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The world at large is currently experiencing a global pandemic as a result of the virus, Coronavirus which has circulated 95 percent of countries at large and has led to the death of hundreds of thousands. Generally referred to as COVID-19, the effect is so disastrous and has put a halt to the daily life and activities of people except for essential businesses that have to run for daily survival. So, there is a mandatory lockdown for everyone to stay indoors until a cure has been found for the virus or there are lesser cases.
This is an uncertain time for all of us. They are even more uncertain for van lifers. Now that there is no movement, Van lifers have been affected by this, thus have to find a place to lay abode in. With these closures in place, van lifers are left with options such as to camp in free dispersed campsites on United States Forest Service (USFS) or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property, or stay with relatives, some of whom may be elderly, until the crisis ends. A van lifer that has a home to go is good, but the lifestyle of those who live in the van is essentially outlawed. This especially has been a very tough situation for them. Living in the van before COVID-19 was very easy unlike now that there is a change in living.
The freedom and flexibility to travel are amazing, but then the health issues such as this change everything. As of press time, 45 of the 50 states have closed or delayed the opening of their state park campgrounds, and only a handful of national parks still have open campgrounds. A few states, such as Connecticut and Virginia, have designated privately owned RV parks as nonessential and ordered those to shut down, too.
Van lifers opt for this lifestyle for the simplicity, minimalism, and freedom it affords. Some simply travel, some work remotely from their vans as they roam, some take temporary gigs in the towns they visit along the way. Normally, they park their homes in fee-charging public or private campgrounds or free campsites on public lands. If they need to pop into a city, they’ll post up on a street in front of a friend’s house or in the parking lot of a recreational center, where they can also shower, unlike now that the van life is stalled. Industries that provide and cater to individuals on vacation or trying out the lifestyle have suspended services to curb travel. Most places are closing, while the essential businesses that are staying open present a constant moral dilemma as an outsider coming into a small community while putting others at risk. The category of people facing more serious issues in this season is the permanent van lifers, who do not have a home apart from the van in which they live, as states issue shelter-in-place orders and close public lands to stem the spread of the virus. More so, communities begin to resent outsiders, that is, van dwellers, hikers, or vacation homeowners.
Many private RV parks are opened and the access fees can be cost-prohibitive for van lifers. Also, private parks are raising rates to capitalize on the current situation, which is affecting van lifers. In some locales, public sentiment toward the van life community has turned hostile because of the perception that its members are continuing to travel. “It’s disheartening because there are so many people in their vans, trying to maintain that social distancing, and they are getting harassed anyway. There are no associations to help van travelers on the road. As tough as it is for road lifers, the reality is that we risk spreading the virus to small communities if we are dispersed camping.
Van lifers are known for dropping their office jobs, traveling the world, and posting picture-perfect images along the way. It’s a lifestyle that looks beautiful from the outside, and, as many van lifers’ positive outlook suggests, often is during their travels, but it comes with a great deal of less glamorous work that’s often hidden behind the camera. Photos show them surfing and sleeping under the stars, but that dream comes alongside hunting for clean bathrooms, running a business from the road, and finding a safe place to park their home each night. The pandemic has amplified those inconveniences for van lifers and taken some of them off the road, but many say the situation could be worse. Depending on how a van lifer builds their rig, they are struggling with different essentials right now, such as shower, toilet, food, power. Also, waste and resupply are problematic, too. Eventually, everyone needs a place to empty their toilet, buy groceries, dump their gray water, or get more clean water.
For van dwellers who rely on a steady schedule of showering at gyms or recreation centers, having to shower is now difficult. Finding places to stay has been a major problem. Van lifers will often park overnight at campgrounds and national parks, but those are largely closed down as a result of the pandemic. Wild camping, parking somewhere off-limits or at an unofficial campground is also out of the question, due to lack of access to clean water and showers. Many have ended up finding people who will let them stay on their property or have moved into houses temporarily.
For grey nomads and younger van life travelers, whether on full time or long-term journeys, the crisis means they are residents of wherever they stop at, also to see it through for those who finance their trips by picking up temporary local jobs are now displaced by workplace closures, they have to join the long lines at Centre-link offices to claim government financial support. However, for those who make their living by servicing online clients from wherever they can get internet access, hopefully, those clients are not among the businesses closing down because their markets are collapsing thanks to the reduction in demand brought by the virus.
