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Understanding the “Van Life” Phenomenon

A story in this week’s New Yorker has plenty of people around the internet talking. It features a profile of a couple who are part of a growing movement called “Van Life,” a lifestyle built around traveling the world aboard specially-designed camper vans, sharing their adventurous experiences using the hashtag #vanlife along the way.

Originally invented by photographer, designer and social media consultant Foster Huntington, followers of the Van Life philosophy try to live their lives on the road, spending more time close to nature, enjoying opportunities to engage in outdoor activities like surfing, yoga and hiking. We decided to use Captiv8’s insights platform to take a closer look at #vanlife in an effort to understand some of its top contributors and explain why brands should be paying attention.

Using Captiv8’s insights platform, we conducted a search for the top #vanlife content on Instagram to get a sense of who was contributing. Here are a few examples:

  • Foster Huntington – the originator of the #vanlife phenomenon, the whimsical outdoor social star Foster Huntington today calls an Oregon treehouse home. His posts about Van Life and his book projects on the topic have helped earn it widespread appeal.
  • Travis Burke – photographer Travis Burke has been traveling the USA aboard his self-named “adventure mobile” for three years, capturing amazing images of the outdoors in the process. This image (right) of Travis with his van and gear earned more than 34,000 likes.
  • Chris Burkard – while not specifically a dedicated Van Life traveler, outdoor photographer Chris Burkard has helped boost the community’s attention thanks to dramatic images like this Santa Claus-themed #vanlife snap
  • Where’s My Office Now – couple Emily and Corey, along with their dog Penny, were the featured subject of the recent New Yorker profile. This yoga-themed #vanlife image is a great example of their nomadic, van-based lifestyle.
  • Sara Underwood – former Playboy Playmate Sara Underwood takes the concept of “wanderlust” to a whole new level. Leaving behind her centerfold career, Sara has as of late become a devoted vanlifer, with some of her Instagram shots earning upwards of 228,000 likes on Instagram.

Why should brands pay attention to the Van Life phenomenon? The answer is that its social media devotees represent a highly-coveted audience. According to Captiv8’s analysis of the demographics for the #vanlife hashtag, 80% of men who look at the tag are between the ages of 25 and 44, and more than 1/3 of them have incomes between $40,000 and $80,000 a year. They also over-index on other interest topics like travel, sports, and food & drinks.

Learn more about how you can make sense of the latest social media trends using Captiv8’s own social media insight tools.

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