Gabby Petito, 22, died under mysterious circumstances while traveling cross-country in a white Ford converted camper van with her then-boyfriend, Brian Laundrie. The Teton County coroner has ruled her death a homicide.
Petito’s existence in the months leading up to her death – popularly known as “the van life” – was apparently alternately stressful and exhilarating. That’s not uncommon for practitioners of the lifestyle, which can be dangerous and lonely as well as freeing.
The New York Post spoke to several bloggers, TikTokers and other van life enthusiasts about their lifestyle. They recounted dangerous nights and stressful days that would be tough on any relationship, much less Petito and Laundrie’s.
Van Life Enthusiasts Tell of Hazards and Stressors
“People say, ‘You’re living the dream, you have the best life.’ And it’s like, ‘No, there are struggles,’” Nikita Crump told the Post. Crump has been on the road in a van identical to Gabby Petito’s for the past two years. She has about 1 million followers on TikTok. “It’s not all happy-go-lucky.”
Crump said there’s no shortage of creepy men out there, and she’s encountered many of them during her travels. Their overtures have ranged from asking her itinerary to X-rated gestures directly outside her van windows.
“During the day, there’s a subconscious stress on your shoulders. You’re worrying about where you’re going to shower and use the bathroom that day… or if you have a flat tire,” she added.
Amber, another van life blogger, said that while the lifestyle has become trendy, people don’t post to social media about its dark side.
“You don’t see the nights at the Denny’s parking lot because you can’t find anywhere else safe to sleep,” she said.
Gabby Petito Was Under Plenty of Stress
The van lifers interviewed by the Post agreed that the lifestyle is hard on relationships. You’re in a confined space with someone for extended periods of time, sometimes when both of you are underslept. Amber said she’s been traveling in a van with her boyfriend for the past two years. And she said she could relate to the police bodycam video footage of a crying Petito at a police stop in Moab, Utah.
“I get those really stressful days when nothing’s going right. You just had a bad week, and everything’s going wrong,” she told the Post. “Things can feel like that and you can end up on the side of the road crying.”
But Petito and Laundrie’s relationship couldn’t withstand the stress of the van life for two years. It didn’t even last the summer. Sometime after Aug. 25, the final time Petito spoke to her mother, things unraveled – disastrously for Petito. What happened between then and when Laundrie returned alone to his parents’ house in Florida in the van is the subject of an ongoing investigation.
As the van lifers cautioned, cross-country road tripping isn’t the escape it’s made out to be in social media posts. Sometimes, as it did for Petito, it can even turn deadly.