If you’ve been following #Vanlife for a while, you probably remember the original big names in the travel world. These are people who paved the way for all of us. They set out on an unconventional life in search of freedom and happiness and made us all realize that it’s possible to live our dreams.
So who are these OG Vanlifers, and what are they doing now? Let’s dive in.
When Did Vanlife Start Becoming Popular?
Many people think of Vanlife as a relatively new phenomenon, but the concept of living and camping in vans isn’t new at all. Dr. William Gordon Stables commissioned the first horse-drawn touring caravan in the late 1800s. The 1950s gave rise to the ever-popular VW bus, which set the course for mobile, compact living.
But if we’re talking about modern Vanlife, complete with that Instagram-worthy picture of a van parked alongside breathtaking scenery, it gained steam in 2011. This was when the hashtag “#Vanlife” started cropping up more.
Its popularity has exploded ever since. One search, and you’ll see thousands of inspirational van builds, travel photos, and modern nomads. Today, #Vanlife has millions and millions of posts on Instagram.
The Original Vanlife Influencers
So, who were the people who started it all? Let’s take a look at who they are, how they started, and whether or not they’re still living the Vanlife.
(aka the Off Grid Skoolie, Zeppelin Travels, Tiny Home Tours, Chris and G Travels)
How They Started: Chris Penn has lived life on the road for more than 10 years. He’s one of the first people to make vanlife popular. He began his journey in a modest 1995 Ford Econoline and then moved to a Class B motorhome, a Class A motorhome, and finally a school bus conversion.
Since beginning his nomadic life, Chris has taken on many successful projects, including Zeppelin Real Estate Media, The Off Grid Skoolie, the Tiny Home Tours Project, and more.
Are They Still in the Vanlife? Chris is still living in his epic skoolie project and isn’t looking back. He has made a name for himself and now has multiple income sources.
How They Started: Kyle Pounds is an eccentric YouTuber. He decided to live the vanlife in 2010 and makes quirky videos about his unique life philosophy.
He was also one of the first YouTubers to “vlog” their day-to-day experiences living in a van, paving the way for future travelers and vloggers. Kyle is also an avid bicyclist and has done several long-distance tours.
Are They Still in the Vanlife? It’s not clear where Kyle lives at this point, but we do know that he was still in his van in the spring and summer of 2021.
How They Started: Foster Huntington is an artist, photographer, filmmaker, and traveler who has published photography books about vanlife and tiny living. These include Home is Where You Park It and The Cinder Cone.
Foster has been traveling and living in a van since 2011 and is credited with creating the hashtag “#vanlife” during that time. His first van was a 1987 VW Vanagon Syncro. He has since traveled more than 100,00 miles all over the U.S.
Are They Still in the Vanlife? Foster Huntington is still very much involved in vanlife, but in 2014 he set up a home base on the Columbia River Gorge. This is where he created The Cinder Cone.
Living the Van Life
How They Started: In 2011, Chad Derosa decided to chase his dreams. At 32-years-old (and after a long career in construction), he suffered from a near-fatal appendix rupture. Because of this life-changing event, he decided to live full-time in his Westfalia van.
Since then, he has shared videos full of advice and personal experience on YouTube, gaining more than 600,000 followers. He has also created a successful photography and filmmaking career for himself, which allows him to continue to travel all over the world.
Are They Still in the Vanlife? Chad Derosa currently lives in his new off-grid Sprinter van and enjoys finally being able to stand up in his home. The upgrade from his Westfalia to an epic all-terrain adventure van is a clear sign of his success. Now, he’s exploring everywhere, and anywhere his heart takes him.
How They Started: Brian from AdventureVanMan has lived and traveled in a van since 2014. The decision came when he began to feel unhappy in his current situation and needed to make a radical change to care for his emotional wellbeing.
Since then, he has continued to inspire through his wholesome, down-to-Earth videos. He has shown that you don’t need to glamorize vanlife on Instagram or Pinterest to have a presence online. Instead, Brian has created a community by being himself and sharing his struggles and triumphs.
Are They Still in the Vanlife? Brian currently lives in a new-and-improved box truck-build and travels around the country documenting his travels. In 2019, he shared that he had met a woman named Kelly. He continues to live his dreams and has a wonderful partner to share them with, too.
How They Started: Ben Jamin has been traveling full-time in a vintage VW van since 2008 and has produced countless inspiring videos in that time. Ben spent five years traveling from Chile to Alaska and documented it all via Social Media and YouTube. He travels with his dog, Alaska.
Are They Still in the Vanlife? Even after all this time, Ben is still living the vanlife. In fact, he’s currently experiencing vanlife in a way he never has before: in his own country. Ben is now living and traveling around Jersey Island, UK, and documenting his journey.
Bob Wells (Cheap RV Living)
How They Started: If you’re looking for the real vanlife OG, look no further. Bob Wells has been living nomadically since the ‘90s. After suffering a financially devastating divorce, Bob moved into a van and never looked back.
He has everything he needs in his “rolling steel tent” and continues to inspire others through his YouTube channel, Cheap RV Living. Bob also founded the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) — a gathering for nomads every January in Quartzsite, Ariz.
Are They Still in the Vanlife? Bob Wells still lives in his home on wheels and is currently preparing to host RTR 2022 in Quartzsite. He has also recently appeared in the film Nomadland and continues to be a prominent figure in the nomadic community.
Has the Vanlife Influencer Craze Gotten Hotter?
Millennials have truly taken RVing and made it their own, removing the frills of large RVs and finding a safe haven among the forests and deserts. Vanlife is where nature, minimalism, and freedom converge, and social media makes it look appealing to anyone craving adventure in their lives.
It’s no wonder #vanlife has grown from an obscure concept to an accepted way of life. We can thank the seven individuals above for making it possible for us all. In many ways, the craze has only gotten hotter since they started it all.
Will You Join #Vanlife?
Vanlife has grown exponentially in the last decade. Not long ago, if you told the rest of the world you were going to live and work in a van, you’d meet head scratches and questions.
Now, it’s almost a right of passage. Many people dream of living a life of travel, and they look up to the individuals who made the leap first.
Are you following in their footsteps and living the vanlife?
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