The term #vanlife describes the simple act of setting forth in a vehicle, having a good time and documenting it for the world to see. Coined by the movement’s poster boy Foster Huntington, it’s swept through social media in recent years, as millions of posts – from the banal to the brilliant – pour forth on the topic. Why? Because it captures something very simple in this complex, fast-moving digital age, which for many people links back to the yearning for authenticity and real experiences.
And if you keep an eye on #vanlife, chances are you’ve stumbled upon Calum Creasey, who along with his girlfriend Lauren, sought to sustain their sometime life on the road in his VW van, The Rolling Home, by digitally sharing their van antics and selling a few beautiful things along the way.
The Rolling Home looks like the kind of space you could be free and happy in. Tools for a well-lived life (a surfboard, an axe, a fishing rod, a barbecue grill) are scattered in the foreground like coffee table art books on a glass table in a smart house. It seems to travel in eternal sunshine, a halcyon existence of long beach days without a care in the world, popping up in France or Spain, another endless sunset with a beer or quiet forest glade with a book. It feels like warm smiles and simple food.
The van has 214,000 followers and posts often receive over 5,000 likes. Cleverly interspersed in the content are products designed to improve life in a small space, not to mention the beautiful analog publications that Calum and Lauren put out. They run under the heading: “celebrating alternative living through publishing and design.” Because #vanlife means more than its hashtag. This sort of unplugged reality really speaks to the generation currently in the driving seat, brought up before a digital whirlwind, confused by the blur of social media stimulation. It’s now widely appreciated that nature is good for us physically and psychologically.
The Rolling Home feels like the perfect access vehicle for good times in the wilds. When living on the road, the mind is clear. But sharing clarity this appealing comes at a price. Social media is now Calum and Lauren’s route to market. The digital world they’re escaping when they hit the road is the very world that keeps their dream alive, neatly packaging their experience into beautiful products and sharing them with a global community.
What does The Rolling Home mean to you?
“It always just meant escape for us. There have definitely been some challenges with turning it into something that people recognize. We’ve been on some really isolated beaches in Spain, in Southern Portugal, or up near Stockholm and people come up and say, ‘You guys are The Rolling Home!’ and we say, ‘Woah, we’re not, this van is The Rolling Home.' It was always the vehicle that we jumped in and ran away from stuff. When you hit your late teens and early 20s, you feel like you live in the real world. But in the van, you don’t.
“With a very small budget and borrowed tools you can inspire people all over the place.”
When did you start sharing pictures of it?
I was trying to make my name as a photographer. It became evident that whenever I posted a photo of the interior of the van, so many people buzzed off it, there was something quite magic about that. This van I bought for £1,200. With a very small budget and borrowed tools you can inspire people all over the place.
It got so much attention, didn’t it?
We rode this crazy social media wave, full-on, all the way to the shore. We never really planned that, but it just happened. We’ve sent stuff all over the world. Australia, Russia, Brazil. It definitely spans borders and cultural differences. It represents that inherently human thing of wanting to escape, looking at this small space and thinking – that intrigues me. I want to know what it feels like to sleep there, cook my dinner in there, what’s it like when the sun’s shining or the rain is pouring down on the roof? People just want to experience it. A lot of the imagery that accompanies #vanlife is so intoxicating, you still can’t help but be drawn in. There’s a global element to the appeal and the story. Why can someone halfway across the world that I’ve never met before see the same image and be filled with the same type of feelings? It’s because it’s a manifestation of freedom. Although I think what’s really evident is that The Rolling Home is sort of like the pop band of the #vanlife movement! There are people out there who are way grittier and a lot more honest. We just want to have a good time and be happy and maybe people relate to that.
It always felt to me that the social media element for you is more than a desire to be seen or make money. Is that true?
I’ve had a hard time of it in the last six months. I’ve had to rediscover why I’m doing it. I still want to post the same images that I started with. They are the ones that resonate with people, that might make people want to go and do it. So many people have emailed us and told their stories of being inspired. That’s a crazy feeling. It’s the best chance I’m ever going to have to make a real change in other people’s lives. The commercial element has come along with it. But there is a difficult side to it. Lauren has distanced herself completely from the business, which is really great. Trying to run a business and share our lives together at the same time was really hard. You should just be enjoying life together.
There’s quite a dichotomy between being lost at the end of the road but needing to find a signal to upload a picture and keep the appetite alive, don’t you think?
Being always on social media, having orders sent to your phone, looking at what other people are doing … it’s a really unhealthy way of living. It’s a hard place to be honest. You have to have a thick skin. It’s a juxtaposition between escaping from society and constantly communicating with people you’ve never met before … to try and sell stuff. Threads of your life are still attached and they pull at you at the wrong times.
Making your lifestyle so connected to what you do is a dangerous thing. You never clock on and off, it spans your whole waking life. I was trying to write an introduction to the journal recently about the fact we were part of that generation who saw mobile phones appear. We got to see the tail end of the non-digital world. How do you understand who you are, what you stand for and what to get excited about when you fill your head with all this visual stimulus all the time?
The journals you create broaden the concept beyond #vanlife into a whole philosophy. Why were you keen to do them?
We just wanted to put bits and pieces into a platform that people could physically pick up. It’s been a great project. We went to Italy and stayed with a couple we’d never met before. They were building this huge overland truck. I’m fascinated by the flotsam and jetsam of adventures. It’s a reason to go and meet people like that, forge relationships and bring that learning back to our own lives. We penned it as celebrating alternative living but you could just cross out alternative. It’s a celebration of living. Of life really.
I hear there is a book coming?
Yes! It’s my dream book about van culture; drawing together everything I’ve seen in the last few years. Really locking down how and why people build these small spaces, exploring how that relates to us as human beings. Do these vans represent a push back against traditional society or just something we spend our holidays in? The whole thing will be underpinned by humor; it’s the whole reason to travel and live. Because there are real questions when living in a van. How do you shower? Where do you go to the toilet? That’s a laugh or cry kind of thing. You’ve got to be able to poke fun at it and hopefully we’ll always do that.”
Living your truth isn’t easy, even if your truth is widely palatable to thousands of people on social media. Recognizing the demand for his aesthetic, Calum has matched it with products and publications to further The Rolling Home brand. In doing so he has become a carpenter and designer, a mechanic and chef. In this way, his real-world analog skills feed into an overall vision that supports his lifestyle.
However, without the digital interplay, The Rolling Home as a business would fail. Calum’s rapid ascendancy seems almost to have caught him off guard; there is a vulnerability at the heart of the machine and an awareness that #vanlife is a fickle movement. All that said, if for some reason Instagram turned the taps off or the internet simply died, it’s pretty clear Calum and Lauren would still be at the end of some distant track, The Rolling Home unpolished and rusty, smiling into the sunset.
Find the Rolling Home on Instagram.