A book just about campervans! You can imagine just how much that appealed to me. I was lucky enough to be chosen as a winner of The Rolling Home book, ‘The Culture of Vanlife’ in a Twitter competition. If you’re thinking of buying this for yourself or think that it might make a great present for the campervan lover in your life, here’s my review.
Firstly I wanted a bit of background about The Rolling Home. In 2016 they published a photographic book and today they are producing regular journals which are a platform for campervan owners from around the world to share their passion for living in a van through a collection of stories, illustrations, interviews and technical advice. The Rolling Home story involves Calum Creasey, Lauren Smith and a 1996 VW Transporter. They have been travelling on and off since 2010, creating their dream van on a low budget with an eye for style and finding their own community. You can read more about them on their website.
The Culture of Vanlife is a delightful book to flick through. It is packed with beautiful drawings and photographs that make you want to start travelling. With an eye for an evocative image, you could just gaze at the photographs and cartoons in this hefty book and be happy.
But how do the words stack up? Once you start reading you find a collection of essays and chapters by different writers that aim to explore the culture of vanlife through the ideas and people that make it. On the first page they sum up their way of thinking about living in a campervan, seeing them as, ‘Catalysts for happiness.’
There is plenty of variety here. The first chapter discusses the perils of social media against the urge to be nomadic and appreciate the present. I was interested in Mattias Wieles’ chapter about vanlife and minimalism. Mattias and his girlfriend travelled for a year in a yellow van packed with everything they owned.
‘We sold everything, threw out all financial burdens, cut all redundancies out of our lives. All our possessions fitted in our little van now; ties had been cut, jobs left behind, subscriptions to magazines and the gym cancelled. We said goodbye and felt free as never before.’
Mattias writes that a shift in how they viewed their trip happened when they left Europe and adapted to having limited opportunities to buy food and fill up with water and they found a simpler life. He sums up perfectly how living in a campervan eliminates anything unnecessary from your life until there is no hiding from who you really are. With no fancy job, the latest smart phone or new clothes to shield you, vulnerability can materialise. Mattias writes honestly about how the road changes you and that in this simpler world there is just the earth and the people you love.
There is, of course, a chapter on the vans, although no mention of the vehicles I have owned, a VW T4 and T5 or a Renault Master … enough said! Let’s move onto interior design, where readers can see there is no right way to do it and everyone has a different idea of a perfect campervan. If you are a self-builder you will enjoy the case studies. There is something for everyone here, a 4×4 Merc, a VW T25, a small Japanese van, some technical info, a van with a wood burning stove and one with a roof-top bed.
Chapter Three is about vanlife people and readers are invited to meet the ‘van dwellers.’ ‘The Adrenaline Junky’ fills her camper with kit for activities. ‘The Digital Nomad’ is a working recluse who is always online. ‘The Hipsters’ live in a Mercedes Sprinter and have a herb garden on the dash. ‘The Eco Warrior’ has a recycled Transit van and ‘The New-Age Hippies’ have a converted horsebox which they share with their rescue dogs. ‘The Golden Oldies’ have a coach built ‘van and travel around Europe spending the children’s inheritance. These are just for fun; I don’t recognise myself in any of these vanlife profiles and there is still no mention of a Renault Master!
The real strength of The Culture of Vanlife is in the personal stories it tells. Matt and Steph talk honestly about full-time vanlife as a young couple who spend six months a year on the road
‘For us, van living created a very intimate and close relationship. Disagreements are dealt with immediately and we usually end up laughing about it an hour later! As a result we have become excellent at communicating and knowing how the other feels, sometimes even without speaking.’
The thoughts on solo van travel might touch you; the van owners who make music and busk on their travels might inspire you; or reading about the family in a converted bus might encourage you to reconsider your life’s trajectory.
‘In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the great hall that warriors go to after falling in battle … there is a lesser-known land, Vanhalla. Some say it is a fictional place, where camper vans and their inhabitants go to when they no longer travel.’
I hope I won’t be ending up in Vanhalla soon but this fantastic idea introduces a list of favourite places to travel, from Europe to South America, India and Canada. There are stories from New Zealand and rugged British Columbia. You will find plenty here to inspire your own trip.
This is a book that asks questions and tries to get beyond the hashtag campervan lifestyle on social media. The book reflects on the tension between the simplicity of vanlife that so many people seek and digital connections that allow remote campervan fans to reach out to others. The authors find both real communities and those in cyberspace and consider their value.
Yes, this is a book that will look beautiful on your coffee table and any campervan owner could buy it to browse and learn from. If you are looking for a gift, I would suggest you buy it for that reflective and discerning friend who is yearning for a campervan. If they sit down and read some of these stories they will either buy a ‘van and set off on their own journey the next day or realise the lifestyle isn’t for them. Either way they will thank you for the present.
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