On the Road: Emergent Spatiality in #Vanlife

Lawrence May – University of Auckland


Platform: Journal of Media and Communication

Volume 9.1, Visuality: Truth and Politics (2022): pp.56 – 72


‘Vanlife’ is a term utilised on social media sites, including YouTube, to denote images and videos that represent a lifestyle centred around long-distance travel using converted vans. The Vanlife phenomenon demonstrates the potential for networked culture and storytelling to combine to create emergent spaces, fostered not only by individual digital media objects but also the connected digital networks they occupy. In this article I ask how digital media practices are used by Vanlife travellers in order to construct such emergent spaces, and what the characteristics of these spaces might be. This investigation has a particular focus on the capacity for the creative practices used to tell visual stories online to combine representations of ‘real world’ experiences and environments, with the individual and communal desires, rhetoric and, at times, fictions, of the burgeoning Vanlife alternative lifestyle. Taking a netnographic approach (Kozinets, 2002), and guided by Henri Lefebvre’s trialectic model of space (1974), I conduct analysis of a set of Vanlife YouTube videos and explore the construction of different layers of spatiality as well as the productive tensions that arise between these. As Vanlifers undertake and document their freewheeling travels, their production of spaces serves to establish the unending road trip as a viable alternative lifestyle. Vanlife videos also work to formulate new cultural and aesthetic dimensions for the areas their creators explore, destabilising and redefining the meanings of the spaces, experiences and communities its travellers encounter. Equally, the idealised spaces of Vanlife are themselves disrupted by jarring intrusions from the external world and its everyday problems, a tension that further illustrates the continually negotiable nature of spatial meanings and highlights the role digital media might play in accentuating and accelerating this fluidity.


Vanlife; space; tourism; Henri Lefebvre; YouTube; narrative

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