#VanlifeFinances, Blogging, Campervan, ConversionVan, Full-time Vanlife, Minimalism, Motorhome, Stuff, Travel, Van Life, Wandering free

Houseless is not Homeless (or, Why We Won’t Work for Google)

With recent temperatures hitting 28° daily (and much higher we’re sure, inside this insulated tin can) we’re spending more and more time outdoors here in Yorkshire and I have not been writing much as a result, the long warm evenings are designed for strolling, by tree lined canals and in dark forests, creating our own breeze as we go and certainly not for typing or screen-staring, the day is thankfully too bright. Regardless, our blog has really grown wings of late (thanks to a little sharing and the copious use of a few hashtags) and every day brings new readers, some fellow vanners, some not, some friends and family, some internet strangers, led to our site by a random question we inadvertently answered along the way. Some readers come from far flung destinations and many more are closer to home in Ireland and our current location of England. Every day, the numbers keep climbing…
Now, all of a sudden WordPress is getting interested in The Backwards Van. Of course they wish to sell their product and want us to pay more than the usual €99 per year to upgrade to their premium thingy, which I’m sure could tell us every detail of every click and analyse (read: over-analyse) each post we publish, well if they think that is going to happen anytime soon they’ve not read about our extremely tight and thoughtful budget 🤣

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On the unfortunate topic of money, we are not exactly rolling in the green stuff what with our having not even one job between the two of us but recently I was due to receive a lump sum from an old employment related pension type of agreement, the kind of thing you pay into every week and forget all about until the day you quietly bow out of the corporate world and somebody mentions you’re entitled to receive it back. The process should have been clerical, a seemless, straight forward bank transfer but it hit a snag immediately when I could not provide the financial institution with satisfactory proof of my address. It was as if to them, I didn’t exist until I had a house to prove it.

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Meanwhile WordPress, until they realise how extremely unlikely to upgrade to the business level we are, have added the Backwards Van to their list of van life blogs, most read I suppose, I’m not sure how it works but all that results in more people clicking our links which results in us feeling pretty good about what we publish on The Backwards Van. I joined some networks for bloggers and met some really helpful writers too, one even identified and talked me through a necessary format fix on our site like an absolute pro and I’m forever grateful for the help, the blogging community is a solid, friendly place. Recently I wrote a post about depression and the warm feedback I recieved was a great personal boost which gave me the inspiration to keep writing whatever I feel like writing and more and more readers come reading as a result…
So here’s the part where we can decide for ourselves what happens next, just like the amazing choose-your-own-adventure books I devoured as a child, remember those? Two roads diverge in a wood, the first looks just like the one we are wandering along now. Quiet, calm and quite satisfying, little birds whistling in the leafy trees overhead, the path is carefree and hassle-free. The other road is bright, glaring, loud, lined with hoarding, billboards and flourescent neon lighting flickering overhead. Littered with huge vulgar graphics that hurt your whole brain at once and give you that unmistakable first dull thud of migraine… SUBSCRIBE NOW! CLICK HERE TO LOSE 7LBS IN 7 DAYS! 25% OFF WITH THIS CODE! HOT SINGLES IN YOUR AREA! BUY! BUY! BUY!

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You know, it’s not against any law to not have an address. It might be frowned upon, maybe even vigarously frowned upon in certain society but who wants to be part of such a vigorously frowning society anyway? I had provided the administrative office my bank account details, surely a bank account would be enough, given that I had to provide proof of address to open an account in a bank in the first place? Not in this instance they insisted, no way, they required a utility bill in my name as proof of my current address and only that utility bill would do.

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After a couple of months (or posts) in the game, and having a healthy volume of regular readers to their website (I’m talking about thousands of clicks a month) a blogger might use their online traction to generate revenue through a third party ad placement company. Basically you pay Google (or a smaller company, which is probably just days away from being bought over by Google anyway) to farm your site out and they choose, place and rotate ads on the top, bottom and sides of your blog based on their many confusing algorithms to reach their maximum target audience. The blogger gets revenue from hosting the ads and sometimes an extra bit more if someone clicks their link and goes on to purchase the product or service advertised, depending on the agreement, of which there are many. I would assume a van life blog would naturally attract ads from camping goods stores, van related accessories, solar panel installation companies and plenty of direct links to Amazon pages of multitides of goods ready to be purchased. There is money to be made from vanlife blogging just like every other niche even if it seems small at first and from what we have heard there is no real work involved by the blogger as the placement company skims its percentage off the top and the internet does its mysterious internet trick of magicking up money, seemingly out of nowhere, for everybody involved, just like that.

