Choosing The Perfect Van For Your Van Life Adventures

Before embarking on your van life adventure, it’s crucial to select the ideal van that will align with your unique values and aspirations. This choice goes beyond choosing the first cargo van—Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter Van, or Dodge Ram Van—available. Besides cargo vans, there are a lot of other options you may consider to get started with van life travels.

A few things we will look at in this piece are the different types of vans, your aspirations for choosing to be a part of the “van life” movement, your lifestyle, your personality, and of course your budget. All of these things ought to be considered when choosing a van.

Preparing for Life on the Road

Preparing for life on the road is no easy task. There are a lot of moving parts—no pun intended—when transitioning into the van life lifestyle. You’ll want to evaluate your priorities, challenge your mindset, and look at your personality traits to predict potential pitfalls.

A “van life” mindset isn’t about escaping reality, but determining a new reality. It’s about freedom, flexibility, personal growth, and adventure. Van lifers embrace the unknown, go after personal growth, and learn to be resourceful humans.

As a part of the preparation process, it’s important to look inward and ask yourself what you’re most looking forward to and what you’re most nervous about?

Look beyond the fear of a dreamy camper van conversion, and to the actual van life itself. Don’t obsess over your fears, but be aware of the potential van life challenges, so your brain can start working in the background to solve the problems.

Here are a few mindset tweaks that are needed for your transition to full time van life.

  • Move from a wants-based mindset to a needs-based mindset.
  • Move from a busy life to embracing silence and pondering.
  • Move from being inside to enjoying outside.
  • Move from hiring things done to being resourceful.
  • Move from routine locations toward healthy habits.
  • Move from expecting everything to work out to expecting the unexpected.
  • Move from having excess to a life with less clutter.

While these aren’t the only mindset tweaks you’ll need, they are a great starting place. They might seem daunting at first, but you’ll quickly find immense freedom in these simple adjustments.

Planning Your Route

Woman sitting inside her van planning her route on a map.

Still before you get looking at all the vans available, determining the right size van, and having the converted van of your dreams, you’ll want to plan your ideal route. The reason you’ll want to plan your dream route is because this will help you figure out what kind of travel you are going to embrace when you transition to life in a van full time.

In your van search, you might hear there is such a thing as the perfect van for your van conversion dreams. But the best vans to live in are largely determined by where you want to go, the style of travel you want, and the type of indoor living space you’ll require.

When planning your dream route, you’ll want to look at whether you picture yourself hiding out in the city, racking up highway miles and chasing the good weather, or escaping the hustle and bustle in the mountains and remote parts of the country.

Hiding in Plain Sight

If you are trying to visit the best cities in North America, you might be more concerned about hiding in plain sight—a.k.a. stealth camping. You are wanting to blend in with the surroundings, maybe park in parking garages, or even spend a week on the city streets without getting the dreaded knock—telling you to move your vehicle.

The best van for this type of camper van conversion is much different than other options. If you want to try stealth camping, you might choose from fleet vehicles, a conversion van, or a cargo van like an old Amazon van or contractor’s work van. These will often blend in well and can be great value buys over other vans. And they can be some of the best vans to live in.

Another style to consider is a mini van, euro style van, or other modern vehicles that locals might drive on a daily basis. All of these things ought to be considered when trying to blend into cities.

A few popular options for blending in might be common panel vans, a Ford Transit, the smaller Ford Transit Connect, Mercedes Sprinter vans, or any Ford van like the Ford E Series vans.

A couple sleeper options are the Chevy Astro, older conversion vans, or any of the old panel vans.

Man standing by his van parked in the city.

Chasing the Sun

Some people see finding a van to live in as a way to chase the sunshine and good times. With this lifestyle, you might find yourself hitting up different festivals across the country, traveling mountain range to mountain range, coast to coast, or even “mooch docking” at different family members’ homes across the country.

This lifestyle’s priorities might choose a van that includes good gas mileage, front wheel drive, storage, or flexibility. If you are wanting to check out Burning Man, the International Balloon Fiesta, or dip your toes in every body of water in North America, this could be you.

Quickly map out these different locations, determine how much space you want to have, and you’ll quickly start zeroing in on the best vans for you. You’ll likely choose a camper van that will let you express yourself and let the good times roll.

A few great options for this life are cargo vans or passenger vans like a Mercedes Sprinter, a Ford Transit, or a Ram ProMaster. Wanting something more compact and nimble? Try the Ford Transit Connect! But if you aren’t afraid of an old van, look at the Euro Style vans, other classic vans, a conversion van, or the VW Vanagon.

Remote Places

The best vans to live in for those looking to get away from it all might not prioritize gas mileage as much as ground clearance, ruggedness, dependability, and affordability.

People looking to get away from it all ought to look for an all wheel drive or at least a rear wheel drive van. They might also consider a diesel engine over a gas engine.

There is a chance you’ll be crossing creeks, climbing over uneven terrain, and venturing off road to places others won’t be able to access. So the four wheel drive, extra ground clearance over the front and rear axle, and torque from the diesel engine could help flesh out your dream van and your new van life.

Some of the best vans that offer these features include the previously mentioned Sprinter vans, Ford Transit vans, and older conversion vans—though they lack interior cargo space for modern camper vans.

