Why I stop trying to make money on our #vanlife
It’s been a little over a week since we’ve renamed the Instagram. It’s not @liveslowdriveslower anymore, but @hedwigwiebes - as per my name, since I’m one updating it almost all of the time. We have also renamed the YouTube account: from Live slow, drive slower to being Bosman. Since he’s the one making all of the vlogs and videos. Jeroen and me decided we wanted to do this, as soon as we came to the definite conclusion that we don’t want to put energy solely into making money with this project anymore. The thought had been lingering since the beginning, and we could no longer ignore it – or we would totally go against everything we believe in. Truthfully, we won’t turn away from money if somewhere in the future an opportunity would present itself. We need money to pay for food, gas, laundry and the occasional campsite – and all the time we put into writing articles and making photos and videos, we can’t work and actually earn something. But we simply don’t feel like doing anything any longer that would attract something like the possibility of monetising this project. And here’s why.
We are a few days away from being on the road for half a year. From the beginning we wanted to document this trip, thoroughly. For me as a journalist and a story teller by heart, and an aspiring hobby photographer, this whole journey is like a dream. We get to experience so much, that we lack time to describe it all – instead of things happening. The Instagram account, or at least the photos and captions on it, I would have published anyway. It’s just all too interesting not to share. And I like making it, I really do. After having taken off we also found out #vanlife was one of the most popular new hashtags in Instagram at that time. So, what harm is there in wanting to make money off that? Not so much, we thought.
First of all, we would always stay ourselves. Second, we would never work with brands that we don’t support, just for the sake of money. Third, it would be nice if that were to create a stable income used for the continuation of this adventure, but we would surely find other means of income too. Besides, I like the magazine articles I still write as a freelance journalist way too much.
So far so good. We had fun in making photos and discovered how much this trip is also about a journey on the inside, on how much we get to realise who we are and what we need and want. Using Instagram was a nice way to reflect on that, and the reactions of others were very nice, too. Our followers applauded us for being so ‘real’ and ‘ourselves’. Yes! That’s exactly what we aimed for.
(Also, the amount of reactions grew quite quickly and answering all of them (which seemed like a normal and kind thing to do and who knew, it might just give us have a better algorithm and thus more followers in the near future?) took more and more time. I really had to schedule some time every now and then to sit down and answer them in a personal way, because otherwise I would forget, since I wasn’t in it for the sheer attention. It kind of started to feel like work, already.)
Being yourself is a good thing
We looked at other accounts, similar to us, and could easily spot what elements would make a photo to a success. It’s funny how people always say they want authenticity, because that it definitely not what gets you likes and followers on Instagram. It’s picture perfect scenes, sunny with plenty of bare skin and preferably only a girl in sight. Doing some yoga pose or sit on the van in a manner which would actually take a lot of effort, instead of looking so relaxed as she does. People want to see very stereotypical imagery of living in a van, preferably so that they can imagine themselves in it.
Still, we sort of tried to find our own way in that. Photos which we would like making, and would very much show what we’d actually do, accompanied by a mindful caption. I had soon discovered the photos needed to be cheerful and upbeat, but that shouldn’t keep me from writings texts that were maybe not to optimistic. Because, well, life is not always about happy stuff. And that was something I was actually very happy about: we could get across what we wanted to show and more so, say. About how life is not perfect, but that you do have a chance on turning the tables and that maybe you should too try to pursue the things you actually want. We did.
But, we didn’t make any money yet. In the beginning we turned down starring in a commercial video for a technical tool that we would never use ourselves, and another deal with a power pack supplier turned out not as profitable as we thought. We didn’t earn a dime. (Although we did receive one of their products for showing purposes. I’m actually using it to power my laptop as we speak.) Making money as an influential (hating this word so much is actually reason enough for not wanting to be one) is hard work. Especially when you’re not as large as an account as others yet, although we knew it’s a niche market and size isn’t everything.
