Here’s What Vanlife Is REALLY Like

Like most spaces in the travel industry, representation of vanlife is not very diverse. Type “#vanlife” into Instagram and you’ll be flooded with photos of mostly young, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied white people. But that image only tells a narrow part of the story. A deeper dive shows that diversity does exist in the vanlife community, and those people have stepped into the social media limelight to showcase their perspectives.

Here are just a few of the people you should follow on Instagram for a more diverse and complete image of the vanlife community. If you don’t fit the vanlife stereotypes, these people also have a few words of wisdom and encouragement for you.

 

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A post shared by Veronica & Miguel (@ourpapertrails) on Sep 4, 2019 at 4:46pm PDT

@ourpapertrails

Los Angeles natives Veronica and Miguel have been living in their van, affectionately called Frida, since August 2019. They’ve been breaking vanlife stereotypes since then, too. Veronica identifies as Colombian-American and Miguel as Mexican-American, but what’s especially noteworthy about this dynamic duo is that they both work full time in the San Francisco Bay area. They’re living proof that you don’t have to quit your job or work remotely to live out your vanlife dreams. Follow these two for the beautiful nature-filled photography, but stay for the meaningful captions that share plenty of fun tips and tricks, while also tackling tough topics like colorism in the Latinx community and student debt.

Words of Wisdom:

“Don’t be too concerned about what your family says (given our Latinx families perspectives of people living in a van) and learn from others that you identify with. You will get a more accurate depiction of what vanlife might be for you. We would also say don’t get discouraged! There are a lot more folks out there than you think that you might identify with. Look up hashtags like: #diversifyvanlife #brownvanlife #blackvanlife #asianvanlife, and DM them. Don’t be shy!”

 

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A post shared by 👬 Halef & Michael ✈ Kana 🐕‍🦺 (@thertwguys) on Jun 21, 2020 at 10:43am PDT

@thertwguys

Michael and Halef didn’t intend to live the vanlife, but 2020 had its own plans for them. After building up their savings for a few years, this interracial married couple (Michael is Canadian and Halef is Indonesian) decided to quit their jobs in August 2019 and spend a few years traveling the world. Then the pandemic hit, and they had to switch gears—pun intended. They bought a ready-to-go Mercedes Benz Sprinter van in June and have been traveling in it ever since, documenting their experiences both on Instagram and YouTube. Follow these guys to fill your feed with adventures around North America and a photogenic dog named Kana.

Words of Wisdom:

“If you’re discouraged about the lack of diversity in vanlife, then you have an excellent opportunity to make yourself the poster child for however you identify and let people know you’re out there, too!… And if you’re frustrated that [non-white, non-straight vanlifers] are not visible, make it your mission to show they’re out there. If you’re a straight, white, popular travel blogger or Instagram vanlifer, showcase those people and help give them visibility. They’re part of the audience you inspired, and they’re part of the reason you’re successful!”

 

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A post shared by May (@mayandtravel) on Jul 27, 2020 at 9:38pm PDT

@mayandtravel

Take a quick look at May’s feed and one word is bound to come to mind: dreamy. From sweeping landscapes to glimpses of her cozy van, May makes vanlife look easy, though she admits the reality is far from that. Originally from Los Angeles, May spends most of her time living and traveling in California and Utah. She travels with ­her partner Derek and their fluffy dog Chloe. You can find them both on Instagram, too (@derekandtravel and @chloeandtravel), and their feeds are just as aesthetically pleasing. Both May and Derek are Vietnamese, and you’ll often see them in their Instagram stories making tasty Vietnamese dishes. Although they only started their vanlife journey in April of this year, they seem to have the hang of things. After all, they somehow fit May’s piano in there!

Words of Wisdom:

“Vanlife is not what it appears to be on Instagram. If you scroll through the vanlife reshare on IG, you probably think that vanlife is for young, able-bodied, white vanlifers. These reshare accounts only showcase photos of professional-looking van builds! However, this does not accurately represent the reality of the vanlife community! There are people of diverse ethnicity who live this lifestyle. There are nomads with disabilities, and bodies of all shapes and sizes, who have been living this lifestyle wholeheartedly.”

 

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A post shared by ¡Viva La Van! (@viva_la_van_) on Oct 3, 2020 at 11:25am PDT

@viva_la_van_

Miché is a 100% DIY vanlifer, showing what it’s like to start this lifestyle from scratch and completely on your own. It’s not always glamorous, and Miché has been very honest about that throughout their three years of full-time vanlife, but it is possible and also fulfilling. As a first-generation descendant of people indigenous to Mexico, Miché identifies as Latinx. Miché is also trans, but prefers the term two-spirit as it aligns more with their indigenous heritage. To follow Miché is to get a bit of a crash course on their Aztec culture and the spirituality that stems from it. You can also expect some stunning scenery from the Western U.S. as this Arizona-born vanlifer tends to explore those areas and is currently based in Oregon.

