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!
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.
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
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.
@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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