Rick Hurst Web Developer in Bristol, UK

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Category: instagram

Down the Rabbit Hole of #vanlife on social media

When I started this blog (as “Rick on the Road”) in 2010, Instagram was yet to be launched, and it was another two years before Foster Huntington popularised the #vanlife hashtag on instagram. There were plenty of campervan-related videos on YouTube, but relatively few dedicated channels – at least compared to the massive amount that exist today. The first channels I remember watching were¬†Chad DeRosa’s “Living The Van Life” and Where’s my office now (both US based) and Campervan Culture (UK based). Campervan Culture in particular raised the bar for the quality of video production as time went on, and was certainly the first time i’d seen drone footage in an “amateur” campervan video.

At time of writing there is a massive amount of choice of vanlife-related youtube channels, most of which have a parallel life in the form of an instagram account.

But what does “vanlife” actually mean?

This is a contentious issue, it seems. It’s a made-up word, with the word van and life joined together, and it seems to refer mainly to people who live in vans. I’ve seen comments on instagram and youtube where a full-time “vanlifer” will angrily claim the term for themselves, but with over 3.7 million instagram posts (at time of writing) using the tag, and i’d hazard a guess that only a tiny proportion of those pictures depict people living full-time in a van, so it’s a pretty generic term covering pretty much anything campervan-related whether it’s living in one, building one, or lying in the back of one looking at a sunrise while you pretend you haven’t just scrambled to set up the self-timer on your camera.

Is it possible to make a living making vanlife youtube videos?

It seems some people are, but they’ve had to work at it – regular videos with decent content, subscribers built up over a period of years, well designed thumbnails to draw people in (sometimes, dare I say, using clickbait tactics!). I was curious to know how much income some of these channels might generate, purely on youtube ad revenue – socialblade is a really useful site, if you want to get an idea. In short, even the most popular channels I watch aren’t making that much – a living possibly, but only if you have no rent/mortgage to pay because you live in a van! Having said that – youtube ad revenue is only part of the story, with sponsorships/ ad placement/ merchandise sales etc. also being a source of revenue. There’s also Patreon which is a sponsorship platform that some of the channels use for subscription-only content.

Vanlife community

While we were planning and saving up for our current van, I started regularly watching van-related youtube channels and it became like reality TV for me. Most of the vans in the videos have their instagram names displayed so potential followers (instagram) or subscribers (youtube) can easily find them online if you spot them in the real world.

Here are some of the channels i’ve been watching recently. I’ve realised these are all UK-based channels – this wasn’t intentional but i’ve found the content to be more relevant to me than most of the US-based ones i’ve watched (plenty of good ones, maybe i’ll do another post on those), so i’ve just gravitated towards these channels.

Indie Projects

This is probably the most popular uk-based vanlife channel – i’ve been following Theo and Bee on instagram before they even came up with the indie projects name. Their videos are a mixture of their own van adventures, initially in a VW T4, van tours of other people’s vans, their new van self-build sprinter van and their plans for a homestead in Portugal.

Youtube Channel

Instagram

Website

Beyond the van

Rich from beyond the van popped up in a couple of Indie Projects videos and I started watching his various van conversion and European trip videos. The van conversions range from a Renault Kangoo up to an LDV Luton van. Loads of practical content to be found on the channel.

Youtube Channel

Instagram

Website

From Rust to Roadtrip

A really good travel series from Lucy and Ben, a couple travelling Europe in their self-converted LDV Convoy. Nicely filmed and narrated, plenty of travel inspiration to be found in these videos, even with the frequent breakdowns!

Youtube Channel

Instagram

Website

Houseless not homeless

Martin has some funny content, I started watching this channel when he rapidly kitted out an old BMW estate to go travelling in when his van was off the road – if you’re on a budget and want ideas and a laugh, this is the channel to watch!

Youtube Channel

Instagram

Website

Finding Freedom

Originally a couple travelling Europe in a transit van, currently about Possy building her own LDV convoy camper on a budget – regular crossovers with Beyond the Van – the live streams are fun.

Youtube Channel

Instagram

A Bus and Beyond

All the channels mentioned so far cover self-build vans and vanlife on a budget – Shaun and Lizzy cover the other end of the vanlife spectrum reviewing new stuff that costs almost as much as a house, and staying on actual campsites. Very watchable, and it’s interesting to see what’s on offer to buy off the shelf if budget wasn’t an issue.

Youtube Channel 

Instagram

Website

Vanlife.tv

Lots of practical content on this channel – originally based around a VW T4 similar to ours, now building out a Vauxhall Movano.

