Last Updated on June 20, 2022 by Christina
You don’t have to look hard to see one of the biggest trends in travel right now: camper vans. Whether you’re flipping through a travel magazine or scrolling on Instagram, these RVs are everywhere. Over the course of the pandemic, Gen Z and Millennials have officially entered the RV space. As such, the demand for smaller RVs has skyrocketed. According to a study by the RV Industry Association, RV ownership has increased over 62% in the last twenty years, with significant growth among 18-to-34 year olds, who now make up 22 percent of the market.
Keep reading to learn more about the history of camper vans and why these micro motorhomes have become a lifestyle to aspire to for a new generation.
What is a camper van and why are they so popular?
For the uninitiated, a camper van is a type of recreational vehicle. It’s also the smallest type of motorhome known as a Class B Motorhome. As their name suggests, camper vans are built on a van chassis. This makes them more nimble and fuel efficient than larger Class C or Class A motorhomes. Camper vans can also go more places compared to larger RVs. This makes them well-suited for traveling in cities or camping in remote areas.
Despite their compact size, camper vans can have all the amenities of home on the road. You’ll find galley kitchens, comfortable beds and even bathrooms in most camper vans. These features made them a popular choice for first-time RV owners who wanted to keep traveling but stay socially distanced during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Camper vans have been around longer than you probably think
While van life might seem like a recent trend, people have actually been living on the road for more than a century! Some of the very first RVs were horse-drawn covered wagons. During the early 1900s, when cars became more affordable, people started customizing their vehicles for travel. Shortly after, RVs started becoming a common thing.
In 1910, the Pierce-Arrow Touring Landau was introduced. Many consider this to be one of the very first production camper vans. Throughout the years, campers continued to modify cars and trailers into RVs fit for adventure. RV manufacturers also started to form, offering customers vehicles specially designed for camping.
It wasn’t until the 1960s, however, that the camper van craze really took off. Hippies, surfers, and van dwellers made these vehicles iconic. Volkswagen vans became the ideal home on wheels because their parts were easily swapped so nomad mechanics could keep their vans running. Camper vans became a fad that defined a generation, as did traveling off the beaten path and living a minimalistic life. It was also during this time that RV manufacturers started switching production to motorhomes rather than travel trailers and pop up campers.
The freedom of van life continues to appeal to camper van owners
Even though camper vans have come a long way with design and technology, the reasons why people camp today are still the same as a hundred years ago… The freedom to explore the great outdoors and the flexibility to go anywhere, anytime you feel like it. It’s a way of life that gives you more control over your schedule and your surroundings.
Just like their owners, these RVs aren’t made to stay in one spot for long. Camper van owners frequently use their motorhome to pursue outdoor adventures or find lesser known destinations. Van lifers love freedom and adventure, controlling their schedule as they go. You can go from the beach to the slopes in a camper van with ease, which adds to their appeal.
Camper van owners also have lots of options when choosing where to park, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Some van lifers might stealth camp, which is camping incognito in a public spot like a parking lot. Others prefer to boondock on BLM land (public lands managed by the federal government). And other van owners will stay at traditional campgrounds and national parks.
Camper van enthusiasts are a growing and diverse group
Van life appeals almost equally across age groups and all demographics. A recent Go RVing survey found that 51% of camper van owners are ages 18-34 and 49% are 55+. Solo travelers love camper vans, but there are many families who travel the open road in one, too. Pets are also frequent companions for camper van owners. After all, who wouldn’t want their best friend exploring with them?
Additionally, the shift toward more remote work options since the start of the pandemic has helped highlight the unique benefits of a more nomadic lifestyle. Today’s van lifers can be remote full-time or part-time workers, freelancers and business owners. There are also workampers who work at a campground or national park. These RVers are allowed to stay at the campground in return for working. Seasonal or temporary work is also very common among camper van owners because they have the freedom to travel to warmer or colder states as they please since they are not tied down to a traditional full-time job. Construction, theme parks, Amazon Camperforce and farms are some of the work options seasonal campers pursue. These jobs give you the freedom to explore destinations you want to go to and make some money in the process.
