Pretty Instagram photos? A rebellion against capitalism? A response to the housing crisis? Why do some people in British Columbia experience “vanlife”?
After graduating from college, TikToker Leah Zecchino decided to leave her home province of Ontario to pursue a life of travel and tree planting in British Columbia. The 22-year-old bought a 2005 Chevy Astro van and spent months renovating it, which she documented on TikTok (@zecchinoleah).
“I started living in my van because of the tree planting. It just seemed like an easy way to have everything accessible for me while living remotely and working remotely for three or four months a year.
With the help of the Internet and her father, she was able to learn “the ins and outs” of everything that went into converting the van, some troubleshooting methods in the event of a malfunction in her solar installation and the mechanics. basic automobile.
I only love my bed and my mom I’m srry ## vanlife
At the end of the tree planting season, she decided to continue the nomadic lifestyle. Zecchino, who lives in Campbell River, has been living in her van since March 2021. She says freedom was a factor in her decision to live in her van.
“Personally, having been in school until I was 22, for every year of my life, I was really looking for a way to be free and do whatever I wanted.”
Social media fictionalized #vanlife
Vandwelling was a nomadic way of life for many people before its popularity grew on social media. But in recent years it has become a widely used hashtag as more and more people have started to share their daily routines, tips and tricks with parking and general van conversion.
On TikTok, there are around 6 billion videos under #vanlife, in addition to content under different iterations like #vanliving, #vanlifer.
Many people who produce social media content about life in their vans are often in their 20s to 30s.
“It’s so common in the demographics of my age because so many people are so fed up with everyone telling them what to do that they sort of idealize this damn life as a way to escape their own reality.” , explains Zecchino.
While some content creators share the ups and downs of life in their vans, others feature a fictionalized version, where they do yoga at sunrise or wake up in a space that looks like it’s out of Architectural Digest.
“It’s a common joke where everyone says, you know, #therealvanlife. It’s important to show people that this is still life. It’s not perfect at all,” says Ola Kalejaye, co- founder and co-creative director of Diversify Vanlife, an online platform that amplifies the nomadic experiences of BIPOC, LGBTQ + and people with disabilities.
“You don’t want to mislead people into believing they are embracing this lifestyle, and this will just be one great Instagram highlights session. “
In addition to showing off an aesthetic nomadic lifestyle, many content creators are “athletic young, pretty white people,” Kalejaye explains.
Historically, racialized people have been under-represented in all of the outdoors, Kalejaye adds. “For example, ‘Black people don’t camping’ is a massive stereotype that has a real historical basis as to why this is the case or why it is perceived to be so. So you end up with this super smooth, whitewashed view of [vanlife]. “
The lack of representation in this nomadic culture is one of the issues that Diversity Vanlife strives to highlight and address. They recently created a van life guide for racialized vandwellers by racialized vandwellers.
“It comes from a point of view where other BIPOCs can look and see like, ‘OK, this actually applies to me. Like, it was not written, you know, in ignorance of my existence and the struggles that I am particularly faced with.
While waking up at sunrise and enjoying nature can be part of vandwelling, the lifestyle isn’t as glamorous as some content creators claim.
For example, the van may break down.
“I actually had a breakdown earlier in April where I had to do a tow. It was really stressful because I woke up and my car wouldn’t start. I was like, ‘What am I doing now?’ But thank God, I had service at the moment, and I was not that far from the grid, ”Zecchino remembers.
Living in a van can also mean not having the convenience of a nearby toilet.
“If you don’t have access to a toilet when you have to go, that stuff sucks. It is not that easy. I mean, unless you have a toilet in your van or there’s a toilet nearby, ”says Thomasina Pidgeon, a longtime vandweller in Squamish.
And for Pidgeon, those little changes or inconveniences are what social media doesn’t describe. In fact, Pidgeon argues that the hashtag is not authentic for the nomadic lifestyle.
“It’s strange to see people market a lifestyle, which is actually quite plain and simple,” Pidgeon says. “When people market it like that to #vanlife, it ends up turning a minimalist lifestyle into a commodity, which really isn’t what it is about. At least for me. “
Most importantly, finding places to park the van is crucial. Some vandwellers park their homes on campgrounds. But not all vandwellers in town want to park in campgrounds or 24-hour parking.
“They might want to be free on public lands and enjoy public lands and have this nomadic journey in their life, which is essential for me,” Pidgeon explains.
But city bylaws, along with stigma, can make it difficult to park a van in a city like Vancouver.
For example, the city of Vancouver only allows people with large vehicles such as motorhomes park on the streets for three hours between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Overnight parking from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. is not permitted unless the driver is not allowed.
And in recent years, the City has doubled the number of recreational vehicles. They cite garbage and human waste as reasons to enforce regulations and evict vandwellers. And while these incidents can happen, Pidgeon maintains that most vandwellers are environmentally friendly.
“Most of the people I know are fairly respectful and practice ‘leave no trace.’ I’m not saying everyone is, but people with more experience in the vehicle life understand the rules and ethics and how to live well in neighborhoods, they know how to be discreet, respectful and know what not to do, ”adds Pidgeon.
It’s not a matter of accommodation, it’s a matter of choice
One of the reasons Zecchino decided to continue living in his van is the lack of affordable housing in British Columbia. Although Zecchino spent around $ 7,500 on her van and conversion, she says it was a worthwhile investment.
“For the price of living here, I was looking between $ 900 and over $ 1,000 a month for rent,” Zecchino explains. “So just dividing the cost of my van by each month that I would pay rent, it was totally worth it. ”
According to Kalejaye, vandwelling can be economically empowering and provide financial freedom. He says some of his friends were able to pay off student and consumer debt by living on the road.
“If you’re able to take down your rent and all those other things, you know, incredible expenses that, like, take away most of your income,” he says.
And while for some vandwellers, housing costs could be a factor in that decision, Pidgeon says for many people it’s not a housing issue. It is about choice and a different way of life that rebels against oppressive systems like capitalism and the legacy of colonialism.
“Why can’t we decolonize the habitat? I think [some people] refuse to recognize that there are other people who want to live differently from what they do. Consumption is killing us. We don’t all have to live a certain way, or the same way, just to keep the system going.