#VanLifers On the Trouble With Social Distancing When You Already Live in a Van

Last week, I reported on the nascent trend of influencers who’ve decided to “social distance” by leaving their homes in coronavirus hot spots, packing their families into an RV, and traveling to more remote locations—despite lockdown orders. Along with the numerous rich people who’ve fled their infected metropolises, failing to consider that they could be asymptomatic carriers, those influencers also ran the risk of delivering covid-19 to uninfected gas stations, rest stops, rural towns, and everywhere else they pass along the journey. For them, “stay at home” orders were merely a suggestion.

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But it made me curious about the lifestyle experts the influencers essentially mimicked: the #VanLife community, or those who live life on the road 24/7. How are they isolating? Are they just... always social distancing? Do they have homes to stay in, or are they continuing to travel, running the risk of infecting others?

I reached out to a handful of #VanLifers to learn more. Those who replied offered varying answers: some still live in their vans, others are quarantined with family. Campsites have closed and residents are hostile to #VanLifers, so sheltering in place is a challenge. Some are social distancing, some have a creative definition of the term. Most claim to wear gloves and masks. None are hoarding toilet paper and groceries. Turns out, it’s tough to lead the #VanLife lifestyle when the freedom associated with the movement no longer exists.

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Our interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.


Reginald Grey, Reggie From the Road

I am currently living at a campsite in the mountains in Santa Barbara and we are packed in like sardines! I am not a proponent of pooping in my sleeping space, so I still use the provided bathrooms. Samesies for showers. Just the other night, I was forced to shower next to a man from Texas and he was quite the chatter given that we were naked. I trust that the hot water kept us safe from the virus... I don’t do masks or gloves. I try to remember to use sanitizer after going out of the RV. Living on the road, I have been participating in social distancing for over four years now!

Also, given my lifelong social anxiety, one could argue that I’ve been social distancing for 35 years. I’ve always avoided people, the very thought of having to have social interaction cripples me… so this has been really fun! I am a bit of a freak when it comes to living spaces. I swear, I could easily adapt to prison life. I could sit in the same blank room with nothing to do for days on end, so the idea of quarantine is just plain fun! My girlfriend and I refuse to give in to the hoarding “stock up on things” mindset, but we have noticed a subconscious uptick in buying of food… but we’re also stuck at home and can’t go out for dinner… so eating is a damn fun activity!

Ben and Lucy, From Rust to Road Trip

At the beginning of March, we were in Albania filming for our latest YouTube video, ignoring our parents’ pleas for us to come home. It wasn’t until Italy closed its borders that we suddenly realized we could become trapped if we didn’t head back to the UK soon. Our van broke down on the way to the ferry port in Dunkirk. With virtually all other ferry routes to the UK canceled, we were desperately searching for a way to get back to British soil. We managed to get towed to the ferry port where a kind soul helped us limp our van onto the ferry.

Once we arrived in Dover [UK] past midnight, he helped us remove the van’s starter motor and, with a helpful push from the border officials, we managed to bump start it. [We] drove through the night to our home in Cornwall, arriving at 9 a.m. that day. Soon after arriving back in the UK, we realised that our jobs in the hospitality industry would be nonexistent as a result of the government’s announcement that all pubs, restaurants, and holiday accommodation would be closed. We’ve since managed to secure jobs as van drivers, drawing on our experience of driving all over Europe. We deliver food to those stuck in isolation, which brings us an income and enables us to be some of the few people allowed out during the lockdown. Living in a van for so long has taught us how little we need to survive on, so we don’t need to stockpile food or toilet paper. We just live cheaply eating basic meals and consuming very little water. If there are any supplies we can’t get we just make do with what we have. We [consider] ourselves lucky to be safe back in the UK, as there are hundreds of people in their vans currently displaced or trapped all over Europe and as far as Morocco. There seem to be no provisions in place for van dwellers. Many find themselves being moved on by fearful locals with no place to go, despite their best attempts at social distancing by wild camping. Alternatively, they are being forced to move out of their vans and into rented accommodation as the majority of campsites are now closed. We are grateful we have a base to come back to and a place we can live in our van until the pandemic is over.

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Theo and Bee, The Indie Projects

We have not lived in a house for 6 years. We had planned to stay in our van, but due to an increase in hostility in the UK to van lifers, we ended up with a house-sit for the foreseeable future. Nothing has been put in place for people living in vans in the UK, and as campsites were closing, people were being moved on by angry locals. It became apparent that we all needed to find safe spaces to park.

We had, and have always, chosen to stay in a remote place far away from people. Even though we share our lives online, we are happy in our own company, and only rarely use campsites. When the pandemic became apparent in the UK, we made sure to only refill at fuel stations where we could use pay-at-pump facilities. [We] wore disposable gloves, and stocked up on enough food to last us for a number of weeks at a time. We have a composting toilet so [we] do not rely on public facilities, and [we] can carry enough water at a time to not have to refill for a week. Solar panel and diesel heating ensure we are completely self-sufficient.

Social distancing in a van is incredibly easy. We have been successfully social distancing since we returned to the UK. Even though we were on the move, we were not interacting with people face-to-face. We adhered to the social distancing measures in place when we went food shopping. We regularly washed our hands and carried alcohol gel with us when we went food shopping. The rest of the time we were far away from others.

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Ash of Mars & Ash Fite, Fite Travels

The coronavirus has definitely impacted our lives. For one, Mars and I both work as tour managers in the experiential marketing industry, which has completely shut down due to the virus. Therefore, the tour we were on became postponed. We were in California until mid-March, so we saw things changing rapidly. We left California just before people were asked to shelter in place there. We are now in Colorado. National parks and [Bureau of Land Management] BLM land has been closed in many places, as well as many campgrounds. Thankfully, we bought 18 acres of land back in August, so we are sheltering in place here.

Because we live in a van, we haven’t been able to stock up. We go to the grocery store every couple of days. One of us will go in and the other one will stay in the van with the kids. As far as our social media posts go, I’d say it has changed it a little for the time being. We’ve taken a break from social media in general because it’s caused me a lot of anxiety, and I’m trying to quiet the worry about the virus. It’s been nice to be out on a bunch of land far from the news and craziness happening in the world and find a little bit of peace.

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Lex, Adventuring With Lola

Due to all that is going on, traveling is currently not a safe option. So I am currently remaining in place at this time. Most campgrounds in my area have shut down to try to keep everyone away from each other. My mother has property at her house so I have been able to park my bus there as a safe spot from the craziness. I have definitely stocked up on everything I need as far as food, and luckily I am at my mom’s [house] if I do need to borrow something. If I do have to go out, gloves, a mask, and hand sanitizer are on me at all times.

No. Senior Writer, Jezebel. My debut book, LARGER THAN LIFE: A History of Boy Bands, is out now.

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DISCUSSION

Ravenous Sophovore

I trust that the hot water kept us safe from the virus.

No. No, it did not. Why would you even think this about an airborne virus?

I swear, I could easily adapt to prison life. I could sit in the same blank room with nothing to do for days on end, so the idea of quarantine is just plain fun!

Oh.  That’s why.