For some, embarking on a cross-country expedition may seem reserved for great novelists like Jack Kerouac or John Steinbeck. However, an Instagram tag created by Foster Huntington exists to tell another intoxicating story, one that is being written by hundreds of people who have abandoned the traditional idea of home and have instead taken life to the turnpike.
When you search the hashtag #Vanlife on Instagram, nearly 300,000 photos and videos appear. A curated collection of camper vans beside golden, Rocky Mountain landscapes and lakeside views from the Pacific Northwest adorn the screen. Ryan Sellmeyer, one of the many photographers posting to the tag, spoke with BTR about putting rubber to the road and the endless adventures that await.
The information section of Sellmeyer’s Instagram account plainly reads “humans being.” These two words poignantly describe the lifestyle he and his family have adopted. Sellmeyer, along with his wife and children, have packed their van countless times with very few possessions and set out to spend their nights beneath the stars. The Sellmeyers have managed to simplify their lives in ways most may find nonviable, but they have made space for less superficial gains.
In 2014, the Sellmeyers lived half of the year on the road. For the majority of that time, their van served as a home base in Hawaii, a place familiar to Sellmeyer and his wife. The two previously lived in the state while enrolled in an undergrad program at the University of Hawaii. Throughout their four years at UH, they spent weekends driving up and down the islands. After they completed school, they grew to miss the road trips they had regularly taken. With help from their Volkswagen Vanagon, they have been able to get back on course.
This year, the Sellmeyers have spent a total of four months on the road. They travel in an old van that notoriously breaks down. Before they leave for longer trips, Sellmeyer handles the preventive maintenance and gathers spare parts. Other than the mechanical work, he tells BTR that not much planning goes into mapping the excursions.
“We typically don’t ever really have a destination. We end up staying in national forests mostly because it’s free and that makes traveling easy.”
For the remainder of the year, the Sellmeyers call Washington State home. As nice as it may be to settle in and stretch your legs in a space much larger than a cramped camper, staying stationary proves to be a greater challenge.
“Being home is great for three days and then you start getting itchy feet. You just want to leave again,” says Sellmeyer. He jokes that “it gets really hard,” and “there should be a support group.”
The Sellmeyer children feel similarly to their father.
“The girls say they want to stay in the venture mobile forever.”
After staying home for long periods, Ryan knows exactly when to pack up the VW again and put the pedal to the metal.
“You know as a family when it’s time to hit the road because the kids start getting spoiled with toys and things,” Ryan shares.
On the road, a focus on material items wanes; the passengers become inventive as an alternative.
“You watch that sort of fade away and not become as important to the kids. Instead, they build castles out of rocks on the river and they use the objects around to play.”
The Sellmeyers have also learned the importance of community and friendships. Huntington’s Instagram hashtag has helped the family to form bonds with fellow travelers.
“Using social media has been a great way to connect with people,” Sellmeyer tells BTR. “Usually, we’ll [post] that we need a place to do laundry or our van is breaking down, whatever it may be, and people will knock your socks off with their hospitality.”
It’s the community that guides the family to get out more than they already do.
The Sellmeyers represent four of the hundreds of individuals who have embarked on an exhilarating journey, proving that life on the road exists beyond the pages of fictitious tales. The brave father, who manages to see the big picture through a minimalist lens, left BTR and those consumed by wanderlust with a few words of wisdom:
Featured photo courtesy of Shelby Bell.