For the past two weeks, we’ve been on vacation with my parents in Florida. We’ve spent these weeks primarily relaxing, and it feels very different from our usual vanlife. Despite what one may see on Instagram, vanlife is anything but a vacation.

These past two weeks, we’ve been on vacation. If you’ve been following our social media accounts, you might have seen that we’ve taken a break from vanlife and have flown to Florida to meet my family. I don’t see them very often, and it was important for us to spend some time together before we head to Latin America.
We’ve gone to the usual place: Cape San Blas, on Florida’s northern Panhandle. Even after we’ve seen so much, this remains one of the most beautiful beaches I know. My family has come here and either camped or rented a house every year since before I was born. It’s where I learned to really like camping. If I can, I make an effort to come and hang out here every February.

Houses at night along Cape San Blas, Florida, where my family has vacationed for decades.

A vacation from vanlife

We left Big Emma back in LA with a good friend, who also owns a bus and is taking very good care of her while we’re gone. Although we miss her, and it is strange to be so far apart, it is good to take a short break. For two weeks, we’re living in a sturdy house right on the beach. Our fridge is full of cold beer, and the ceiling is high enough to stand up straight everywhere. We sleep in a big, soft bed and can take advantage of running water anytime we like. We know the area and where to go, and most days we don’t have to go anywhere at all. We’re not used to all of these conveniences.

Full-size beds do have their perks.

It is not usually like this. Not just because of higher ceilings or increased stability, it’s mostly because we are on vacation here. Sure, we still have work to do for the various new freelancing jobs we’ve taken on, and of course we continue to run our blog and corresponding social media accounts, but we also spend a lot of time simply reading, playing games or watching TV with everybody, hanging out on the beach, and being happy. I don’t spend time thinking about parking spaces, that strange noise that Big Emma is making, moving things around to get to the stove or the bed, and how long we still have to drive today. Vacation in Florida is a stark contrast to what has now become the pattern of our normal lives.

Some people seem to think that vacation and vanlife are the same thing

On the beach on Cape San Blas, Florida

Vacation is extremely different than vanlife. This seems obvious to me, but we have noticed that some people seem to disagree. We recently published a picture on Instagram that was spread through a few other accounts and received more attention than any of our other posts so far, and many people we had never heard of commented on it. Although many comments were a simple thumbs up or smiley faces, people also said something along the lines of “the dream” and “you live an amazing life”.

And I see why they say these things. Instagram conveys a romanticized image of our lifestyle. To many people, our lives personify things like perfection, having so much time on our hands we don’t know what to do with it, or even laziness. This idea has also been echoed by friends and family on certain occasions since we left, to our surprise.

But why to our surprise? They see our lives through the beautiful pictures we post on the Internet. Pictures that we have selected because the are the best we have taken, or tell a cool story. They see the sunny days, the days we had fun practicing our photography skills, last week’s cool excursion. And they don’t see the hundreds of out-of-focus or poorly composed photos, the soaking rain, the shit I took in the woods yesterday. We don’t take pictures of sitting in Starbucks for 10 hours straight, or of Sven with a headache after hours of trying to program our website that just won’t do what we want it to. If it is boring, negative, or just a bad picture, we don’t usually end up showing it to anybody.

We are usually very busy, except when we’re on vacation

On vacation in Florida, I like to spend time playing a different kind of Tetris.

Although some may not believe it, we are very busy. We spend much more time completing the necessities of daily vanlife than we ever did on daily routines living in an apartment. We spend time almost every day doing things for our blog, and our recent dabbles in online freelancing are taking up a high percentage of our time. I usually work on whatever we need to work on in the passenger’s seat while Sven drives. If we are stressed, it’s usually because we can’t find enough time to get all of our work done between the demands that traveling, camping, freelancing, Big Emma, and making media create.

On a normal day in vanlife, when we are not busy sitting somewhere using the Internet or exploring something, we are taking care of the necessary routines that are an innate part of our lifestyle: playing Tetris, doing car repairs, figuring out where to camp or just trying to get somewhere. We are almost always busy doing something useful, and we never spend a day doing nothing. The realization that some people don’t think we are busy is very strange for us, because we feel the opposite is true.

Which is why being on vacation is so different from our normal van lifestyle. We don’t spend all this time doing things. We spend most of our time relaxing, and it does us good. Because what is a vacation? It is changing up your usual daily routine. It’s a time when you spend a little bit more money than usual, where we can just afford to do something like rent a kayak or go out to eat, be a tourist. It’s simply a time-out.

The lifestyle of vanlife: a lot less stable, but much more exhilarating

If vanlife is anything, it is not a time-out. It is full-blown life, with new experiences and changing scenery around every single corner that makes daily life much less stable, but also much more exhilarating. It’s hard to mentally and physically keep up sometimes.
This is one of the concepts that our media doesn’t transport well: that vanlife is not a vacation, it is a lifestyle. And just like any other lifestyle, it has its good days and its bad days, its ups and downs. It has the days you want to photograph, and those that you don’t. There are days when we feel amazing, and days when we do not. We have not simply opted out of life for a few years to travel; we have chosen to do life differently than before.

Camping near Joshua Tree National Park, California.

And one of the biggest differences is how we integrate work. We do work – on our blog, for example – we just don’t go to work. We are our own bosses and receive almost no salary (or none at all, when we work on our blog), and we spend most of our time working to improve our lifestyle, which has nothing to do with making money. But we get to do something that we like doing, on our own schedules. And, as a trade-off, we are very busy, don’t do the tourist things, avoid spending money. I understand how many people find it hard to fit this into their usual assumptions about work or work-ethics, and I get why people on social media think what we are doing is amazing. I think it is amazing, too, but possibly for very different reasons.
The van-lifestyle is very different from a vacation, and from the stationary lifestyles that people in our society usually tend to lead. But it is a life, like any other. So we make sure to sit back, relax, and enjoy our time in Florida with my family.
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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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