From toilet spades to snack essentials, meet the #vanlifers embracing life on the road
We’re always looking for new ways to set our adventurous souls alight, and with recent flight cancellations giving us slight cause for concern, there’s no better time to explore some alternative forms of travel. First on the list? The free-wheeling campervan lifestyle, better known as #vanlife.
It’s been coined as a ‘bohemian social media movement’, but #vanlife has come a long way since its roots as the Woodstock-loving, free-spirited sixties trend that saw nomads squeezing their entire lives into beaten up 4x4s and heading off-grid for months at a time. One social media revolution and a worldwide (travel restricting) pandemic later and #vanlife has catapulted itself back into our travel-hungry streams of consciousness – with campervan travel predicted to hit an all-time high this summer.
We’ve asked #vanlife experts and roadies Alice Sutton (@spindriftvan), Elaina Long (@van_fam_andme) and podcasters Alex Van Steen and Frankie McCullough (@fnavanlife) for their tips and tricks, so you don’t have to. From toilet spades to snack essentials, here are their top lessons for living life on the road.
Alex Van Steen and Frankie McCullough – @fnavanlife
Full-time travellers, podcasters and content creators Alex Van Steen and Frankie McCullough have been travelling in their RAM Promaster 3500, AKA their beloved van Olive, for four years. They began documenting their travels across the US on their #vanlife podcast FnA Van Life after bonding over their shared dream for a life on the road on their first date in 2018.
“We did the whole build on the inside ourselves [apart from a few donated cupboards] and after going deep on YouTube to see what it would look like to travel full-time, we fell in love with van life.” say Alex and Frankie. The pair have been on the road ever since and have no intention of slowing down, because ‘the adventure never ends!’
What does an average day on the road look like?
“There’s no such thing! Some days we're waking up early to get a great parking spot for snowboarding, other days we're going on beautiful hikes with friends or spending all day in the sun and waves.”
Do you have any advice for people wanting to get started?
“Slow down! You don't have to see everything in your first month on the road. There's no need to change spots every night or hit every state in a year.”
“You don't need a £1000 toilet! Sure, it's nice, but there's no need to have a glorified bucket when you can just have a bucket – it works better and needs less fussing than the fancy ones!”
Road Trip essentials?
“Snacks! All the snacks, all the time. Luckily, we have a fridge and pantry and can whip up pretty much anything whenever we want.”
Alice Sutton and Remi the van – @spindriftvan
If you’re a fan of the surf and are craving a coastline adventure, then 22-year-old Alice Sutton’s three-month road trip across Europe could be for you. After converting her ex-British Gas VW caddy maxi back home in Woking, last month Alice set off on her surf-seeking adventure to explore the European coastline in her van – now named Remi. She’s fully embraced #vanlife, creating a TikTok, YouTube and Instagram account dedicated to documenting her travels. Despite being new to the community, she’s hit the ground running, reaching 50,000 followers on TikTok in under a month.
Alice says she’s wanted to convert and live in a van for as long she knew that people could live in one and travel at the same time. She says, “I'm most comfortable and relaxed when I've kind of been a bit, you know, windswept and salty and spent my day outdoors.” Alice started creating content on a whim but has seen the amazing benefits already. She hopes her videos can teach others about life on the road and says further down the line she would “adore being able to make a living from doing what I love.”
What advice would you give to people wanting to convert their own van?
“Spend more money on a really good vehicle instead of saving money on a slightly run-down vehicle. You’ll thank yourself later!”
Best thing you’ve done so far?
“Not planning anything! We've got a rough route of which countries we want to go to in which order, but other than that we just use Google Maps on satellite mode and find magical places as we go!”
Any tips for making friends?
“A simple smile. A smile can go a long way – people are more likely to talk to you, and it’s great if you don’t know the language!”
Any toilet tips?
“Yes, try out a little trowel/spade if you can get one! Also, relax – no one is looking!”
Elaina Long – @van_fam_andme
You don’t have to live your entire life on the road to embrace #vanlife fully, or so says nurse and part-time #vanlifer Elaina Long. For the last year, Elaina, along with her husband and daughter (and Boxer-Labrador cross Maggie), have spent their weekends setting off to different corners of the UK. All the while making friends with like-minded campervan lovers and diving headfirst into the #vanlife community – something Elaina says has been an integral part of the family’s #vanlife journey – which they share with their 5,000 followers on Instagram.
“We had so much help and advice from people in the community when we were building, which enabled us to be able to do it and get on the road” says Elaina, “It's not sort of this club that you have to be invited to. It's so welcoming and everyone's so helpful.” Elaina says making so many friends over the last year has been one of the highlights of travelling, and she can’t wait to see the tradition passed down to her daughter.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to convert their own van?
“Don't be frightened to do it yourself and make it your own. We were novices who had never been inside a camp before, but we learnt so much along the way.”
What has surprised you the most about #vanlife?
“Probably being spotted from my Instagram. People walk by and say hello, and it feels like we’re all in one big family.”
How has social media impacted your #vanlife journey?
“It’s been great for learning about how to get around and making connections with people. It’s a place where people can share their tips and memories and keep a sort of photo album along the way!”
How do you find travelling as a family?
“My daughter loves the fact that we don't know where we're staying, don’t have a plan, and drive off – it really adds excitement. It’s so nice on the campsites that children just feel so safe to run around and make friends.”