Circular Economy

31st May 2024

Is Van Life Solarpunk? Exploring Sustainable Nomadism

In search of alternative lifestyles and eco-conscious travel, van life has emerged as a symbol of freedom, minimalism, and connection to nature. But is van life more than just a trend? Could it embody the principles of Solarpunk—a movement advocating for sustainable, decentralized living in harmony with nature and technology?

What is Solarpunk?

Solarpunk is a speculative fiction genre and counter movement to the better known cyberpunk genre, which includes famous movies like Blade Runner, Mad Max and the Matrix.

Solarpunk, a cultural movement that envisions a future where society has embraced sustainable practices, renewable energy, community resilience, and ecological stewardship. It's a vision of a world where technology is used for the betterment of humanity and the planet, rather than for profit, exploitation or environmental degradation. Check out the animation below to get a vibe for Solarpunk.

Key themes of Solarpunk include:

  • Technology as a force for good: Embracing solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources to power communities and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Focus on technology that genuinely improves peoples lives and the natural world.
  • Natural Architecture: Designing eco-friendly, regenerative buildings and urban spaces that integrate with natural ecosystems built with bio-based renewable materials.
  • Community Collaboration: Promoting decentralized, participatory governance models and fostering strong community bonds.
  • Biodiversity and Conservation: Valuing and protecting biodiversity, natural habitats, and regenerative agriculture practices.
  • Art, Culture, and Diversity: Celebrating diverse cultures, artistic expression, and envisioning inclusive futures.

  • Is van life Solarpunk?

    For the most part, van living embodies key Solarpunk principles. Such as Minimalism and Resource Efficiency, where living in a van requires downsizing possessions and embracing a minimalist lifestyle. This reduces consumption and encourages creative resourcefulness.

    The Mobile Living of van life promotes curiosity and exploration, allowing individuals to connect with diverse landscapes, cultures and communities.

    Many people’s vans integrate off-grid technology such as solar panels, composting toilets, and water filtration systems, embracing off-grid living and reducing environmental impact.

    Most importantly, living and traveling in a van fosters a deeper connection and appreciations to Nature. In turn creating a cultural and spiritual movement that looks to protect and serve our home planet.

    However, van life has a few major hurdles to being totally Solarpunk:

  • Reliance on fossil fuels: Apart from the few electric vans out there, most people rely on traditional fuels to power their vehicles on the road. Van travel in general is a more sustainable option than flying, but it is certainly not without it’s own footprint.
  • Convenience of supermarkets: Whilst on the road it’s hard to source local food in an unknown location and therefore convenient to resort to shopping at large super market chains. Often leading to purchasing mass produced, non-local food produce.
  • Waste Management: Circular usage of trash and water is pretty much impossible for a mobile vehicle. Without the real possibility to compost or re-use grey water.
  • Missing community: Van life, by design, is remote and isolating, which does not naturally lean towards strong community bonds.

  • How to be more Solarpunk

    To make van life even more Solarpunk, here are some strategies:

  • Switch to Renewable Fuel: One immediate solution for filling up your van, is to switch to renewable fuels, which works with existing vehicles with no modifications required. Renewable fuels for both petrol and diesel is becoming more and more available in Europe. This alternative fuel, made from recycled cooking oil and other renewable materials, significantly reduces your overall greenhouse gas emission by up to 90%, making it a serious practical step towards more sustainable travel. See locations where you can fill up with renewable fuel in the Ramble app.
  • Slow travel: Staying longer in one place reduces the amount of fuel required to travel. Also, sticking around for 2 to 3 months in one place is a great way to truly connect with the local land and people.
  • Eco-responsible camp sites: When choosing to stop by in a campsite, seek out the ones that are going the extra step to be eco-responsible. Minimal waste, clever re-use of materials, renewable energy, veggie gardens and more.
  • Local food: Buy groceries at local farmers markets, or even direct from the farmer. Lots of farms are opening up their land for van lifers to stay, sometimes for no cost in return for help on the land. This is a great way to guarantee fresh, healthy and local food. Find farm stays, farm volunteering, farmers markets and organic food shops on the in app Ramble map.
  • Take a little extra time to dispose of waste: Most European countries offer fantastic recycling points all over the place. So splitting your trash is a simple first step to better waste management. The proper infrastructure is yet to exist, but it shouldn’t be long before there is more places to dispose of organic compost materials and hopefully one day grey water to farms and ecosystems that could do with some extra hydration. This could already be achieved by finding local organic or permaculture farms.
  • Promote Community: For all it’s mishaps, the digital world has blown open the opportunity for niche online communities to connect and support each other. However, don’t only connect digitally, make a point of meeting other travellers offline. Volunteer in the local community and simply smile at your van neighbours to spread positive vibes. Ramble is connecting the active, creative and eco-conscious van lifers all around Europe. Follow other Ramblers and connect through the app.

  • In conclusion, while van life may not fully embody Solarpunk ideals yet, it serves as a stepping stone toward a more sustainable, decentralized lifestyle.

    By embracing Solarpunk principles and integrating innovative solutions, van lifers can contribute to a greener, more resilient future—one where nomadic living harmonizes with ecological stewardship and technological innovation.

    Download the app now and explore!

    Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play