As you miss the fellowship of those back home, your fellow vanlifers become an important part of life on the road.

As we take our vanlife-baby-steps, our fellow travelers are an important ingredient. Before we ourselves joined the fray, we knew of some who lived like we were intending to – The Bus And Us, Hasta Alaska, or Vanajeros, to name a few. People who were active on social media, and especially those who had bay window buses like our own. Both through social media and through travel itself, we have gotten to know others who were doing something similar to us. We will surely continue to do so, as we travel south. And we are extremely fortunate to count many of them as friends.

We have done a lot of backpacking in our day. Trips across Europe, parts of South America, and South East Asia have given us a number of experiences in this area. And one thing that has always fascinated me about backpacking was the concept of making friends on the road.

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Big Emma nose-to-nose with our friend Andre’s Vanagon in Skagway, Alaska

Backpacker friends: small moments, big impressions

As a backpacker, you tend to stay in hostels. In hostels, you meet other people staying in hostels. It is with these people that you end up spending your evenings – drinking, playing cards, making plans to visit this or that sight tomorrow. You also trade stories. Some are stories of places you have been so far, trading recommendations of where to stay and what to see, cool places to go in the city you are in. But also more personal stories. You get to know their likes and dislikes, stuff about their families, who they miss at home. You get to know the big stories, things that made a difference in their lives, their other travel experiences and the impressions that those left on them. It can get pretty personal. It is amazing, the feeling of meeting someone one evening, spending even a few hours with that person, and feeling like you know each other very intimately. You do know each other intimately. You have shared something fundamentally important to most any person: the social need for friends and sharing common experiences, right now.

When you’re backpacking, you don’t have many friends (unless you are lucky enough to have some traveling with you). Or, at least, none who are anywhere near you on the map or that can share the common experience of traveling. Even if you skype a lot, your friends back home can’t really understand what you are going through. It makes sense that deep, meaningful friendships happen fast between travelers: both parties are in need of friendships, and you only have a short while to make them before one or both of you move on to the next destination. These bonds are important, and are often one of the most memorable things about traveling as a backpacker.

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Camping for the night with Ramblin’ Dawgs and their Bus, Pickle

Vanlife friends: different rigs, common themes

Well, vanlife works in a similar way, at least for us. When you’re on the road, you tend to congregate with other travelers like yourselves. Often, adventuremobiles (our name for those vehicles that are outfitted for long-term travel) are easy to spot: stickers on the windows, a car full of stuff, things on the roof or on the back of the vehicle, people searching for internet or a camp spot or whatever it is you are also looking for. It’s easy to find each other. Often, social media makes this even easier – you notice other people online that are geographically close to you, on a similar route, and you see if you can find a spot where your paths can cross, which is how we met the Ramblin’ Dawgs, and Hasta Alaska, for example. Like with other backpackers, other vanlifers tend to leave a big impression.

Just like with those other backpackers, you trade stories. You talk about past experiences with your vehicle. What worked, what was hard? How you do things like food and camping and supplies, what budgets you live with. Where you’ve been and what you’ve seen. And all kinds of other stuff. How your family feels about you living in your bus. What the really shitty experiences have been. What you like to do, if you listen to music, how you deal with breaking down, if you get in fights with your vanlife-roommates. You talk about deep stuff, and often you park your adventuremobiles next to each other and spend the night. You wake up in the morning, say your goodbyes, and go your separate ways. You are not just friends on Facebook, but are in real life as well. Just like the backpackers, a short, shared experience gives you one thing that you sorely miss out on while you travel: living through valuable, here-and-now friendships. And you come away richer in both friends and experiences. And all sorts of useful vanlife-advice.

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Big Emma and Co’Pito, Hasta Alaska’s awesomely hard-core Brazilian Bay Window

The VW Family

Of course, this is especially true for us and other VWs. Although we’ve met travelers with all kinds of rigs – from motorcycles to jeeps to RVs – VWs leave the biggest impression on you. You have even more in common than with other travelers – your home works and looks very similar, and leaves you with even more common travel experiences than with others. Although we get very excited to see another Bay Window, we also jump at the sight of a Vanagon or will even wave to a Eurovan. Syncros, Westys, Bugs, Splits – you name it, they are all part of the family. You have something innately similar, a bond that connects bus-vanlifers from all parts of the globe and all age groups.

Two things, definitely, are certain: there is nothing like friends, and there is no feeling in the world like coming back to Big Emma after walking around the town and seeing another bus parked alongside her.

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Vanlife camping near Smith Rock, OR. Left to Right: EBB_and_Road, LookatthatWesty, The Bus and Us, Lady Adventures, Ryan.and.Hailey, GoBigEmma, and Irie to Aurora

This piece is dedicated to all of our vanlife friends, including Ramblin’ Dawgs, Tiggers Travels, Vivir Amerikombinando, Kombi pal Norte, Hasta Alaska, The Bus And Us, Klim and Alex of http://en.uxman.ru , Irie to Aurora, Ryan and Hailey, Lady Adventures, LookatthatWesty, EBB_and_Road, all the other vanlifers, and all of those we have yet to meet. Be sure to check out their awesome adventures!

Cover image left to right: Vivir Amerikombinado, Kombi pal Norte, GoBigEmma, and The Bus and Us, whose Bus, Rita, was sadly in Florida at the time.

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About Author

RegularEmma

Emma is a writer, traveler, and teacher. She co-runs this blog and is currently traveling in her VW Bus “Big Emma” from Alaska to Argentina. She loves everything colorful and occasionally licks a rock. She doesn’t believe in mustard.

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