Suriyan Ramasami’s first date with the professor from Sacramento was special. After a week of matching on Bumble and texting and FaceTiming, Ramasami suggested they meet in person. He reserved a table at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, drove two hours from the Bay Area to Sacramento, and even bought her a rose. They clicked and planned a second date of hiking and dining by a lake. It was then that Ramasami revealed his living situation: “I don’t stay in an apartment or anything. I am nomadic, and I really love it.”
At first, the Sacramento professor was curious. But soon after, she told him the bad news: she just wanted to be friends. This wasn’t Ramasami’s first time in the “friend zone.” In fact, most of his experiences with online dating apps like Bumble, Hinge, and PlentyofFish went the same way.
Like Ramasami, many who consider themselves nomadic have tried to find love on the usual dating apps, such as Tinder and Bumble, without much luck. Dating apps are generally designed to help you find a partner near you, but for vanlifers, they may not be around for too long.
In Ramasami’s case, “nomadic” means his life from his 2018 Subaru Outback. Especially in the past year, many Americans have left apartments and homes for mobile homes such as vans, RVs or, in the case of Ramasami, their cars. Recent research show that motorhome ownership has increased by 26 percent in the past decade, and RV sales broke records in March this year, with more than 54,000 shipped to dealers in North America.
Tinder tells us that between February 1 and July 1 of this year, mentions of “nomad” in profiles increased by 23 percent, while mentions of “RV” and “van” both increased by 8 percent. Even so, these users sometimes fall through when disclosing their lifestyle to dates. Most apps use location as a parameter to find potential matches, and if you’re on the go, that might not be the most accurate way yet. In addition, the apps do not include a filter for people who move frequently.
Now, other apps and websites have sprung up to address these issues — and they’re growing in popularity. There is Nomad Soulmates, An Facebook group for remote workers and nomads to connect and date (the team says they are working on an app to be released later this year). There is sec, an app intended for vanlifers to find community and resources on the go. Sēkr does not explicitly market itself as a dating app, but say people in the community call it the ‘Tinder of vanlife’.
There is also fairytale path, a dating app launched in 2019 for home workers, nomads and van dwellers. Taige Zhang, himself a remote worker and the founder of Fairytrail, says he initially launched the app as a travel matching platform to find people to travel with or share an Airbnb. But over time, he found that more people were using the app so far, so his team adjusted their strategy. They stopped accepting travel bookings and put all their resources into the dating functionality.
The app has become increasingly popular among van residents during the pandemic, Zhang says, with a 1,100 percent increase in the number of Fairytrail profiles mentioning the words “van,” “campervan,” or “RV” from February 2020 to July. 2021.
Bryce Yates is such a person. He moved into his 1999 Chevy Astro van in November 2019. He faced similar problems to Ramasami’s on mainstream dating apps and says he struggles to convince people he has a house but chooses to live on the road. To assure a woman he met, Yates requested his then-tenant to show the two the place he was renting.
“In the back of my mind, I think if I have to convince someone like this, I don’t think I’ll be dating them for very long,” he says.
Ramasami believes that part of the problem is that we as a society associate having a home with stability and security. “In general, a person seeks security, and security is tied to being in one place, being able to be a provider,” he says, adding that while he sees himself as stable, his dates don’t often share the same opinion.
While some vanlifers struggle to get dates due to a stigma attached to their lifestyle, for others, vanlife has been proven to be an advantage, at least in the early stages of the dating process. “At least I feel more attractive than ever to live in my van,” says Amber Hawkins, who began her journey of life in a mini school bus about two years ago. Hawkins adds that in her experience, many men on dating apps were fascinated by her decision and expressed a desire to do something similar as well.
The challenge, for Hawkins, comes after she’s been on a few dates with someone. She normally moves from cities every season and often finds herself going through “mini-breakups.” For example, Hawkins is currently in Portland, Maine, and has been dating a man she likes. “We have so much fun together and I’m like, ‘Oh man, how am I going to break up with this guy, you know?'” Hawkins says.
Hawkins has a profile on Fairytrail and says she likes the idea of a dating app for homeworkers and vanlifers because she’s ultimately looking for someone with a similar lifestyle. Yates and Ramasami say they’ve had more success with Fairytrail than regular dating apps, as Fairytrail users are more accepting of non-traditional housing situations.
Still, despite the app’s promise of romantic bliss, it doesn’t magically solve nomadic daters’ hurdles.
While there is an almost equal split between men and women in the app, Fairytrail and other apps are shrinking compared to the size of regular dating apps, making the potential dating pool relatively small. For example, Fairytrail has just under 20,000 users from July 2021, while Tinder saw a turnout of 20 million people to use only one particular feature of the app.
In addition, because Fairytrail serves telecommuters, users often speak to someone thousands of miles away, sometimes on another continent. Ramasami says he recently had a match with someone in Portugal. She seems interesting, but realistically he doesn’t see them meeting in person anytime soon.
Additionally, Ramasami says that most of the women on Fairytrail are in their twenties. He, 51, doesn’t see himself dating someone so young because he doesn’t know if their priorities match.
Recently, he found a woman who was closer in age named Amy. He is planning a trip to Mexico soon and hopes to meet her along the way. She will fly to New Mexico around the same time he will pass, and the two will meet there. Ramasami has been driving alone behind the wheel of his Subaru Outback for years. Maybe this time he can find someone who wants to drive a shotgun.