buying so many) and its a “sellers market,” Wells tells me.
- “I think of this as an investment because I think…when I’m done I’ll be able to resell my van,” Kirsten Erich tells me. She moved away from Charlotte just as the pandemic began, but plans to make a trip back to the city once she’s done renovating her van in Charleston.
What they say: If you’re looking to try van life for yourself, here are a few words of wisdom to consider before you hit the road.
Explore new cultures: “We are very very lucky to have this possibility to see so much of the world,” Camille Davin tells me. “For me it’s a way of life.”
- Davin and her partner Manuel Aigner are van life veterans who drove all around Europe long before the pandemic. She says she hopes those who are trying van life for the first time won’t be discouraged by the challenge of van renovation or fooled by #vanlife Instagram accounts that make it look like a quick and easy process.
Think ahead: “You’re gonna get stuck so bring a shovel,” Wells tells me of her front wheel drive van. Her biggest piece of advice to others was to be prepared.
Be flexible: “The shocking part to me is the driving, the conditions. For example we were in Austin, Texas thinking we’d be in summer weather or hot weather and we got hit by the polar vortex, and Shane had to learn how to drive through snow for the first time in his life,” Alexandra Beesting tells me of her partner Shane Cordileone.
- The two are based in Charlotte but decided to sublease their South End apartment and travel with their puppy while they could. But instead of a van, they’re actually driving a SUV hitched to a camper. Cordileone is a transportation planner and Beesting owns Oh Script Paper Co.
Try a short trip first: “If you’re interested in it, rent a van and see if you like it,” and from there just take the plunge when you’re ready, Erich says.
Here’s a look inside a few vans that are (or soon-to-be) traveling around the country.