Why people are living in vans, RVs and school buses during the pandemic

Leila Roker
·3 min read

While many people found comfort obsessively browsing for houses and apartments during stay-at-home orders, the uncertainty of the pandemic has encouraged another trend: unexpected homes.

The craze of tiny home living has become a trending topic on TikTok with more than 2.1 billion views under the hashtag #vanlife and 6.5 million views under #tinyhomes on the app. Many videos feature singles or couples transforming vans, RVs or even school buses into small homes.

Many of these accounts are dedicated to showing viewers how they optimize their small living spaces, especially during the cramped and homebound times of the pandemic. It’s interesting to see (or live vicariously through) how people document the freedom of living on the go in a mobile home.

After losing their jobs in the pandemic, Courtnie Hamel and Nate Cotton decided to try something completely new: living out of a van.
After losing their jobs in the pandemic, Courtnie Hamel and Nate Cotton decided to try something completely new: living out of a van.

TikTok stars Courtnie Hamel and Nate Cotton (@courtandnate), both 31, have amassed 1.6 million followers by documenting their van life journey over the past year and a half. The married couple uses their platform to show viewers recent projects and trips, and to answer fan questions. “We were sick of paying rent. We lived in Huntington beach in Orange County, (California), and our rent was super expensive, and we were just getting by,” said Hamel. “We wanted a dog, and weren’t able to get one in our then apartment, and there were a lot of overall restrictions. We just wanted to get a place that we could make our own.”

And since they both lost their jobs during the pandemic, they felt an immediate relief when no longer having to pay monthly rent.

Hamel said the popular account started unexpectedly. “It kind of started with Instagram. I would mostly post wellness things because I’m a yoga instructor, but then I started documenting our van life a bit and people seemed interested. I hadn’t even heard of TikTok, and I just decided to post a random video of our space and it blew up!”

Hamel said the most common response from fans is curiosity about how they live their lives, go to the bathroom, shower and more everyday things. “There are definitely some challenges that come with living mobile,” Hamel explained. “We typically rely on showering at gyms and yoga studios, but during the height of the pandemic, many of those resources weren’t available. Luckily, we were able to park in my dad’s driveway and use some of his resources.”

Young people are renovating vans, RVs and even school buses and turning them into homes.
Young people are renovating vans, RVs and even school buses and turning them into homes.

They've also started a series about “enjoying van life responsibly” where they tackle topics about how fellow van enthusiasts can respectfully use and enjoy many of the free resources that come along with van life, like camping spots and parking spots.

TikTok stars Courtnie Hamel and Nate Cotton (@courtandnate) have amassed 1.6 million followers by documenting their van life journey over the past year and a half.
TikTok stars Courtnie Hamel and Nate Cotton (@courtandnate) have amassed 1.6 million followers by documenting their van life journey over the past year and a half.

With a growing interest in their way of life, the duo have started a van-building business for followers that are ready to embark on this style of living themselves.

“I think one of the best parts of living in a mobile home is being able to wake up anywhere. We can travel to so many places and just have all of our belongings with us there. We’re able to travel in a different way. We don’t need to rely on hotels or Airbnbs, and when we like somewhere we can stay as long as we want. And if we don’t, we have the freedom to pack up and leave at any time.”