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Screw the 9 to 5: why I’m living in a van and creating an app for vanlifers

screw the 9 to 5 - vanlife

Vanlife is something of a dream for most millennials.

There is a growing trend of people who feel trapped in their current lifestyle – whether it be due to their 9 to 5, relationships or their physical environment. You can read statistic after statistic that the millennial generation would rather spend money on desirable experiences than buying something desirable. Vanlife is a perfect example of how millennials are doing just that and saying screw the 9 to 5 and the stress it brings.

For them, vanlife is the perfect escape.

screw the 9 to 5 - drinking coffee in van

It’s a way to escape working 9 to 5 and instead spending your time living, discovering and experiencing.

From the beginning of my relationship with my partner Thibaut two and a half years ago, we constantly spoke and dreamed about the idea of having a campervan. We spent hours together on Pinterest, Instagram and the French version of Craigslist envisioning what our own van would look like one day.

In July 2016, we joined the vanlife community when we adopted our first vanchild, a ’93 Renault Trafic named Jean-Claude Van Dinic (named after my favorite French movie star, Jean-Claude Van Damme to my boyfriend’s displeasure).

screw the 9 to 5 - bought a van

We hit the road across Europe on a 2 month long trip. Along the way we saw sublime natural wonders of the world like the springs of Lake Ohrid, Macedonia, the world-renowned Plitvice Lakes in Croatia and the romantic cities of Bologna, Verona and Florence just to name a few. Life on the road was more or less perfect. Sure we had a few hiccups here and there but we managed just fine.

Many of the new people adopting the vanlife lifestyle are tired of the monotony so common to the nine to five environment.

These are people who were once sitting in their offices staring mindlessly at their screen, craving adventure.

Vanlifers realize that the true joys in life lie out in the real world and on the road. The nomadic lifestyle offers many advantages including living minimally, mindfully, and freely. There is a feeling of liberation after selling everything you own and downsizing your life into the back of a van. Only at this moment can you realize how much of the stuff you had in your life was useless, not truly making you any happier and often times making you even more stressful.

There seems to be this unstoppable pressure to have best jobs, the newest clothes and the coolest home. Vanlifers release themselves of this pressure by adopting the nomadic lifestyle and getting away from it all.

Get away from 9 to 5 jobs and get to experiencing.

Social media is often criticized because we never see the full version of people’s lives. We only see the 1% that is perfectly posed with just the right amount of lighting and editing. The vanlife movement has seen significant growth in the past few years for that exact reason. The combination of mother nature, a hot couple and a nice home on wheels can work magic on Instagram and on our minds. It doesn’t take a lot to trigger the desire or action in someone sitting miserably in their 9 to 5 office after seeing a few images like that.

screw the 9 to 5 - driving the van

Of course these photos capture the most beautiful moments of living a nomadic lifestyle but there are many aspects that are highly romanticized.

Living in a tiny van, especially when there’s more than one person, can be stressful, messy and sometimes quite lonely. Being a neat freak myself, keeping the van organized while on the road was never an issue for us as it can be for others.

For us, we realized something quite quickly that it could get quite lonely on the road.

Sure, there was no more 9 to 5, but there’s also a sense of loneliness.

We would arrive at a certain location and crave cracking open a beer with some new friends to chat about life on the road. But, there was no one around. I mean sure it’s great to swipe through photos on Instagram of other people doing the same thing as we were, but we wanted real human interaction.

Apps and means of communication that already existed were limiting and disorderly for our lifestyle. Most camping, RVing, road trip apps focused on locating and sharing amenities, campgrounds, parking spots, etc. Sure there is couchsurfing for when you’re in a major city and want to find outgoing people to meet while in town but there was nothing for when you pull into a beautiful park in the middle of the desert, a forest or by the sea. Online forums, Facebook and Instagram communities are a very time consuming method because by the time you find someone in the same country or region as you, traveling at the same time, with the same interests, your stay in that location is finished and you spent your whole time on your phone.

This is where our idea for the Driftr App comes in.

The Driftr App was designed to unite the vanlife community by connecting you to nearby vanlifers and outdoor adventurists in real-time. The app uses simple geolocation technology to locate other “driftrs” on a map connecting you with that person. This way, you can share your location and organize meetups quickly and efficiently so you can get off your phone and get outside.

Vanlife is not just about stopping at the most photogenic places to snap a photo for Instagram, it was built on the idea of connecting like-minded vandwellers and outdoor adventure enthusiasts together in one community. The size of the vanlife community is much larger than we can even imagine. It also includes other forms of alternative living from tiny homes, self-sufficient living, etc. It is a global trend that has no signs of slowing down and we wanted to help out our community by making it easier to communicate from within.

screw the 9 to 5 - cooking and the van

Not only do we want to connect people on the road, our goal is to continue to develop ideas for the Driftr App that will focus on the community and lifestyle aspects by sharing content and eventually a marketplace. We hope that people who aren’t necessarily vanlifers themselves can also be part of the community within the app by reading the content and connecting with driftrs to learn more about their experiences.

Security is a major issue within the community with people having their vans vandalized, stolen or broken into. The app provides an option to be on or off the grid so when you’re searching for people to meet up with you can be on the grid. In the evenings when you find a secure sleeping spot you can be off the grid so you are no longer visible on the map. We are working on providing strict login in requirements to positively confirm people’s identities and intentions with the app.

We have launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the development of the app. Being recent graduates with a limited budget ourselves we couldn’t bring our idea to life on our own. Since we are building this app for the community we thought the best alternative was to crowdfund. This way we can get the validation we need to confirm that this is the next logical step for the community. Also they can provide immediate feedback on what features they would find useful that we may not have thought of yet. We appreciate any and all support.

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Written by Jelena Marjanovic

Jelena Marjanovic is passionate about social entrepreneurship and travel. She is the founder of a handmade clothing line Kaya Sa Sela made using traditional Balkan textiles and techniques to create modern boho styles, www.kaya-sasela.com and is working on developing the first social app for vanlifers and the outdoor millennial called Driftr App www.driftr-app.com.   You can follow her travels at www.worldisyouroffice.org.

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