We all love the van life, or the idea of it. And many travellers with a van would love to take their kitted ride along R66 across America, or a summer trip through the south of France.
However, getting those beloved wheels overseas would require an overland Africa trek, a ferry and multiple logistical nightmares. But so many people around the world have vans… what if you could just borrow the van of a like-minded soul in, say, Australia, and offer them yours in South Africa?
That’s what Carlos Martinez, founder of Swap My Van, thought too.
What is Swap My Van?
An online community of world travellers in possession of a motorhome, RV, camper, van or any similar leisure vehicle. The purpose of the platform is to get in touch with other van owners around the world, and temporarily exchange vehicles.
If you are registered on the site, you can make contact with another van owner and organise an exchange. In return, you let others use your vehicle.
We asked Carlos to give us some insight into Swap My Van.
How did this idea come about?
In March 2022, my girlfriend and I bought some very cheap tickets to fly to San Francisco in June. We were very excited but when we started looking at campervan or even car rental prices, we discovered that costs had skyrocketed after Covid.
We realized we couldn´t afford the trip, and started thinking about losing the plane tickets and just doing some Van trip in Spain or Portugal with our ride. Then it came up to me that maybe someone would like to lend us his/her van in California and come to Spain and use ours in exchange.
So I googled “swap my van” and so on, but couldn´t find a website for this purpose, and nobody seemed to have done this on any of the Facebook forums… so I decided to post an add on Reddit, and we found someone who lends us her van! Traveling California was awesome, we got some locals tips, made a new friend and overall, we saved a lot of money!’
I immediately thought that I needed to create a website were this sort of temporary exchange could be arranged with much ease, and spent some of my free time in the next months developing it, and two weeks ago, it was ready to be published online.
How does it work?
It is a very simple yet perfectly functional website. You can search for other users who would like to exchange their campervan or motorhome by continent, country, date range, or just browse our map and get inspired. All you need to do is register your vehicle, upload some photos and use the internal chat to send messages to the users you would like to swap with.
If you get some positive answers you can exchange numbers and move on from there. For example, if you know you have holidays next February, you can search for someone available to swap in that date all over the world, or if you want to go to Europe, you put that in the filter and all the Europe users show up. We have searching filters for other needs like: does the vehicle have a bathroom inside, a kitchen, can I stand up inside? And so on.
Where have you travelled using Swap My Van?
The San Francisco trip was our first experience exchanging our van via Reddit. We just published our website and we have already had offers to swap our van with users from New Zealand, Canada, USA and South Africa. Now, these are all very exciting destinations, we haven´t decided yet where and when to go next! But we just came back from a month of travelling California, so we will need to settle down for some months before we can travel again.
What is your dream for the platform?
Our goal is to remain a free platform with thousands of users worldwide.
In this regard, we are very excited about the short, mid and long-term future. In the two weeks after launching, we have already reached presence in 19 countries in America, Europe, Africa and Oceania. The plan is to reach a big enough number of users, so that next time we have a month of holidays we can just browse the map and find a van-swapper no matter where we want to go. (I can confess, South Africa is starting to sound more and more popular).
I see very big potential for our site, particularly since, in opposition to other shared economy platforms available online, we have the goal to keep it free, or at least very cheap. (There are some maintenance costs that I am paying right now from my own pocket) and focused on the users.
In summary, I believe in what I am doing, and the goal is to create a global network of van-people, not to buy myself a yacht.
To see what it’s all about, visit Swap My Van.
Pictures: Carlos Martinez