The 2010s Sparked a Camper Van Renaissance

How a modest method of transportation became a way of life

Camper Van
Camper vans have undergone a resurgence in the last decade.
allen watkin/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / December 21, 2019 1:26 pm

Before the current decade, the idea of living in a van was perhaps best enshrined in popular culture as the punchline of many a Saturday Night Live sketch featuring motivational speaker Matt Foley. As the 2010s draw to a close, though, something’s changed — now, van life (or #VanLife) has become trendy and even glamorous, the kind of thing that gets written about in The New Yorker

How did we get from there to here? At Curbed, Megan Barber explored the shifting face of calling a van home. Barber makes the case succinctly: since 2011, she writes, “the #VanLife hashtag has spawned a lifestyle movement, brought new blood into the RV industry, and inspired over 6 million Instagram posts.”

As for why, Barber traces this to Foster Huntington, who helped to popularize the #VanLife hashtag. Instagram is another factor cited in the increasing popularity of, well, van life — after all, Instagram is aptly suited to capture the inside of a compact living space, especially one tricked out with retro accoutrements.

But repurposed and restored vintage vans are only part of the story; there’s also the reinvigorated industry surrounding camper vans, which has also grown in the last decade, with numerous high-profile examples. The article notes that camper van manufacturers took a little while to respond to the demand, but when they did, the impact was deeply felt.  

And, as Barber notes, there’s also another reason for van life to become more popular in the last decade: done correctly and it can be an economical way of living. Barber writes that “van life was a way to live debt free in the face of rising housing costs in the mid-2010s; some people left the corporate grind behind and moved into a van in order to reduce costs.” We’re a long way from Matt Foley, that’s for sure.

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