If you are reading this article, you’re probably dreaming about van life. Being free to travel everywhere and discover the world, pretty much as we do or maybe you have just hit upon the wrong article? If your answer is the first choice, then I can help you out with the same questions I had back in 2012 I was looking for a van and didn’t have a clue.
At that time, I didn’t know anything about this world of ‘livable’ vans but after 5 years of full-time van life with my lovely wife and our dog traveling across the US, Europe and Canada, I’ve acquired some knowledge and I’m here to give you some tips. To van or not to van, this is the question. Which one do you look for and eventually buy? I suggest, first of all, even before opening a web page and starting your research, rent one! Take one weekend, a week or even longer just to testit out and get a feeling for a home on four wheels, the spaces inside, the comfort, driving and the overall lifestyle so you don’t waste your money if it’s kind of ‘not your thing’. I’ve divided the van world into two categories: all of the comforts are just there, ready for you to get in and go live the van life which are mainly panel vans that need your handiwork to make them cozy and comfy In this article, I’ll discuss the first category mainly telling you the pros and cons from my personal experience and give you an overview of some models.
Since the 1950s, Westfalia has been converting VW transporter vans into camper vans. Today, many other companies also do conversions using a wide range of base vehicles. Ours is a 1995 VW T4 with a Westfalia conversion. we simply jumped from our static life to living on the road pretty much from the first day as we didn’t need to do any work inside. There was a fold out bed downstairs, sleeping two more under the pop up roof it has a functional kitchen with two stoves, a fridge, a water tank and a sink it also has storage spaces and a great heating system it was exactly what we needed. Our choice for a short base wheel (his name is Mork by the way) was an accident, but it happened to be the the best one for us because it’s a VW, and for me meant a safe car with a long-term engine it’s also associated with the well-known Westfalia conversion inside and really, because it looks so cool. Our T4 is one of the best selling vans in Europe which makes it easy to find parts and keep it driving well for many years. Below some details of the spec:
4) Sink. 9) Storage (upper) / Cubby hole for gas bottle (lower).
5) Gas cooker, removable. 10) Freshwater tank (lower).
The Volkswagen Westfalia California Coach camper had grey / multicolored speckle furniture with a beech wood colour edging. The upholstery had a grey with multicolored cactus patterned fabric
You can usually find three types of roofs for this kind of van. All the vans with a solid metal top, they have overall heights, less than 2 metres. Usually it makes it easier to pass under low overhead structures. They are usually less expensive options and you can always convert it at a later stage. The downside is the lack of standing space inside the van and that it accommodates only two people like our van. It’s when the top literally ‘pops up’ and creates an additional bed for two or can simply be used for more space in the cabin it’s a good solution for families, with the extra space on top for the kids for example. All the vans with a solid high roof made of fiberglass lots more storage space and you can actually stand up normally inside of course, they are a little bit more expensive.
How much money do I need? Well, in terms of budget this option is affordable. We found ours for 6000 EuroS and it was in really good shape. Usually, even if it’s an old car, the price for these vehicles is pretty high simply because they are reliable but still affordable. It’s not difficult at all to find a good camper van like ours on the market. Lots of them are just waiting for a new owner and the prices are affordable. You’ll be driving a classic symbol of freedom. A lot of people ask to check our van inside, and when they see all of the features they love it. Small camper vans are easy to drive and park they are ok in different road conditions where a bigger vehicle couldn’t even think about going. You can find them either 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive. if you need that extra adventure-type of car all of the iconic VWs start from T3, T4, T5 and more recently T6. In the recent years, companies have started to convert even other vans, like Mercedes, Ford, Mazda and such. Small camper vans are usually pretty low profile and from the outside aren’t clearly recognizable as camper vans. It lets you to sleep in some amazing places without restrictions and deters break ins because it looks so normal. On the other hand, these vans, especially older ones, aren’t fast & furious. You don’t actually need to go fast, since your home is with you. Just enjoy the journey.
these vans are designed to be super-uber functional. Every centimeter counts, in order to create an accessible living space inside. They are very easy to repair. We haven’t had many issues in the last five years perhaps because we do regular maintenance like oil, filters and tune-ups. It helps that the engine is pretty easy to work on. Even if ours is a 2-wheel drive, we’ve taken lots and I mean lots-of dirt roads including some pretty crazy off-road driving. Some of the vans mentioned don’t have any heating system and you need to find a way to keep from freezing. We do have one, but we generally try to avoid going to cold locations in the winter. Use the seasons to get the best out of your van travels. It’s easy, right? In the summer go north and in the winter go south. We do have insulation, even for the pop-up roof, but it’s not the best option if it’s really cold outside. These vans have a good storage space, but even for two you will need to downsize a lot. However, before hitting the road keep only what you think is necessary as far as clothes. Try to be as minimalistick, yet prepared, as you can.
For us it’s actually more a plus, because we can enjoy our drive. We avoid highways and only go on scenic side roads that allow us to discover each State or country in a different way. Of course, if you’re a fast driver you have to deal with slow vehicles like ours that especially on steep roads can go reeeealllly slow. These types of vans haven’t got the space to fit a toilet, but don’t panic, there is always a solution. Most of the people we’ve met simply bought a potty, aka portable toilet. As for the shower, you can read our article about how to stay clean while on the road.
The second option and a more recent one is for the coach built van. These are usually medium-sized and long base wheel vehicles. Inside, they have all of the comforts you need. they’re pretty much like a motorhome. You can find over-cab ones that have an extension of the body over the driving area for more sleeping space, plus a built-in wash room inside with a toilet, shower and sink. You also have the ‘low profile’ coach built campers, where the space over the cabin is used for storage these are very high-end vans and of course you need a pretty fat wallet to afford one.
Let’s check now which features will you actually find in these camper vans. A cooker, typically gas with two burners. A fridge, depending on the model can work on 12V, 220W or gas. A sink, a small one for washing dishes and can be used to clean your hands or face and brush teeth. A toilet, ready-built in the coach built camper van or portable in the conversion one. An electrical system, powered by one or more leisure batteries that charge while you drive or through the main power, plugged externally. for the bed, comfortable for sitting and sleeping, the new models have removable washable covers and curtains to keep the summer sun and curious eyes out.
So, to close, I can seriously say that buying a camper van can change your life in a lot of great ways. We have travel flexibility, freedom and the security of having our home with us.Think about why you want a camper van and what you want from it? Is it just a place to sleep, or is it going to be your office? Is it just you, or do you need to figure out details for each one of you who’ll be living in the van? How much can you spend and how much you have to make modifications? Where do you want to go and what kind of van do you need to do it? Once you’ve sorted that out, you can take confident steps to getting your van and realizing your dream of being on the road. Please click this link for Amazon motorhome buying guides
In another, later article, we’ll take a more in-depth look at DIY vans and a couple of our friends that actually did a great job converting a panel van into cozy places for living. You need more info? Let me know in the comments down below. Don’t forget to give a thumbs up and subscribe if this article was useful or interesting. Safe travels!