Down the Rabbit Hole of #vanlife on social media

When I started this blog (as “Rick on the Road”) in 2010, Instagram was yet to be launched, and it was another two years before Foster Huntington popularised the #vanlife hashtag on instagram. There were plenty of campervan-related videos on YouTube, but relatively few dedicated channels – at least compared to the massive amount that exist today. The first channels I remember watching were Chad DeRosa’s “Living The Van Life” and Where’s my office now (both US based) and Campervan Culture (UK based). Campervan Culture in particular raised the bar for the quality of video production as time went on, and was certainly the first time i’d seen drone footage in an “amateur” campervan video.

At time of writing there is a massive amount of choice of vanlife-related youtube channels, most of which have a parallel life in the form of an instagram account.

But what does “vanlife” actually mean?

This is a contentious issue, it seems. It’s a made-up word, with the word van and life joined together, and it seems to refer mainly to people who live in vans. I’ve seen comments on instagram and youtube where a full-time “vanlifer” will angrily claim the term for themselves, but with over 3.7 million instagram posts (at time of writing) using the tag, and i’d hazard a guess that only a tiny proportion of those pictures depict people living full-time in a van, so it’s a pretty generic term covering pretty much anything campervan-related whether it’s living in one, building one, or lying in the back of one looking at a sunrise while you pretend you haven’t just scrambled to set up the self-timer on your camera.

Is it possible to make a living making vanlife youtube videos?

It seems some people are, but they’ve had to work at it – regular videos with decent content, subscribers built up over a period of years, well designed thumbnails to draw people in (sometimes, dare I say, using clickbait tactics!). I was curious to know how much income some of these channels might generate, purely on youtube ad revenue – socialblade is a really useful site, if you want to get an idea. In short, even the most popular channels I watch aren’t making that much – a living possibly, but only if you have no rent/mortgage to pay because you live in a van! Having said that – youtube ad revenue is only part of the story, with sponsorships/ ad placement/ merchandise sales etc. also being a source of revenue. There’s also Patreon which is a sponsorship platform that some of the channels use for subscription-only content.

Vanlife community

While we were planning and saving up for our current van, I started regularly watching van-related youtube channels and it became like reality TV for me. Most of the vans in the videos have their instagram names displayed so potential followers (instagram) or subscribers (youtube) can easily find them online if you spot them in the real world.

Here are some of the channels i’ve been watching recently. I’ve realised these are all UK-based channels – this wasn’t intentional but i’ve found the content to be more relevant to me than most of the US-based ones i’ve watched (plenty of good ones, maybe i’ll do another post on those), so i’ve just gravitated towards these channels.

Indie Projects

This is probably the most popular uk-based vanlife channel – i’ve been following Theo and Bee on instagram before they even came up with the indie projects name. Their videos are a mixture of their own van adventures, initially in a VW T4, van tours of other people’s vans, their new van self-build sprinter van and their plans for a homestead in Portugal.

Youtube Channel

Instagram

Website

Beyond the van

Rich from beyond the van popped up in a couple of Indie Projects videos and I started watching his various van conversion and European trip videos. The van conversions range from a Renault Kangoo up to an LDV Luton van. Loads of practical content to be found on the channel.

Youtube Channel

Instagram

Website

From Rust to Roadtrip

A really good travel series from Lucy and Ben, a couple travelling Europe in their self-converted LDV Convoy. Nicely filmed and narrated, plenty of travel inspiration to be found in these videos, even with the frequent breakdowns!

Youtube Channel

Instagram

Website

Houseless not homeless

Martin has some funny content, I started watching this channel when he rapidly kitted out an old BMW estate to go travelling in when his van was off the road – if you’re on a budget and want ideas and a laugh, this is the channel to watch!

Youtube Channel

Instagram

Website

Finding Freedom

Originally a couple travelling Europe in a transit van, currently about Possy building her own LDV convoy camper on a budget – regular crossovers with Beyond the Van – the live streams are fun.

Youtube Channel

Instagram

A Bus and Beyond

All the channels mentioned so far cover self-build vans and vanlife on a budget – Shaun and Lizzy cover the other end of the vanlife spectrum reviewing new stuff that costs almost as much as a house, and staying on actual campsites. Very watchable, and it’s interesting to see what’s on offer to buy off the shelf if budget wasn’t an issue.

Youtube Channel 

Instagram

Website

Vanlife.tv

Lots of practical content on this channel – originally based around a VW T4 similar to ours, now building out a Vauxhall Movano.

Youtube Channel

Instagram

Website

Project Amber

“When life gives you lemons, piss off somewhere and be a hippy”. Wise words. Very entertaining channel following this guys European adventures in a converted ambulance.

Youtube Channel

Instagram

Sarah and the Bear

A relatively new channel, these two are very chilled travelling the country and national trust properties in their white VW T25 (makes me very nostalgic for Rocky, our previous van!).

Youtube channel

Instagram

Northern Explorers

I found this channel when I was looking for information on the retro-looking Barefoot Caravan. Then in a massive coincidence a few days later I bumped into them with their Barefoot at a campsite, and got a real-life tour, it was like stepping through the screen!

YouTube channel

Never read the comments on YouTube!

Youtube seems to attract the best and the worst when it comes to comments – I think the majority of the comments on these channels are positive, but there’s a lot of idiots commenting too – best avoided if you don’t want to come crashing straight back down to earth after a dose of vicarious vanlife!