Words of Wisdom:

“I think where things get really bad is when you start comparing yourself, your van, or your situation to the people you see online…I actually lived in my van full-time and boy did it get really tough around the two-year mark, so I definitely recommend taking breaks from vanlife! Honestly, it’s not good to spend that much time in a van, and your mental health is more important than staying committed to an alternative lifestyle. Question everything you see online, and try not to compare yourself to others. Practice hitting that unfollow button. It’s great for your health and completely FREE! Make vanlife your own, or use it as a catalyst to make some serious life changes—or to help you achieve your goals—but don’t forget to take breaks when you need to, you can always come back to it later.”

 

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A post shared by ɴᴀᴛ ♡ ᴀʙɪ | ᴠᴀɴʟɪғᴇ 🏳️‍🌈 (@letsplayrideandseek) on Mar 12, 2020 at 8:50am PDT

@letsplayrideandseek

Nat and Abi are an interracial queer couple just a few months shy of their two-year vanniversary. Abi isn’t fond of labels, but on paper, would identify as a Caucasian lesbian, while Abi is a mixed-race (Black and Puerto Rican) lesbian. Though they mostly rely on their savings while on the road, you’ll sometimes find Abi working as a professional photographer and Nat as a personal chef. That also means their account is full of impeccable photography, not only of their beautifully decorated van and the destinations they visit, but also of some drool-worthy food. They’ve traveled across North America for 10 months, spent the winter in Mexico, and are now hunkering down to save up before hitting the road again. They’re also the founders @vanlifepride, which celebrates other queer vanlifers, so be sure to check out that account, too!

Words of Wisdom:

“My advice to our vanlife family would be this: Never lessen the loudness of your truth to soften the misunderstanding of others. In other words, be so authentically who you are in this space that you will alter someone’s apprehension toward you just by living your best life. They must see your ability to stand tall in your self-love so that any biases are of their own inner turmoil and misguidance. Those who want to be an ally will do so in a genuine manner and anyone else not aligning with your path doesn’t deserve your direction.”

 

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A post shared by SYLVIA TORRES | VAN LIVING (@sylviathegnomad) on Oct 4, 2020 at 10:57am PDT

@sylviathegnomad

Sylvia is the badass friend we all would be lucky to have, serving looks and vanlife inspiration all in one bright, colorful Instagram feed. Sylvia identifies as a plus-size Hispanic woman and takes major pride in that. She’s also a solo female vanlifer (unless you count Gnorman, an adorable stuffed gnome and her trusted companion). Although the intersection of these identities has forced Sylvia to take extra steps or precautions that other vanlifers might not have to consider, she wouldn’t have it any other way. She loves her freedom. Follow Sylvia as she explores the West Coast, as well as some inland areas.

Words of Wisdom:

“You don’t see many POC living vanlife, but you especially don’t see many plus-sized people traveling and exploring, and I think we need to be louder! We have to say ‘Yes I’m plus-sized. Yes, I just hiked up to this view! Yes, I almost died and couldn’t breathe most of the time, but I did it! Haha.’ Be proud and celebrate what our bodies can do. We have to tell our stories because no one else will and our stories are important.”

 

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A post shared by The Adventures of Ahana (@theadventuresofahana) on Oct 1, 2020 at 10:27am PDT

@theadventuresofahana

#Vanlife is often full of solo travelers and couples, but Kyle and Mariel prove that this alternative lifestyle is also possible for families. Their daughter, Avalynn, took her first trip at just two months old, and she’s now a full-fledged vanlifer—albeit in diapers—as this family has already traveled from coast to coast in their beloved sprinter van named Ahana. Kyle is a Black videographer, while Mariel is a photographer from the Philippines, and their creative minds make for an Instagram feed that’s equal parts fun and beautiful. Beyond exposing their daughter to a life full of adventure, they also make it a point to teach her about both sides of her cultural heritage.

Words of Wisdom:

“Just get out there, travel. Define your path and do what feels right for your soul. We usually see a singular image of how vanlife should look: a Mercedes Sprinter, white male, clean van, and doors always open to an epic view. While this is perfectly OK, I encourage more people of color not to get caught up in thinking this makes you a ‘vanlifer.’ Whether you’re traveling by car, cargo van, or a Ford Transit, don’t be afraid to share your version of vanlife. We need this representation, so people start to understand #vanlife takes all forms and shades. By sharing our story, we hope to contribute to a different shade of what van life can look like.”

 

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A post shared by YUKO & ERIC | DIY Camper Van (@asobolife) on May 27, 2020 at 2:34pm PDT

@asobolife

For Yuko and Eric, choosing an alternative lifestyle wasn’t easy given their upbringings in Japan and Hong Kong, respectively. But they say breaking away from the pressures of their cultures is part of what makes them unique and strong as they embark on their vanlife journey. Between the earth-tone colors of their van to the natural beauty of the destinations they visit, Yuko and Eric have curated an Instagram feed that is mesmerizing in an almost soothing way. This perfectly pleasing aesthetic doesn’t get in the way of reality, though. Many of their photos focus on the everyday moments of living, cooking, and working from their van.

