"What Is The Best Van For Living In?"
Choosing an appropriate and comfortable van to live in is one of the biggest decisions you will make during your van life journey. For first timers, deciding which are the best vans for you can be a difficult decision because how do you know which vehicle is best if you’ve never lived in a van before?
The answer to ‘which are the best van for van life’ really depends on your own needs and requirements. There are so many different types of vehicles to live in because everyone’s needs are different.
The purpose of this blog post is to showcase the most popular vehicles for van life and discuss each vehicle’s pros and cons. At the end, we also explain which vehicle we chose and why it’s been perfect for our needs.
If you’re ready, let’s go!
Choosing The Best Vans To Live In: What To Consider
When choosing the best type of vans for your own van life adventure, it’s important to consider all the different factors that go into a vehicle choice. These factors aren’t necessarily weighted the same, and you’ll have to decide which facets are more important to you than others.
Is it easy to live inside your van for extended periods of time? Can you stand up straight and move around inside? Is it comfortable to be in your van during bad weather days?
How easy to drive is your vehicle? Can you navigate urban cities and compact parking lots? Is the van so bulky that you dread driving it off the highway? If the goal for your van life is to travel, then choosing a vehicle that drives and maneuvers well is important.
If driving out to rural, off-the-grid type places is your objective for van life, than selecting a van that has dedicated off-road capabilities may be important to you.
If you plan to put on thousands of miles on your vehicle and are budget conscious, then gas efficiency is an important factor to consider when choosing the right vehicle for your van life. Even a difference of as little as 3-5mpg can really save your wallet.
Do you care about how much your vehicle stands out? Maybe you plan to free camp in urban areas and want to deter curious eyes? To some a stealth van is a crucial factor to consider when selecting their vehicle, and a non-factor for others.
Now that you have a basic idea of the different factors to consider when choosing your best camper van vehicle, let’s look at several of the most popular vehicles for van lifers today.
The Commercial Van:
The Most Popular Van For Van Life
Commercial Van Overview
Chances are, if you’re planning to build your own camper van, you’re looking at a commercial van.
The modern commercial van is quickly becoming the most popular van for van life. Their basic, commercial body exterior minimizes attention and offers greater possibilities for stealth camping, making this the perfect vehicle choice for many.
And if you love to customize your own van interior, the commercial van is undoubtedly the best van for you. These vans are a blank canvas and allow you to build your bed, your kitchen, and dinette however which way you want.
These vans also come in a wide range of sizes to suit anybody’s needs. High-roof or low? Long body or short? There’s a van size for everyone.
The Usual Suspects
If you already know you want to purchase a commercial van and simply want to compare the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Transit, or Ram Promaster, check our post: Why We Love Our Ford Transit
These commercial vans arrive, essentially, as an empty slate, allowing you to build exactly the interior you want to fit your van life needs and requirements. Want a bathroom? Or a super large bed? Or a spacious, high-tech work environment? You can have it.
Because of their commercial van exterior, these types of campervans fly under the radar and go unnoticed to most in the general population. But fooling the police and thieves is another thing, so we don’t really recommend sacrificing other features simply to build a 100% stealth campervan.
Commercial vans were made for racking up thousands of miles/kilometers and rough treatment by careless commercial drivers. These robust motors will last you for years.
Commercial vans come simply as themselves; an empty metal shell. This means work is required on your part to build and convert your campervan from the very beginning. Luckily, we have a campervan build tutorial to set you on the right path.
Not the worst of the group, but driving and parking in urban environments can be tricky without practice. Luckily, the smaller commercial vans are much more maneuverable than their larger counterparts.
If the VW Combi campers are on one side of the photogenic spectrum, these commercial vans are on the other side. Unassuming and a tad plain in shape, these campers will have a harder time dazzling on social media.
Why We Love Our Ford Transit Commercial Van
We ended up choosing the Ford Transit commercial van for our camper conversion and after 2+ (and counting!) on the road, we absolutely believe that a commercial van is one of the best vans to live in.
The Kombi Van:
The Most Iconic Van For Van Life
Kombi Van Overview
Is there anything more iconic than traveling in a beautiful VW campervan? The looks, the 60’s authenticity, and the gorgeous Instagram-able content. There’s not much to dislike about choosing this classic and original van life vehicle. Or is there?
Relive the groovy 60’s in style and relish in the jealousy of others. These beautiful campervans look great no matter what angle you take their pictures.
Oftentimes, these vans are already converted with a basic living/sleeping area and kitchen. Pick up a Kombi and you’re good to go.
Simple mechanics means anyone, including yourself, can work to get this vehicle back up and running.
These vehicles are anywhere from 30-60 years old. Meaning these campervans tend to break down often and without notice. Patience is required.
Long-term livability is in question as living quarters are cramped. Impossible to stand and difficult to move around in these vehicles.
