Empowered by new remote work arrangements—and a desire to get out and explore at a time when conventional vacation travel was a challenge—many people decided to embrace the #VanLife lifestyle and hit the road. Some rented Airstreams, others outfitted secondhand Sprinter vans and plenty of others simply rented an RV. Of course “van life” has been around for the better part of a decade. But the pandemic definitely supercharged it.
The road trip resurgence doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon either. One company that has benefited from the open road’s renewed allure is Outdoorsy, an organization founded in 2015 that acts as the Airbnb of camping vehicles. It lets the owners of vans rent them out to vacationers throughout the United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia, and more. You’ve got the choice of drivable vans and RVs—along with towable trailers—in a range of sizes and available amenities. The choice of how “rough” you want to get while roughing it is completely up to you.
Search Instagram for the #VanLife tag today and you’ll get over 16 million results. And that number is growing rapidly. While cute, customized, hippie-style campers garnered most of the attention on social media during the pandemic boom, America’s insatiable new appetite for van life means that a whole new generation of electric vehicles and tech-forward concepts will usher it into a new era.
Ford recently unveiled an all-new and electrified Transit van, the Custom Nugget, which combines advanced new vehicle features with a premium camper interior to deliver more enjoyable (and sustainable) outdoor trips. A serious van life chariot, complete with a tilt-roof that sleeps four and tech-forward conveniences, like a solar roof panel, driver-assist safety options, a tailgate-mounted shower, and a massive amount of storage throughout. So far, it’s only available in Europe, so we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see it stateside.
Earlier this fall, Volkswagen debuted its latest camper van, the T7 California Camper, at the 2023 Caravan Salon—the premier trade show for mobile living brands and enthusiasts) in Dusseldorf. Bigger and packed with more tech than its predecessor, the concept previews the production model slated to go on sale sometime next year. The plug-in hybrid van offers a spacious interior with versatile configuration upgrades like dual sliding doors that not only make the interior feel more spacious but add much more natural light and access to storage areas. The seats are also easily removable for extra space, and of course there's the aluminum pop-top roof. The interior features LED lights and USB sockets for power, and can be controlled by a multifunction tablet at the back of the van.
But it’s not just the legacy automakers playing in this space. Startups like Grounded are gaining in popularity thanks to their more modern approach to outfitting a camper van. The brand’s first batch of modular, fully electric campers allows you to fully customize your van’s interior layout to suit your needs. Their extensive library of components enables a near-infinite amount of customisation—giving you the freedom to create a personalized interior, whether you're looking for more storage, a larger bed or a dedicated workspace. Grounded’s fully electric, solar equipped, high roof campervan that lets you sustainably explore for 250+ miles per charge. And they’re now working on an expandable, aerodynamic trailer—taking all the good things about their modular system and shrinking it down into a more towable (and affordable) package.
You see, you don’t necessarily need a van to live that adventurous, rugged van life. Trailers and rooftop camper kits allow you to use your SUV or truck as a shelter, just with a little less space. But some are plenty spacious and boast some impressive features. Montana-based GFC already has a rooftop camper setup for Toyota's new Tacoma pickup, and the new wedge-shaped platform includes a memory-foam mattress and enough room to stand inside. Which is to say, there’s no wrong way to van life … and our options are only getting better, more sustainable and increasingly wired-in to help us stay connected, no matter how far off we wander.
* FYI: The origins of #VanLife can be traced back to 2012, when a former corporate employee, Foster Huntington, gave up his lucrative life in the concrete jungle to live in a van full-time and documented many of his adventures on social media.