Buslife is about freeing yourself from the constraints of that cyclical nine-to-five society and replacing it with a less predictable and more opportunistic life on the road. While this wild lifestyle brings adventure, freedom, and fun, it also brings many challenges. One of the biggest, yet least talked about of these challenges is combatting loneliness and finding community on the road. And it is something we have all faced. As exciting as it is to drive to far-off lands with unfamiliar cultures, languages, and faces, it can also be isolating. Throw in the fact that our preferred park-ups are often miles from any sign of civilized society. It can feel like we are all alone in the world. Sometimes for better, other times, for worse.
Loneliness and mental health
Let’s get real for a moment. Feelings of loneliness are one of the single greatest causes of decline in our mental health. Unfortunately, it can strike whether we are socially isolated or surrounded by familiar faces. When it does, it can lead to stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, insomnia, and depression. Ironically, all of these struggles can lead to further social isolation and perpetuate our loneliness. Since social isolation is something we face more readily on the road, we have to be mindful about staying connected to the world. Even if the point is to disconnect.
How to find community
So how do you find friendships when you don’t stay anywhere long enough to grow roots? What is the ‘life hack’ for loneliness on the road? Well, we might have left our communities of family and friends back home. However, there is always a like-minded community waiting to greet us with open arms along the road. That is if you know where to find them. Luckily, we are here to show you exactly where to go.
Join community Facebook groups
Buslife-related Facebook groups are by far one of the biggest and best community resources available to us Jack Kerouacs of the world. With 38,000 members in “Vanlife – Europe” and 36,000 in “VanLife – USA” alone, the chances of finding friends online and in real life are basically one hundred percent. All you have to do is reach out to the community with a post sharing your interest in meeting like-minded people in an area near you. I know that sounds a bit scary, but we promise it will pay off. So many people in these Facebook groups have joined in the hopes of making new friends too, and your post may just be the excuse they need to reach out.
Facebook groups are also the perfect place to pick people’s brains with all of those niggling Buslife questions you have. Whether you want to know something about driving routes, mechanics, park-ups, or Buslife in general, thousands of fellow Buslifers are at the other end of the internet ready to share their knowledge, advice, and opinions. What a handy resource!
Obviously, we have to play the responsible parent card for a second and remind you all to practice caution when arranging to meet strangers online. Check them out first and see if their profile passes the catfish test. In other words, if they are unfathomably good-looking, they probably aren’t who they say they are. No one is that good-looking in real life.
Don’t be sad, get app-y
Start swiping on Tinder
Ok so hear us out. We know Tinder is technically a dating app, and yes there are some questionable profiles hiding in the app’s deck of potentials. However, the Tinder tides are changing and now there are also plenty of genuine people out there looking for platonic connections too.
The biggest draw of Tinder (in our opinion) is its ability to locate people looking for a connection within a certain proximity to you. The Buslife community has begun to use this to their advantage by setting up Buslife profiles calling other nearby Buslifers to friends-only meet-ups. And no, this method isn’t only for singles. Most profiles want you to swipe right whether you’re rolling solo or happily coupled up. Granted, this method of finding community may not work if you’re more than a 30-mile radius away from civilization. If you are parked up in popular camping areas of Spain, however, the chances of meeting fellow Buslifers are pretty high!
Sign up to Camper Tribe
Camper Tribe is a new app that facilitates connection with Buslifers in your area. Essentially, it has taken the concept of Tinder and transported it from the single-and-ready-to-mingle community to the Buslifers-searching-for-community community. However, the app is still in the early stages of its launch and its pool of users is a bit shallow. The chances of finding community on the app are, therefore, pretty slim right now. Don’t let this put you off because the app’s thoughtful features are sure to make it a big success. Not only can you search the map for nearby Buslifers, but you can also post on its bulletin, chat with fellow users, and even create your own online “Tribe”.
Make connections on Couchsurfing
Couchsurfing is primarily known as an app where people can advertise their spare rooms or couches for short-term hosting. It’s a wonderful way for hosts to connect with travelers and exchange language and culture. Many hosts will even offer to show you around their city or at least go for a coffee. While you may have your own bed to sleep in, sometimes it’s nice to have a change in environment and meet locals. They may even let you use their hot shower!
However, if you find your own bed too comfortable to leave, you can use Couchsurfing’s meet-up service instead. Thousands of people from around the world sign up to this service advertising what kind of meet-ups they are looking for (i.e. coffee, language exchange, local tours) and where. Everybody has to be verified to use it, making it a safe and secure way to meet new people.
Join the BeWelcome community
BeWelcome is a hosting app built upon a similar concept to Couchsurfing, but with a greater emphasis on connecting and exchanging culture. As a not-for-profit organization, BeWelcome makes it clear that finding community on the road is their biggest goal. Despite not being as well-known as Couchsurfing, this rapidly-growing app with a quality global network makes finding new friends really easy.