At least in the USA, VW campers are in high demand and usually start at $15,000+ for just a basic, unmaintained model.
The Truck Camper:
The Best Hybrid Option For Van Life
Truck Camper Overview
Some people want total 4×4 off-road capabilities. Others prioritize livability with creature comforts from home. But with a truck camper, you can have both.
Those with truck campers can quite literally take their home wherever they want and are only limited to the capabilities of their pick-up truck. Truck campers give you the best of both worlds.
Go wherever your want, whenever you want. We’ve seen truck campers plow through soft, sandy beaches to camp in places few would dare go in other vehicles.
The camper unit is usually constructed by professional mobile camping outfitters. Convenient, functional, and everything just works.
When needed, the truck can separate from the camper unit. This leaves you free to drive your truck anywhere you want without the bulky camper on top.
A truck camper is a tad wider and taller than other camper options and this makes urban maneuverability harder, but not impossible.
These trucks were made for off-road use, not gas efficiency. Lots of driving on endless highway roads can put a dent in your wallet.
Hanging just above the truck’s cab, the sleeping quarters can be a bit tight. Not much room to sit up and relax.
The Most Luxurious Van For Van Life
Professional RV Overview
Luxury on wheels, the professional RV is the mobile home of choice for many in the retirement generation. And for many, the RV is the best van to live in and travel.
Incredibly spacious that includes all the creature comforts from home, these RVs really allow the person to travel farther and longer without missing home. Full-size kitchens, large beds, and a proper living and dining space. These campers have everything you could want.
The professional RV provides a real “home away from home”. Full size sleeping quarters, functional kitchen, and spacious living/dining room. Bring all the creature comforts from home with you.
Worried about bathroom and hygiene issues while traveling? These RVs provide the best bathroom solutions today for those living on the road.
Everything just works. From the plumbing to the electrical, every part of the RV has been built by trained professionals.
Heavy and difficult to drive, these RVs have the least maneuverability of all the camper vehicles listed on this page. Avoid urban settings and small parking lots at all costs.
Big and professionally built means a much larger price tag than other campervan options. Prices can reach into the hundreds of thousands.
Not hard to guess why, these RVs are meant for livability and comfort, not for getting great gas mileage. Expect to pay large sums of cash at the pump, and often.
The 4WD Overland Vehicle:
The Most Adventurous Van For Van Life
4WD Overland Overview
The ultimate overlanding vehicle. This tough and rugged vehicle lets you drive wherever you want. In the cities, on dirt roads, and in dense forests, these vehicles will get you to where you want to go.
More affordable than other campervan options and easier to maintain and work on yourself.
If there is a road, no matter the quality, you can likely drive that road to get where you need to go. These vehicles really are off-road champions.
Depending on outside accessories, these vehicles largely blend in with regular, everyday vehicles. They don’t turn heads nor attract attention.
Interior livability is almost non-existant. Most campervans who drive these vehicles sleep in tents outside.
Because internal space is so limited, everything you do will be outside. This is great for outdoor living, but less so for privacy considerations.
Realistically, how long can you live and travel in an SUV? A few weeks or months, maybe? Though it can technically be done, most people choose not to travel long term in these vehicles.
The Best Van For OUR Van Life Is...
We knew we wanted to be on the road, living in our van for at least 2-4 years while driving from North to South America.
Therefore, when choosing the best van for our van life journey, we prioritized both livability and drivability for our future tiny home vehicle. We wanted to be able to drive not only in rural environments, but also in urban places and small towns and villages with narrow roads.
Lastly, we wanted to build our own campervan from scratch. The opportunity to learn new skills as well as being able to build the perfect camper to meet our needs provided challenges that attracted us.
And though driving off-road on unmaintained roads appealed to us, we felt we could compromise with our 2WD van by outfitting it with some serious All-Terrain Tires for extra traction. We honestly haven’t needed a 4×4 for most places that we’ve visited.
Therefore, when deciding which vehicle was best for our van life adventure, the choice was an easy one. We went with the commercial van.
Related: Why We Love Our Ford Transit Van
Below, you can see how we dissected each vehicle by van life factor to arrive at our choice.
Choosing The Best Vans For Van Life Takes Time
After 2+ years on the road, we believe the commercial van was the right choice for our needs. We have no regrets.
Although we do have camper van conversion mistakes!
But when choosing the right vehicle for yourself, it’s important to list out which aspects of van life are important to you and which you can do without. Only when you sit and write it all down can you select the right campervan for your van life journey.
Prepare Your Negotiations With The Dealership
Once we knew exactly which vehicle we wanted to purchase, we were ready to start preparing for our negotiations with the dealerships.
We put a lot of work into our negotiating prep work but it paid off with a great final price for our Ford Transit. Read our post on Negotiating With The Dealership to learn more.