scorecardI tried living the aspirational nomadic van life I saw on social media and wound up homeless. I hope my TikToks can warn people against making the same mistake.
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I tried living the aspirational nomadic van life I saw on social media and wound up homeless. I hope my TikToks can warn people against making the same mistake.

Charissa Cheong   

I tried living the aspirational nomadic van life I saw on social media and wound up homeless. I hope my TikToks can warn people against making the same mistake.
LifeThelife5 min read
  • Inspired by a nomadic lifestyle popular on social media, Natasha Scott lived in a van for 8 months.
  • She now considers herself homeless, saying the lifestyle is not as easy as TikTok makes it seem.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Natasha Scott, and it has been edited for length and clarity.

Nine months ago, I was working in a remote recruitment job, and I was miserable.

Going about my day-to-day life, I was really unhappy with the pace of it and I dreamed of traveling and getting out of Atlanta, Georgia, where I was living.

I heard about the "nomadic lifestyle" on TikTok and thought the idea of traveling around while working from different locations would make me feel freer and mean I had fewer bills to pay. When I got laid off from work last year, I decided to move all my stuff into a storage unit and rent a van.


I thought it would be easy. I waa wrong

♬ original sound - Nomad gone wrong

A few months later, I found myself more burdened with anxiety than I ever was before, constantly worrying about where I was going to go next.

Originally, I had planned to travel across the US and stay in hotels while doing shift work in the hospitality industry to support myself, but the reality of the lifestyle was completely different. I considered myself homeless because I could no longer afford to stay in hotels and didn't have anywhere other than my van to call home.

On my TikTok account, where I initially set out to show people the restaurants and hotels I was visiting as a nomad, I started to post videos documenting my journey into homelessness and woke up to thousands of views overnight. I wanted to share my experience because I've realized that what some van-lifers post on social media, making the lifestyle seem easy and worry-free, is not realistic at all.

Here are some of the things I learned while attempting to live a nomadic lifestyle.

Living in a van can be uncomfortable and even feel unsafe

I decided to try living in a van because TikToks about it made it seem so easy, but no one talks about all the difficult aspects of it on social media.

No one talks about the heat during the summer, which made it so difficult for me to sleep inside my van, or how loud the rain is, because I could literally hear every drop of it against the metal at night. I could hear every conversation, every garbage truck, and every little noise that was happening outside.

@nomadgonewrong It was hard to guve up van life but i knew i had too. Anyone whos lived in Atlanta lnows its not safe to be out ok the streets alone. My goal was to travel across country, i hope oneday im able to make that journey. #vanlife #nomadgonewrong #homeless #nomad ♬ See You Again (Piano Arrangement) - Alexandre Pachabezian

In TikToks, people often show themselves parked in cities, or residential areas, but no one warns you that you're going to get woken up at 6 am because of all the noise. I was constantly exhausted because it was so hard to fall asleep.

As a woman doing van life, I also felt unsafe most of the time, because it felt like I was constantly being watched. I've experienced people banging on my door trying to get into the van and found myself constantly looking around at night to make sure it was safe before getting in.

@nomadgonewrong What can I say…. #nomad #vanlife #homeless #nomadgonewrong ♬ Sad Emotional Piano - DS Productions

The lifestyle is more expensive than it looks and making money isn't easy

Many TikToks about nomadic life that I watched while still trying to maintain the lifestyle advised viewers to download job apps like Fiverr and Upwork, where people can find freelance work outsourced to them by the app's users. I ended up downloading about 18 apps thinking I would have plenty of gigs to choose from.

However, I did not realize I would be competing with hundreds of other people for the jobs, and no one on TikTok really talks about slow seasons, particularly during the winter, when there isn't as much work and it's harder to make money.

@nomadgonewrong Just being honest, i wouldn’t recommend the nomad, freelancer, van life lifestyle. #nomad #nomadgonewrong #vanlife #iwouldnotrecommendthis #homeless ♬ Sad Emotional Piano - DS Productions

People on social media often present van life as a cheaper way of living, but in my experience, it was around the same price as renting an apartment would be. I paid $215 a week to rent the van from a friend and I was working with a company to fit it with air conditioning and electricity.

On top of that, I was paying $139 a month to rent a storage unit, so the cost of everything altogether was much higher than I ever thought it would be. As a result, I've had to give up van life because I can no longer fund the costs and upkeep of it.

I eventually had to start selling my clothes and other belongings to be able to feed myself. It was traumatic having to sell my stuff in order to survive, and it felt like I was being stripped of my life and personality. I've now temporarily moved into a hotel and am looking for a permanent remote job so I can slowly start to rebuild my life and move back into an apartment.

I wish I knew more about the reality of van life before I decided to try it

With the increasing cost of living, I think a lot of people are looking for an escape, and that's why van life is so popular on social media. But the reality of van life for me meant spending more than I could ever have imagined for what was effectively glorified homelessness.

@nomadgonewrong Reply to @alexfwillis ♥️ Thank you for all the love and kind words. I wish i could hug everyone #nomad #vanlife #homeless #nomadgonewrong ♬ original sound - Nomad gone wrong

Some of my viewers who have seen my TikToks have been really supportive, and have even sent donations on GoFundMe to help. However, I've also faced so much criticism on social media from people who laugh at my situation and say how stupid they think I am.

By continuing to share my honest thoughts about my journey, I hope that people who want to try "van life" can follow all the steps that I didn't do and hopefully be more successful.

I would advise anyone who was thinking of trying van life to give it a go for two weeks, rather than committing fully at the start. I was in love with it in my first week but was miserable by the second week, and certainly wish I did things differently.

I wouldn't want anyone to be in the same situation I was in.

For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider's Digital Culture team here.