Freedom camping New Zealand

What is Vanlife Really Like

Vanlife reality behind the image
Overnight parking isn’t always idyllic

What is Vanlife really like

It seems vanlife and motorhome living, travelling and remote working has become a bit of an ideological dream. For many it’s an aspiration for a new way of life – but what is vanlife really like?

Thousands of filtered images portray life in a campervan as an idyllic world full of beautiful people. They often pose alongside perfectly decorated campervan’s amongst incredible scenery and exotic parking locations.

It’s enough to tempt even the most unlikely candidates of vanlife to start searching for that dream campervan.

Motorhome Aire Annecy
Parked up at an Aire in Annecy….practical but not idyllic!

Reality can be very different

The real vanlife, although often idyllic isn’t always so wonderful. Those social media posts of fabulous vanlife living, often come with declarations of expert guidance.  However,  it’s often through perfectly staged photographic images that the vanlife dream is sold to us followers. 

This vanlife illusion makes perfect viewing, although the reality behind the image can be very different. The simplicity of parking up and happily sleeping soundly under the stars is made to sound blissful. However, vanlife does come with moments that are slightly annoying, awkward or just irritating.

Things go wrong and get pricey to fix

Sometimes having to hook up to electric may dampen the images of long, lazy days in the wild. Then, many will crave the simple things taken for granted in a house, like having a long, powerful shower!

Most definitely – emptying the contents of the waste tanks on a regular basis is all part of the process of motorhome travel. Not forgetting those smelly toilet emptying chores along with often “wild goose chase” searches for fresh water.

Other problems, such malfunctions to technology or fitments can cause stress and expense. Anything from a control panel failing, to having no heating in freezing weather or just general glitches, can become frustrating.

Glossy Images Of Fabulous Parking Spots

It’s easy to read and see illusions of fabulous lifestyles from those happy to boast about the ease of living in a campervan.

Lapping up those good vibes may very well be enticing in itself. The thought of just parking up where you like without a care in the world, whilst freshly ground coffee brews in the coffee mug. It all sounds so wonderful, doesn’t it?

However, what is often overlooked to be mentioned is the simple reality, such as driving for hours and still failing to find a place where you can park for the night. Then simply getting cold feet about a place you’ve thought was fine, when suddenly in the depths of night it doesn’t seem so inviting.

No wonder there’s such a growing world of “wannabes” to add to the “newbies” and us “oldies”. After all, why wouldn’t you want to see the world from behind the wheel of a campervan? Surely the social media images are right – aren’t they?

vanlife the reality behind the image
A Sunset Parking Spot with Our New Zealand Self-Build Van – spot the wing mirror of the motorhome next door!

Meeting a few Instagram Vanlife Sensations

Well this got me thinking back to a time on some of our own road trips. The locations shall remain anonymous to avoid trying to guess who it involves. But here’s a couple of vanlife sensation stories to enlighten the reality.

First of all is the tale from when we met a high profile Instagram vanlife couple resulting in a surprise conversation.

It involved a beautiful Instagram profile and a glossy orange VW campervan. Complete with photograph’s of its even more perfect owners who were just stunningly enticing to admiring followers.

In their Instagram feed, they always parked in isolated and fascinatingly idyllic settings. Their VW campervan positioned in the most perfect location, portraying an inspirational Instagram fairytale.

Usually a picnic blanket with a perfectly positioned hammock, an isolated spot and the occupants enjoying their surroundings, all shown to the world.

Enough Instagram followers to fill a town

However, on our encounter the owners and the campervan weren’t parked up where you’d expect. No – far from it in fact.

There was no exotic location or romantic setting and they certainly weren’t watching the sun rise from the rear door of their campervan either.

This Instagram sensation with enough followers to fill a small town back where we come from – were parked up on a campsite!…..Yes, shock horror! I can see you now – spitting out your cornflakes!

Nigel jumped at the chance to engage in conversation. Perhaps I should say that he really hoped to get a bit of insight into how they had amassed such a colossal following. Anyway, along came a tow truck to whisk off the star of the show – the VW campervan to the nearest garage before too much conversation got underway.

