🚐 Vanlifer's Guide to Choosing your Van

Uncategorized Mar 03, 2021

First things first: Before starting the design process, you'll have to choose your vehicle. 

Everyone's version of "vanlife" will look different, and with different needs come different vans. For example, if you plan on using your van as your primary driver, you'll have different needs than someone who plans on only taking it out on weekends. Similarly, whether you will be traveling solo or with family can significantly impact which van is right for you. 



There are many factors to consider when choosing between a short wheelbase van and a long wheelbase. Still, one of the main considerations is how much living space you need. 

Living space has a significant impact on how comfortable it can be to live in your van. For example, suppose you're planning for an extended trip with another person (or two!). In that case, having enough personal space and storage will ensure that everyone has a great time!

If you would like to park relatively easily in tight spaces like city centers or if you're an anxious driver, we'd definitely recommend going with a shorter wheelbase.  

You can make your van seem more spacious with the correct decor. That's why we recommend using vanspace 3D so you can compare different designs and pick the most spacious one for your "home on wheels."


Short Wheelbase Vans

✅ easy parking in cities

✅ affordable

✅ easy to find

❌ less space

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

Long Wheelbase Vans

✅ more living space

✅ sleeps more people

❌ more expensive

❌ difficult to park

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



Not everyone will be the same type of vanlifer. The roof height is probably one of the deciding factors for any vandweller. Based on your unique vanlife needs, you'll have to decide whether to go for a short roof or a high roof van. 

The height will allow you to stand up straight inside your home, which might seem trivial. Still, if you plan on doing vanlife for more extended periods, 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 a high-roof van is that underground parking will be nearly impossible. For example, suppose you were to live downtown; no access to underground parking would make city dwelling quite challenging.  

If you are located in Europe, high roof vans have been around forever, so there will be lots of affordable secondhand ones available. Finding a secondhand high roof van is a bit more challenging and generally more costly if you're in North America or Australia. You might need to search longer, but as long as the van has enough space, it should be worth waiting until your perfect find appears; alternatively, consider getting a new van on payments (we don't recommend financing them unless you've had previous experience with them)


Short Roof Vans

✅ underground parking

✅ affordable

✅ easy to find

❌ less space

❌ no standing height

Recommended for: weekend warriors, city dwellers, budget travelers

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 travelers

High Roof Vans

 standing height

 more space

 more expensive

 difficult to find parking

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


4WD vs. 2WD

Which is better? Well, it depends on where you live and what kind of vanlife you're planning for. 4WD vans are great if your plans involve off-roading or snow, and in that case, the benefits far outweigh paying more upfront.

We have had both; in Canada, we had a 2WD Sprinter Van. For our second van build in Australia, we had a 4WD Delica, which we were super excited about. Still, 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.


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 vanlife at the beach pictures



Did you know that vanlife or sleeping in your vehicle is illegal in some countries? This is one of the reasons it is important to discuss whether to get a stealth camper or not.

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

The upside of going full stealth mode includes being hidden from view, no worries about nosy neighbors or cops knocking (it happens!).

If you plan on visiting areas where you are not allowed to sleep in your vehicle, we would always recommend going stealth. 

Tip: If you add a skylight to your windowless van, it'll make the inside feel brighter and less claustrophobic. It also adds that nice touch of sunlight streaming in from above -- all without compromising privacy or attracting unwanted attention!


If you are in a vanlife-friendly area or plan on sticking to campgrounds, it might be nice to opt for a van with windows. 

You might want to consider a passenger van so you can have the windows with the view without having to install the windows yourself. That is unless you don't mind putting holes in your van, but if you ask us, we'd much rather take out some extra chairs than install windows ourselves. 

Tip: invest in some good insulating curtains so you can block the sunlight and feel private in your home.



✅ 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


We hope you found this guide helpful in your search for a new van. Click here for part 2.

vanspace 3D can help you design the perfect vehicle to meet all of your needs and desires, so if you’re ready to start designing, then click here!


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