You know you want to do van life – that’s the first step. In our free online course, The Van Life Roadmap, we will walk through every single one of the necessary steps that it’s going to take to get you out on the road. From choosing the best van for your own version of van life, to knowing exactly what you want in a conversion, to teaching you the skills you need as a van lifer, there isn’t a stone we’ll leave unturned.
What that means though is that we’re going to cover a lot in this course. So go at your own pace and remember that you can always revisit specific lessons as needed. If you have questions along the way, just drop them in the comments below and we’ll be sure to answer them.
In this first (this) module, we’re going to help you evaluate your lifestyle so you can decide which type of van is right for you, your lifestyle, and your budget before moving forward. We’ll cover the common types of vans for van life, buying used vs new, and where to search for a van. Then we’ll discuss the pros and cons of DIYing vs hiring someone, and how to evaluate different conversion companies before signing a contract so you have a positive experience all around.
Personal Considerations for Choosing a Van
In this lesson, we’ll discuss how your lifestyle and location come into play when thinking about what kind of van is right for you. At the end of this lesson, you’ll want to download the worksheet “Evaluating Your Van Lifestyle” and spend some time answering the questions that will help you make your decision, which we’ll go through now.
What is your budget for a van?
Your answer to this question should guide all of your decisions moving forward.
I often get the question: How much does a van conversion cost? Unfortunately, there is no single answer here. The good news is, van life can be really really cheap. You certainly don’t need a $150,000 Sprinter Van to do van life, and unless you plan on tackling gnarly mountain Jeep roads, you can get by with a cheaper vehicle and a simpler build.
Remember, people have been doing van life long before the hashtag and the fully decked out Sprinter vans that you see on social media. The key here is that if van life imposes too much financial stress on you, you’ll be missing the point altogether. If you really want to enjoy van life and the freedom it affords, the best van for you is one that’s within your means. We’ll cover the costs of life on the road in more detail later in Module 5.
Do you want to do van life part-time or full-time and for how long?
There is no right or wrong way to do van life. Maybe you’re not in a stage in life where you can take off long-term, and that’s ok. A van can still provide an easy solution for getting away on the weekends without all the planning and hassle, especially if you have a family. It can also be great for a few longer road trips each year.
The reason this question is important is if you are only going to use the van on the weekends vs long-term travel, you might not need or want as extensive of a build. This can also influence the size of vehicle you’ll need. If you plan on living in your van full-time, you may want a shower, a bathroom, and a bit more space. If you’re using it for traveling here and there, you might not need these things.
Where do you plan to use your van?
If you plan to use it as a winter ski van or to travel to cold destinations, you’ll want to make sure you look for a van that you can winterize for 4 season use, or buy one that’s already outfitted this way. Or maybe you want to use your van to escape winter, and in that case, you’ll want something that’s comfortable for warmer temps, with windows that open so you can get a nice cross breeze. If you plan to rally your van on gnarly dirt roads or sand, then 4×4 may be non-negotiable. And finally, if you frequently need to go stealth in the city, then you’ll want something smaller, easier to park, and more discrete.
How many people will be in the van?
If it’ll just be you in the van, that’s one thing, but if your partner or family is along for the ride, you’ll want to make sure they’re comfortable too. Another thing to consider is: If you’re solo now, do you think you’ll still be solo by the time you hit the road?
When my first Sprinter was being built, I was single and the layout was perfect for one person. But by the time it was done being converted, I had a partner and a dog and the layout didn’t really accommodate him and his stuff. If only I had some foresight, I might have ended up with the longer Sprinter the first time around.
If you plan on doing van life with a family, check out this blog post on the best campervan layouts for families.
What gear is a must for you in the van?
Next, think about what gear is a must for you in the van. If you’re a mountain biker and you want to fit your bike inside the van, a platform bed in a panel-type van is likely what you’ll end up with. If you prefer to hike and all you need is a pack and a pair of shoes, then you might not need so much space and you’ll have a lot more layout options.
How tall are you?
Now, let’s talk height. How tall are you? The Ford Transit has the most interior headspace, followed by the High Roof Sprinter. If you want to stand up inside your van, these and the Promaster are your best options… but again, you should let your budget do the talking.
When do you want to start van life?
This is the final question. If you want to start van life as soon as possible, you’re going to be looking at used vans that are already built out. If you want a custom build, you’ll obviously need more time. Certain vans – particularly the 4×4 Sprinter and those converted by popular conversion companies – have a waitlist and could take a year to be ready.
You might not have answers to all of these lifestyle questions just yet, and that’s ok. As you make your way through the course, you’ll know what considerations to keep in mind.
Browse the other van life lessons in Module 1.
- Lesson 1 (current lesson): Choosing the Best Van for Van Life: Lifestyle & Location Considerations
- Lesson 2: Pros and Cons of Different Vehicles (Transit vs Sprinter vs Promaster vs others)
- Lesson 3: Buying a New vs Used Van
- Lesson 4: DIY vs Hiring a Conversion Company
- Lesson 5: How to Screen a Conversion Company to Build out your Van
What questions do you have about choosing a van for van life? Leave a comment below and make sure to sign up for course updates!