YouTuber Jennelle Eliana Is Probably the Coolest Van Lifer Out There

The van life scene seems to skew whiter and male but Jennelle Eliana, a young black woman, is doing it by herself.

Hashtag Van Life is a big thing now, and probably here to stay. People have been living in vans for a lot longer than Instagram has existed, but seemingly starting in the mid-2010s it got trendy. The scene seems to skew white and male but Jennelle Eliana, a young Black woman, is doing it by herself and has made a great YouTube channel along the way.

The basic rundown on Van Life, if you’ve somehow managed to miss it, is that people have bought up vans, converted them into living domiciles, and made a lot of photos and videos about how much fun it is. I don’t know if I could do that, but it sure as heck is cool to watch.

And one of my favorite channels about it is Eliana’s.

Originally she started with a cheap Chevy Conversion van, on which she did some easy interior modifications like framing out a bed and changing the area. She added a camper stove, and a few other amenities to keep her comfortable in the southern California heat. She painted it a shade of robin’s egg blue, and drove it all around the country, living in it with her pet snake – Alfredo. 

Eliana’s channel isn’t very old at all. Haters have called foul play at her channel’s success since, when she joined YouTube, she hit nearly a million subscribers in about a week despite only having a couple of videos. Whatever, I don’t think that matters, her content’s fun to watch.

She’s incredibly personable, has a great fashion sense, and even if she doesn’t always immediately know how to accomplish a task, it’s clear she’s got the smarts to figure out how to get it done.

Right now, Jennelle has retired her old blue G-van. In its place, she’s imported an old JDM Toyota HiAce camper van and plans to live in that instead.

Eliana’s got spunk – she’s planning on yanking the slow as heck Toyota 4Y gas engine, and replacing it with the 1KZ Toyota diesel engine, commonly found in some Toyota Land Cruisers. While stripping out the now-useless 1990s-era Japanese camper appliances and fixtures, she quickly learned that basically the whole camper shell would need a rework to accommodate her living in it full time.

So she got to work, hacking the damn thing to pieces, and then putting it back together. These HiAce camper shells are made of fiberglass, which she admitted in a video she didn’t know that much about. Despite this only being her “first time” I think her fiberglass patch jobs look super impressive.

A lot of Van Life guys pay money for people to do their conversions. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but it’s very refreshing to see a young person (especially a Black woman) doing the work themselves.

Take a gander over at Jennelle’s channel and enjoy!

Kevin Williams

Kevin WilliamsKevin's been into cars his entire life, anything from the tiny kei cars in Japan, to the maybe not-so-good American barges of the 1980s. He's flipped more than 25 cars, only lost money twice, and has known how to make his dollar stretch as far as it can. If he ain't talking about cars, he's probably snacking on something sweet and cakey. Contact the author here.