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#VANLIFE: The Nomadic Movement Taking Over American Culture

By Makenna Dykstra
Featured Photo: Alex Azabache on Unsplash

“Van life” is taking over the new millennial American tradition of travel.

Photo: @mchar238 via Twenty20

The transient so-called “van life” is surging among millennials and younger generations. Many take to the roads in upgraded vans designed to fill all their sleeping, cooking, cleaning, and exploring needs.

Almost everyone has entertained the notion of taking to the road and never looking back. This lifestyle is not only embodied by many but is rising to extreme social media popularity. Making its rugged yet picturesque appearance on Instagram, TikTok feeds, Pinterest and in living room conversations across the world. The hashtag #VanLife itself has over 9 million shared posts, a testament to its people’s avid dedication to the movement.

Photo: Alex Azabache on Unsplash

The premise of this life is simple: one sleeps, cooks, moves, and lives in one’s van. Home is wherever you are parked that night. Better yet, wherever you capture that aesthetically pleasing snapshot. Show off either the breath-taking landscape, your artfully crafted van or ideally, both.

The world is wide after all, overflowing with beauty beyond comprehension, opportunity hidden in the cracks and seams of monotony. If only we choose to seek it.

This style of living and traveling is not a novel one. Nomadic life rooted in a van was a popular practice throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, as thousands explored the world via the four walls and four wheels of their vehicle.

Van life has experienced an impressive resurgence in the past few years. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic irreparably changed the lives of everyone. Many have taken the term ‘remote work’ or ‘remote learning’ quite literally, either tuning into their responsibilities from a new national park or beautiful vista every morning or rather shirking the nine-to-five office job model as a whole.

Exploding from the digital nomad craze is a reinvested appreciation for nature – or at the very least, a more wide-spread, consistent and well-advertised appreciation for nature. As anxiety concerning the health and future of our planet increases, more people are taking to the roads to experience the wonders of our planet before they are irreparably altered.

Considering Van Life yourself?

Here are 3 top destinations to add to your road trip plan:

  • Zion National Park of Utah:
    • This red-cliffed national park is located in Southwest, Utah, just over six hours from Los Angeles. Explore forest trails, the so-called “hanging gardens,” the winding Virgin River, and crystalline pools. A hot spot for van-lifers, and rightfully so, Zion is a desert oasis like no other.
  • Sequoia National Park of California:
    • Home to the largest known tree on the planet, Sequoia overflows with history and beauty. Hike through forests of truly massive trees. Sequoia National Park is especially elegant in the winter months, when a light dusting of snow coats the floor and the trees, lending a magical air.

Photo: Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

  • Olympic National Park of Washington:
    • Nestled in the Olympic Peninsula of Western Washington, Olympic National Park includes not only old-growth forests and sprawling mountainous ridgelines, but the rugged beauty of Pacific Northwest coasts. Start your morning traversing the Hoh Rain Forest and spend your afternoon gazing at the wonders of the myriad tide pools lining the Pacific Ocean’s edge.

Of course, the best adventure is to an underappreciated, lesser-known destination, preferably a lake, canyon or waterfall so remote only few know its name. But these destinations are not to be missed.

Weighing Van Life Realities

That being said, van life is not always glamorous. While picturesque, living in a van is difficult; showers are not guaranteed, laundry is a rarity and toilet paper is a commodity more treasured than it was even this past March (after all, no one enjoys wiping with leaves).

Despite this, the attraction of this life is strong for many, representing freedom beyond the comparably bare four walls of an office cubicle and the inevitable headaches from staring at a screen all day. It holds promises of a life well-lived, one’s fleeting time in this world grasped tightly with both hands and wrung out for all the beauty so easily missed by many.

Read next: A Day in the Life of a Jet-Setter

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