If life is a journey....what is #vanlife....
We get deep and meaningful with Lauren and Calum from The Rolling Home to find out.
Could you introduce yourselves please…who are you? We are Lauren Smith & Calum Creasey
What do you do? We run a Creative Studio together called Stokedeversince. Calum is a filmmaker & photographer and I work as a producer. We have worked together full time for just under a year.
What is your business Stokedeversince all about…how did it start? Stokedeversince was originally a personal blog that Calum created about 5 years ago. It was a place to display his photography and films from our travels and times on the road. It wasn’t until after he finished University that he decided to turn it into his business. Initially working freelance for local studios, he then deciding to bite the bullet and try to start up a creative studio in summer of 2014. I had always worked full time in various office jobs, resigning from one to go away in the van and then getting another on my return. Work was picking up for Stokedeversince, so in January 2015 we decided to make the leap and work together full time
What’s the deal with The Rolling Home? The Rolling Home is our beloved 1996 VW T4 van. It started life as a sorry looking panel van that we bought back in 2010. Somehow it turned into what it is now, I don’t think we expected to spend as much time in it as we have, but its just become our favourite thing in the world. A way to escape the familiar roads of home and see the world.
Full time or part time van life? (Which do you have and which would you prefer?) We currently have a part time van life. We have been away in the van so many times, that collectively we have been living in there for over 12 months. If we could we would love to live in The Rolling Home full time. It is our plan to do this early next year, once we can wrap up some of our projects and save some money! …. We have spent the last 3 months living on a friends farm whilst we finished our book. Come new year we will be off again!
Let’s meet the van…Does it have a name? What is she/he; is it gender specific (is it weird that we’d think it might be?) or, is it just “the van”? we named it ‘The Rolling Home’ as it has been our real home for the past 5 years. No matter what is happening in your personal life, friends and family moving away, The Rolling Home will always stay a constant, it sounds cliche but is very true.
How long have you had it, and, if you could identify it as a member of the family which relative would it be? Stroppy teenager or beloved grandparent with a slightly naughty sometimes cantankerous edge?! I don’t know about which family member it would be. It seems to have traits from a few. It seems wiser with age and carries us safely, but sometimes it throws a tantrum and spits oil all over the tarmac! We love it all the same.
We love the custom interior you have built inside the van – I am especially in love with the porthole window! Having travelled and used the van with the interior as it is now for a while, are you finished or, are there things you would welcome in terms of changes, or updates, that would make your lives easier? The interior has really evolved sine we converted the van, staying as the same base but with the addition of various things, namely the porthole and hightop roof. I think we wouldn’t make too many changes, we would love to add a custom roof rack above the hightop to carry a canoe!. We would love to kit it out so that we could go to some wilder places, maybe lift it and put on some off road wheels!
How do you go from buying a van to basing yourselves in it and running a business from it. Is it something you always wanted to do or did it just evolve that way. We never could have imagined where we are now back when we bought the van. We were very young and quite naive when we started out. Like anything in life, it doesn’t turn out how you planned, but this seems to be better than we could have hoped for. It isn’t all a dreamy adventure. There are downsides to not having a permenant place to call home. But the positives out way the negatives by far. Having less possessions and not being held down by them. The business is a strange one, what we do is mainly for online/brands. There is a negative side to this, we don’t want to ‘sell out’, its never been about that. We want to look to a future of creating ‘real’ work that we can touch and feel. That will stand the test of time and not be lost with the next trend.
There must have been a moment when you decided….This is what we are going to do….and moved from concept to reality. Was there a catalyst? I think it was my parents moving to France and Calum graduating. We promised each other that as soon as he walked out of University, I would quit my job and we would ‘run away’ for as long as we could afford. That trip really showed us what it felt to be on the road with no responsibilities. I think we will always be trying to get back to that place.
How do you get to that mind-set (if it is indeed a mind-set)? What is it that takes you from “that would be nice” to “we ARE doing this”? (Again apologies for the cliches) but you just have to f**king go for it! Throw caution to the wind, the little voice in your head that says- what about money, or the house, or all of our things, my job! What will everyone think? Calum always says he never wants to be the guy in the pub who says ‘ah I would love to do that’.
Were there any reservations and have they proven to be founded or not? Living in a van is cheap, one of the the cheapest ways to live. But you do still need money of some sort, fuel costs a lot in Europe, you have to be savvy with food. No meals out and budget supermarkets are a god send. If you can find a way to make money on the road then you can sustain the lifestyle indefinitely.
