Hi Jess and welcome to the forum!
I’m happy to answer your question from my perspective. Please forgive me if any of it sounds presumptuous since I’m not yet living in a van, but I am still, whole-heartedly, a van-lifer! (Going full-time and permanent as a 53 year old single male. <— I mention this because it’s can be helpful to know the demographics of your replies.) I have one concern and four suggestions. I didn’t even know about van life until last July. I knew immediately that it was for me. My goal date to hit the road is September 1, 2019. I chose to take a year to research the dickens out of van life and everything that it entails. I’m glad I did. Here’s why:
CONCERN: In the last nine months, I’ve seen a lot of folks get into van life, freak out and eventually quit… after giving up everything. While _they’r_e responsible for their own choices, I think the van life community (especially the well-known and visible folks on YouTube/Instagram) need to be very careful how they talk about it. I hear a lot of things like this: “If you’re even thinking about getting into van life, just do it! You won’t regret it! It’s the best life ever and you take back your freedom so you’re in control!”
Even though I agree with that statement personally, it’s not good advice for many people! There are a lot of reasons why people consider van life. I’ve been meeting, and keeping in touch with, people who are hurting and scared; who are choosing van life on impulse because they’re unsure how to fix their current situation whether it’s financial, living situation, work or emotional struggles. For some, it was a rash decision out of boredom and then they wondered what the hell they did. It sounded good at the time, but…
SUGGESTION: At these meet-ups, take time to remind people on social media that you never know who’s listening, reading or watching. You never know what situation someone may be in who ends up making big life choices based on your content. There is joy and freedom in van life! But there are also responsibilities, sacrifices, compromises and hard work. Van life requires learning a whole new mindset and way of living that requires some level of self-sufficiency that many people either aren’t ready for… or able to handle. Sorry for the long post but I speak with folks like this daily and I would just like to see van dwellers be reminded of their social responsibilities, too. Their content affects others in ways other than just being entertaining. Everyone has social responsibilities. We need to balance the dream with reality.
SUGGESTION: Would any regular van lifers be willing to hold a gathering for one day (or two if needed/wanted) strictly for those who are NOT in van life but are considering it? They can talk about REAL van life, get some demonstrations on cooking in a van, seeing how solar and propane work and the care these elements require, see a van build in person (vans looks so much bigger on video), and have a huge Q&A Session to answer all of their questions. This would be a fantastic community service! Once I start van life, I would make myself available to help do this! I think you could even invite members of the community, or city councils, who might have questions or concerns about seeing people living in vans in their area. Let them see how responsible most van life folks are!
As for the gatherings, I think they’re fantastic because many people love and crave meeting with like-minded people! I see that a lot too, from van lifers on YouTube with only tens, hundreds, or a thousand subscribers. They’re lonely. Personally, as do others I speak with on YouTube, I prefer smaller gatherings most of the time but would like to attend one big gathering once a year.
SUGGESTION: Maybe there can be a website, or app, where folks can announce that they’d like to have a small meet-up if others are in the area. They can announce the location and time, and other van lifers who are interested, and who enjoy smaller gatherings, can look to see who’s having them and where. I honestly think this is a great idea because the need is there. Whoever created that App could do well.
The RTR for example, was so large that folks were parked and piled on top of each other in the videos I’ve seen. I realize there’s the option to park a bit further out and that definitely helps. Even Bob Wells didn’t want to be in the crowd and parked on the furthest fringe of it.
But, at night, in these crowded areas, I saw videos of people blaring their music, flashing party lights, hooting and hollering, and most likely some drunkenness. If that’s their idea of fun, I don’t want to rain on their good time but did they consider, or have any respect, for folks nearby who just wanted to go to bed? Even those on the outskirts of camp had to have heard the noise because it was a wide open space. Some folks on YouTube who attended said they experienced this and wouldn’t be attending another RTR. I related to this complaint and would hate for it to hold me back from attending an RTR.
Lastly, I realize that it’s extremely difficult to find places to host such a large group of people. I can’t imagine the herculean nature of that feat!! But there have to be better places than windy, wide open places of just dirt or sand. Then, when it rains, everything gets muddy and vehicles get stuck. My suggestion here is to please vary the locations across the country so some others who might not be able to travel so far will have an opportunity to attend, too. Not everyone can make it to Quartszite. How lovely would it be to have grass and trees around to enhance the experience? I realize that businesses/cities don’t like having vehicles parked on their grass but there must be other alternatives to just brown, dusty and muddy Quartszite?
Just my two-cents! Best wishes on getting helpful responses. I think it’s a great idea!