Words of Wisdom:

“In Japanese, we have a saying that a comfortable life is like sitting in a lukewarm bath: nice but not great [or] perfect. Our only advice is for people to just get up and out of their lukewarm bath and start exploring! There is no right or wrong way to go about it. The best thing is to just start. Don’t spend too much time worrying about how others are living their own ‘vanlife.’”

 

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A post shared by Chris & Taylor | Vanlife (@adventureallens) on Dec 7, 2018 at 1:00pm PST

@adventureallens

It’s a full house in the Allen’s van as this couple explores everywhere west of the Mississippi with their two dogs in tow. The pups are showstoppers, but Georgia-native Chris and raised-in-Alabama Taylor are the humans behind this Instagram account. They’ve been traveling in their van on and off for the last three years, but Chris and Taylor have tried other alternative lifestyles, too. Before purchasing their van in 2017, they even spent six months living on a boat in San Diego, California. As the name suggests, Chris and Taylor are definitely adventurous, and that’s what you’ll see on their Instagram account. They love parking their van at the beach and desert, so expect lots of photos of these dramatically different landscapes.

Words of Wisdom:

“We say go for it! Find supportive people no matter the color of their skin. Everyone that we have met in the vanlife community has welcomed us and offered tons of advice and answered all of our questions. Also, we are here for anybody that needs support because this is very taboo for BIPOC to be involved in, and it’s hard to find familiar support. Also, don’t listen to the naysayers if they have never done this lifestyle before, they don’t and might never understand.”

 

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A post shared by Wheelchair & Wanderlust (@wheelchairandwanderlust) on Nov 14, 2019 at 1:22am PST

@wheelchairandwanderlust

Jade and Dave are a British couple based in London, and since they frequently travel around Europe, this account already feels a little different just by the destinations they visit. What makes their Instagram adventures particularly unique, however, is that they show how two people living with disabilities can still make the vanlife work for them. Dave has a C4/C5 spinal cord injury and is permanently in a wheelchair, while Jade has Fibromyalgia Syndrome, a long-term chronic pain disorder, as well as joint hypermobility syndrome, and several other comorbidities. These things may stop them from living in their van full-time, but they hit the road as often as possible and are currently awaiting the buildout of their new, more accessible van. Beyond the blend of picturesque destinations and photos of their everyday life, their account is an inspirational and realistic glimpse into vanlife with disabilities. Jade and Dave will leave anyone feeling motivated to go after their wildest dreams.

Words of Wisdom:

“Don’t be afraid and just go for it. Vanlife can provide the opportunity to open doors to many experiences that may not have been possible beforehand. With our van, we can carry our medication, healthcare supplies, [and more] with us. We always have everything we need with us. We can access and explore areas we never thought possible. We don’t have to worry about finding accessible accommodation and can just take our time exploring areas at our own pace. Unfortunately, I would say the only downside is that we don’t get invited to many meetups or anything, which happen frequently in vanlife society, as I feel people struggle to know what to invite us to. Most people go hiking, climbing, etc., which Dave can’t do, but we can do many other things. I’d love to let people know not to be afraid to invite disabled people or differently-abled people to events or things as we will normally find a way to join in!”

 

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A post shared by K i r k W i l l i a m s (@impact.overland) on Jul 19, 2020 at 7:37am PDT

@impact.overland

Kirk is a nature-loving, quadriplegic adventurer showing off the places he’s explored from Alaska to Argentina. For the last nine years, he has traveled in wheelchair-accessible vans, but only in recent years did he take the leap to traveling for months at a time in his home on wheels. He designed the van himself and says it’s allowed him to see more places around the world than even most able-bodied people. Kirk primarily focuses his travels in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, though he recently returned from exploring South America. As a photographer and writer, Kirk’s account impresses with both its photos and its captions. Through his work and experiences, Kirk hopes to educate and inspire more people with mobility impairments to try vanlife.

Words of Wisdom:

“Don’t be afraid to do what’s right for you. If you enjoy vanlife, great. If you enjoy sailing, great. If you want to do it full-time, part-time, or just on vacation–also great. Don’t let typical ‘vanlife’ turn you off. You do you.”

 

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A post shared by Diversify Vanlife (@diversify.vanlife) on Aug 28, 2020 at 10:51am PDT

@diversify.vanlife

Diversify.vanlife is the mother of all major efforts to showcase diversity in the world of vanlife. Founded in October 2019 by Noami (follow her, too @irietoaurora!), this ever-growing Instagram account encourages people who don’t fit the typical mold to step boldly into the world of vanlife by sharing the stories of those already doing it. Many of the people in this slideshow can actually be found on this re-share account, as well as many others. Diversify.vanlife provides a safe space for people who are not traditionally represented in the vanlife community to connect with and support each other. The account also provides resources to those who would like to be a better ally to people of all races, gender identities, sexualities, abilities, and more. If you’re looking for a place to continue your dive into diverse vanlife accounts, this is the place to go.

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