Find generous hosts on Warm Showers
Warm Showers may be a hosting network directed at touring cyclists who don’t have a warm place to sleep at night, but its hosts’ hospitality extends to touring Buslifers too. Besides, unless we have decent heaters, we don’t necessarily have a warm place to sleep either. And warm showers are but a distant memory for most of us. While this app is more focused on providing warm beds than making new friends, you may just find yourself becoming friends for life (or at least a few days) with your host. If not, at least you’ll feel refreshed.
Sign up to a volunteering position
Wherever you travel in your VW Bus, there are small businesses, organizations, and non-profits looking for an extra helping hand. From building work to farming, volunteer work is a noble way to give back to the communities you share space with as you travel. In return, you benefit from learning new skills, immersing in new cultures, and best of all, making new friends. Depending on the position and employer, you get to work alongside locals and/or fellow volunteers from around the world. Since most employers ask you to commit to at least two weeks of work, it gives you a good amount of time to become very familiar with your colleagues. More often than not, volunteers come away with a home away from home and new forever friends.
To find out more about volunteering on the road, including how to find opportunities, read our article “Give Back While Traveling: Volunteering on the Road“.
Stay in communal living camps
As the world wakes up from its capitalist slumber and remembers there are alternative ways of living that promote collectivism rather than individualism, the concept of communal living is resurfacing (although it has always been there). Across both the American and European continents, communal communities like Global Tribe continue to crop up, and we are all invited. As Buslifers, the concept of breaking free from societal structures is nothing new, and this gives us common ground with those living in communal living camps.
The best thing about these camps is how welcoming they are. Whether you are a firm collectivist or you are simply interested in experiencing something new, communal camps will welcome you with open arms and shower you with love. Of course, as is the essence of communal living, you will be expected to chip in with the camp’s operational duties. Sometimes the work is minimal, but other times you are given the chance to tap into your talents. A yoga aficionado? A mean cook? Or a pretty decent potter? Share your skills with fellow campers on a fun and friendly commune.
Join our Buslifers community
Let’s start with the obvious place to find community on the road: our very own Buslifers platform. It is, after all, the very reason we came into existence! We were inspired to find a like-minded community of fellow VW Buslife enthusiasts that could not only share their interests, but also find support, guidance, and friendship.
There are many ways to get involved in our ‘VW Bus Network’, starting with signing up to our mailing list. The newsletter will brighten up your inbox with exciting updates, Buslife tips, ambassador introductions, and even event announcements. That’s right, we are working on bringing our beautiful Buslifers together physically as well as virtually with unmissable events around the world. In the meantime, you can also grow closer to our community by becoming one of our beloved Buslifers Ambassadors. All you need is your very own VW Bus, a good camera for taking slick snaps, and a love of all things Buslife. Since our Buslifers ambassador network now spans the globe, you’re likely to find fellow Buslifers ambassadors at a park-up near you. We are so proud to run such a tight-knit community that loves getting together where possible to make life on the road that bit more homely.
Old fashioned introductions
Since the dawn of the internet, connection is seemingly easier. We can find our soulmates in a country we have never even heard of let alone visited — all because we liked a picture they posted on Instagram, theoretically. Yet, as a society, we have simultaneously become lonelier and more isolated than ever. While it’s easy to speak to people on a screen, nothing will ever compare to an old-fashioned in-person interaction. A conversation where you don’t have to interpret the use of commas, exclamation marks, and emojis. And on that note, we come to our last and final method for finding community on the road.
Whenever you park near to another campervan, or even better, another VW Bus, go and introduce yourself! Sure, it can be very nerve-wracking because you never know what kind of reception you might get. The chances are, however, your mobile neighbor will be equally keen to connect. Sometimes, you might only end up engaging in a bit of small talk before heading back to your VW Bus. Other times, you might end up having a few drinks over a campfire. And just maybe, you might have found a new travel buddy.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable
Of course, finding community requires a little more effort and patience as a Buslifer than someone grounded in one place. However, if you are willing to feel vulnerable and reach out, you never have to feel alone on the road again. Especially with so many resources from Facebook groups to Tinder at our fingertips.
Remember, if you’re feeling lonely on the road, you are not alone. There are thousands of us in the Buslifers community and even more in the general vanlife population, that spend much of our time outside of society. We could all do with a little more connection. So next time we find potential new friends, whether it’s online or in-person, don’t be afraid to say hey!
If you are suffering from loneliness on the road or any of the mentioned mental health-related conditions, it’s really important to reach out to someone. It could be a potential new friend, an old one, or a mental health professional. With organizations like Mind.org and Better Help, it’s easier than ever to seek help when you need it. Even if you’re far from home. You can also see our guide “Mental Health & Buslife: Prioritizing Self-Care on the Road” for more tips on how to care for your mind as you travel.