A woman slouches, seating in the sliding doorway of her white camper van in the woods.

New York Times Millennial Writer Roasts Van Life and Yosemite National Park

If you haven’t read Caity Weaver’s “I Lived the #VanLife. It Wasn’t Pretty,” let me save you some time — and perhaps a good bit of eye-rolling. The short of it is, Weaver wanted to stay at and write about a guitar-shaped hotel. Her editor said no.

Instead, the editor put her in a van — with zero experience and zero desire — to live the van life for one week and write about this fascinating trend.

Weaver wasn’t critiquing van life in her story for The New York Times Magazine as much as she was outing herself for writing and her editor for assigning her a hatchet job. The publication and Weaver opted to cash in on the idea of van life, though they never took any steps to give it a fair shake.

There are several steps she could’ve taken to clarify what a true-to-life example of living the van life is like. Instead, she jumped into the subject head first, poured gasoline on it, tossed in a lit match, and watched it burn.

Read on to learn why Weaver’s van life experience was so bad and how a few small things might have made her experience more enjoyable.

A woman slouches, seating in the sliding doorway of her white camper van in the woods.
We don’t expect to run into Weaver at any campgrounds in the future after her van life experience.

Why NYT Millennial Writer Didn’t Want to Try Van Life in the First Place

Weaver had initially jumped at her editor’s pitch to stay in a hotel — the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla. Admittedly, she loves hotels; driving, not so much. But when the guitar-shaped hotel idea was nixed for lack of an interesting angle, she reluctantly accepted the van life exposé.

Initially, Weaver had expected her husband to accompany her in playing van life. He quickly kicked the idea of traveling in a campervan to the curb.

Her editor suggested perhaps she could travel solo. Minimal search for “tips female van life solo” scared her with suggestions like traveling with a gun, a dog, or both. So, she opted to phone a friend.

Number 14 on this list is EVERYTHING.

Reluctantly, Weaver hit the road with Michael, a friend from college. Michael formerly worked at a venture capital firm but had become a life coach and meditation teacher.

They hit the road, not in the Beyoncé-esque tour bus Michael had envisioned. It also wasn’t a $300,000-plus Sprinter van Weaver had read about. Instead, their traveling home was a “2013 Ford Econoline E-150. It had a psychedelic jungle-scene paint job” rented for $1,000 for the weeklong escapade. That’s on the low end of the going rate for a campervan for a week.

Why Her Van Life Experience Was So Bad

The van life experience written about in the article was bad from all angles, according to Weaver. The van felt claustrophobic.

She and Michael frequently showed up late at night, struggling to convert the dinette into a bed. It took them a good 30 minutes to set up the bed because they couldn’t figure out how to arrange the cushions. 

A woman drivers her camper van down the highway on a road trip with her dog.
Not everyone is cut out for a life on the road, but preparation can go a long way in making your van life experience a positive one.

They sat in a line of vehicles at Yosemite National Park, taking in the view in the midst of a traffic jam. Finding a place to park and witnessing the infamous Firefall in Yosemite was another nightmare they couldn’t wake up from.

All this led Weaver to downplay her own lack of preparation by proclaiming, “To suggest that the worst part of vacationing in a van is sleeping in a van is not fair to the other aspects of the endeavor, which are also all the worst part — but it is cramped, slovenly and bad.”

What She Could Have Done Differently 

Though her trip for the article was only a week-long, Weaver could’ve prepared better. She could’ve done things that would have alleviated many of the negatives she experienced, though adding the glitz and glamor she’s used to was a tall order.

More thorough research on the vehicle she would be renting and other people’s experiences in similar-sized accommodations was needed. She easily could’ve found a van that would have been roomier and easier for a novice to set up on the daily.

And knowing the rig she rented was several years old should’ve triggered her to do more of a deep dive into its condition. However, she used the word “slovenly,” which is a strong adjective. I know I would have a hard time living in a place that I considered slovenly, even for a week. But hey, she was a paycheck.