One thing van owners have in common is their more minimalist lifestyle, and a camper van can help if your goal is to collect experiences over possessions. These RVs allow you to let go of the clutter (literally!) and discover what’s most important to you. It’s freeing to learn how little you really need to live with while enjoying a scenic getaway.
While some van lifers choose to sell their sticks-and-bricks house and live in their van full time, others may have a permanent address and use their vans just for travel or vacations. Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or fulltime #vanlife, the community is welcoming, and its members come from all walks of life. Their passion for this lifestyle is what unites them. Most would agree that the ability to pull over wherever you want and simply enjoy the journey is what makes the experience so special.
There are many unique benefits of owning a camper van and joining the van life community
There are many reasons why the camper van has risen in popularity. The freedom to travel more and the greater flexibility in your schedule are a huge draw to van life. Whether you are traveling to explore places you’ve always wanted to see or getting away to relax and recharge, enjoying the journey is a part of van life.
Another benefit of owning a camper van is that it allows you to focus on your hobbies. Even though camper vans are compact, they offer space to store your gear and many have bike or luggage racks. Becky, a camper van expert, highlights the capabilities in Becky’s B Van Adventures series on YouTube. Whether you love bird watching or snorkeling, a camper van will help you pursue your passion.
This lifestyle is about unplugging and reconnecting with yourself or with nature so camper van owners enjoy the solitude of exploring off the grid, away from others. But when they want to connect with other like-minded people, they can attend camper van rallies. These community events are a great way to connect with fellow campers and make friends on the road. Nearly every state has some sort of rally or community event for RV owners and van lifers alike. Here are just a few examples of events and communities you can be a part of:
- Descend on Bend just outside of Bend, Oregon is a huge gathering of van lifers, overlanders and other outdoor enthusiasts. The site is surrounded by thousands of acres of national forest and plenty of trails for you to explore while you’re here. The event includes star gazing and camp workshops, as well as potlucks, daily yoga, live music, kids’ activities and more.
- VanFest is a boondocking festival for van lifers in Utah. Nightly concerts are held during the weekend event. People from all over come here to showcase their camper vans, sell goods, and attend van life workshops. This is also a family-friendly event that has a playground and various activities for kids.
- TinyFest is a community of minimalists who band together, showcasing their creativity in their vans, tiny homes, and more. These events happen across the United States and are a great opportunity to learn and be inspired by fellow tiny dwellers. These festivals are a must-visit destination for DIY van lovers.
- Fulltime Families is an RV community that has a rally for anyone! With twenty-six branches ranging from boondockers to medical nomads and more, you’ll easily find friendly likeminded individuals who share a passion for life on the road. Even though this community isn’t specifically for van lifers, all campers are welcome. Rallies happen across the United States, Canada and Mexico. Fulltime Families post regularly on Facebook and hold big community events throughout the year for all branches.
- Many music festivals offer areas to camp with RVs, too. Events like these can be the perfect way to connect with van lifers of similar interests and bond over music. If you like electronic music, Electric Forest in Rothbury, Michigan allows RV camping. This festival features plenty of musical performances throughout the weekend, but also activities and art that makes for truly a magical experience.
Ready to start your #vanlife journey in a camper van?
Although RVs and camping have changed drastically through generations, the way we are able to connect with nature and enjoy life on the road will never change. Because of that, camper vans will always appeal to those who are seeking out adventures on their terms. There’s no sign of the camper van craze slowing down either, so it’s a safe bet that RV manufacturers will continue to deliver more options and improve technology so others can experience van life, too.
Does the camper van lifestyle sound like a good fit for you? At General RV Center we stock a full line of camper vans for sale that will make traveling to your next adventure easier. Browse all our Class B motorhomes or chat with a camper van specialist today by calling 888-436-7578.