When traveling on wheels, there are two terms that keep popping up: vanlife and overlanding. But although both ways of living and traveling are very similar and you can be both a vanlifer and an overlander, there is also a clear difference. In this blog we’ll take a closer look at what the difference is between vanlife and overlanding and share everything you need to discover which way of traveling on wheels suits you best.
What is Vanlife?
The word vanlife is a combination between the words “van” and “life”. It’s a lifestyle where people live and travel in a converted campervan. It was already a thing in the 1960s and 1970s with the hippies and their classic Volkswagen vans , but thanks to #vanlife on social media, this way of life has become very populair again in recent years. However, the interpretation of the concept vhas become much broader over the years. This lifestyle is no longer just about converted vans (although it remains popular for build your own little house on wheels), as well as people who live and travel in campervans, digital nomads who work from their office on wheels and people who live, work and/or travel part-time in their campervans. So vanlife is a lifestyle in which the van plays an important role in housing and as a means of transportation. So someone who goes on holiday with his camper for a few weeks per year is theoretically not a vanlifer, although this blog has not the intention to exclude people. The vanlife community is very friendly and open minded, where generally everyone with a camper (van) is welcome.
So with vanlife, the intention is not necessarily to actually travel or seek adventure. For a large group, vanlife is simply an alternative way of living. This is often by choice, but that certainly does not apply to everyone. For some people it is pure necessity to live in a campervan, for example because there are not enough houses available in the country where you live. So in that regard, vanlife is also not always as fun as you see online. But it should be clear that a van is also ideal for traveling. Many vanlifers take advantage of this and enjoy going on the road with their home on wheels. But unlike overlanding, vanlife is more often about vacations, short trips and going specifically to a particular destination. The purpose of vanlife is therefore slightly different from overlanding.
What is Overlanding?
The concept of overlanding is originally from the Australian Outback, an area that covers nearly three-quarters of all of Australia, is largely inaccessible and remote from civilization. In the past when there were no roads, people still traveled here on foot and with camels. The term “overlanding” means travel over land, but was originally used to refer to the herding of cattle over very long distances. Overlanding as we know it today began in the middle of the last century when 4×4 all-terrain vehicles such as Land Rovers, Jeeps and Unimogs came on the market and were more often suited for far, long and adventure travel. This is also the difference with vanlife. So overlanding is not about living in a vehicle or recreating, but about adventure and self-reliance. Overlanding is actually a mix between travel, off-road driving, off-grid camping and all that comes with it. And while these trips are often made with a 4×4, it is not necessarily an essential part of overlanding. In fact, you can also overland with an AWD SUV, 2WD car with rooftop tent, campervan or a motorcycle. The intention of overlanding is going on an adventure and be as self-sufficient as possible.
Overlanders are often away from home for longer periods of time and travel for several months or sometimes even years at a time. They prefer to travel as far as possible, through remote areas and/or in challenging seasons and other adventurous conditions. This also means that you must prepare a trip well and know what you are doing. Traveling on spec through a remote desert, the cold arctic or far from home towards Africa, South America or Asia is not a good idea. So as an overlander, you are generally well prepared when it comes to things like recovery gear, navigating without internet, border crossings, extreme weather conditions and knowing your vehicle so you can fix as much as possible yourself if something breaks down along the way. Fortunately, other overlanders know what difficult and dangerous situations you can sometimes find yourself in along the way, and the community is very close-knit and helpful. Agreeing to travel together through remote areas, helping out in case of a breakdown, tips for specific garages in the area or pulling each other out of the loose sand is very common among overlanders.
The difference between Vanlife and Overlanding
The big difference between vanlife and overlanding is the purpose of living and traveling in a campervan versus the intention for far, long and adventurous overland travel with a vehicle and the self-reliance that is required along the way. But vanlife and overlanding can also go very well together. After all, overlanding is also possible with a campervan. So in that respect, it is also possible to be both vanlifer and overlander!