You are both clearly incredibly creative people….do you think that vanlife encourages you to see things more clearly? To experience things in a more visceral kind of way, or do you believe that you would have followed the same type of creative path without it. I think if we didn’t have the van we would have still followed a creative path, however it has allowed us to reach the most incredible places and have the most amazing experiences that have inspired our photo’s and Calum’s films. I think the van has definitely made us into the people we are today no doubt about it!
Inspiration is the key to any creativity, feeling full of ideas and wanting to make them a reality.
Having watched some of your film content it seems clear that you are connected; to each other (you seem very close and very much in love!), to the life, to your environment and live life in the moment, trying to experience and take in everything around you. Again, is this a consequence of the way in which you have experienced the last few years together. Definitely! I think living in a van with anyone can be hard, it’s such a small space that sometimes you do just need some ‘me’ time to chill out and relax! But it also allows you to grow closer as a couple. During our 3 month trip around Europe we spent every minute together and didn’t really even have an argument. A few moans here and there. Once you get into the swing of things it becomes a much simpler way of living, if you can say sorry and admit when you are wrong. You need each others support when it all falls apart.
Do you think that a life without the constraints of the basic societal pressures of 9-5 job, homes full of possessions and that level of competition within conformity is restrictive and dulls the spirit within a person? It’s not our idea of what we would like to be doing, but to be honest we admire the people who are content with living in the town they grew up in. We really do not think of ourselves as above anyone with a ‘normal job’. Our best friends have houses and 9-5s and we do envy parts of their lifestyle. I don’t think its is the way you choose to live your life that makes a difference, more your outlook. Feeling like you can escape anytime is just a powerful as actually doing it. If you ever feel trapped I think that is the time to re evaluate. But you know, we are still young, and we know we don’t have all the answers, what is true for us may not be for others, and vice versa.
Outwardly you have a life that many people aspire to have….however, we are assuming that you are still, to a certain degree, restricted by the need to pay bills, get the work undertaken for clients completed to deadlines and on a relationship level have arguments like the rest of us?! Of course! For the past 4 months we have been living in a static caravan on our friends farm! Before this we rented a cottage in a little village, which although was very beautiful, it began to become such a burden due to the amount of money we were spending on a monthly basis, and us hardly ever being there! We decided to move out enabling us to live simply and cheaply. It was also much easier for us, as we have a studio space on the farm so we can just walk to work each day! Our monthly outgoings have definitely decreased, however we always need to be careful as there can be some months where the work doesn’t come your way which can be extremely stressful and there have definitely been some sleepless nights!
Is anyone ever really free?! Freedom to us, is the idea of being in the middle of nowhere, with the person you love. No thoughts in your head about work or money or things you need to do. Just peace and appreciating the moment you are in and the nature around you. It can bring hard times, and good. It’s taking a deep breath sitting on a beach, having an empty mind. Not feeling familiar worries pulling on you from all angles. Anyone can feel free, despite their situation. It’s knowing you are here for a relatively short amount of time, and one day there will be more time behind you than in front. Grab it, use it and be happy.
The more cynical out there might see vanlife as something that only young people can do, without children, and, that the older you get, the more entrenched you become in a standardised lifestyle the less accessible it becomes…what is your view on this. I think that van life is for anyone! You don’t need an incredible amount of money, as long as you are comfortable in your van, and have enough money for fuel and food then you can do it. The amount of people you see via social media living life on the road is incredible! Children being home schooled while exploring Europe is such an amazing thing to see. Even Calum’s parents did this before he was born, they decided to travel down to Greece with his two older sisters as toddlers in their bay window, the girls used to sleep in handmade hammocks in the hightop. We have met all types of people, ages and nationalities in vans. It may be the height of the current trend, but there were people doing it before and there will be people doing it after. The roads we drive are far better worn than we could ever imagine.
Having read one of your more recent posts I get the impression that, as much as you love living vanlife in its truest sense, you sometimes struggle with the way in which it is being used as a sales tool. By companies who deliberately misrepresent themselves by selling a lifestyle they do not live or understand just to make money from it. Would this be fair to assume? I do agree with this statement. Not necessarily just van life but the whole outdoor culture – it is being used as a huge marketing tool at the moment, and even to the point of people being ripped off. There are thousands of accounts on Instagram portraying a lifestyle, maybe they lead it maybe they don’t. There are far too many actually using other peoples content without even crediting the original photographer. It’s upsetting as the people who were doing it before Instagram & social media even existed do not get recognised. We have had times where it gets too much and we have been close to switching off. It is a very fine line. But then the great people we connect with keeps us there. I think if you are confident you are doing it for the right reasons then there is nothing to worry about.