Youtube Channel

Instagram

Website

Project Amber

“When life gives you lemons, piss off somewhere and be a hippy”. Wise words. Very entertaining channel following this guys European adventures in a converted ambulance.

Youtube Channel

Instagram

Sarah and the Bear

A relatively new channel, these two are very chilled travelling the country and national trust properties in their white VW T25 (makes me very nostalgic for Rocky, our previous van!).

Youtube channel

Instagram

Northern Explorers

I found this channel when I was looking for information on the retro-looking Barefoot Caravan. Then in a massive coincidence a few days later I bumped into them with their Barefoot at a campsite, and got a real-life tour, it was like stepping through the screen!

YouTube channel

Never read the comments on YouTube!

Youtube seems to attract the best and the worst when it comes to comments – I think the majority of the comments on these channels are positive, but there’s a lot of idiots commenting too – best avoided if you don’t want to come crashing straight back down to earth after a dose of vicarious vanlife!

Freerange Freelance on Social Media

No immediate plans for a Freerange Freelance youtube channel, though I wouldn’t rule it out entirely. But we are on instagram and twitter.

Do you have a vanlife channel/instagram channel that we should be following? Nudge us on instagram and let us know!

 

Analysis of my social media usage

Over the last couple of years i’ve tried to rationalise the way I use various social media sites, and I realised that how I use a service has evolved over time.

Flickr

I think flickr was the first social network (of sorts) that I signed up to, in 2005. It was the instagram of it’s day, but with an important difference in that people uploaded whole galleries at a time. It made a real feature of the use of tags, so that you could follow an event, or add contacts and follow their streams. I even signed up for a pro account to allow me to create more galleries. I’d also use it as a blog/ diary – frequently posting pictures of the coffee or beer I was drinking (like I say – the instagram of it’s time). I kept twitter for personal/ creative use, rather than posting family pics, baby photos etc., but the fact that it had a permissions system meant that I could restrict content to people marked as friends if I wanted to. I’m not really using flickr now, and am shortly to let my pro membership expire – it doesn’t offer me enough as a paid service, it’s hardly changed over the last few years, it feels clunky to use. Also, alarmingly it also seems to be full of really good photographers, which doesn’t fit in with my desire to post grainy camera phone pics of my food, like I now do on instagram.

Facebook

I also dived into facebook in 2005 (I think), and pre-twitter, most of my friends were from the web industry, and I used it mostly like I do with twitter now, for joining in conversations mainly about building web things. As it became more mainstream, I started using it to keep in contact with old friends and current non-techie friends, and it became a strange mix. I was also getting friend requests from people i’d never met, and as facebook became more.. err… social, I started to trim my contacts down to only people I had met in real life. When twitter took off, many people had their twitter and facebook status updates synchronised, and this started to drive me mad, seeing the same things over and over, so one night I deleted pretty much all my web industry friends (all of them were on twitter anyway), stopped posting anything techie to my status updates and embraced it as a way of keeping up with non-techie/ web industry friends (old and current) and family.

Twitter

My twitter use hasn’t evolved that much – I post less pictures of my food and coffee than I once did (as i’ve already mentioned, I have instagram for that now), but due to it only having basic privacy settings, I tend not to post any family pictures, and am pretty guarded about posting anything personal. It’s mostly for technical discussion, but is also social, as of course some of my web industry friends have become good friends out of work (but still tend to talk shop down the pub). The thing I still really hate about twitter is that there is no native “mute” function (although it exists in some twitter clients), which means that I tend to unfollow people if they get a bit noisy tweeting from a conference or something, then by the time you go back to follow them again, they’ve been offended and decided to unfollow you back! I have to say facebook is much better for dealing with this kind of thing – you can anonymously mute people, and it’s much easier to group people and select who sees what. Twitter has lists, and i’ve tried grouping people into lists, so I can choose to only see tweets from certain groups of people, but it has no prominence as a feature in the native twitter UI, and people feel sidelined if they are only on a list and not on your main timeline.

Instagram

I was late to the party on this, only starting to actively use it in the last few months, but just like flickr back in 2005, I use it to explore my creative side (mediocre pictures of clouds, coffee and food), and as a kind of diary, to remind myself what I was up to, and where I had been. Instagram public profiles have just arrived, and this has made me feel unsure about how I want to use instagram. Even though initially my pictures were set to public, it still felt like a fairly private personal thing, that I just shared with a few friends and web industry aquaintances, so i’ve set it to private for the time being. I don’t really want or need to showcase my instagram pictures to the general public, but occasionally I will post them over to facebook or twitter. So not sure which way i’ll go on that – if I do choose to make it public, i’ll be less likely to post any family or personal stuff, and there’s only so many cloud pictures my instagram followers can take!