VanLife?.....Yeh...right!!!Image: You Tube
One of the most fascinating developments I've witnessed in the 25 years since I bought my very first camper van- a 1972 VW Type 2 Bay in two tone light blue and white- has been the transformation of a cheap to buy, easy to maintain, quirky piece of German engineering, into a multi million pound industry. Hashtag van life is now sold as a lifestyle and fashion statement through a host of channels. From Youtube vlogs to advertising features; Social media outlets like Instagram to four wheeled glamping in vintage buses.
Of course, the world of Van Life or simple Campervan culture is not these days restricted to VW's. Those who style themselves as van life nomads drive a whole range of vehicles from Fords to Mercs; Renaults to Fiats. However, if you are talking about the vehicle which still sits at the apex of van life culture then the old Air Cooled VW Camper still reigns supreme as the ultimate iconic vanlife vehicle.
Now I enjoy many You Tube vlogs as much as anyone. I've followed Ben & Co's excellent adventures through his slickly made Kombi Life/Hasta Alaska series and in the last year have really enjoyed Theo and Bee's Indie Projects series which like Kombi Life are really well made by two likable thirty somethings travelling mostly in the UK, from their narrowboat base in the English Midlands. With the occasional foreign sojourn. The latter Kombi Life Crew by contrast, have recorded their travels through the Americas. Starting in Chile and over four years, travelling up to Alaska. Both channels have passed 100.000 subscribers-in fact Kombi Life have passed a quarter of a million- which goes to show. For many people I guess, van life is a vicarious existence lived through a screen.
The Indie Projects have increasingly branched out into showcasing other vanlifers vehicles and I notice the viewing figures for these vlogs dwarf those which document their own adventures. Funny that? Personally I prefer seeing their road trips to yet another Sprinter which looks like it should feature in a Van Life equivelent of Country Life. Is it me or are these sooped up vans with bathrooms, ornate woodwork, woodburning stoves, complex electrics and chintzy interiors, a million miles away from the original idea of using a campervan for the freedom it brings when exploring new horizons?
In this regard, a special shout out to Camervan Culture and the main dude-Jed- a plasterer who now runs a successful VW Campervan parts business darn sarf. Jed drives a 1980's VW T25 Synchro which he has driven through the Moroccan deserts and up to the Arctic Circle. Charting his trips on a series of entertaining You Tube vlogs which are well worth watching if you haven't seen them. The point is, Jed's vehicle is a proper job! Not some Harrogate tea room on wheels!
Which brings me to the gist of this piece; how hashtag vanlife has moved from being a hippy ideal to a corporate branding exercise. I was flicking through the You Tube channels and I couldn't fail to be taken by a thumbnail showing an attractive thronged female arse standing next to an old Type 2. In the interests of research you understand, I had to investigate further. It turns out the channel is Wandxr Bus and that particular video is fast approaching two million hits. Wandxr Bus are not averse to showing lots of bronzed flesh on their thumbnails and who can blame them you might say.
Sex sells. These guys turn out to be Sabrina and Jimmy. She an LA model with lets face it, a pretty stunning, voluptuous figure which is usually spilling out of a tight bikini, and he, a tall handsome slice of beefcake. How can you not resist these guys!
Just your common or garden,every day vanlifers!Image-You Tube
Well some people can, not least You Tuber Dave2D who calls them out as Bullshitters. You see, the suggestion is that in an age of Fake News, Sabrina and Billy are fake Vanlifers and its not just Dave who is calling them out. I must admit, there is something about them and their videos which just doesn't ring true. Apart from the fact that the characters look like they've stepped out of a multi million dollar advertising campaign.
Two gorgeous people gamboling around under endless blue skies, driving their bus over empty white sands with a dog or two who appear and mysteriously disappear from their adventures at will? There's also the fact that their van is always spotless. Where are the dirty pans and plates..the sleeping stuff rammed under seats, the general crap that you need on a road trip, even if its only for a weekend? These are people who claim that this tiny van is their only home. Where do they store all that camera gear and drones? Is this fake van life which is in effect a well orchestrated commercial advertising campaign?
One film making vlogger claimed their videos are just too slick and professional for two supposedly self taught vloggers. The 'actors' themselves, the cinematography and the music are selling something but what is it? I recently discovered a feature about them on the Vice YT channel and sure enough, in the video they admit that commercial companies are paying them to promote products. In one scene, Sabrina steps out of the bus on the Boston waterfront in a black mini dress slit down to her waist to reveal her assets in what turned out to be an Instagram shoot to promote a watch.
With their Instagram account and YouTube channel ratcheting up subscribers by the thousands, it's pretty clear sex plus the hashtag vanlife culture sells and little wonder that businesses are getting on board to exploit what is after all, an artificial idealised interpretation of vanlife which for most people who own and drive campervans, can be quite often, grimy, frustrating, cluttered and involving mud. Especially if you live in Europe !