Stories about the darker side of one of the internet’s latest trends have begun to pour in after the shocking death of Gabby Petito.

When Nikita Crump, a popular van-life blogger, discovered that she had the exact same white Ford Transit van as Gabby Petito, she shuddered.

“It’s a sense of knowing your living quarters have identical bones — identical square footage,” the 30-year-old Crump told The Post from Yosemite National Park. “I felt like I probably would have eventually met her had this not happened, because I go the extra mile to connect with people who have the same vehicle.”

The van-life community is reeling from the homicide of Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old woman who who never returned home from a roadtrip with fiancé Brian Laundrie. Petito’s remains were found in a Wyoming campground on September 19, and Laundrie, a person of interest in the case, has gone missing.

His family’s lawyer confirmed Laundrie left home without his wallet or cellphone on the day he disappeared.

On social media over the summer, Petito posted smiling photos of herself and Laundrie in front of beautiful landscapes, but such photogenic moments seemed to have concealed darker truths about her life on the road.

Van life has gained steam amid the pandemic, with young people untethered from office work and looking to travel by car. On Instagram alone, there are 11 million posts tagged #vanlife, many of them featuring young, nubile travellers in front of beautiful scenery. But those in the community are quick to note that the lifestyle isn’t all it’s Instagrammed to be, and that a dangerous underbelly lurks beneath.

“People say, ‘You’re living the dream, you have the best life.’ And it’s like, ‘No, there are struggles,‘” said Crump, who’s been roadtripping for about two years and has 1 million followers on TikTok. “It’s not all happy-go-lucky.”

The 165cm, 52kg Crump, who mainly travels solo, has endured a number of incidents with creepy men making crude comments and threatening her, leaving her scared for her life. She sleeps with her keys within reach, should she need to make a quick exit.

About a year ago, she was shooting a video for BuzzFeed when a sketchy guy appeared to be circling her van and then sidled right up to her and asked her itinerary. After finishing the video, she fled while watching over her back.

“I looked at every single vehicle and person to make sure it wasn’t him,” she said. “I contemplated calling the cops but didn’t know if that was dramatic and a waste of their time. In hindsight, I absolutely should have called them.”

More recently, she was travelling with another young woman, Billie Webb, a 22-year-old from Indiana. They were both parked in St. Louis and Webb forgot to cover the van’s windows at night. At 2am she was awoken by a knock.

“This guy takes out his genitals and rubs them against my window,” recalled Webb. The two made the quick decision to immediately drive off. “It was one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had in my life.”

Other van-lifers note that they are constantly on guard. Sunny Flaherty, 24, who has been on the road with boyfriend Jordan Summerlin, 26, for the past five years, recalled a terrifying incident a few years back. She and a caravan of friends were huddled around a campfire in the Arizona desert when a menacing man approached the group.

He whipped out a machete and “threatened to burn down the buses in camp,” she said. The group quickly fled. “We have a rule that if any one of us had a weird feeling, we would all leave,” said Flaherty. “I still use that rule to this day to stay safe.”

Fending off creeps and psychopaths is hardly the only worry.

“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,” said Crump. But creating content for YouTube and other sites demands that she put on a happy face.

“It’s challenging and strange to have a job that expects you to be this chipper person all the time,” said Crump. “I’m not always in the mood to film me and show parts of my life — it’s stressful and annoying and feels a little icky. It’s one thing to work in retail and be chipper while at a register, but it’s different to be in your space and falsify your happiness.”

Amber, author of the popular Always the Adventure blog, concurred.

Gabby Petito and boyfriend Brian Laundrie shared idyllic shots of their cross-country adventure this summer.

Such instances and van life in general can be especially taxing on relationships.

“If you’re in a small space with someone, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Flaherty said. “It can definitely be hard to do with a partner. Imagine when your car breaks down and you have no place to live. There are times when you’re just sleeping in a Walmart parking lot.”

Amber, who has been travelling with her boyfriend for the past two years, related to the police body camera footage of an emotional dispute between Petito and Laundrie taken in Moab, Utah on Aug. 12.

“The footage is realistic. I get it — I get those really stressful days when nothing’s going right. You just had a bad week, and everything’s going wrong,” she said. “Things can feel like that and you can end up on the side of the road crying.”

Billie Webb had “one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had in my life” with an unwanted intruder last year.courtesy @billiewebb

She cautions those who are thinking about hitting the road themselves: It’s not all desert vistas and sunsets over mountaintops.

“People go into van life trying to run away and think it will be an escape from life. It’s not,” she said. “It’s just a different way to live it. It’s high highs and low lows.”

This article originally appeared in the New York Post and was republished with permission