Ditch your job, load up the car, and disappear into the wilds of nature – never to be seen or heard from again. It’s something you usually contemplate after a particularly long day at the office, when you’re worn down from the constant drudgery of the nine-to-five world. For some, this impulse becomes strong enough that they act on their wanderlust. All that’s required is a vehicle large enough to double as a bedroom, kitchen, and lounge, along with a few dollars in the bank or a plan to earn some cash while you travel.
For Natasha Lawyer and Brett Bashaw, this meant buying a vintage VW bus, which they quickly named Wes Vanderson. “Brett came home one day when he had watched a documentary on this rich doctor who was unhappy, even though he had a stereotypically perfect life. The doctor bought a condo in Venice and now spends his days rollerblading up and down Venice Beach,” Natasha explained, “He found the one thing that made his life amazing. Brett texted me and said, ‘We need to travel. What if we took a year off?’ I was like, ‘yeah sure, but what are we millionaires?’ Practically speaking, having a place to stay is the most expensive part of travel, so we thought to ourselves, ‘We should buy a van!’”
The hippie bus, evolved
The image of the burnt-out hippie – tanned, surfboards lining the side of his VW bus, joint in hand – isn’t really an unfair stereotype. The bus and the bong go together like lawyers and suits. The origin of the VW Type II bus began just after World War II in Wolfsburg, Germany. In 1947, a Dutch importer noticed that the motorized trolleys used to transport parts around the factory were made from stripped down Beetles. He was inspired by these rather strange looking vehicles to sketch out a Beetle-based van design.
The modern traveler expects more from their van than a box on wheels. From $80,000 custom campers to $300,000 motorhomes, the diversity of homes on wheels has never been greater. For many buyers these hefty price tags go against the ethos of living simply and using only what you need, a bed, somewhere to shelter from the rain, a kitchen, and love for the open road. In this age of underemployment and financial instability, camper vans have also become a refuge. Stealth camping, with sleeper vans constructed to be completely inconspicuous so they can be parked overnight on suburban streets, has become a necessary reality for many people.
The #VanLife movement
Living in a van is fast being elevated to an art form. Enthusiasts of the van lifestyle are broadcasting their lives – and the interiors of their homes-on-wheels – via social media, in a movement becoming known as #VanLife. The movement brings together otherwise isolated and disparate travelers to share not only stories but the designs, methods, and minutia of living in a space smaller than many bathrooms.
For the Wes Vanderson crew, the energy behind #VanLife has turned them into minor celebrities. Wherever they choose to spend the evening, there’s a decent chance they’ll be discovered by sharp-eyed followers. “We were in a parking lot in Edmonton,” Brett recounts, “These girls came out yelling, ‘It’s Wes Vanderson! We’re huge fans!’”
Doing Less – with Less
We are seeing a downsizing movement taking place in society. As more people move to the cities, we find ourselves further pressed for space, which has become an expensive luxury. People are learning to live with less, rather than taking on the burden of having to pay for more.
Until recently, living out of a van would have been unthinkable for all but the most hardened hippies and drifters. Commuting from the suburbs was the ideal. Why go small when you can go big by living farther away and driving longer to work? You want to go somewhere nice? Work hard all year, and maybe you’ll get to fly somewhere for a week or two of hurried relaxation on a beach somewhere.
Once you realize that life on the road can be a kind of permanent vacation though, there’s no need to fly to Hawaii. By simply purchasing a van, and coming up with a plan to make some money, people can experience a level of freedom that renters and owners will never know. Many people who aspire to live the #VanLife have made the realization that a life collecting experiences is more valuable than a life spent collecting possessions.
For Natasha and Brett, the experience of traveling and living in a bus has changed their outlook forever. “We were really bummed about going back to our normal lives after this big adventure,” Natasha says. “So we started thinking, what about if we just get some land and live in a vintage airstream?” For these two the #VanLife adventure will continue – in one location, for now at least.