All was not well, with the not so shiny looking star campervan. In real life we hadn’t even given it a second glance. In fact, in the non-filtered real world it looked in a rather sad state and so did the owners!

Keeping those Instagram Success Tips Secret

The tight-lipped VW owners were giving no useful tips on how to become an Instagram sensation. Instead the conversation soon turned to everything that had gone wrong with their “dream” campervan. Interestingly, how much the wretched thing had cost them to repair seemed the main topic.

The only good piece of advice taken from the encounter was to never buy anything older than us!

Grey Hair and Wrinkles – What is vanlife really like?

Dare I say it – even the owners of the campervan looked a little more worse for wear in real life!

Sharing the campsite washroom over the course of a few days, I couldn’t help but notice wrinkles and grey hair. Crikey – I know! Can you imagine, if you didn’t spit out the cornflakes earlier, you certainly will now!

Of course, we know all too well that behind the scenes, the reality of those amazing pictures is very different. Behind them is an endless line of rehearsals and images that aren’t good enough to use in public.

In addition to the well rehearsed exotic settings they often come with a line of props to rival an A-list movie set.

Another close encounter

Another close encounter with an Instagram sensation also involved a campground and a VW campervan. This time, we’d parked up within the allocated space provided along with a few other vans. Low and behold, in rolls the blue VW with its very youthful owners behind the wheel.

Instead of pulling in with the ‘boring vans’, they take a little corner away from the main parking area. Before we know it, they’re outside with the Campervan jacked up where they begin some repairs.

Once again the campervan looked a bit dishevelled, as if it had seen better days and definitely not living up to its glamorous Instagram profile.

Like us, the couple stayed a couple of days, using the hot powerful showers and flush toilets provided. Parking in the safety of a dedicated campground without a wild camping idyllic view in sight.

We’ve even met them on an Aire

Then there was the time when we were parked up on an Aire in the South of France. It was located at a marina, so we had to pay for entry, but with it came use of hot showers and proper toilets.

No sooner had we parked up overlooking the harbour, than a white VW campervan pulled in to the parking area. Instead of parking next to the other motorhomes, they did the usual trick of parking out of the way in a car parking spot, but nonetheless beside the sea.

Next, out comes a young couple. Then the woman jumps up on top of the roof of the VW and for the next couple of hours they spend all their time taking photographs! It is actually quite amusing to watch. Even more so when you know most of the world will think the Instagram snaps that follow will be a dreamy location.

Little do people realise, that here they are parked alongside motorhomes and worker’s vans.

Vanlife Professionals – What is vanlife really like

Many of people are actually vanlife professionals – it’s a full-time job, promoting the lifestyle and keeping up with the social media platforms. It involves lots of equipment and time – from drones and cameras to editing and catching the right lighting. Then comes the film set – a fabulous sunset and sunrise but first of all dressing the campervan, the people and the contents!

Wow! It all seems a little bit too much like hard work!

It’s no surprise that vanlife and motorhome living can become a bit of a shock. So anyone unprepared for life on the road and living out of a van can often fall at the first hurdle – that’s called “reality”.

Motorhome Life is still fabulous

Ok, so yes – of course there are some incredible places to park up. However, it’s not all fabulous scenery with birds serenading you in the mornings and waves lashing against crisp white sands.

In this world of mobile Apps, the chances are, those secret spots of a few years ago, are now out there on a minute by minute basis.

Inevitably this means everyone knows about those once isolated parking spots and shares their find in an instant.

We decide what we want to see

With the crazy vanlife trend growing bigger every year, those glossy pics and glowing blog and vlog posts, will just have to keep getting more and more appealing. Keeping the image alive and the reality a little further afield too.

In the meantime, I guess we all need a bit of theatre. So, if that’s what it takes to get us interested in another world outside of the 9 to 5, then maybe it’s not a bad thing.

For all those incredibly successful promoters of vanlife we salute you!

You’ve done incredible. Illusion or not – it’s our own imagination that decides how we see things. It’s a work of art and the gallery will be open for a very long time yet!


Thanks for reading “What is Vanlife Really Like” don’t forget to like, follow and share also by instagram and facebook