I recently had the opportunity to chat with Nathen about his new project, Responsible Vanlife, with partner Josy, as they work towards making this travel lifestyle sustainable! Check out the full interview below.
Katie: Okay so to start, if you could introduce yourself and Josy, the founders of Responsible Vanlife. Tell us a bit of your story and you got involved in vanlife.
Nathen: So my name is Nathen, my partner is Josy, and we’re the creators of Responsible Vanlife. We met in Portugal about two years ago now. We were living in separate communities, learning permaculture in Portugal. Then serendipitously, we just arrived at someone’s house at the same time. I was going on a road trip with my friend and asked if Josy wanted to come. She joined us in the van and the rest was history. We’ve pretty much been together on the road ever since.
Vanlife for me came out of a need for travel and minimalism. When I was young, my mum bought a horse-drawn barrel top caravan, and went away for six months around the south of the UK. I slept in a cupboard on that adventure, which was some of my first memories of life. After that, she met my stepfather who lived on a canal boat and we moved on to the canal boat with him. This instilled in me that sense of wanderlust, but also that sense of understanding that we don’t necessarily have to live with lots of things. There are other ways of doing things. Also, for Josy, she was super keen to be in a van and she had actually set aside some time to manifest her reality. We both manifested wanting a partner to travel with. It doesn’t get much better!
We already had ideas that we both wanted to be more entrepreneurial and lead our life with financial independence. So we kicked off with WildFeet, which is our production company. When we came to New Zealand for our documentary project we converted this van here, which is called Eddy. Since living in Eddy, we were trying to figure out what we can give to other people that would be valuable in the vanlife community.
At first, we thought to create a little campaign with a grid photo of other vanlifers collaborating but soon thought, “maybe we should just make a page called Responsible Vanlife”.
Within the week we had reached 4000 followers! Then, we were getting so much feedback. People wanted to get involved also, like from Tanja, @tanjab.illus. She reached out and said, “I want to make you a logo for you”. That’s when responsible vanlife kicked off. There are so many inspiring people out there in the van life community already that we wouldn’t have come across this idea without. Like Noami and Dustin from @Irietoaurora were a big inspiration and Viki from @vanilla.icedream. She did the responsible vanlife week way before we made responsible vanlife. All of the people that are in that grid are super inspiring people!
And to be clear, we don’t have all the answers. We started responsible vanlife because we want to grow too. We want to create a space for people to have this conversation, learn from each other, and value how many people are trying to make a difference. This is a platform for voices to be heard and knowledge to be spread. Nobody sits on a pedestal here. Everyone is trying their best in any given situation. You’re not going to inspire people by looking down on them.
Katie: Yeah, I love that. You’ve mentioned multiple times that you’re not here as an expert. You’re here to work on a community, collaborative project that is fueled by the people. That’s really, really valuable. So you just first launched your first copy of the magazine. Can you tell me a bit about it?
Nathen: The magazine comes out monthly. The first issue was about 46 pages and doesn’t have any advertisements. It’s just pure valuable content through interviews with people and also original pieces. It took about six months to get the first issue out. We are so grateful that we had some incredibly talented and motivated people reach out to help us and we couldn’t do it without the little family we are creating. The design was done entirely by Josy. It’s phenomenal.
The way we’ve decided to fund is through Patreon. It allows you to have a monthly subscription, which is donation-based ($3 minimum). Basically, people can give what they want and are able to. We want to make it accessible so we’ve decided to trust that the community will support us the best they can. The $3 minimum is just a token of appreciation and a dedication to helping grow the community.
The donation includes multiple things. For off is the magazine, of course. Secondly is access to the Facebook group, which is private. We want to have a deeper personal connection with people that want to support the project. That means giving people the opportunity to talk to us more personally and ask questions. We’re also going to be doing monthly online workshops. We’re still working on this but we’ve already had a bunch of people stoked to come along and do different responsible vanlife workshops. We want to be able to pay people to share their knowledge. We also have a sticker collection available for purchase.
Katie: It seems like there’s a good mix of community involvement, learning, and sharing. What is it about this community that drives you to create a project like this?
Nathen: So I will start with the positive side of the community, which drives us to do this, which is essentially just the community itself. The opportunities it gives to people to break away from the conventional social structure and do something different. Everyone who experiences this community and is opened up to it say, “wow, this is something special. There’s this global community of people wanting to live differently. And it’s working and is becoming an entire culture”. That’s amazing.
