Beyond #vanlife: what it’s really like to live on the road

by Grace Wang in September 2017
OutdoorsPhotographyTravel

There are many publications celebrating nomadic living, often through pages of impossibly bucolic imagery and fairytale narratives. This rising public desire for escapism was one way Lauren Smith and Calum Creasey sustained their life in a mobile home, travelling around Europe often as 200k followers on Instagram scrolled through their feed. But life beyond the #vanlife hashtags can be gruelling and anxiety-stricken, so their creative outlet, The Rolling Home journal, wants to capture these alternative ways of living through a lens of honesty.

In the interview with Calum below, we talk about their journey so far, the ups and downs of living in a campervan, and the pair’s ultimate yearning for a small piece of land to call home.

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How did you go from purchasing the Volkswagen and travelling around Europe, to starting a magazine?
Like many in our early twenties, we were faced with the option of renting a home or spending as much time as possible travelling and living in our converted van. We chose the latter, and at the time, our travelling was broken by periods of work and study. Once I had started working as a freelance filmmaker, things became more flexible.

Our own small business, Stokedeversince, started as a personal blog, evolved into a small creative studio, then went on to become what it is today. Now we’ve left the client-based work behind in favour of our own projects. Publishing became our outlet, and after spending so much time telling our own story, it only seemed right to create a platform for those of other people, which led to The Rolling Home Journal.

Now, Stokedeversince is run from a base in Cornwall. How have your years spent travelling changed the way you think about work?
We returned to the UK last autumn, realising that the coffers were seriously empty and that a period of ‘nose to the grindstone’ was due. We felt like we needed a base to get our lives in order, and this came in the form of a room in a shared house, a corner of a studio space and a winter falling in love with a damp Cornwall.

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As spring approached we left our rented room and moved back into our van, opting to rent a larger studio, partly to store our worldly possessions, and partly to give us the space to work. Being stationary meant time to work on ideas, and we both need to be busy — sitting on remote beaches for months on end sounds like a beautiful idea, but in reality we all need an outlet, let the creative process tick over and feel proud of making.

Stories in The Rolling Home Journal are told from very personal point of views, and don’t shy away from difficulties and challenges. Take Hedwig Wiebes’ piece about the realities of running a #vanlife social media account. Why did you want to feature that story?
Quite simply, honesty. We feel obliged to present people’s stories complete with the good the bad and the ugly. A quick scroll through the hashtags on social media can give you one sense of what alternative living might be (we ourselves have experienced too many amazing times to recount). But along with this comes the tears, the frustration, the periods of empty pockets and self doubt.

To start valid conversations we need to present all of the facts; pretty pictures can only tell part of the story. To entice people to undertake their own adventures or to make life changes whilst being honest and true, this is what matters.

rolling-home-journal-3-Hedwig-Wiebes

For you, what were some of the biggest challenges of living in a mobile home, that people might not be aware of?
Many of the numerous downsides are trivial, but the one that affects us the most is the inability to feel grounded, to have a part of this world to call home. I never expected it, but we both yearn for a small piece of land. We always called it ‘the place where the maps are kept’. I believe that in order to truly appreciate new places and experiences there must afterwards come a time of reflection — I want to park the van, take a breath and indulge in being nostalgic.

What are some things you’ve learnt from doing the third issue, that you wish you knew in issue one or two?
This past issue represented our most diverse look at alternative living to date. I now know that ‘vanlife’ is only a very small part of this — as Zach Altman put it in issue two, it is a “gateway drug”. So as an editorial team, we must step further from what we know, and look beyond the subjects we feel comfortable with to see how people choose to live.

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Lastly, what’s your advice for people afraid to take the leap and start their own adventure?
Truth be told, living in a van scares the hell out of me. Driving our 21 year old van scares me. The thought of where our next paycheck might come from scares me. I am constantly afraid of breaking down or running out of money. One thing that does not scare me is knowing that if we both wake up, turn to each other and say ‘let’s change everything, let’s move to another country, let’s get different jobs or start a new life’, we alone can make that happen. On the scales of life, dreams weigh less than the fear of pursuing them.

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All photos courtesy of The Rolling Home Journal

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