With the borders essentially closed down, the movement now seems so weird. In this pandemic era, some van lifers have run into more serious predicaments. Several van lifers have been forced by law enforcement agencies to move off of private land they had permission to stay on or anyone caught disobeying the law will be apprehended. The police deemed their vans illegal campsites. Since many van lifers don’t want to move around and risk spreading the virus, they have to stay put in a location that is less than ideal. There’s no singular way that people make money on the road, and stopping can be a problem when your job relies on having to deliver items for clients or consumers. Though, not everyone has that issue, as some van lifers who work as freelancers get to work and deliver while staying in the van such as writers, graphic designers, etc. More so, to those who make enough off of sponsorships and YouTube ad revenue to support themselves cannot now as sponsorship proposals have been slowing down, and like most YouTubers, they’ve seen ad revenue decrease.
Van living is necessarily less expensive than living in a traditional home, too, which has made the pandemic less of a burden for some in the community. Gas may be high in price, but they aren’t driving right now, there’s no rent to pay, and vans are built to conserve electricity and water. While some are so worried about the finances, some are not. For van dwellers who are financially buoyant and can sustain themselves during this pandemic, this season will help create more bonds with their partner while engaging in other creative and productive activities.
While there’s been an explosion in the last five years of people pursuing full-time van life, RV life, and tiny house living, the lifestyle is still an alternative one and that’s been especially problematic as coronavirus wreaks havoc across the world. Governments can’t understand them because they’re such a small segment of the population. Border regulations, stay-at-home orders, and mass closures of campsites have all been a big headache to a group of people who originally “went tiny” to live a life of freedom. Many who are living in their vehicles are now abandoning their vans altogether, or some are continually moving from spot to spot to find a cheap, safe place to stay. These are the 245 million acres of rangelands, mountain ranges, and desert areas that are mostly in the western part of the US and run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The National Forest Service manages 193 million public acres of forest and grasslands. Dispersed campers” are supposed to find their isolated spots and move every 14 days, according to BLM rules. Since the coronavirus hit, they’ve used websites, Instagram and Facebook pages to help connect mobile homeowners with people who are offering parking spaces, driveways, and spaces on farmland. These offers may start to diminish as communities turn an increasingly wary eye at any outsider. This community of people living in vans, tents, school buses, and even old army tanks will persist.
The campervan has to be completely self-reliant with solar power and water tanks as this pandemic provides limited or no power and water supply. Getting food supplies can be somewhat difficult now as there is little or no job to fetch money to sustain the standard of living.
EFFECTS AND WHAT TO DO
The human race is now facing a global crisis. Perhaps the biggest crisis of our generation. The decisions people and governments take in the next few weeks will probably shape the world for years to come. They will shape not just our healthcare systems but also our economy, politics, and culture. We must act quickly and decisively. We should also take into account the long-term consequences of our actions. When choosing between alternatives, we should ask ourselves not only how to overcome the immediate threat, but also what kind of world we will inhabit once the storm passes. Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, the majority of us will still be alive, but we will inhabit a different world. Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours. So decisions taken now should be done carefully.
The harm in traveling in this pandemic lies in exposing the traveler and partner(s) to the virus where it is especially common in rural towns. More so, it is highly possible for the traveler who has already contracted the virus but with no symptoms yet to endanger the lives of the rural townspeople, and by overburdening the limited medical facilities of rural towns. That is why on the diverse social media platforms, van dwellers have been warned to take heed by suspending every form of travel as it exposes other travelers to it. As there is the risk of getting it from the use of shared campsite facilities where it could spread through door handles, taps, and other fittings.
While in this pandemic era, it’s very okay to feel uneasy, and unsettled mostly when you are unsure of the future because right now, the world at large is sitting with the same feeling until there’s an ease in the lockdown. Even at that, in this uncertain time, we should prioritize the things that will make one feel good and bring joy. It could be surfing the net on knowledgeable ideas, reading, or working on creative projects. Also, deriving joy by eating good and delicious while also experiencing peace by communicating with your loved ones who are far away.
These things might be different for you but the point is to ensure that you enjoy each day. This time, ensure that focus is made on the necessities instead of other things that don’t require your attention. Find ways to connect with nature even from the comforts of home and also make do of your mind to visualize a healthy environment. You have to accept and make the most of the circumstances you find yourselves in, even where those are less than pleasant.
With all that is going on, a lot is already going through the mind of van lifers if this corona-virus pandemic will bring a temporary end to van life. It is already evident with comments on social media suggesting that it is already happening. As the government has ensured limited travel to essential movement only, border closures and the requirement that people who choose to cross state borders spend the next 14 days in self-isolation to check for infection. What makes van life fun and enjoyable is to be able to move freely, having to see nature, take pictures, and record some video for memory’s sake.