With that being said, a lot of the inspiration for creating responsible vanlife was unfortunately because of the negative aspects that we wanted to highlight but also show alternatives options. The vanlife community is growing and it will continue to grow. But as it grows, we really have to question whether we are making this possible for future generations? There’s a lot of people who’ve been doing this for a long time who are doing it responsibly and they are really helping to create this sustainable movement forward. For example, Vanlife Diaries, the Vanlife App, Diversify Vanlife, and Vanlife Pride. These are really key movements and players within vanlife that are going to help us sustain for the future.
Some of the key things right now is that we’re seeing massive policy change across the world and not just policy change but a shift in the way that people are looking at what we’re doing as a community.
There are a lot of issues of waste and a lot of segregation between the local community and the nomadic communities. That is obviously going to alter the policies within the government. Last year, you saw in San Diego there was a new policy or new legislation passed that restricted people living in vans. The question is, will this be allowed in the future? That’s one of the key drivers for us. We want to encourage people to think about that and be aware that we’re not just doing this for the present moment.
Katie: What has been your biggest takeaway so far?
Nathen: Connecting with like-minded people and being able to take all of this knowledge that other people have and applying that to our own lives. Also, the wonderful feedback that we are getting from people who are inspired by responsible vanlife. We’re able to connect with people across the world on such a deeper level because we’re talking about something that’s often quite vulnerable. Holding that space for that has been really beautiful.
Katie: What are your long-term goals and dreams for Responsible Vanlife?
Nathen: We recently held a month-long survey, gathering data from responsible vanlifers. We want to be able to create a foundation of data that can inform the way that people are living the responsible vanlife across the world. Because as these policies and legislations pass, we currently don’t have any data to stand on or to look at and reflect how we’re doing it.
It’s really important to be able to have a completely open-source platform of data that we’ve extracted from all around the world. Hopefully, it’ll be really valuable at least as a preliminary source of information. Now the key is just trying to get it out to every group of Vanlifers and just making sure that we get that diversity within the survey, so everyone is represented.
We also want to launch a directory for vanlifers, which we are working on.
This would serve as yellow pages for vanlifers to exchange services. There are so many talented people creating amazing things and also providing amazing services. It’d be awesome to be able to go to a place where there’s an entire category of people. For example, if I want help with a specific part of my van build and somebody in the community can share that knowledge, then I can offer them back whatever my specialty is (i.e. web design, logo creation, etc.)
Another thing that we’re really excited about doing in the future is a time bank. This would essentially remove the money aspect of sharing goods and services and creates more of a bartering system. So instead of relying on a monetary economy, you can just swap skills and time. Basically, if you work for an hour, you’d get one point. Then you have to exchange that point for something else, and it’s all held within a time bank. If we have that directory of people, and we know who does what, then we can contact them directly and request their services, which would be paid for with the coins in your time bank.
Katie: I really like that because it’s something that I feel like within the community we sort of already do. It’s just a matter of using our specialties and skills to help others. This “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” kind of mindset.
Nathen: Exactly. We’ll make it more accessible to people that don’t have the interpersonal skills to be able to just go to someone and say, “can you help me with this so I can help you with this?” Time banking is a great way to encourage that because you’re learning within a secure space that’s created by this concept, which is easy to understand.
We also want to do some online and in-person courses, and start doing the rounds with the gatherings that are already existing. But also create our own gatherings. There’s a lot less in Europe and New Zealand and a couple of other places. Just getting out there as much as possible in any way we can and just getting people involved.
Katie: I feel like being able to talk about a project like this is so important. Well, are there any other details that you want to add, stories you want to share, etc.?
Nathen: Yeah, I just want to say that everything we’re doing is subject to feedback. Contributions and collaborations are always welcome. Some of this is our own material, but most of the time, we’re reaching out to other people and collaborating with them. We just want to encourage that as much as possible. Because as I’ve said, we don’t have all the answers, but in combination with others, we can figure this out. It’s about coming together.
Katie: That’s such a full-circle way to end. So much of our conversations have been about the importance of a collaborative, community-based lifestyle. Not one person has all the answers – these projects require knowledge from everybody. They can’t exist without help from multiple people. So I like that. That’s like the core of what you guys are doing.
Keep up with Nathen, Josy, and Responsible Vanlife online:
Instagram: @responsiblevanlife, @wildlfeet
Facebook: ResponsibleVanlife, WildfeetProductions