Freerange Freelance on Social Media

No immediate plans for a Freerange Freelance youtube channel, though I wouldn’t rule it out entirely. But we are on instagram and twitter.

Do you have a vanlife channel/instagram channel that we should be following? Nudge us on instagram and let us know!

 

Introducing Freerange Freelance!

Those of you who have followed a link to campervanthings.com might be confused to see a different domain name and site title “Freerange Freelance”. Let me explain!

The first version of this blog was called “Rick on the Road”, which started as a travel blog years ago, when my wife and I started looking at the idea of spending the summer touring france, with our (then) young son while I carried on working as a freelance web developer, attempting to keep an old plastic macbook with a two-hour max battery life charged from an inadequate portable solar panel, and attempting to keep in touch with clients and upload code over sketchy campsite wifi.

After that trip, the blog lost momentum until we bought a camper van and I enthusiastically relaunched it as “camper van things”, and wrote almost exclusively about camper van things.

It then lost momentum again, particularly after we sold the camper. This year having bought another van I thought I would give it a refresh and start writing again, and in doing so, I decided that the name of the blog didn’t really reflect what this blog is about.

So what is this blog about then?

I’ve worked (mostly) as a freelance web developer for over ten years now and the goal has always been flexible working. I’m lucky enough to have built a career that revolves around the internet and remote-working tools, and so most of the time I only need a charged laptop and a decent internet connection (wifi or 3G/4G)  to do my job. Moreover, I prefer flexible work hours, and not having to commute to an office “day job”. All of those aspirations can be difficult to achieve sometimes, which I will talk about on this blog.

But you’re still going on about camper vans?

Yep! As far as i’m concerned, a camper van makes the perfect mobile office, and is the best way to combine travel, adventure and freelance work. Plus I just love camper vans, so they will still feature prominently, particularly the one we own.

Freerange Freelance

Naming a blog is almost as difficult as naming a band. My wife is also freelance (TV/Video production/Copywriting) and we threw around a few ideas before coming up with this, then impulsively reserving the domain name and instagram handle. Twitter username character limit wasn’t long enough, so I left that one as @campervanthings for now. I think Freerange Freelance better covers the scope of this blog and any associated social media accounts.

Web development stuff

I’ll refrain from talking too much about web development on this blog, as I have another blog for that – if you’re interested in code, take a look at rickhurst.co.uk.

How to live in a van and travel – new book from Vandogtraveller

How to live in a van and travel book

I was lucky enough to be sent an advanced copy of Mike Hudson’s (AKA Vandogtraveller) new book How to live in a van and travel”. I’ve been a fan of the vandogtraveller blog since the early days, and bought a copy of his previous book “from van to home”.

Though I have no current plans to live in van (or indeed, currently, a van to live in), i’m very interested in ideas for nomadic/remote working – the original subject for this blog. I did actually live and travel in a van for six months in my early 20’s, with a vague plan to “travel europe” and, like Mike, started off with a few grand in savings, and no fixed timescale. Aside from busking, I had no other income stream – this was in the mid-nineties when the internet was in it’s early days, and the term “digital nomad” was (probably) yet to be invented, so I needed to live as cheaply as possible to make the savings last.

So, like many people I suspect, I initially skipped straight to the “Making money on the road” chapter to see if I could pick up any tips. I then went back and read through from the start. He covers pretty much everything, other then details on conversion (covered in “From van to home”).

Thoroughly recommended, and inspiring – Mike tells me that a hard copy version will be available after the ebook, which I will happily buy to add to my coffee table/ toilet reading library!

Overland dreaming

Travel books in kindle store

As you may have guessed from the lack of recent updates, we haven’t been able to use Rocky much over the winter, and he is currently off the road having another engine transplant and a few other jobs sorted (hopefully) in time for spring adventures. Therefore I have been travelling vicariously through reading about other peoples’ adventures. I’ve always been a fan of real paper books, but for reasons of availability and immediate need for reading material, I downloaded the kindle app to my nexus 4 phone and read a few eBooks. It was actually fine reading this way, surprisingly, and was handy as I virtually always have my phone with me, and it gave me something to read other than facebook or twitter.

The first one I downloaded was Not in that car, by Roy Locock, the story of his unlikely round the world trip in a 32-year-old MG midget. A very entertaining read and proof that with determination, you can get any unsuitable overland vehicle round the world, even with only a few inches of road clearance.

Not in that car - MG midget arriving in cape town

On the same theme (and bought to my attention by the “you might also like..” feature in the kindle store), I then read Survival of the quickest by Ben Coombs, about his 13,500 trip from England to Cape Town in a Porsche 944. Apart from the numerous mechanical issues dealt with along the way, I was also impressed to see the Porsche fitted with a roof tent!

roof tent on a porsche 944

The last kindle purchase was The Long and Whining Road by Simon Courtie, an entertaining account of a family travelling round the world in their VW T25, busking beatles songs as they went.

Penny the vw t25 in monument valley

Finally, I ordered a real paper book Drive Nacho Drive, the book about another round the world trip in a T25. I’ve blogged about Brad, Sheena and Nacho before – their blog is great, and some of the content is repeated in the book, but it is extremely well written and worth a read even if you already read the blog.

drive nacho drive book

Last but not least, I have been following the adventures of the campervan culture team, travelling through Spain and around Morocco, and am looking forward to the rest of the videos.