With over 13 million posts using the hashtag #vanlife, Instagram is clearly a hub for road warriors. The app can be a great place to connect with like-minded people, from other van dwellers to general fans of travel, nature, and minimalism. If you’re dedicated, you can even turn your account into a source of income.
Whether you just want to share your adventures with a larger audience or you’re hoping to fully fund your nomadic lifestyle with paid brand collaborations, you’ll need to take steps to gain new and engaged followers.
But with all of those #vanlife posts and accounts, how do you stand out from the crowd? Here, we’re sharing our top tips to build a thriving following for your van life Instagram account. Plus, some of our digital influencer friends chime in with advice and hacks based on their own experiences.
Optimize Your Account
Start with a strong foundation by optimizing your Instagram account. This means switching settings from a personal account to a creator account—if you haven’t already—so you can keep track of your analytics. Analytics will help you determine useful information like which types of posts get the best engagement and what times of day your audience is most active, among other things.
As a vanning-focused account, you should also consider putting the words “van life” in your bio and possibly your IG username itself. This helps people who are interested in the lifestyle find you. You can also get more specific and include relevant terms like “solo female van lifer” or “van life couple” in your bio.
Turn Your Lifestyle into Content
The most popular Instagram accounts post frequently. Fill your camera roll with plenty of options for new content by making a habit of taking photos and videos throughout your travels. Notice that your morning cup of tea looks dreamy with the background of your current campground? Snap a photo. People want a peek into your lifestyle so documenting small moments is key. If you take lots of short video clips, you can also turn them into engaging reels that will give potential followers a quick preview of your lifestyle.
If you don’t feel particularly confident with your content creation yet, who better to hear from than a van life photographer? Marco Calara shares:
“Hi everyone! I am an adventure and travel photographer from Vancouver BC. Throughout my travels, I’ve been fortunate enough to document everything through photographs which allow me to connect with creators, brands, and new friends.
As a full-time photographer, I’ve been traveling in my old 1984 Volkswagen camper van since 2016. I’ve driven pretty much all along the coast of California all the way to Alaska.
If you’re looking to grow your social media network, some tips I’d like to address to van life newcomers are:
1. Commit to the whole lifestyle and embrace it during your travels
2. Learn to document both your highest and lowest travel moments
3. Connect with people, creators, and nature
4. Don’t be afraid to take risks
5. Make it interesting for your audience/followers
Once you’ve mastered those things, creating content will become second nature and will allow people to relate, get inspired, and help you grow your network.” –@immarcoo
Be Real with Your Followers
To build on that, your account will stand out most if you prioritize authenticity. We all know that Instagram has a bit of a problem with being a highlight reel of users’ best moments. The #vanlife trend on social media has been criticized for showing overly idealized versions of the lifestyle and ignoring what it is really like to live in a van. More recently, some accounts have combatted this by creating funny “Instagram vs. Reality” posts, sharing their struggles and mishaps, and providing honest reviews of destinations.
Giving your audience a more well-rounded view of the highs and lows of your adventures is a surefire way to connect with people on a deeper level and gain long-term followers who are engaged and invested in your story.
If you do share the less glamorous parts of van life, be sure that you are still creating an appealing page that will inspire fans to click that follow button. This can be achieved by sharing more of the daily ups and downs in your story and saving the most attractive imagery for posts.
Speaking of attractive posts, aim to keep the look of your content fairly uniform. This ensures your page will have a unique and recognizable aesthetic. It will also help people know what kind of content to expect when they follow you and will minimize the number of unfollows.
Another key element of consistency is posting regularly. Whether you set reminders to post for certain days of the week or use an app like Buffer to preschedule your posts, make sure you are not slacking on sharing your content frequently.
Van life influencer couple Sunny and Luna elaborate:
“The thing that helped us grow from the beginning was sticking to a very consistent posting schedule. We posted one video a week minimum across all social platforms with hashtags. We set aside time daily to engage with other people online and shared our life genuinely on stories, which allowed people to really get to know us. But most important was that posting schedule. We also sometimes ‘boosted’ our videos for around $10 to get more exposure to our page. Growth can be slow but consistency is key!” –@sunnylunaliving
Focus on Making Connections
To create a strong IG community, focus more on truly engaging with other users and less on winning them over to increase your total follower count. Smriti and Kartik of @thebrownvanlife explain it best:
“For us, the most valuable thing that helped us grow was making genuine connections. Replying to every comment and DM not just for engagement but for building a community. Always sharing valuable information and answering questions patiently. We understand that not many people in brown communities adapt to this lifestyle so even if we get asked the same question again and again we make sure to reply to them all with details that might help them on their journey. End of the day you have to look at followers as humans and not just a number.” –@thebrownvanlife
Engage with Companies and Communities
Another element of creating connections can be found in companies and large van life-focused IG accounts. Tag the brands of your van, outdoors equipment, and even the beanie you’re wearing in that photo. Many van companies like Winnebago and Storyteller Overland have thriving online communities where you can form authentic connections and even friendships with other van owners. You can also try tagging large accounts that repost the content of different van dwellers. This will allow you to be found in their tagged photos and maybe even reposted, getting more eyes on your content.
Sharing and tagging brands can also make you more attractive to companies for collaborations. Sunny and Luna share the details on collabs:
“Focus on building those first few thousand followers so that you fall into the ‘micro influencer’ category. Never use bots or pay to get fake followers, make sure it is 100% organic. Once you’ve reached this point, brands will start reaching out to do ‘gifted’ collabs, meaning they will give you product for free in exchange for you making them content. Expect to take on a bunch of free collabs at the beginning. You need them in order to build your professional media kit.
Gather analytics to see how well your collabs do and add that data to your portfolio. This will give you leverage when you start to reach out to brands you want to work with. Always be shooting and showcasing your personal work on your feed. As you continue to grow your following and build your portfolio, you’ll get to the point of charging for collabs. It’s kind of like a snowball effect and you should continue increasing your rates as you continue to grow.” –@sunnylunaliving
Last but certainly not least, make sure you have the right mindset when it comes to Instagram. Whether you see it as a fun way to connect with like-minded people or as a potential business (or both), don’t get caught up in the potential negative sides of social media. Sunny and Luna leave us with a wise tip to stay focused:
“Never compare yourself to others. This will end up becoming a huge waste of your time and energy and will hinder you from reaching your goals and discovering who you are and how you can make an impact within your niche. At the end of the day, all people want is consistency and authenticity. No one can ever replace you so stop worrying about what others are doing and just do you!” –@sunnylunaliving