Personally, as someone who has had a van for many years, and, works as part of a company full of owners and enthusiasts who genuinely love their VW’s – I too sometimes find the selling of a lifestyle a bit nauseating. However, I wonder if we should just feel privileged, (not in a smug way), that the lifestyle we lead- in whichever small part we lead it- is one that others deem so worthy of revering, it is considered a worthy marketing tool? I totally agree, there are times to be humble and times to feel proud. It’s knowing the difference which is key.
It is making it clear how easy it is! We made the conversion in our first van from the wood we were given, the whole van cost less than two iPhones! But really, companies and heads of marketing are always going to tap into what is real, and end up making it look fake. Soon it will hit critical mass, and it just won’t be cool anymore. But we can all meet in fields, and campsites and on top off cliffs. Share a beer and a BBQ and laugh about all the great times we have had!
Obviously the irony for JK as a company is that we need social media to share our truth with the outside world – as for many we are perceived as a business rather than a group of people who do “get it”, yet your situation seems to be the reverse? We never even thought about using Instragram to our advantage until April this year. We had seen so many accounts of people in van’s, and so many brands showing ‘vanlife’, that we thought why not! Whenever we put a picture of the van on our personal channels they went down so well that we thought why don’t we make one specifically for The Rolling Home. We never thought that 7 months later we would have nearly 25k followers!! …. we have so many messages saying we have inspired other conversions, If thats all we do it for then that’s great! I think true passion for anything always comes through, the JK channels even, you can see you guys live and breath vans just as much as we do!
Do you feel that as long as you are basing your outward appearance from a standpoint of truth, and not one of an idealised fiction then it is acceptable and more palatable? Definitely! We started going away in the van in 2010, and we did it so we could explore more places; to stay where you wouldn’t normally be able to if you were staying on a campsite or in a hotel. We didn’t do it because that’s what was deemed as ‘cool’ on social media, we didn’t even know what instagram or twitter was! We would feel excited when we saw an English camper van right on the northern tip of Spain! We wouldn’t turn our phones on for months – however it is still so amazing to see people doing the same thing, for the love of getting away and into the wild. Obviously some people do it for the wrong reasons, but this can be said for anything!
Do you think that the power of aspirational lifestyle images is indicative of a more general level of dissatisfaction with day to day lives? Your thoughts? This is something that we all need to think about and discuss more. We call it- ‘the death of the adventure aesthetic’. In a George Orwell way of thinking, what happens when there are so many photos of beautiful places, that people just switch off? They mean nothing to us anymore. We have heard of places in Iceland & Norway, famous spots to take photos where you have to queue for hours to stand and take a shot. This isn’t for us. As humans we have a tendency to fall in love with something, then use it so much until it breaks. This is true of photography, resources and the world in general. I do think people are becoming more aware, more able to sift through the endless stream of content for what is real. Maybe one day we will all switch off and get back to just having our feet on the ground, and our heads up, eyes not looking at a screen.
I know that you feature films and photographs that represent your truth and that many moments are reserved as yours to keep without the need or want to share them – that is very much as it should be. If you could drop the whole social media thing tomorrow over a life of being just the two of you and the people you happened upon along the way, would you? Or does the connection to others outweigh the negatives for you.Knowing we could switch off anyday. If we ever feel like it is taking too much of our lives, or it is changing us then i think we would hit the big red button!
Your Kickstarter campaign was instantly met with warmth and support, and, your beautiful book about your journey ‘The Rolling Home’ will hopefully soon be produced because of it. Has it been a surprise to you just how much your journey speaks to others and how invested they have become in it, or did you secretly always know the effect it had? Hands up, we danced with joy after the first 24 hours, we genuinely did not expect it to be so well received. It is a testament to the amazing people out there who had nothing but support for us! It was also a huge relief as we had already payed for half of the printing up front. Getting the pre order for the book was like everyone giving the project, what we had put a lot of ourselves in to, the thumbs up!
You both seem to be pretty worldly wise…what advice would you impart to; your younger self, a child, a teenager unsure of the future and finally an aspiring vanlifer? Get a van, save some money and leave! see where you end up. You will have the best time of your life. Advice to our younger selves would be, get up earlier! see more sunrises and don’t worry so much.
Have the last word….what is it that YOU would like to say….. Thank you for taking the time to ask us these questions, to anyone reading this and to all those who have ordered the book! See you on the road!
Pretty inspiring stuff….thank you to to Lauren and Calum for being so open and honest and we very much hope to catch up with you sometime down the road.
If they’ve inspired you, you can find them on Instagram @therollinghome and support them on kickstarter by clicking on the link on the picture below….