The Best Van for Vanlife
If you’re just starting your vanlife journey, you’re probably wondering what the best van for vanlife is. It’s a tough question to answer and the answer is going to be different for every single person. It is similar to buying a house. Each person is looking for different attributes that fit their family, lifestyle, and comforts. Choosing the best van for vanlife is just like that.
Know your budget – Don’t go into debt for vanlife
Before you decide on the best van for vanlife, you will need to decide on how much you can spend. If you’ve already starting looking into vans, you know that the price range is HUGE. You can spend anywhere from less that $5,000 to over $100,000. This enormous differential is due to the fact that there are a wide range of vehicles available. From old beaters that just need a little love to brand new vans that have been converted with every amenity you can think of. The popularity of vanlife has exploded, and one benefit of that is that you have a lot of vans to choose from. You also have a wide price range. Because of the wide array of options, I guarantee you will find the best van for vanlife within your price range.
Side Bar – Financial Freedom should be a vanlife goal
Your financial stability going into vanlife will be a major contributing factor to how much you are able to enjoy the lifestyle. I cannot stress this point enough. It is so important not to go into debt in order to pursue vanlife. I know it may seem unrealistic to save up money to pay for your van and the conversion up front, but it’s the same amount of money, regardless. Think of how much harder it will be to pay debts once you are on the road enjoying your new lifestyle of travel and adventure. If you’re starting to shop for vans and the ones you want are way out of your price range, you may want to consider a smaller, older, or more basic van.
If you do end up financing the van and even the conversion, be sure you have a clear budget that outlines how you are going to make money on the road and pay it off. Trust me, once you’re on the road, you don’t want anything coming between you and vanlife, especially finances. Determine how much you can comfortably spend on your van before you start shopping, and stick to that budget as closely as possible!
The best Van for your destination – Where are you going?
Part of deciding which van is the best van for vanlife can be determined by where you want to go. Are you a city person and do you plan to stick around metropolitan areas? Are you an outdoorsy person who wants to explore all of the backroads you can find? Maybe you’re a little bit of both.
If you’re someone who likes to live and play in metropolitan areas, you can get away with a van that doesn’t have four-wheel drive. This is a major money saver. City-dwellers also tend to need less amenities, like a bathroom, since they have regular access to shower at their gym or office. In addition, vanlifers who live in cities tend to try and blend in as much as possible, so a more basic looking van with less windows and gadgets on the outside will cost much less than someone who’s in the outdoors.
On the other hand, if you’re the opposite of a city-dweller, the best van for vanlife will be a much different rig. You will need to shop for a van with features that will get you where you need to go. Are you interested in driving gnarly 4×4 roads? If so, that’s going to put your van search into a caliber of it’s own. There are only a handful of choices for rigs with 4×4, so that’s an important distinction to make before you start shopping. Keep in mind that 4×4 is going to make your van significantly more expensive. If a 4×4 van is out of your budget, don’t worry! There are still A TON of really cool places you can go without it!
If you like the city and enjoy time in the wilderness, you can opt for a van that is capable of driving over moderate dirt roads and terrain. Most vans will be sufficient for this, but you can make slight modifications to help with getting you where you need to go. A good set of all-terrain tires, a lift, and good driving skills go a long way when navigating roads in the back country.
Side bar – are you staying in the U.S.?
In addition, you should consider if you’re going to a foreign country or not. If you are, it is important to understand how difficult and/or expensive it will be to get your van maintained or repaired in a foreign country. It is also important to consider how expensive your fuel type is and how available it is. You don’t have to decide on EVERYWHERE you’re going, but you should understand that it can be difficult to get good quality diesel in some countries.
All of these factors about where you’re going should influence your decision on the best van for vanlife for you.
What kind of adventures are you going on?
If you’re like us and you have a lot of hobbies, you’ll need a van that can support them. As cute as the Vanagon vans are, we just couldn’t fit all of our gear for two people in one of them and live in it full time. We have camping, hiking, fishing, climbing, backpacking, and mountain biking stuff with us at all times. Many vanlifers follow seasons and carry summer gear and winter gear with them all of the time. The best van for you will give you all of the storage space that you need to fully enjoy your time on the road.
If you’re not the outdoorsy type, that’s great too! You’re van doesn’t need to accommodate as much storage space. In addition, your conversion can be more simple since you won’t need to store huge gear like bikes, kayaks, or skis. You won’t need to build complex storage systems or think of ways to cram it all in. Some of the cutest and most beautiful vans we’ve seen are owned by people that travel full time and prefer yoga or reading a book.
The best van for your Personal comforts
In the end, the best van for vanlife should be designed for your personal comforts. There are a few major things to consider here:
- Bed Size
- Storage Capacity
- Work/Office area
A Bathroom is an issue that most vanlifers feel strongly about one way or the other. One camp says that it’s a waste of space and you can find plenty of public bathrooms around. The other camp says that they wouldn’t even consider doing vanlife without one. So, as you are shopping for a van, you need to decide which camp you fall into. Personally, we fall into the former category. Full disclaimer though, we do carry a Home Depot bucket with trash bag liners so that we are prepared for an emergency and can’t find a bathroom. Or for use in Mexico where there aren’t as many public facilities around.