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We’ve been asked why are we not interested in making a steady trickle of money then from the blog, since we are writing and publishing it anyway? There are so many reasons and the first is glaringly obvious. I claim to be practising a minimalist approach to my life. I try to keep the objects I own to a considered minimum in every day use. How could I in good conscience try to sell YOU things? How could I sleep at night knowing I was financially relying on YOU to click on a link and make a probably instantly regretted and overly-expensive purchase of some random junk to add to your life so I could make a few pennies from the sale? I am all about YOU selling YOUR things and learning to live with less, not you buying MORE things so it doesn’t make sense to me and it feels not really…genuine. Some bloggers write detailed product reviews on specific niche accessories like high tech BBQs and fancy flying drones, both of which we would love to play with once or twice. But we know nothing of these items, so why would our review even matter, and surely we’d have to own these items to review them properly, we don’t really want to own those things, we don’t need them and where would we keep them anyway?

A stranger online once replied to me that she hated the idea of anyone living in a van, and that she could set up a Go-Fund-Me account to help us out. Well, I hate the thought of you having to work all day at a job you’re probably not too excited about to afford rent on a house you never have time to be in. Why not donate your money to a good charity for people in actual need, a homeless charity like we do? Checkmate. The whole exchange was judgy from the start, I don’t understand why a person wouldn’t ask the question “why?” when they can’t fathom a situation or they struggle to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. The answer is simple really, because when you live in a van, every day is an adventure.

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Recently, a complaint lodged by a member of the public against a well known Irish beauty and lifestyle blogger was upheld by the ASAI, the advertising standards body responsible for keeping companies in check here in Ireland. The complainant was concerned that doctored images used to promote a makeup product gave unfair and unreal expectations, (you can read that decision here if it interests you  http://www.asai.ie/complaint/health-and-beauty-12/ ). This is the first time a blogger has come in front of the committee and, together with the household name cosmetics company, they were publicly reprimanded for digitally altering the images and misleading the public, the consumer, a.k.a. you and I. I understand makeup is a little different to camping stoves but regardless of the product, bloggers come under the same scrutiny as any other company and that sounds kinda like work to me.

As you might know by now, I am rather economical in life, thrifty so to speak. I’m eternally reluctant to exchange my money for goods unless the value is real. I could not recommend that you buy anything, any thing at all, any single thing, without knowing first whether you actually need it or can actually afford it. We give retailers a wide berth to avoid being sold to and when we do shop we purposefully don’t succumb to impulse buying. Imagine the boxes of samples that might come our way if we sucessfully made a name for ourselves reviewing products on The Backwards Van! (How could they come our way, we have no address remember?) Add to that the fact that we dont celebrate any of the typical Hallmark holidays like Christmas and Mothers day, not in financial ways anyway, and the fact that modern blog readers react extremely well to lists as all blogging advice will tell you. Can you imagine what gifts I would end up recommending you bought your poor mum or what inane lists of things we’d end up with, 10 Best Doo-dahs to Keep Your Thing-a-ma-gigs Safe on the Road? 14 Vanlife Essentials for a Cosy Christmas? It’s just not my style.

And more importantly than that, the internet is already full of millions of websites trying to sell you billions of things, why would we add more traffic to that noisy never-ending road?

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Running ads on our site means we lose control of not our content but the overall feel of our page. How much do you enjoy a big invasive “SUBSCRIBE NOW” pop-up box interfering with your reading? I can suffer one or two flickering ads but some are not designed to fit little screens like mine and they just won’t go away, no matter how hard you try to click the tiny x in the top corner. Unfortunately what appears well-formated and laid out neatly on a wide PC screen can scrunch up on any screen smaller and unbeknownst to the blogger, the page may become unnavigitable and unreadable. And what about the claim the blogger has little work to generate this money, I find this laughable, they do the writing, editing, photography, formating AND social media marketing, mostly on a daily basis, some bloggers work very long hours to hone their craft and their huge number of followers is a result of their personal toil. Running a successful blog is by no means an easy task to undertake. More importantly, these bloggers are often well educated in their fields and offer advice and ideas to their loyal readers, therefore their posts contain a certain value. The only field we’re educated enough to speak on is how to park in one. What useful advice do we offer? Buy less? Thats hardly a message that is in line with a bloggers life online.

One of Dixies back windows shattered sometime ago and we sought the expertise of a local windscreen repair company who showed up on time, had a laugh and did the job. Later on Facebook I wrote about the experience and tagged the company and promptly got a call saying they enjoyed the interaction and offering us a free replacement window for the other side, so both panes matched. That’s worth £99, that’s a lot of money and though grateful for the kind offer we didn’t take them up on it. Why? The other window wasn’t (and 6 months later still isn’t) broken.

