The #vanlife motion was already in full swing earlier than the pandemic, fueled by envy-inducing posts on Instagram and DIY van conversion movies on YouTube. However because the pandemic took maintain, an increasing number of antsy People who might work remotely determined to hitch the vanlife neighborhood.
That is despatched demand for utility vans, in addition to the businesses specializing in changing them into cellular properties, via the roof.
The pandemic put the van life trade on “steroids,” Brian Jagodnik, advertising and artistic director at Exterior Van, a luxurious van conversion firm in Portland, Oregon, instructed CNN Enterprise.
The #vanlife hashtag now has greater than 10.6 million posts on Instagram.
“Individuals needed to get out. They needed to get away from different folks and keep protected, and we have been all restricted in what we might do,” Jagodnik mentioned. “It pushed folks exterior and to journey away from others and take the highway much less traveled, and so the trade simply continued to develop.”
For the reason that begin of the lockdown, Exterior Vans has a rising backlog of orders and a rising waitlist. Prospects can count on to attend no less than eight to 12 months earlier than the corporate may even begin on their tasks.
Provide chain woes
It is one factor to resolve to hit the highway. It is one other to seek out the fitting wheels for the journey. The auto trade has been hit particularly arduous by the one-two punch of a scarcity of significant laptop chips that is hampered manufacturing. Some shoppers could not get a van in time to satisfy the date their builds have been scheduled to start out, mentioned Alexa Owens, co-founder of Cascade Customized Vans in Bend, Oregon. “That was type of nerve-wracking.”
One other offender within the wrestle to safe vans: Amazon. As gross sales surged throughout pandemic lockdowns, the net retailer stored increasing its fleet to maintain up with deliveries. And sadly, Amazon’s most well-liked fashions — Mercedes Sprinters, Ford Transits or RAM ProMasters — are the most well-liked decisions for vanlifers.
For Cascade Vans, one of many worst shortages has been home windows, that are three months to eight months backordered, Owens mentioned. Cascade, which is absolutely booked via the yr, anticipates no less than one other yr of provide shortages whereas distributors play catch-up.
#Vanlife is hardly low cost
A typical van conversion begins begins by gutting a utility van earlier than changing the inside with the makings of a cellular dwelling: loft beds, mini sinks, bathrooms, fridges and built-in seating.
It is not an affordable endeavor. “With prices of products going up, our costs must mirror that,” lamented Bryan Walker, co-owner of Cascade. “It is a kind of unlucky issues however I believe lots of people are understanding of it proper now.”
An more and more crowded scene
Whereas rising curiosity in van life, and tenting usually, has been nice for enterprise, it additionally has raised questions concerning the motion’s sustainability and impact on the atmosphere. The surge in demand has been “bittersweet,” says Walker, who owns a van with Owens.
“5, six, seven years in the past, among the locations we would go, you would be up there alone. Now, there isn’t any trespassing indicators, they usually’ve banned tenting in numerous locations as a result of it is simply gotten so trashed,” Walker mentioned. “You see the locations that you simply love and get to expertise doing that life-style, and now you are seeing it turn into type of exploited.”
Kim and Jesse Butler of Port Angeles, Washington moved into their Ram PROMaster, named “The Walter Mitty,” proper earlier than the pandemic began. They’ve since traveled traveled up and down the West Coast, pandemic restrictions allowing.
The Butlers say they’re “completely self contained,” and do not depart sewage or trash behind.
“We at all times do our greatest to depart no hint and to make it possible for we’re clear with what we do,” Jesse instructed CNN Enterprise.