In it for the fame and money
I think we realised it isn’t for us when we saw other accounts growing bigger than ours, simply because they would perfectly stick to the golden rules we had more or less established - but wouldn’t adhere to ourselves, because we wanted to keep it real. You have no idea how many people are in it for the fame and money. People that pretend to live in a van fulltime, whilst they would not even take it out every weekend. Apparently their followers don’t care that these people wear the same clothes on eighty percent of their photos, most probably because they were all taken during one perfectly styled hipster photo shoot. I don’t care if they do, and I don’t need any credit for the life I lead, but I simply don’t want to be part of this, if that’s what the online van life community about.
(Luckily not everyone is like that though. For instance, the French couple Radius and Ulna. They’re both cooks and have only just come to realise they want to be showing more about what goes on in their tiny kitchen on wheels, instead of “just sharing pictures about van life and their beloved rolling home”. Because that is what you do, according to the golden rules. Best not to go to much in detail on who you are. That might just scare followers away.)
Also, one (other) quickly growing van life account would refer to theirs and others’ photo stream as ‘content’. I guess that was it. Why would you even want to use that word?!
When you travel, you learn. About this planet and the people on it, but more even so about yourself. And, not much of a surprise, the person you perhaps share your wandering with. Although I must say, I was under the impression I knew Jeroen quite well already: we've been together for over fifteen years and we have actually shared quite a lot already in the previous years. There is no person I could ever love more than Jeroen and to see him grow during this trip makes me happier than realising what I myself have learnt.
We are individuals, not a project
But, one thing that is really important is that we are two persons. And we want to be just that, people. Individuals. 'We' are not the project, and the project isn't us. We don't like to be viewed as 'Live slow, drive slower'. We're Jeroen and Hedwig. This project is just something we do, now, and who knows for how long. We like to write about that and make videos, and maybe inspire others to also do more as they want, but living in a van isn't everything our lives is about.
To us, sharing an Instagram account for the sake of "The Project" like we did, felt like hearing your aunt and uncle tell you they share an e-mail address. But then that aunt and uncle would be us. And the e-mail address would be our Instagram account. Listen, we have never not agreed with ways the other one expressed him or herself, but still: we are two total different individuals. Night and day. Really. Meet us and you’ll know.
Next to that I had been neglecting my own personal Instagram account. Most of the time I used to have no idea what my friends are up to, because I was so caught up with making a success out of the project’s account that I never checked my personal one. (You know, leaving comments at posts of popular accounts would probably help that beloved algorithm, and so on.) That really sucked. It was time to be a person again, and not some project aspiring to getting the status of an influential. The reason, by the way, I have chosen to continue with our project’s account is because that’s where I reflect on all of this from the start on. I feel this journey is what’s important to me now, and what makes sense in my life at this moment. And I still really do like documenting this trip.
Living off sponsorships
A funny thing is, that only a day after realising this (and making the changes right away), a New Yorker article on van life came out. More specific: it was partly on sponsorships based on this popular new 'bohemian' movement. It starred a couple that had inspired me from the beginning: Emily and Corey and their dog Penny Rose. They’re American and travel through a completely different environment, so it’s all very different from us, but I did like their approach on living this way. They were the ones who told us to believe it's actually possible, after we had thought it up ourselves. Although I agree with the critical view of the reporter, who went with them for a week: I, too, think, they've gone a little beyond what they stand for, and are selling themselves a little bit too much.
And, I was sad to find out that the exact few months that we were preparing for hitting the road and being totally inspired by them and what they shared about their experiences, they were actually stationed at one of their parents’ house because she was ill. They kept on posting old photos with dreamy captions as if they were just travelling around. You could never tell. (I believe that only after she had recovered and they were on their way again, they informed their followers of her sick bed – keeping away from the fact that it had lasted four months, which I only found out from the NY piece. Obviously not being on the road is NOT one of the golden rules.)
So, there you have it. Nothing’s really changed, because all we make can still be found at the same spot: liveslowdriveslower.com. Right here.
On the other hand, everything’s changed. Because we now get to be ourselves more than ever.