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The Roots of Van Life: A History

by LauniRae

When I met my husband he was driving a 1978 VW  Transporter. It was blue and it shot blue flames out of the tailpipe from time to time. He called her Sasha and she was way more trouble than she was worth but oh man, we had some great times in that old van. Like us, many people have found van life appealing as campers for recreation, road trips or even a home on wheels for nomads on the roam.  The pioneering of recreational vehicles changed how we explore the world and we here at Lost Campers are stoked to be apart of this experience for the thousands of people that have come through our doors. Let’s take a trip back in time and visit campervans throughout the years as an homage to the wanderers of old.

In 1910 the Pierce-Arrow Touring Landau was introduced in Madison Square Garden and features in Motor Magazine. This was the first automobile equipped for extended road touring. It featured ample storage space for suitcases, a pressurized fold-out sink, a bed and the top folded down for open-air travel in the back seat, an old school version of a moon roof. It attracted quite a bit of attention at the time from those with the dream of wandering. Mind you, back then there was no interstate system. Road tripping happened on dirt roads that connected towns and cities and maps were known to be inaccurate or vague. These RV pioneers were the original Lost Campers!

Pierce-Arrow Touring Landau. Photo from Motor Magazine 1910.

The Volkswagen Type II was introduced in 1950 in Germany, it was the first van of it’s kind and it paved the way for the passenger and campervans we see today. In the 1960s the van life movement started gaining momentum with Volkswagon, Dodge & Chevy campervans gaining popularity. Volkswagon busses became a symbol of the hippie counter culture at the time. They are still the first van that comes to mind when you hear “vintage van”.

Photo by Katia Rolon on Unsplash

Dodge/ Chrysler began production of their own campervans in 1964 with the Dodge A-100. I will never forget watching That 70’s Show when Michael Kelso rolled up in that sweet vintage Dodge A100 Van. That moment exposed a whole new generation to van life. Sadly, it was manufactured for only 6 short years ending in 1970 making them a rare diamond in the rough to find these days.

photo by launirae

 

These vintage vans paved the way for the bulky travel vans of the ’80s & ’90s. At that time, living in a “van down by the river” had a stigma behind it and was the subject of one of the funniest Chris Farley skits to ever air on Saturday Night Live in 1993.

These days, van life has huge popularity and appeals to the modern minimalists of today that find less to be more. The freedom of the open road and keeping it simple has become a desired lifestyle of more than just millennials. Kicking the stigmas and stereotypes to the curb is how the van life movement continues to move forward!

This type of recreation shares a big chunk of history and culture worldwide. Campervan rentals popped up in Australia in the mid-1990’s quickly becoming popular among locals and tourists as the best way to explore the land down under. New Zealand was not far behind and now you can find campervan rentals around the world from Iceland to Eastern Europe.

Nick & Emma, the owners of Lost Campers, came to the USA after backpacking and living in various countries for quite a few years. When they got to the states they were surprised to find a lack of campervan rentals, only larger RV rentals existed. Coming from Australia, campervanning was already a huge part of the travel culture there and they had now found an opportunity to share something new in the Western USA. Around a campfire in Montana, Lost Campers Campervan Rentals was born. They laid down roots in San Francisco and started with one van and a website, the rest is history. For more on their story check out the about us page.

Campervans have come a long way! We see more exciting DIY and manufactured innovations every year. New vans, big vans, small vans and vintage vans. The possibilities are endless. Check out our large Redwood Class Van added to our fleet in 2019. A 12-passenger Ford Transit Van converted to a comfortable and roomy campervan.

Some humans are wanderers and these recreational vehicles have provided us with the freedom we find to be invigorating and fulfilling. The security and simplicity of a warm bed and a hot meal while exploring new horizons speaks to our nomadic nature. There is nothing like a long road trip to feed the soul.