Hashtag Vanlife

Is it just me or is there suddenly loads of good looking, squeaky clean, sporty, white young heterosexual couples blogging about life in a van? No it's not just me, after research it seems that this new trend is real and happening and coming to a social media platform near you soon, no not soon, now!

I always feel the need to remind you readers that what you read here are just my views and opinions mixed with some facts that I have discovered after research. Most of my articles start as a post on Facebook or a shorter rant on my blog and if they get a reaction I try and expand on what I originally wrote as well as taking on board other people's comments.

And also lets get some things straight. I believe as human beings we are all equal and are all entitled to live our lives as we sit fit as long as it doesn't impact on other people. I believe in being real, being honest, trying to make the world a better place for us all to live in. I believe in freedom to put your voice out there and encourage active discussion. I have absolutely no problem with anyone wanting to live in a van!

For ease of reading this blog I am calling the squeaky clean couples the 'vanlifers', the new age or crusty travellers 'new travellers' and traditional Roma or Irish travellers 'gypsies'. None of us are keen on labels but it is just so as I don't have to go into a long explanation every time I mention travellers or people living in vans. There is a difference and there is also an overlap so it's not as straightforward as all that but bear with me.

My post on Facebook on the Crusty Travellers group said "If I see any more squeaky clean couples and their fucking vanlife blogs and shops I'm gonna puke..." and wow did it get a reaction! 230 reactions to be precise and 48 comments, OK nothing much compared to some posts but a lot for me and on a specialist group. Mainly in agreement I must say although some replies gave you the feeling there were some travellers out there who looked down their noses at these people. Some people thought I was being out of order, being elitist, even hateful but that dear readers just isn't true.

First a very short history lesson...

A long long time ago some people from Asia took to the road and travelled into Europe, they weren’t the first people to travel by any means, humans had been doing in for centuries. These people were eventually known as gypsies. At some point in the past some people in Ireland took to the road and were known as Pavee. Both these groups have had a long history of living on the road first in tent type structures, then in horse drawn wagons and in more modern times in caravans. These groups have faced persecution and racism for a very long time and even now when everyone is so keen to be politically correct it seems like it is OK to ridicule them and show massive bigotry towards them.

Back in 1970 some hippies went to a festival on the Isle of Wight and some of them created a free fringe event outside the fence which was eventually torn down and the whole event made free. A couple of years later was the first Windsor free festival strongly linked with the squatters slogan 'Pay No Rent', and then the first Stonehenge peoples free festival happened a couple of years after that. The Wally tribe squatted Stonehenge for much of 1974 and the festival became a real celebration of life continuing until the state could not tolerate it any more.

Summer on the road going to festivals became a nomadic lifestyle all year round for those facing the harsh reality of poverty in the 70s as well as alienation due to alternative views. During the 80s peace camps sprang up, most famously Greenham Common and Molesworth and travellers joined CND supporters at the camps. As some of these camps got evicted the 'Peace Convoy' was born and joined with the Wally tribe the term 'New Age Travellers' was coined by the press to describe these folk.

Just like the gypsies, new travellers faced harsh criticism for their lifestyle choice. They ran into bigoted people wherever they went, the press had a field day slandering them and building up false stereotypes of the great unwashed and the state did it's very best to shut the whole movement down. Stonehenge free festival came to a disturbing end in 1985 with the so called 'Battle of the Beanfield' where new travellers had their homes destroyed, their children taken into care and were arrested for nothing more than trying to visit Stonehenge. All charges were later dropped.

The Castlemorton Common free festival in 1992 was a turning point as it resulted in the government bringing in the 'Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994' which in effect criminalised the new traveller lifestyle. It made life increasingly difficult for new travellers, and many left Britain for Ireland and mainland Europe as well as many feeling forced back into bricks and morter.

There was still a new traveller culture in the UK and as the years passed and the past became a distant memory there were those that had been quietly waiting a return to a somewhat better life on the road. The noughties brought a resurgence of the festival scene and along with that jobs for the new travellers who already had the skills needed. Bands from the free festival and protest scenes reformed to play at some of the smaller grass roots festivals.

A new wave of new travellers joined, maybe not quite as 'hippy' or as 'crusty', folk that had been brought up on dance music but had missed the first wave of raves in the 90s. Folk keen to live ethically and with less impact on the earth. This is where I guess there is one of the crossovers as they were almost the very first vanlifers but were embraced onto the new traveller scene.

Talking of crossovers we are now at a point where some of the first travellers are retired, some have even ditched their old trucks for plastic fantastics with all mod cons and have joined the other retired folk living it up on many of the park ups and campsites around the south of Spain and Portugal. Some are still in their trucks hanging out with some younger folk but we are all human after all so really we should be trying to build bridges between ourselves despite our differences.

Park up of New Travellers on the Ridgeway near Avebury, a lovely site until National Trust and Police moved everyone on.

Fast forward to 2017 and all of a sudden its fashionable to live in a van. It has been coming for a while of course these things don't happen overnight. For many years there has been a growing number of retired people in their 'plastic fantastic' campervans who have taken to travelling for at least 6 months during the winter to warmer climates in Spain and Portugal and further afield. Some are even full-timing as they like to call it.

We have seen a growing number of articles and TV programmes talking of 'tiny homes', 'small spaces' and 'glamping' and more importantly we have hit a recession again. This growing band of vanlifers are generally young people who are fed up with paying high prices in rent, who cannot get on the property ladder and maybe also have a bit of a conscience when it comes to our impact on the earth.

