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Is Instagram Vanlife Ruining Living in a Camper Van?

The van lifestyle is overly adored on social media but is Instagram vanlife ruining living in a camper van?

Beige Volkswagen van with pop up camper top parked along coast
Volkswagon van. Photo from Unsplash.

Over the past years, social media aesthetics have taken over. Everyone wants to live a life worth being jealous of, and all of our experiences are shared with thousands of followers. Nearly everything we do is shared online – whether for personal enjoyment or to invoke envy among others.

Instagram vanlife has made a grand entrance, attracting people of all sorts to check out what it entails. Every day new individuals are searching the hashtag and joining in to share their experiences. #vanlife on Instagram has over 10.6 million posts to date.

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This social media takeover typically involves young people sharing their experiences living on the road out of a camper or van. Van life seems easy behind the screen. Gorgeous sunrises with coffee, fabulously decorated spaces, and days spent in bikinis.

However, what you see is not always what you get. The social media portrayal does now share the entire experience. (As it rarely does for any activity.)

What people are starting to realize is that living in a van is not so romantic. The lifestyle is overly adored and does not showcase all the challenges (like burnout) or difficulties that real van lifers surpass. Influencers are not sharing the truths about what life on the road is like. This illusion is causing a shock when real people attempt it.

How Instagram Vanlife is Portrayed

First of all, Instagram is only a snapshot of real-life and doesn’t encompass reality. These edited photos are known to only show good sides while ignoring the ugly. The most viral photos have exploded because they seem so luxurious when in truth, they are staged. They don’t really represent how campers live and they pretend as if nothing but glory exists.

Real people living out of vans have since come forward to address how different these influencers show Instagram vanlife versus reality. Some van lifers critique that the beautiful sunrises shown in all the top photos are not from real campsites. Natalie shared her two-day adventure with van life and found a shocking truth: “VanLife is only good with air conditioning.”

As you know, you can’t just park your van anywhere. You can travel with it during the day, but come night, you have to be parked at a campsite or designated rest area. These influencers drive off towards a beautiful sunset, pass it off as their sleeping site, and then make their way back to the reality of campgrounds.

These poor portrayals are causing plenty of young people to think van life is easy, and so they jump in headfirst.

Read more: A Guide To Van Life For Beginners

The Unrealistic Expectations of Instagram Vanlife

Since all this social media talk, people have very scattered thoughts about what life would be like from a van. The expectations most people hold are just unrealistic. It’s not all sunshine and road trips.

A lot of people do their research into van life through social media. They see how attractive it seems, how pretty the vans are, how easy the maintenance seems. This makes it easy for them to want to jump in and try it for themselves. It’s overly romanticized in today’s society and living a life free from any ties seems to be more attractive than ever before.

“I love the idea of painting the reality of van life, but me peeing into a jar one weekend isn’t going to get that many likes on Instagram. No matter what filter I end up using.” 

Matt Watson, Van lifer

When people are not trying out living in vans, they have no idea how to do it. They don’t know what the lifestyle really consists of and they are let down when it isn’t as good as everyone else’s online. These people think it’s an easy adjustment because, well, everyone else is doing it.

The expectations which are given by Instagram vanlife cause almost immediate disappointment when young people give up a steady life for one on the road. It is nothing like they had imagined.

Destroying the Larger Community

Social media life is beginning to ruin the van experience by creating van tourists. These people think a van is a fun way to explore, thinking it seems easy and accessible. They build photo op worthy vans and stock them with high-end unnecessary amenities instead of understanding the simplicity that van life intends.

What these van tourists are trying to do is risky. The van life tourists want to fast-forward to the good times and miss out on the learning curve. Going from zero to 100 is not feasible or realistic. You can’t jam years of van life knowledge, experience, and trial-and-error into days.

Real people who have lived out of vans for years now are coming forward to say that the Earth is seemingly more littered and that the disrespect to the environment is greater than ever before. Instagram vanlife joiners don’t respect their surroundings in the same way the real people living the van life do.

“Just like tourists in any industry, they tend to have far less regard for others,” 

Marlene Lin

This sense of community may be attractive, but everything on social media should be taken with a grain of salt. Nothing is as picturesque as it seems, including the beautiful people in front of beautiful sunsets.  

Van life may not be as luxurious as it is portrayed, but it can still be worth it. If you take the time to learn about how to care for a van and the environment as well, you can learn to live off of it and enjoy the natural beauty around you.

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7 thoughts on “Is Instagram Vanlife Ruining Living in a Camper Van?”

  1. That’s easy, social media ruins everything! Nothing you see on these platforms is real life. It’s all a carefully curated lie that people project as reality to make money from clicks and sponsors, as well as to impress people they shouldn’t care about in the first place. It is largely the fault of social media that American society has devolved into a dysfunctional mess. It is too easy for people to get stuck in a echo chamber of their own creation, never being challenged by a different point of view than their own. If it had never been created we may have been on a very different and better path as a society than the death spiral we are currently in.

  2. Nomadism is going through its faddish phase, with fad followers being drawn to the newest shiny object by social media, and like all fads it will burn out and be abandoned by short-attention span faddishists in due time. Those who prefer the lifestyle and yearn to commune with nature have been around for thousands of years despite the rigors and difficulties associated with it, and in the end the tenderfeet will return to their trend-following town life and leave nature to its true adherents. All that remains is for faddishism to find a new bauble to fixate on, blaming nomadism for disappointed pleasure seeking, and for the herd to crown into that next new thing…

  3. Social media isn’t “ruining ” van life any more or less than it’s changing anything.
    But yes times are a changing.
    If the portrayal is false newbies lured by such posts will learn fast that no matter where you go there you are and it’s chop wood carry water like any other day.
    Although now more the hermit than trekky nowadays most of the folks I see are just trying to get by. The trust funders on holiday I see on you tube blogging. well good for them.
    Go for a walk in the woods.

  4. One option is to travel with a basic phone and no apps! The end purpose in my view is to experience and if you want to share then great, if you want to make money while travelling then if thats your purpose then go for it. Just enjoy the experience!

  5. We see the result of millions of bad apples taking over vanlife in droves!
    I see the comments and photos in social media groups many and many DAILY posts: “Beginning vanlife/RV life journey” Woohoo!!….
    And I don’t even want to get started with the amount of ‘wanna be’ vanlife influencers.
    So, that is the result of trash and feces left behind, and good & responsible nomads who respect the lifestyle are the ones paying the price. Walmart used to be a welcoming place for nomads to park free of charge, but of course, the entitled bad apples began staying at Walmarts and camping there for weeks and made a mess of trash, feces, pee, and a horrible stench around their camper. Walmart got fed up with that crp and now there is no overnight sleeping. Same with other places that used to allow overnight parking, and some people STILL wonder why these places don’t allow overnight stays!
    And… of course, there are going to be the contrarians defending the bad apples ruining it for everyone making excuses for them!

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