Chatting with one the UK’s biggest #Vanlife TikTokkers

It’s a Saturday afternoon and I’m excited. In about five minutes I’m about to interview Andrew Bosomworth, a.k.a TheUnpopularViews on TikTok. Andrew has amassed over 132,000 followers on TikTok in just under five months and is now one of the biggest van life influencers from the UK on the platform. His TikToks have proved a hit with a generation that are tending to value experience a lot more than material wealth. Andrew has tapped into this perfectly, documenting his fascinating experience-filled life from his Mercedes Sprinter Van that he converted himself. He doesn’t travel alone either, along for the ride is his one-and-a-half-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer called Franklin.

A picture of Andrew
Andrew, 31, has only been posting on TikTok since late March but has had a quick rise on the platform.

I’ve been wanting to cover Van life for a very long time, partly because of the massive boom it has had on social media over the last few years, and partly because deep down I see the appeal, and have found myself entertaining the idea in daydreams and escape plans on days when the grindstone of the 9-5 life is wearing me down. I know I’m not alone, since 2016 the popularity of ‘van life’ searches on Google has doubled, with the peak of the search term coming in March 2021.

But I digress, it’s 2:00pm and I get the notification that Andrew is in the lobby of our Google Meet.

When Andrew appears I am slightly taken aback, his background is not a stunning cliff view or luscious forest scene, there’s simply a white wall behind him with a dresser in the corner that wouldn’t look amiss in any suburban home. Andrew informs me he’s in the UK, staying at his parents’ house for a bit, while he uses the time to do some life admin and get his second Covid-19 vaccine. Don’t be fooled though, whilst the white walls, dresser and his thick Yorkshire accent may portray the life of a suburbanite, before me is a man who has travelled to more countries than he can keep count of and hasn’t sat still for long since he was 20 year’s old.

20 is an important number for Andrew, it was at age 20 that he decided to go travelling after getting qualified as an electrician in his home town of Filey. The company he was working for let him go and he decided to seize the opportunity to travel – little did he know that this was a pivotal moment in his life. With a warm, reminiscent, tone in his voice, Andrew tells me about those early travelling days:

“[Me and my best friend] went to Africa for a couple of months and then headed East to Australia where we stayed for a further 18 months. It was there that I got my first introduction to van living. We brought a small 22-year-old old Toyota van, it was older than me at the time but it was great. It was fairly easy to live out of in Australia because the country is built around people being able to travel around. I think it was that stint in Australia when I fell in love with van living.”

The travelling didn’t stop for Andrew after Australia. In the following years he found himself working various jobs around the world, including working as a scuba diving instructor in Malaysia and a ski resort manager in Austria. When asked for any personal highlights of his adventures Andrew doesn’t have to think for long.

“I went to Zanzibar early on in my travelling days which was incredible.” he recalls.

“My favourite memory from my time there was when I jumped off of a boat in the Indian Ocean into a massive pod of dolphins. There must have been about 30 or 40 of them swimming and jumping around me.

“Skydiving in Australia was also really cool as well as surfing in Bali. It’s tough to pick my favourite place in the world but Bali is definitely up there.”

Whilst travelling Andrew also worked hard to save money, which he did very well, including investing in a property in the UK in his early 20s. After years of living all over the world, in 2018 he decided it might be time to settle down. He came back to the UK and brought a house in Leeds. Thankfully for Andrew, he quickly found work as an electrician and before he knew it he was back into the nine-to-five swing that he had ran so fast away from.

For two and half years Andrew toiled away as an electrician but deep down he knew he wanted something more. The global pandemic gave Andrew time to re-assess where he was going and he realised he wasn’t happy.

“I was working 50, 60, 70 hours a week and had a good standard of living but I found myself thinking ‘there has to be more to life than this?'” he says.

So, at aged 29, Andrew decided it was time for a big change. He wanted to go travelling again but this time he wanted to do it differently.

“First thing I did was write down all of my living costs that come with living in a house.” says Andrew.

“This included council tax, electricity, water, Netflix subscription, the interest I was paying on my mortgage. I didn’t count food because that was a cost I would have to pay if I were to transition to van living.

“After totalling everything up, the figure came to roughly £1,300 a month. This was how much it was costing me just to live in a house, not including trips to the pub or days out.”

This figure shocked Andrew, “I couldn’t believe how much I was spending with nothing much really to show for it” he tells me.

Sparked into action, Andrew knew he had to make some drastic changes.