If only Caity Weaver had known this: Here are the 5 Best Vans for Van Life Right Now

Why Her National Park Experience Was So Bad

A highlight of the adventure should’ve been Yosemite National Park and the wonder of the Firefall. They should’ve witnessed the water cascading down Horsetail Fall, awash in golden sunshine, appearing as molten lava flowing in the glow of impending dusk.

Instead, they were met with a cluster of cars, taking in the awe of Yosemite from their van, as they wandered from one parking lot to another, unable to find a space. By the time they eventually found a parking spot, they had just missed the splendor of the Firefall.

Driving through a forested road in Yosemite National Park in California.
Anytime you want to visit a popular attraction like Yosemite National Park, you need to be prepared to share your experience with other tourists.

Weaver and Michael instead spent hours in Yosemite in the van. That led her to declare famed writer John Muir’s musings on Yosemite to be wrong. She determined, “Yosemite was actually bad.”

What She Could Have Done Differently 

Aside from a bit of an attitude adjustment towards the entire endeavor, again, she could’ve been better prepared for the challenges of one of the most popular national parks in the country. 

Yosemite National Park has an average of nearly 4 million visitors per year. Some basic research would have informed Weaver that she should’ve planned ahead before heading into the popular park for one of its most unique experiences.

She could’ve easily done a better job timing their visit. That would have accommodated for heavy traffic, limited parking, and the timing of the Firefall.

Is Yosemite National Park Really Overrated?

As mentioned, Yosemite National Park is one of the more popular parks in the United States. The park has welcomed as many as 5 million visitors in a single year. That is a lot of traffic to deal with.

You have to physically and mentally prepare to visit Yosemite, particularly during times of peak interest. The park gets a tremendous amount of traffic and has limited parking. From that aspect, Weaver’s assessment that “Yosemite was actually bad” rings with a bit of truth.

However, poor planning shaped much of her perspective. She put little effort into maximizing the experience and lacked appreciation. She also had an overall disregard for one of the most breathtaking places on Earth. 

The John Muir description that she referenced in her article couldn’t be more accurate, despite her dour perception. Muir wrote, “No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its wall seems to glow with life.” And that is why so many people visit the park.

Is Van Life Overhyped in Instagram Photos?

Is van life as overhyped in Instagram photos as Weaver would have us believe? Actually, quite often, it can be. Many Instagram accounts show the world from the singular beautified perspective that she noted in her attempts to shred van life.

But couldn’t that same thing be said for foodie Instagram accounts? Or how about fitness-oriented Instagram handles? What about nature photographers? Don’t these folks all show a skewed perspective of the world we live in?

A smart phone taking a staged photo of a man camping in his van.
The glamorous side of van life tends to be the majority of what you see when you follow #vanlife on Instagram.

Of course they do! Most of us don’t turn to Instagram to post our worst photos ever. We don’t splash ho-hum images to our accounts and comment, “Well, no one really wants to see this, but here’s the dirty outhouse at the last campground we could find today. Please follow.”

These picture-perfect images may over-emphasize the beauty of a particular moment. They don’t not capture the overall experience of a place or situation. But that’s how social media images work. They usually capture a moment in time, not an entire experience.

Van Life Isn’t for Everyone, So Get Over It

The truth is that we’re not all cut from the same cloth. Not in appearance and certainly not in experience. Therefore, van life is not for everyone. 

Weaver has the perspective of someone who has spent much of her adult life critiquing celebrities and the media elite while writing for Gawker. But she’s perhaps most famous for her 6,000-word feature about a 14-hour all-you-can-eat binge on mozzarella sticks when taking advantage of TGI Friday’s Endless Appetizers promotion.

Overall, not much of Weaver’s professional life has prepared her for anything but setting a flame to van life. Her career has had little to do with the lifestyle. She certainly didn’t appear to have much interest in the topic in the first place, according to her own words.

If it’s something that intrigues you and you do your research, van life can be a rewarding way to live. If you look down your nose at it, you’re likely to have a similar perspective to Weaver, who pulled no punches in her disdain.

Van life is not for everyone. And for those who are enjoying it and all the benefits it affords, don’t waste your time on a New York Times millennial writer belittling your lifestyle. Then again, knowing van lifers the way I do, I’m sure I didn’t have to tell you that.

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