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Another reason not to monetise our blog? I simply don’t think I’d be any good at it. Lets face it, Dixie is never going to photograph like a classic VW T4. I’m nowhere near as good looking as a classic T4 either, we definitely are more caravan than Instagram and we’re just not the bikini selfie type of people. We can’t compete. I would obsess over Google analytics and numbers of readers and the patterns, real or imaginary, of revenue generated. I’d be spending my time on the internet promoting our actual lives as if we were some kind of brand and in my own special, torturous way I would manage to turn The Backwards Van into just another job. I’m envious of blog sites with smooth finished layouts and professional-looking photography, the impossibly cute, modern, somehow spotlessly clean van and obligatory dog sat outside in the snow, waiting for his cute, modern and somehow spotlessly clean owners to emerge, strap a go-pro on his collar and take him on some high-octane adventure sport. I know I’m not smart enough to run a monetized blog, I would quickly run out of twee, tolerable ways to try to sell you things and we would all end up suffering through a garbled mess, a half-vanlife / half-BBQ saleman clickbait joke of a blog. I understand exactly how bad the puns would get and I just couldn’t put you through all that. You’re welcome 🤣

In reality, the few unique topics that could conceivably combine to make up a decent van life blog can be exhausted quickly. There are only so many times we can talk about how we cook, where we sleep and dealing with the often harsh realities of vanlife washing and personal waste disposal. New places give me great inspiration but the truth is once the layers are peeled back living in a van is no different to living anywhere else, it’s just living. Sometimes life is quite normal in between adventures and in truth there is nothing to blog about. Would we feel under pressure to create content if we were monetized? Perhaps. Let’s never find out.

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I really don’t understand how my clicking on a webpage and reading an article or blog without making any purchase generates money for anybody. That company just combines my clicks with all the other clicks that day and presents that number as it’s audience, which makes the company somehow “worth” something, but how, and to who? How real is that, and how sustainable? Google treats a monetized blog a lot like a company but the blog isn’t incorporated, it isn’t an LTD., and if Google ceased to exist what happens then?

The format of the blog is changing again to keep up with what is popular, remember online news articles got shorter and shorter to accommodate us humans and our ever-dwindling attention spans? Now the written word takes second place to videos, and even those vlogs are reducing in length and increasing in frequency for maximum audience reach. It seems people want to see the person behind the words, and to see them regularly. Who knows why, maybe to help them connect better? We hear the words “Social Influencer” bandied about in the blogging world, usually when someone is looking for something for free. These people become employed by the brands they represent to promote these products whether they like it or not, they are working, for Google or otherwise. We couldn’t just start working for a company without checking them out thoroughly first, in fact neither of us want to work at all yet and anyway it’s all in the same vein of thought as all the cheap plastic gadgets for sale just one click away, you can fill your whole house with them if you like but you have to ask yourself where did this junk come from, at what cost to the planet, and where will it go when I don’t want it anymore?

So what might be the downsides of never monetising our blog? Obviously there is the so-called lost money, but that “money” didn’t really exist to begin with so it can’t be considered lost and again, we’re just not interested in money, that is not what this is about. Exposure is a factor, or lack thereof as The Backwards Van, without ads or sponsors, will never be shared by affiliates or co-marketed and you will never see us perched atop any list of Best Van Blogs or receive any sort of social media status. Although we’d like to have as many readers as we can to hear our stories, staying un-monetised is almost like hiding quietly in the cyber shadows and after all this time stealthing around on the fringes of society, we’re really very good at that. That is fine with us too, its all part of the deal. We won’t hit you with seizure-inducing pop ups or try to sell you tshirts and mugs and you can come here whenever you want to read a story in peace. Deal?

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How about that beauracratic nightmare just to prove my address and to receive what was rightfully mine? It lasted for about 4 months and it really was a struggle as the kind and patient representative worked her way dutifully through her list: Phone bill? No. Lease agreement? No. Cable, heating, internet provider? No, no and no. Over tea one day I told my father of the problem and within minutes, he had me on the phone to a call centre, a week later I was listed as a co-bill-payer on his adjusted heating bill which arrived promptly in the post as promised. The bill was faxed and the money was lodged, all because of a house. I house, therefore I am.

Not living in a house is not a new or novel idea and shouldn’t be treated as such. People all over the world live in all kinds of situations and some of their norms I assure you are not a bit like ours. Broader minds will try to understand the differences in us all and celebrate the diversity. Who knows where we will end up residing in the future but for the moment we are happy for the peace and solitude van life affords us. Stepping away from “things” makes you realise how truly unimportant they are.

So you won’t see any advertising lining the borders of our website anytime soon. And the next time we are asked for our address? It’s calm, it’s quiet, it’s home, it’s http://www.thebackwardsvan.com 😉

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2 thoughts on “Houseless is not Homeless (or, Why We Won’t Work for Google)”

  1. Great post. You are folk with principles, values and perception. That’s why your blog is a comfortable place to visit and see the world through your eyes – and sometimes to be challenged too.. Thank you both for sharing Dixie home-life and travels. Bit of a cliche but I think true, home is where your hearts are (and W’s baked goods 🙂 ) x

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