More affordable van options for your camper van conversion include the GMC Savana and Chevy Express. If you are open to a used van and want to save some money, you could look at the Ford Econoline van, Chevy Astro, or older van that catches your eye.

Start Planning and Stay Flexible

Once you have your own van, it is time to get started. Chances are that you’ll want a blend of these different options. Don’t be afraid to just get started, but don’t neglect the mindset needed.

Charting your course is an exhilarating part of the adventure, as it’s your road map to undiscovered places and unexpected experiences. This journey of yours isn’t just about reaching a destination, but about savoring every bit of life along the way.

When you’re penciling out your route, think not only about where you want to end up, but also what scenic detours might enrich your expedition.

Having route flexibility is key in van life travel. Keep in mind that some of the most memorable moments won’t be found on a map or planned itinerary, they will come from spontaneous decisions and chance encounters. Therefore, plan for detours; allow yourself the freedom to change direction if something interesting catches your eye.

While mapping out your trip don’t forget to consider rest stops and overnight parking areas too. Don’t push yourself too hard; remember this isn’t a race, but an exploration of the land and the depths of your own existence—each moment contributing to your grand adventure.

To Summarize

Choosing the best van for you takes a lot of things into consideration. Some of the most popular options overall are the Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, and Ram ProMaster. But that doesn’t mean they are the only options.

Be sure to consider your budget, fuel economy, storage space, plus the pros and cons of gas engines vs. diesel engines.

Look to see what is on the van market in your area.

Safety Considerations

Keeping yourself safe and secure should be high on your priority list when you’re hitting the road alone. The freedom of solo van life is exhilarating, but it also means you need to take extra steps for personal protection.

Here are some considerations, before you venture out on your own:

  • Invest in some personal protection like pepper gel for when you sense a threat.
  • Can a loud whistle to alert those around you and scare off potential threats.
  • Keep your first aid kit stocked and easily accessible.
  • Make sure you communicate your travel plans with loved ones, but not on social media.

Additionally, don’t forget to program emergency contacts into your phone. And be aware of local authorities, roadside assistance services, and loved ones who could help in case of an emergency.

Have a good relationship with a mechanic who knows your vehicle. This can help by having a resource to call from the road for troubleshooting.

Find people in your life who can help you see the quality of your mental health. Remember that while solitude might be part of the charm of van life travels; isolation isn’t.

Safety doesn’t mean sacrificing spontaneity or adventure though; quite the contrary!

With these precautions in place, you’ll have peace of mind that allows for more enjoyment on the road. Now let’s dive into how to fully embrace this unique experience to its fullest potential: making every moment count during your journey!

Making the Most Out of Your Journey

A couple enjoying a fire near a lake as their van is parked nearby.

Your van life journey isn’t just about getting from point A to B—it’s also a voyage of personal growth. Each new destination offers fresh experiences, unique cultures to immerse yourself in, and breathtaking vistas that become your morning view.

Embrace minimalist living during this journey. The beauty of van life is its simplicity—you’re freed from the constraints of material possessions and excess baggage. Focus instead on collecting memories rather than things. This lifestyle allows you to declutter not only your physical space but also your mind—giving room for introspection, creativity, and peace.

Remember that this epic adventure is yours alone; don’t rush it or let others dictate how you should travel. Take detours if they intrigue you. Pause when you find a spot that resonates with you. Absorb its essence before moving forward.

Your van journey is as much an exploration of your inner self as it is of the world outside. So take time to reflect, learn, grow—and above all else—enjoy every mile driven on this incredible road called life.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I stay connected with family and friends during my van journey?

Staying connected on the road isn’t always easy. But scheduling consistent anchor days to stay connected with loved ones can help. Another option is to build in weeks or even months where you visit family and friends. You might be surprised how your connections transition with your new life on the road.

What are some essential self-care tips for van travelers?

Prioritize mental health. You’ll often get more exercise and fresh air due to the limitations of your camper van’s space.

What are some strategies to deal with loneliness or boredom during a solo trip?

Being on the road in your passenger van without passengers can lead to loneliness. Eat right, communicate with loved ones via video, and exercise. Cut back on social media and the comparison trap. Also, you might consider getting a therapist to help navigate this transition.

How can I maintain a healthy diet while on the road?

Hit up roadside farming stands for fresh produce, it’s a great way to eat healthy on the road. Invest in portable cooking gear to whip up your own nutritious meals. Embrace this culinary freedom!

Can I work or study while traveling in a van? How can I manage this?

Absolutely! Embrace the digital nomad lifestyle with a mobile office setup in your van. Stay disciplined, manage time wisely, and ensure a reliable internet connection. Your road to freedom and productivity awaits you!

Your Van Life Voyage Awaits

Venturing valiantly on a van life voyage, remember these riveting recommendations. Choose your chariot carefully, plot your path prudently, prep for the pavement passionately, stay safe and savor each splendid stop. This solo sojourn springs spectacular stories! Soak in the sights, spin some yarns, and seize this sensational opportunity to learn about life and love yourself more. Savvy soloists—start your engines!

Kyle Arnold

Published in December


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