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Van Life: What is the Best Vehicle to Live in?

Interested in #VanLife and looking for the perfect vehicle to start your adventures, but have no clue where to start? Well, I’ve got you covered!

Vandwelling has become a means for the adventurous being able to see the world on a minimal budget! The reborn trend is appealing to travelers and adventurers of all ages- some riding solo, some accompanied by other vandwellers- so, since everyone’s needs are different, I’m going to break down some vehicle options to help you find that perfect van.

Before you Invest

Before you start looking for Vans, solidify a budget and stick to it! It’s essential in order to have a successful lifestyle transition, otherwise you may find yourself in some sticky situations due to poor planning- and no one wants that! To help plan your budget, I’ve included some important things to ask yourself:

What Size Van Will You Need?

  • How many people and/or pets are traveling with you? Is it you and your dog? Are you solo? Maybe a family of 4? This information is important for you to gauge the amount of space you will require to ensure everyone's needs are comfortably met- in turn, improving long term happiness. If you want to know what it’s like being a can of sardines, feel free to try squeezing 4 adults and a dog into a small cargo van full time!
  • Pay attention to the Roof Height of the vehicle. This is often overlooked, but could be essential for comfortability. Are you 6’ tall and plan to live in a van full time? Then you may want some standing room to enhance your comfortability.
  • Will you be living in the van full or part time? You could potentially opt for a smaller van if you weren’t planning on spending all of your time in it, which could cut on costs.
  • How much storage and space will you need? Minimizing is important, but everyone’s “essentials” are different, so you may need more storage space-maybe for that mountain bike or surfboard you want to bring with you. Or maybe a space you can put a desk if you need to work on the laptop for hours. Plan the vehicle based on how livable it is, and how you can do what you need to do, comfortably.

Research Maintenance Required for Different Van Types & Relative Costs

  • Will your van choice hold its value? This requires a little research on your part, but just like a Toyota Land Cruiser does, some vans hold more value than others.
  • Will your van break down easily? Repair costs will add up, so you need a reliable vehicle! Some mechanics also don’t know how to fix certain van types (especially newer, more technical models), so that’s something to be aware of.
  • What is needed to keep your vehicle well maintained? Regular maintenance costs should be included in your monthly budget. Be sure to research common availability of parts & maintenance of any vans you’re interested in.

Research the Efficiency of Different Van Types

  • Will this vehicle serve a purpose for everywhere you want to go? Don’t convert a School Bus if you want to hit all those remote access spots!
  • Will this vehicle be good year round? In all seasons? In all drive terrains?

Gas vs Diesel

  • Diesel vehicles are more expensive. both to fix and to buy- but they have better fuel economy, more power, and higher life expectancy as they can last 400k miles pretty easily.
  • Research each vehicle’s mpg. compare the National Average gas prices to see what you can afford.

Vehicle Options

Now that you’ve considered your budget, it’s time to shop! I’ll break down the main pros and cons of each vehicle to help you find your perfect ride!

There are lots of factors that go into the pricing of each vehicle, including the location the vehicle is in. The following price points are generalized, so some actual van prices may vary from what is shown, you’ll want to do your research.

Cargo Vans & Conversion Vans

cargo van as a van life option

  • Inexpensive (used vans are typically under $5k).
  • Durable & long life span.
  • Easy maintenance with generally cheap & common parts
  • Popular/easy to find, often with low miles. These vehicles are used as business fleet vehicles (from hotel transportation to plumbers & contractors), which makes them common to find.
  • Some are already converted and/or easy to convert, for cheap
  • Can be inconspicuous, making it easier to blend in when trying to overnight park in certain locations.
  • Limited storage/space
  • Gas mileage
  • Limited light source since fewer windows
  • Stock Vans are not as esthetically pleasing on the interior or exterior

Camper Vans

Camper van is an option for van life

  • Live-in ready. No converting necessary- unless you want something specific added to the already livable model.
  • Can buy (used) under $5k, but would likely have high miles/require some updating.
  • Equipped with kitchen sink
  • Some pop up for extra space
  • Gas mileage
  • Newer models with low miles & are live-in ready are more expensive, but since it’s live-in ready, you cut the costs of having to convert a van.

