What Van to Get

Chapter 8: Best Van to Live in - What Should I Get?

It will take careful consideration when deciding on the best van to live in. There are numerous things to keep in mind such as the number of people you are living with, whether or not you have pets, the amount of money you’re willing to spend, your handyman/handywomen ability, where you will be traveling to, your likelihood of becoming claustrophobic, your concern for safety, your driving skills, and more. A little research will go a long way, and we’re here to help!

Hippie Van – VWs in Particular


vw van
Credit: www.ramblindawgs.ca

Pros of living in a hippie van (VW van)

  • Easy to fix/easy to learn how to fix.
  • Even if it’s not 4WD we were able to go on most dirt roads we needed to because of the weight of the engine in the back.
  • Huge VW community. You’ll get help and meet friends everywhere you go.
  • It drives slow. We see this as a pro while others wouldn’t. We have more time to admire the views when you have to stop every now and then to let the van cool down. Style baby!
  • Less customization is needed because they’re already meant to be lived in.

Cons of living in a hippie van (VW van)

  • Can’t stand up if the pop top is closed (during a storm, if it’s too cold, you have to keep it low profile).
  • Break often. But as we said, most of the time it’s an easy fix.
  • Parts are less available than a standard van.
  • Not as easy to get away with parking and sleeping in certain areas.

Passenger Van & Cargo Van


sprinter van inside
High-Top Van – Credit: van-derlust.com

We gathered statistics from surveying 725 van lifers and found cargo vans to be the most popular van to live in. This is no surprise as it’s practical, affordable, stealthy, easy to repair, easy to find on the market, and much more.

Pros of living in a passenger van or cargo van

  • You can get away with parking it in certain areas because it blends in with other vans.
  • They will last many miles.
  • Not too difficult to fix if broken down.
  • Better MPG compared to other options – RVs and Skoolies in particular.
  • Much easier than others to convert into a camper.
  • Some allow you to stand up inside.
  • Very safe and secure.

Cons of living in a passenger van or cargo van

  • Don’t expect to get great mileage, especially on older models.
  • Less character than something like a VW.
  • Less natural light and viewing for some models because of fewer windows.
  • Everything needs to be customized.

Passenger vans and cargo vans are similar, but they do have a few differences worth pointing out:

  • Passenger vans have more windows which can be nice because it makes the van seem bigger and provides for better views and more sun.
  • Passenger vans are more difficult to convert because the inside of the vans have junk that you will want to tear out like seats and walls.
  • Cargo vans are easier to insulate than passenger vans because they typically have ribs on the van walls allowing you to stuff with insulation. Cargo vans also have fewer windows which allow for better insulation.
  • Fewer windows also allow you to be more stealthy when sleeping at night.

High Top vs Low Top Cargo/Passenger Vans

High Top Vans

Some examples of high-top vans include Mercedes Sprinter, Freightliner Sprinter, Dodge Promaster, Ford Transit, Nissan NV

Pros of high top vans

  • They allow you to stand up inside
  • They allow for more storage
  • The taller sealings allow heat to rise, keeping you cooler
  • You can build bunk beds, which is nice if you’re traveling with more than a couple people

Cons of high top vans

  • They are not always easy to find when you’re looking to buy
  • They are more expensive than low top vans
  • You may be too tall to fit under some drive-throughs or parking garages

Low Top Vans

Some examples of low top vans include Ford Econoline, Chevy Express, and GMC Sierra.

Ford Econoline low top van

Pros of low top vans

  • They are more affordable
  • They are easier to find when you’re looking to buy
  • If you’re willing to spend some money you can get a pop top or extended roof installed
  • Typically better fuel economy

Cons of low top vans

  • There’s typically only room for two people to sleep comfortably
  • Less storage space available
  • Short ceilings force you to crouch or sit at all times

Conversion Van


Conversion Van

Credit: click here

Pros of living in a conversion van

  • Already converted and most are ready to move in if you’re not picky or are on a budget
  • Sold relatively cheap

Cons of living in a conversion van

  • Inside is usually outdated and not very aesthetically appealing
  • Harder to customize without tearing it apart
  • Hard to find one with few miles on it

Pickup Truck Camper


pickup truck camper
Credit: www.allinthebedofatruck.com

Pros of living in a pickup truck camper

  • All-wheel drive.
  • Removable living quarters to explore/use truck.
  • RV attachment was not a big investment.
  • If need be, you can sell the truck without selling the living quarters and vice versa.

Cons of living in a pickup truck camper

  • Not ideal for pets.
  • The heavy weight causes poor gas mileage.
  • You won’t get away with parking and sleeping in non-prohibited areas.
  • No open floor plan.

RV



Credit: rvlifediaries.com

Pros of living in an RV

  • Price! RVs depreciate very fast so you can find a great deal.
  • Low mileage (It is very rare to see an RV over 100,000 miles.).
  • Having a shower and a toilet all the time (especially with a kid being potty trained).
  • More living space and storage.
  • All the important and tedious parts of the build were done by professional. These include plumbing, electrical, insulation, walls, shower, toilet, stove, fridge, carrying tanks, etc.

Cons of living in an RV

  • Limited access to some campgrounds.
  • Hard to park and drive in major cities.
  • Bad fuel economy.
  • RVs don’t look as cool as vans. They usually put off that retired old person vibe.

School Bus (Skoolie)


school bus
Credit: (exterior: @alwayshomebus) (interior: @mamabirdbus)

Pros of living in a bus

  • Space! Our friend @mamabirdbus has two twin bunks, a king size bed, full kitchen and refrigerator, plus ample living and storage space. Not to mention a full bathroom with shower and a washing machine, which most vans don’t have. Our friend @alwayshomebus mentioned that it’s the perfect amount of space for their dog to roam.
  • Safety and durability. School buses are made to carry people and have an incredibly sturdy steel frame that will last a long time. This is especially important for families with small children.
  • Cool factor. I think this one is obvious… everyone loves a school bus! It will attract all kinds of friendly people.

Cons of living in a bus

  • Size! Sometimes it’s difficult to maneuver in city streets or find parking.
  • Insurance and registration can be very difficult to obtain at first. It took @mamabirdbus 4 trips to the DMV until it was figured out!
  • Our friends @alwayshomebus mentioned that their van doesn’t have an easy way to charge electronic devices. This may not necessarily be a con because it allows you to disconnect from the world a bit more and appreciate the beauty around you.
  • It’s easy to be seen when you’re looking for places to sleep at night.

Additional Tip


@Mamabirdbus has some really great advice that can apply to people living in either a bus or a van: Make the most of what you have. We camped in our bus for a long time before it was even close to finished. We took our time to save money and finish things when we could afford them or had the time. Now that it’s done we appreciate it all the more! Also, I would mention that you don’t have to spend a fortune to do a conversion. We found most of our supplies for free or cheap on Craigslist, eBay, and even picked up furniture on the side of the road to repurpose. We were then able to spend more money on other things like eco-friendly wool insulation, our solar setup, and our rooftop AC unit.

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pets and kids

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Packing list van life essentials

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