They are the van dwellers of the 21st century using digital technology to help fund their lifestyle choice. Many have blogs where you can see beautiful pictures of a classic campervan with a backdrop of an amazing waterfall or a girl in a bikini doing yoga in front of her van. Some have shops where you can buy prints of their photos or a '#vanlife' logo on a mug. Great that they have found a way to earn a living on the road right? Wrong.

Well in most cases anyway. To be earning money from your blog means you have sponsors that tell you the sort of pictures they want to see. So lets just perpetuate the sexulising of women by putting one in the skimpiest bikini we can leaning over the back of the campervan, oh and make sure she is a size 8 of course and young of course! No big ladies in combat pants and army boots reading a book, oh unless we are trying to appeal to bigger ladies to sell our boots too and then maybe we can set up that photo after we've sent you a free pair of said boots in a box that must be seen in the picture! Yes folks sadly product placement is also a big thing in these blogs.

Girl on a beach NOT in a bikini. Girl NOT a size 8. Girl NOT trying to look good for the camera.

This is what the real problem is in my mind. Photos that are 'set up' to appeal to a certain audience. Products placed in a photograph because you have been sent them for free and have to advertise them on your blog. The audience are not being given a true picture of 'vanlife' they are being fed an ideal, a dream, a fantasy.

Sunset, van, beach, a vanlife bloggers dream photo but oops you can see the crusty hippy chimney!
The reality for many new travellers and I'm sure for some vanlifers is sometimes very different to the portrayal on social media. Whilst the vanlifers don't have to deal with the negativity of bigoted people they still have their fair share of problems. They never mention having to take a crap behind a tree on a busy main road or crapping in a plastic bag, (I've never had to do either of these by the way but were mentioned in the comments on my original post). The funniest comment was from Rob "#vanlife!! Piss bottle was full so had to go in the sink #vanlife! Parking ticket for being on the pavement #vanlife! Pooing in a bush #vanlife!

It is a little bit twee, selling us this little slice of living in a van. Telling everyone that wants to listen about how 'free' they feel now. But is it really freedom? Going to places specificity to get a photo, spending hours waiting for the right light for that one shot?

Picturesque park up but better get rid of the anarchy graffiti as it wont appeal to the masses!

What I also find a little unsettling is that the majority are all young white heterosexual couples. In my experience of 8 years travelling the UK and mainland Europe the majority of people living in vans are white single males between 20-70 and then white couples aged 30-70. Where are the blogs by the guys on their own? Oh of course no girl to put in a bikini and take pictures of!

I absolutely applaud people for looking at better ways to live, and more so ways to live that take you out of your own comfort zone as they are often rewarding and life changing. I certainly have learnt more and changed more in the time travelling than ever before. But I wonder how much some of these people are really learning or gaining from their van life adventures. Fleeting stops in as many different places as possible, can you really get a feel for a place from that? Spending hours setting up a photo instead of just taking in the moment and enjoying what is there, how are you enriching your life doing that?

While discussing the vanlifers on my Facebook post there were some comments from new travellers that came across as if they felt they were better than these people. I don't think that mostly that was what was intended, I think that new travellers and particularly ones that have been on the road for 25+ years have had a long hard struggle to hold on to their lifestyle. New Traveller culture is a real social movement and I think it just grates on some people a little to suddenly see these squeaky clean couples gentrifying their lifestyle.

New traveller winter, frost on the ground #vanlife, water frozen #vanlife #no wood for burner #vanlife.
New traveller culture that spawned from the hippy movement and the protest movement was and still is all about freedom to live your life as you see fit. Do no harm to others and enjoy your time on the earth whilst trying to contribute something positive and so in essence no-one from that movement should have a problem with the van life crowd. But if you've been moved on more times than you can remember, been shouted at from passing cars as you sleep and been refused entry to the local shop or pub I guess there is a little resentment to the vanlifers.

But their are little niggles, would the vanlifers stop if they saw a new traveller broken down at the side of the road especially if you looked a bit scary with dreadlocks and tattoos or if you were covered in mud from just trying to push a wheel spinning vehicle off a muddy site? If a new traveller knocked on the door of a vanlifer in the evening parked in a layby would they try and slide their wallet or laptop out the way before letting you in? Part of me thinks that probably quite a few of these van lifers probably wouldn't stop if they saw you broken down and probably would be scared you would steel something if you came into their van. Having said that travel broadens the mind and as you meet people from different walks of life your perceptions start to change. Lets hope that is the case!

In my experience new travellers are often the most helpful people especially in times of need like a breakdown or if you need a couple of tea bags until the morning. Not just to their own kind but to anyone. If a new traveller saw anyone in a campervan broken down they would stop and offer help.

Lets hope that 'vanlife' becomes a social movement for good and not all about paid blogs, merchandise and product placement. Lets hope that ALL people living on the road can be free from persecution and not criminalised or judged just because of the way they choose to live. And lets hope our 'New Traveller Culture' stays strong and ethical as we embrace the digital age and the newest of new travellers on the road.

Thanks for looking :) xxx


Unknown said…
1970 IOW festie Sam? I remember Desolation Row, I was a paying customer in the main arena, It was not a pleasant festie at all.

But festies had just got going and there was no knowledge about organising one, they dug a huge pit for us to have a dump in, the bogs overhung this pit which was full of great heaving richards, I did feel very nervous sitting over this lot.

But then I don't suppose you wanted to know that, sorry.

I do remember the wallys, they were everywhere. Love, Tim.