“I took everything I had, including some money in investments, cashed out of my mortgage, and decided to re-invest the money in myself. I brought a Mercedes Sprinter van for just over £10,000 and went on a quest to build the life I wanted for myself. One where I could travel the world and not be tied down to a nine to five.”

Of course, buying the van was just the first step. After getting the Sprinter, Andrew set about getting it roadworthy and upgrading it to a mobile home. Around £9,000 later, Andrew had himself a van that can boast of a number of nifty features:

“It cost me about £1,000 to get the van roadworthy which was the first priority. After sorting that out, I then set about adding things, trying to do as much of the work as I could myself. I now have a van that is air conditioned, has central heating, hot water, a toilet, shower, a double memory foam mattress bed, oven and grill, a hob, beer cooler, coffee machine, a set of skis, and a mountain bike. It’s basically the house I had two and half years ago crushed down into a seven square metre space with some clever ways of storing things.”

A picture of the inside of Andrew's van with Franklin
Andrew has spent around £10,000 kitting out his van but he’s confident he would get his money back if he were to sell it on

At this point Andrew breaks into a smile as he clocks the sheer astonishment on my face. I can’t believe that he could fit so much into the van and yet he doesn’t stop there.

“I’m also at the point with the van where I’m very self-sufficient. I could drive it into the desert and not need anything from anyone for a couple of weeks. I wouldn’t need a power socket or a water tap.”

“Effectively I can be anywhere at anytime. I’m not bound to campsites or charge points. I think that freedom to be where you want is what a lot of people are craving at the moment, especially in the context of the pandemic.”

Andrew is not wrong. It came as no surprise to me to see that the peak of ‘van life’ searches on Google came in March of this year. The pandemic has opened people’s eyes to remote working and it doesn’t take many more steps before getting to a point where remote living is also an option.

Van life is clearly a hot topic right now, there may well be some of you reading this article who dream of van living yourselves. I was keen, therefore, to get Andrew’s advice on getting started and also find out how we plans to fund his lifestyle going forward.

“I’d say the most important to figure out what you plan on doing and where you plan on going.” offers Andrew.

“Those two things will dictate all of your early decisions such as what kind of van you’re looking for, what you want in the van and how much you want to spend on it.

“You want to figure out early on if you want your van to be an investment or if you’re wanting it for fun. I view my van as an investment, I’ve been careful about how I’ve spent money on it and if I were to sell it in five years I’m confident I’d get every penny back.”

Andrew’s travels have taken him all over the world. This photo was taken during a ride along Vršič Pass in northwestern Slovenia.

I couldn’t help but think that Andrew’s training as an electrician has been a big factor in his success in getting the van to where it is. He admits it has helped but is keen to emphasise that he doesn’t feel having a trade background is a necessity:

“Obviously my background as an electrician definitely helped but I don’t think people should think that not being from a trade background is a barrier that can’t be overcome. At the end of the day, I’m no carpenter or mechanic so there’s still been a lot of skills I’ve had to learn from scratch.

“The great thing about the internet is that there is so much practical knowledge there. Every bit of knowledge you would need to kit out a van to live in is available online. It takes a lot of time, patience, and some initial cost, but not having a trade background is not a reason to not give van living a go if it is what you really want.

“I won’t lie, it’s scary at times. I’d never cut a hole out of the top of van before I embarked on this project but I had to do it. I remember worrying ‘what if I cut it in the wrong place or make it the wrong size?’ but in the end I just had to do it. I wish I could go back to the start and do it all again with the knowledge I have now, it would have made the conversion so much easier!”

I want to drill down deeper so I ask Andrew what he thinks the biggest barrier to van living is.

“I think people are scared” he says, without hesitation. “One of the comments I get the most on social media is ‘I’d love to do this but’, and there is always a but. A lot of people want to do it but one of the most common fears people talk to me about is worries over how they’re going to earn money while they’re on the road.”

“To be honest, I’m still figuring that one out myself. I’ve got a big lump sum that will be able to sustain me for five to six years, even if I don’t ever work again. That’s partly because my costs are so much lower than they were. In total, this van life costs me around £550 a month, and that includes fuel and food for both me and Franklin. What it would have cost me to live in my house for a year and pay my mortgage is the equivalent to two or three years living in the van.

“The way I look at the lump of money I’ve got is that I’m investing in myself. I’m confident I will find a passive income in the next five years that will allow me to live like this sustainably.”

a picture of Andrew's dog Franklin looking majestic
Andrew’s four legged friend Franklin is always nearby and regularly features on Andrew’s social media

Andrew hopes that Tik Tok might provide him with the answer. Since launching in late March of this year, his Tik Tok channel TheUnpopularViews has amassed 125,000 followers and over 650,000 likes. His most viewed video has over 1.2 million views and due to the size of this channel he is now part of the Tik Tok Creator Fund, meaning he can monetise his content.

