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King and Corey Smith had been dating for five months when they took a trip to Central America, in February, 2012.At a surf resort in Nicaragua, Smith helped a lanky American named Foster Huntington repair the dings in his board.“It’s men in their thirties with huge beards, and they’re pretty much all stay-at-home dads,” he said.“Their wives work office jobs and they work on the vans so the family can go out and vanlife on the weekend.”Part of the fun of vanlife, Sitner theorized, is the old-fashioned, analog pleasure of tinkering.

“We wanted to see if it was possible to combine this nomadic hippie life with a nine-to-five job,” Smith explained.“That’s what we’re trying to tap into.”“You could buy these vans ten years ago for pennies on the dollar,” Harley Sitner, the owner of Peace Vans, a Volkswagen-van repair and rental shop in Seattle, told me.Sitner, who is forty-nine, said that his generation’s adventurous rite of passage was more along the lines of “backpacking through Southeast Asia, eating mushrooms on a beach in Thailand.” Around five years ago, he began to notice that young people were increasingly interested in old VW vans.But vanlife, as a concept and as a self-defined community, is primarily a social-media phenomenon.Attaching a name (and a hashtag) to the phenomenon has also enabled people who would otherwise just be rootless wanderers to make their travels into a kind of product.

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