Sprinter Vans or Transit Vans

Sprinter van as an option for van life

  • Ample Storage
  • Typically have a high roof and boxy cargo providing ample space
  • Gas mileage
  • Lots of aftermarket accessories you can add (showers, folding furniture, kitchen sinks and cabinets, storage, etc…) 
  • Esthetically appealing interior & exterior
  • Ranges from $3k-30k, but the cheaper ones have high miles which means more maintenance costs and lower longevity. Likely requiring updates in order to be liveable.
  • Expensive maintenance and repair, as maintenance tends to be more technical.
  • More noticeable, potentially limiting some of your “camping” spots.
  • Can’t fit as many places due to being so large

Hippie Vans (aka Classic Vans, VW’s)

Classic hippie vans for van life

  • They just look cool. Very esthetically pleasing with retro vibes.
  • Most have already been converted, making them live-in ready.
  • Big social community making it easy to meet new people!
  • Surprisingly handles well off road thanks to rear wheel drive.
  • Expensive for the size and space. Approximately $7-20k, the cheaper requiring more maintenance and repairs to be livable, adding cost.
  • Break down often! It’s good to have some auto mechanic general knowledge so that you can reduce how often you’re going to the mechanic.
  • Less space due to the smaller body.

Unimog (Military Vehicles)

Unimog as an option for van life

  • Boxy and spacious!
  • Durable in all road and weather conditions.
  • Extreme off-road capabilities.
  • Expensive!! Both to fix and maintain, and some mechanics won’t even know how to fix them. Approximately $30-500k, the cheaper being less live-in ready, again adding costs.
  • Simple things like changing a tire will be a challenge.
  • Possibility of needing a commercial license to operate.
  • Doesn’t drive very fast, so not great for some highways.

School Bus (aka Skoolies)

School bus as an option for van life

  • Cheap for the size! Approximately $10k-30k including conversion renovations.
  • High roof, long body. SO MUCH SPACE!!
  • Easy to convert with so much room for almost anything.
  • Fits large groups
  • Common parts, making it easy to fix for mechanics
  • Aesthetic character
  • Strong and built to last
  • Fuel Economy
  • Say goodbye to stealth camping as this vehicle stands out anywhere!
  • Limited parking due to size.
  • Not good on difficult terrain which limits where you can go.
  • Some RV parks won’t allow you to camp there.


Using an RV for van life

  • Live-in ready with ample space
  • Efficient use of space & storage
  • There are different classes with different options, most providing a built in kitchen and bathroom including a shower! Some even including a washer and dryer!
  • Extremely expensive to buy and maintain. Range from approximately $10k-400k depending on class. Lower prices would likely require maintenance and have high miles.
  • Fuel efficiency
  • Once you get somewhere, you’re kind of stuck unless you have a car towed behind.
  • Parking is a hassle due to large size.
  • RV parks are just an added cost and get expensive after a while.
  • In order to keep the bathroom and kitchen functional, you’ll need to be able to access water and dump stations if you’re not staying at RV parks.
  • Not good off-road

Now that you’ve researched your vehicle types, be sure to check out relative conversion costs, if you’re planning to convert.

Van life

Try Before you Buy!

Still unsure of which vehicle is right for you? Don’t stress! I’m going to provide some resources that allow you to rent before you buy! The companies below are mostly Nationwide (US), but there are many other options local to certain cities, states, and countries! I’d suggest searching ‘Adventure Van Rental’ to get local options near you!

Escape Campervans
Cruise America
American Adventure Rentals

Happy Shopping!

Now you should have the resources needed to build your budget and choose your preferred vehicle type(s), so now you can get to the fun stuff- finding your perfect Van!

There are tons of resources out there for buying used vehicles (thank you, Google!), so be sure to shop around. The Vandwellers subreddit is a great forum to ask any questions and find reliable resources.

You’re finally on your way to the Vandweller lifestyle. See ya on the road!

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