🚐 Vanlifer's Guide to Choosing your Van

Uncategorized Mar 03, 2021

First things first, before you can start the design process you’ll have to choose your vehicle, the shell of your soon to be home.

Everyone's version of vanlife will look different and with different needs come different vans.

Whether you will be using it as your main driver, if you plan on going fulltime or being a weekend warrior, whether you will travelling solo or not… and perhaps the most important... the budget...


Short Wheelbase 🚙 vs Long Wheelbase 🚌

Long story short, it basically comes down to choosing between less living space in a short wheelbase van, but an easier time to park your van.

Short Wheelbase Vans

easy parking in cities

affordable

easy to find

less space

Recommended for: weekend warriors, solo travellers, city dwellers, budget travellers

Long Wheelbase Vans

more living space

sleeps more people

more expensive

difficult to park

Recommended for: full-timers, couples & families, nature dwellers

Living space has a large impact on how you experience van life.If you are travelling with a partner, pets or family being able to have your own space and having enough storage is essential to your enjoyment of long term vanlife.

Not saying you can’t enjoy van life in a Short Wheelbase, in some cases we’d even recommend going short, as it is significantly easier to park a Short Wheelbase Van, so if you’re an anxious driver, or if you’re thinking about travelling in Europe, where a lot of cities still have medieval centres with narrow streets that just don’t account for big vans, we’d definitely recommend a shorter van.

You can make your van seem bigger with the right layout and colours, which is why we recommend using vanspace 3D so you can compare different designs and pick the most spacious one.

 

Short Roof Vans vs High Roof Vans

So based on what kind of van lifer you are, you will have to decide whether you want to splurge on a High Roof Van, go Short Roof Van, or Maybe even go in-between with a pop-top.

Short Roof Vans

underground parking

affordable

easy to find

less space

no standing height

Recommended for: weekend warriors, city dwellers, budget travellers

Short Roof Vans w/ Pop Top

 underground parking

 standing height when needed

 can be expensive to install

 less stealthy

 less insulated

Recommended for: weekend warriors, city dwellers, budget travellers

High Roof Vans

standing height

more space

more expensive

difficult to find parking

Recommended for: full-timers, nature dwellers, couples & families

The biggest advantage of high roof vans is that you will (most likely) be able to stand up straight, which might seem like a small benefit but if you plan on doing van life for longer periods of time it is a huge relief to be able to stretch out in the van on a rainy day. The higher roof also means more space for storage, upper cabinets, wardrobes are suddenly a possibility.

The downside of having a high roof van is that underground parking is pretty much impossible, if you plan on a lot of city dwelling or wanting to live downtown then it will definitely complicate the parking situation and might be better to opt for a short roof van.

Which is also one of the biggest benefits of short roof vans, you can park in underground parking and depending on the area you are in you will be super stealthy as most campers usually have a high roof. You could also opt for a low roof van with a pop-top which will allow you to stand up when the roof is up but will also cost you a lot of stealth points as it will be super obvious that there is someone inside.

If you are located in Europe you are in luck, high roof vans have been around since forever so there will be a lot of affordable second-hand high roof vans available. In North America or in Australia finding an affordable high roof van is a bit more of a challenge and they are usually decently expensive. You might have to wait for the perfect van a bit longer of consider getting a van on payments (we don’t recommend financing a van unless you’ve had previous experience and you know that you’ll use the van for a long time).

  

4WD vs 2WD

To splurge on 4WD or not, depending on where you are located and what kind of van life you are planning for, will determine whether 4WD is worth it.

4WD Vans

beach, off-roading, snow

ready for anything

more expensive

difficult to find, long waiting lists

2WD Vans

cheaper

easy to find

some areas are only accessible with 4WD

no dreamy van life at the beach pictures


If you plan on a lot of off-roading, want to drive on the beach or if you live or travel in areas with heavy snow, then a 4WD is the way to go.

If you stick more to the conventional areas, cities and campgrounds you probably don’t need a 4WD and you can save a lot of money by opting for a 2WD van instead.

We have had both, in Canada we had a 2WD Sprinter Van and for our second van build in Australia we had a 4WD Delica, which we were super excited about, but we ended up using the 4WD a lot less than we thought, so for us it's not really worth the premium and in the Netherlands, we ended up going with another 2WD Van.

 

Stealth vs No Stealth

Okay so this is something we’ve discussed a lot with fellow van dwellers and as not all countries allow for sleeping in your vehicle and this is something we recommend you take into account when buying your van.

Stealth

hidden from the world

private

no windows

no awning

Not Stealth

windows for natural light

can add awnings, bike racks etc.

less private

might get kicked or fined out if sleeping in your car is prohibited in your area

A stealth camper essentially is a hidden camper, the outside will look like any work van, but on the inside, you have your little home. Usually, you would have no windows, no awning and no visible solar.

If you plan on visiting areas where you are not allowed to sleep in your vehicle we would always recommend going stealth. It gives peace of mind knowing no one will ever suspect that you’re there and it will most likely prevent you from getting in trouble with the law.

Cargo vans without windows are the most stealthy because people can’t peek through the windows to see if someone is sleeping there and also there will be no light escaping at night.

Tip: If you add a skylight to your windowless van, you can still get necessary daylight, but people won’t be able to see that you are living in your van so no one will be able to kick you out or fine you.

If you are in an area where van-dwelling is allowed, or you plan on sticking to campgrounds it might be nice to opt for a van with windows. Your van will be a bit less insulated and you might lose a bit of privacy but in return, you can have a view and lots of natural light. A passenger van has a lot of windows, which is perfect if you don’t want to cut extra holes in your van to add windows yourself, but you will have some extra work having to take out all the seats.

Tip: if you opt for a windowed van we would definitely recommend investing in some good insulating curtains so you can block the sunlight and feel private in your home.

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