It’s incredible how quickly Andrew has built a following on TikTok and shows just how much hunger there is for content around different ways of living.

He says he was inspired to start posting on Tik Tok after he became “borderline addicted to [the app]”.

“So it made sense for me to give it a go” he adds, “I had absolutely no idea how it was going to go. I knew I wanted to start posting on social media in the hope it could help fund my travels but I was entering unknown territory.

“I did a few videos and they didn’t do very well but then I posted one video which did really well. It got over a million views and earned me 25,000 followers. I was completely blown away and I didn’t really know what to say or do. It was great to see the video views convert into followers as that’s so important for long term growth.”

The video Andrew is describing is a well shot and edited highlight reel of his time in the van, overlaid with commentary from Andrew summing up his van life story. When I watched the video myself, before our interview, I could see why it went viral. The Tik Tok isn’t just a montage of pretty views, it tells an intriguing story and one that very clearly has not ended. It left me wanting to find out more and come along for the ride, in fact, it was the video that inspired me to reach out to Andrew for an interview in the first place.

Andrew tells me he also sees the value in stories when it comes to creating viral content and believes the formula isn’t always as complicated as some people make it out to be.

“Stories always do really well on social media.” says Andrew.

“People like to buy into a story, especially if its a feel-good one. So I simply told my story. The video that went viral was essentially me saying ‘my name is Andrew. I had a good paying job, a nice house, but I wasn’t happy. I thought there has to be more to life than this’. I then went into my story and my plans for documenting my van life on Tik Tok.”

After hitting the jackpot Andrew tells me he tried to make similar videos but found they never did as well.

“I think the [Tik Tok] algorithm is smarter than that” he concedes, “it knows when you’re just trying to churn out the same content over and over again. So I’ve experimented with other kinds of videos such as tutorial style videos and Q & As which have done pretty well.”

After going viral you might think Andrew had settled into being a TikTokker but admits he hasn’t always been comfortable in front of camera and still finds it difficult at times to get into ‘TikTokker mode’.

“I’m not the kind of person who sees a beautiful sunset and naturally goes to get my camera out” he admits. “So one of the hardest challenges I’ve had to overcome to be successful on TikTok is reminding myself to document my life, not just experience it.

“The way I see it is that if I want to be successful on TikTok I almost have to treat it as a job. I have to make sure I’m regularly planning, producing, and editing good content.”

When I ask him what advice he has for people who want to start documenting their life online, Andrew shares a pearl of wisdom.

“I would say that the thing that has worked best for me is being honest. I think trying to pretend that everything is perfect and rosy might be successful in the short term but it won’t allow you to make a genuine connection with your following and you’ll get found out in the long run I would.

“I think being genuine and honest as you go about your journey is really important. For example, my second most popular Tik Tok is a video of me talking about all the things I did wrong while converting my van. I didn’t expect it to do well and then it got half a million views in a day.

“My other bit of advice is to believe in the value of the content you are creating” adds Andrew. “It blows my mind that people would be interested in my life and what I’m getting up to. I still struggle to believe it but you have to get past that. Don’t ask why, people are just interested in other people’s stories and way of living.

“Finally, I would also say that your content doesn’t have to be perfect, with perfect shots and perfect commentary. It’s cliché but I believe that the only thing worse, as a content creator, than putting out a bad video is not putting out a video at all.”

At this point in the interview myself and Andrew having been talking for nearly an hour. I know I need to wrap up the interview soon but I can’t let him go without asking him what’s in store for the future.

“I’ve got a lot of plans for next 18 months” teases Andrew. “For the next six months I’m going to be taking on a 3,445 mile journey to the most northern highway in the world.

“The road is called the E69 and it’s right at the top of Norway, 1,300 miles north of Oslo. The road finishes on a 307 metre cliff looking onto the arctic ocean.”

You have to work hard to get to see the view, however, as Andrew informs me that parts of the road are only suitable for one vehicle at a time and rock slides and patches of black ice are common place.

“It also loses its daylight completely from 2nd December, but that means it also offers a great opportunity to see the Northern Lights” says Andrew, before braking into a wide smile.

I’m not surprised Andrew is smiling, it sounds like an awesome adventure and him and Franklin are raring to go.

If you want to come along for that adventure then make sure to follow TheUnpopularViews on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram. Andrew is keen to have as many people as possible share in what is set to be a very exciting 18 months of pure, high quality, content.

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