Bed Size is critical to how well you sleep, and therefore, critical to how much you enjoy vanlife. The best van for vanlife will have a bed that is the right size for you and your living situation. Your bed is a foundational aspects of your design. Most of your van conversion will be designed around your bed. If you have a partner and 2 dogs, be prepared for your bed to take up a lot of space in your van. It’s a necessary evil, but you have to sleep somewhere!
Having a refrigerator in your van might be another one of those non-negotiable items like the bathroom. It was for me. There was no way I was going to deal with ice and wet food every few days. But, we knew we were going to live in our van full time. Many vanlifers, both full time and weekend warriors alike, don’t mind having a cooler and appreciate the lower up-front cost. In addition, a cooler doesn’t require power, so you can keep your van simple.
Storage Capacity is critical. Most people don’t realize how much stuff they own until they try to shove it all into a 80 square foot space. As you try to determine which van is the best van for vanlife, keep in mind how much gear/books/clothes, etc. that you want to bring with you. If having a lot of stuff with you is really important, than you will need to shop for a larger van with more storage capacity. If you’re super minimalist, then you can go much smaller and still be comfortable.
Are you planning on working remote from your home on wheels? If so, you need to consider a few things. The best van for vanlife will include some kind of modular work station and the ability to power your laptop. There are a lot of creative solutions for putting an office space in vans, you just need to be aware that not all vans have enough space for it. If you hate the thought of working on your bed or at the library and need a dedicated “office” space, you should shop for larger vans that have more room.
The best van for vanlife is the best van for your life
In the end, the best van for vanlife is going to be completely cutom to your lifestyle, your hobbies, and your comforts. As I mentioned when I started this article, there is a huge variety of vans available and you are bound to find one that fits your needs. It’s important to consider all of the aspects of how you will live vanlife so that you know what to look for.
Happy van shopping!
Are you curious what the worst things about vanlife really are? They’re not what you think! Check out this hilarious article to find out!
Do you need some ideas for how to make vanlife easier? Read through our list of Top 10 Vanlife Accessories that we LOVE.
Wow, I really love the idea of owning a van and going everywhere with it. I understand in the States and Europe countries it is common. But in Malaysia, we don’t practice that. But I would love to try, I also like what you say, don’t go into debt in pursuing a van life. It is my dream maybe one day when I am financially free, and I am able to work anywhere I want in the world, I will perhaps go for van life choosing a country in Europe. Thanks for the article 🙂
Yes, I can see why vanlife wouldn’t be as popular in places like Malaysia. The weather is pretty hot and humid for it. Having financial freedom is a great goal to reach before vanlife. Once you have that, you will be able to travel so much easier! Thanks for reading along!
Jess & Greg
Thank you for these insights!
A few years ago I was nearly going to go into van life, because I found the constant moving around with rentals so tricky.
Probably not the best perspective, and I had 2 children with me at the time. I do believe my research back then has stayed with me, so I’m keen to keep an eye on the possibilities and insights that people like you share!
Great considerations … I hadn’t fully considered some of these aspects before!
Vanlife with kids would definitely be more complicated, but I’ve seen parents do it! It’s a great way to keep expenses down and have more financial freedom. Thanks for reading along!
Jess & Greg
Thank you for the nice and informative article!
I’ve been thinking about getting a van for quite a while. I have 2 small kids, and that makes things a bit more complicated. What age do you recommend to take kids on a van trip?
Thanks for reading along! A van is a great way to travel with a family. The Ram Promaster is a great van and it’s less expensive than the Mercedes sprinter vans. Happy travels!
Jess & Greg
What a nice read. You pinpoint several valid points to consider. Honestly, I had never thought of buying a van, but it seems like a good option. I usually travel with family and although we never go camping, I think we could all travel in one.
I’d love to go on a road trip and I could even save up on the hotel.
And yeah, I definitely agree with not getting into debt. That’s what I want to worry least while on the road.
Thanks for sharing.
Hey Enrique, you’re right, we save so much money while traveling by staying in the van. It would be harder with a family, but I’ve seen people do it!
Thanks for reading,
Jess & Greg
Loved your article and all your advice!
I’m working towards making all my money online, with the aim to live full time in a van.
Things like a shower and a fridge are really important to me.
I’ve been hearing a lot of very good things about the mercedes sprinter van, but looking at them, they are very expensive.
Do you have a favorite make of van?
I’ve bookmarked you now, and I’ll be back 🙂
Hi Judy, thanks for reading! It’s always nice to meet another aspiring vanlifer! We have been in our Ram Promaster for a year and a half and we love it. We couldn’t justify the expense of the Sprinter van. I have another blog Called How to Choose Your New Van that outlines why we decided to buy the Promaster.
It’s a great van and we’re glad we bought it. Good luck in shopping for you van and feel free to reach out if you need any more help!
Jess & Greg