Overlanding vs #Vanlife

Vanlife is to overlanding what roller blading is to skateboarding and bodyboarding is to surfing. Vanlife is the poor, dull cousin who sometimes wears a pretty dress and looks good from far. Vanlife is Nickleback. Overlanding is Hendrix.

Please note, this tongue in cheek opinion piece was written for the American market but the principles are global.

#VanLife became quite popular in the last five years and as fashionable as is it’s less mobile cousin the #TinyHouseMovement. I am talking about you Foster Huntington. Both of these “trends” are simply a reaction to the exorbitant costs of living particularly in the North Western Hemisphere. Your social media accounts are no doubt overflowing with beautiful, carefully composed images of little cabins in the country and VW Kombis on the beach. Young people discovered that living in a van is much cheaper and far more exciting than living in a house or apartment and that a pretty girl in a bikini + wood interior van + beach or forest background + inspirational quote = one billion likes on Instagram. Add one rescue puppy for a trillion likes.

The reality of van life and the tiny house movement is quite different though and is often a cluttered little house in a not so great neighbourhood or permanently being harassed by the police for trying to sleep in your van by the beach or overheating trying to get up into the hills where you can camp for free. Hipsters with beards down to their knees riding retro bicycles while eating a gluten free croissant on the way back to their little van where they will make 100 grand a year selling handmade axes simply do not exist in the real world.

For every cool, beautiful couple living in a vintage VW there are fifty homeless people parked outside Walmart or dodging rangers on BLM land. For every vanlife artist, musician, film maker there are dozens who live on handouts, welfare and charity, but they all share the same hashtag. Vanlife has a dark, seedy underbelly. You can’t fake overlanding (vehicle dependant travel) - you are either travelling with a purpose or you are not. Overlanding is a middle to upper middle class pursuit, it demands expendable income, love and respect for the great outdoors, an educated mind and a burning desire to see what lies beyond the horizon.

There is hope for the # couple and their salvation lies in doing what we do. Vanlife becomes overlanding when the guy and gal, (or gal and gal) decide to use the vehicle for it’s intended purpose and to travel for pleasure, not just to live free. Vanlife ceases to exist as a title when the couple sets off for Alaska or Mexico or the other side of the country, the vanlifers may not acknowledge the fact, but they have graduated.


Vanlife is Walmart, overlanding is REI. Vanlife is instant coffee, overlanding is an Italian espresso. Vanlife is tagging, overlanding is Banksy. Vanlife is Made in China. Overlanding is Made in America.


But we still love all you VanLifers!


Hey, grab a book on your way out, you won’t regret it!




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© 2020 by Luisa Bell @ a2aExpedition