We all love outdoor adventure and exploring new places, but sometimes the weather won’t cooperate. We recommend making the most of long winter nights or rainy days by cozying up in your camper van with an inspiring movie. Choose a van life film for the added benefits of traveling vicariously through the characters and tons of relatable moments.
To get you started, we’ve compiled nine movies and documentaries that speak to the van life ethos, from heartwarming and quirky comedies to broad appraisals of what makes this unconventional lifestyle so popular. No streaming service membership? No problem–several of the documentaries are free to watch on YouTube.
Whatever genre you gravitate towards, there is an option for you on this list. So break out the popcorn and queue up your selection.
This Academy Award-winning 2021 drama is one of the newest additions to the library of van life movies. Based on the nonfiction book of the same title, Nomadland tells the story of a widow who loses her job and decides to van travel across the U.S. in search of work. This slow, thoughtful film shares the stories of those who turn to van life out of necessity. Several real-life van dwellers portray fictional representations of themselves.
Descend on Bend
If you haven’t been to Descend on Bend, one of the largest van life gatherings in the world, this 50-minute documentary will give you a tantalizing taste. If you have had the pleasure of attending the festival, you’ll appreciate a deeper look at what goes into making it all happen. Following the event preparations, the party, and the stories of interviewed adventurers, this film will remind you how powerful the van life community can be.
Little Miss Sunshine
This 2006 comedy has become a cult classic for good reason. The quirky feel-good movie follows a family of eccentric characters who journey from New Mexico to California for their young daughter to compete in an ill-fated child beauty pageant. The bright yellow VW Type 2 Microbus they travel in is as iconic as the film itself.
Van Lifers: Portrait of an Alternative Lifestyle
From solo road warriors to families of five, this 2017 documentary highlights the stories of a medley of van travelers. The digital nomads interviewed here hail from around the world. The international angle on van life stories is part of what makes this doc unique, along with cinematic footage that will have you itching to hit the road.
The Leisure Seeker
While not strictly about van life, this RV road trip drama deserves a spot on our list. In The Leisure Seeker, an aging couple takes one last trip in their old Winnebago motorhome. The dark and bittersweet plot is punctuated by moments of situational humor that will strike a chord with van adventurers.
The storyline of Supernova is quite similar to that of The Leisure Seeker. A devoted couple–this time two British men–take an RV journey while grappling with one partner’s worsening dementia. This drama highlights the connection between place and memories and is sure to tug at your heartstrings.
Without Bound: Perspectives on Mobile Living
This 50-minute documentary presents interviews with van dwellers that shed light on the booming phenomenon of van life. They discuss the pros of living with less and the freedom afforded to them by this nontraditional lifestyle. One of the nomadic souls interviewed is Bob Wells, a respected figure in the vanning community who also plays himself in Nomadland.
Ready to get inspired for your own epic van life journey? Expedition Happiness is a 2017 travelog documentary following a free-spirited German couple and their dog as they travel from Alaska to Mexico in a self-converted bus. The film is chock-full of panoramic landscapes, spontaneous moments of euphoria, and some unexpected and relatable bumps in the road.
While van life isn’t the focus of this Academy Award-winning climbing documentary, the lifestyle certainly plays a supporting role. As Alex Honnold attempts a daring ropeless climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan, he lives out of a rustic Dodge ProMaster. The scenes of Honnold eating straight out of the pan he cooked in (with a spatula, no less) and doing finger hangs in the doorway of his van will resonate with the most adventurous set of van dwellers.
Looking for more entertainment hand-picked for van lifers? Check out “10 Inspirational Travel Books to Read in 2022” and “Top 10 Travel Novels and Memoirs to Read this Summer” from our archives. For ongoing inspo from real van dwellers, peruse our list of “10 Van Lifers to Follow for Pure Travel Inspiration.”
In search of your own traveling home? Visit RecVan today to browse our wide selection of top-of-the-line camper vans.