The #vanlife movement is booming, and there is no doubt why. Dreamy pictures of cute couples parked up on beaches with their hip vans are all over Instagram, but what is being done now is really no different than what happened in the ’60s. The youth of the time jumped into their now iconic and overpriced Volkswagen vans and traveled to all corners of the USA. The only difference? They didn’t have Instagram.
I’ve spent a lot of time living out of a few different vehicles and traveling. I spent two years booting around North America in my Jeep Cherokee. It was before Instagram. It was before smart phones were commonplace. I would just drive down roads until I found a quiet corner and I would call that camp. Sometimes, I would make wrong calls and drive down roads that didn’t offer a good pull off, or end up in someone’s driveway, but I’d just turn around and keep searching. It was part of the fun.
Fast forward to today. I have upgraded to one of those overpriced VW vans and a smartphone. We find our camp spots a little differently now. There are several user-generated apps that show all these great spots. It seems like a great idea, but these apps are causing more problems trying to find a little piece of free camping than they are helping.
Before I get too far into this, I just want to say I am not totally against paying for a campground, although living full time on the road, $35 to $95 campsites/night just add up too quickly. Plus, campgrounds, whether they are federal, state, or private, have one purpose: profit. Because of that, they pack the sites in so tight that all they have done is created a city in the woods. To me, they bare too much resemblance to the suburbs of any given city. I live in a van to get away from people and that feeling.
Back to these apps and the number of folks living in vans these days. There are great spots I have camped for free at just a few months ago and now that they are up on the app, folks fill the site every night and a NO CAMPING sign eventually goes up. It becomes a problem, and I don’t blame locals in the area for wanting to stop it. One van every now and then is fine, but who wants to deal with that every day? The fact is, they live in these spots for the same reason: to get away. When everyone is going to the same place to get away, no one’s really getting away anymore.