How to Choose A Campervan for the Best Van Life

How to Choose A Campervan for the Best DIY Conversion

Before even thinking about how you will convert your van, you have to figure out how to choose a campervan that is the right type of vehicle for you and your DIY conversion. 

It all depends on your needs, preferences, budget and lifestyle – which we will break down in this guide. Let us help you find the perfect van for you to embark on your vanlife journey!

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How to Choose a Campervan Look

Stealth vs. Classic

In understanding how to choose a campervan, the look of the van is an obvious criteria. It is what draws us in the first place to a certain vehicle.

We’ve all seen epic-looking vehicles such as the VW Kombi (T2) or the Chevy Van, but beyond that, we have to decide whether these vans would be right for us in terms of reliability, practicality, price, but also in terms of parking safety and discretion (i.e. what a classic VW van doesn’t have, despite being gorgeous).

Here are some points to take note of below in how to choose a campervan look, when deciding between a more classic or more stealth camper.

  • Classic looking vans are awesome if you plan your adventures carefully,stay mostly in nature instead of cities and are more geared towards weekenders or seasonal vanlifers.
  • A stealth van, such as a cargo/work van will be more discrete in urban environments or if you want to park in residential areas and not be noticed.
  • It’s especially true for full time vanlifers, who will have to park on parking lots at some point, to run errands or get better connectivity.  Speaking of being discrete, the amount of windows is also a criteria to take into account: while it’s ideal to enjoy the beach view or feel in nature within your cocoon, it’s not really great for insulation or privacy.
How to Choose A Campervan for the Best DIY Conversion

How to Choose a Campervan Size

Comfort vs. Freedom

Choosing the right size of van can be a tough choice. We would say that it’s a matter of compromise.

Here are some of the key points to consider on how to choose a campervan size when thinking about comfort vs. freedom:

  • If you decide to travel in colder regions or where it rains a lot, you’ll have to spend more time in your van. In that case, you are more likely to want a cozy house on wheels instead of feeling like camping every night.
  • It depends what kind of person you are (ex. enjoys home comfort or cooking) and the type of activities you like doing while traveling. A larger van might prove itself useful to store gear (bikes, paddleboards).
  • On the other hand, a smaller vehicle will be more convenient, as it will offer more parking and route options. Some locations, especially in Europe, have height restrictions for beachfront spots. You can also reach off road tracks with a small 4X4 vehicle for instance.If you consider comfort as the possibility to make your garden anywhere or not having to plan your stops, go for a smaller van.

How to Choose a Campervan for Van Life

Seasonal vs. Full time Vanlifers

In how to choose a campervan, thinking about what kind of vanlifer are you joins the size and look questions but in a different perspective.

This tackles how often you will be using or living in your campervan, let’s look at the different types below:

  • Full time van lifers are more likely to want a larger van where you can at least stand up to cook, lounge comfortably or possibly work. Comfort matters as this is sometimes their only home. As said earlier, being stealth also matters as your parking spots won’t always be glamorous.
  • On the other hand, weekenders or seasonal vanlifers have other constraints, such as parking the van when not traveling or might have the need of a daily driver.
  • Also, not being able to stand in your van is totally fine if you only want to enjoy outdoor adventures during the warmer months. You can even find hacks to increase your livable space.

Budgeting for a Campervan

Affordable vs. Modern (but still reliable)

Lastly, budget is what ultimately matters when considering how to choose  campervan.

You have to take into account the conversion costs after buying the van itself, how much savings you had for this purpose and what use you’ll make of it.

  • A brand new Mercedes Sprinter might seem a great choice as it has a big payload, a large size, but still narrow enough, and reliable.
  • The problem is that Sprinters are usually costly and you might not have anything left for your conversion. Plus, the goal of vanlife is to discover more of your surroundings in a different way and at a fraction of the cost of a traditional holiday. We don’t really see the point in splurging.
  • Now, of course, nobody wants a van that breaks down or a rust bucket. We believe the right balance is in between: something used but in good shape and some DIY conversion to lower down the bill.
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Best Vans for Van Life

Affordable vs. Modern

Let’s take a few scenarios and guide you through a bunch of vehicle examples that you can consider when thinking about how to choose a campervan that’s the perfect fit for you and your DIY conversion:

  • A stealth/big/affordable van for full-time living: Iveco Daily, Mercedes Sprinter (older models), Renault Master (older models)
  • A classic/small/affordable van for seasonal use: GMC Savannah – Dodge Chevy (US), VW T3
  • A classic/big/affordable for full-time living: Any retro RV, Mercedes 207D (EU)
  • A stealth/big/modern for full-time living: Mercedes Sprinter, Ram Promaster (US) – VW Crafter, Fiat Ducato, Renault Master (EU)
  • A stealth/small/affordable van for seasonal use: Ford Econoline (US), VW T4 (our own), T5, Renault Traffic, Mercedes Vito (EU)

Conclusion: How to Choose a Campervan?

Finding the best van to start your van life adventures isn’t an easy thing: you have to figure out what you want and it’s not easy when you’ve never tried living in a van (which is why we’d suggest renting one first). 

You also need to be sure of what you buy when getting a second hand vehicle (bringing a mechanic friend and finding a trustworthy seller is key). We hope these thoughts will help you narrow down how to choose a campervan.

What about you? Do you own a van? What is it like and would you have any other tips for our readers on how to choose a campervan? Please let us know in the comments below!

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11 thoughts on “How to Choose A Campervan for the Best Van Life”

  1. I just screenshotted the scenarios at the end of your article for future reference, so thank you! Your blog touches on all the questions I’m working through right now as an aspiring van-lifer. I didn’t think about the size of the van relative to the season I’ll be traveling in – that’s a great tip! Seasonal travel also might make things a bit easier… thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Chloe! To sum it up, size really matters whether it’s your full-time home or just a way to travel on weekends and holidays (or any extended trip). Please let us know if you ever need tips. 😊

  2. Van life is my big dream, born in Tenerife when I lived in an island’s cave a few years ago. I know that people have unrealistic expectations for van life as it is commonly associated with glamorous images on social media. I do not own a van yet, so your informative tips are helpful to me.

    1. It must be a dream to explore Tenerife in a van (and maybe stay in the north of the island where the weather is milder). We did it with a rental car more than 10 years ago with family and it was already so much fun!

  3. Buying a Campervan/motorhome and traveling through a country has always appealed to me but since I don’t like(almost hate) driving, it never really workout. I need to find someone who can drive and I can manage other things haha. Greatly detailed post.

  4. To bring a mechanic friend when you’re shopping for a used van is a great idea. I’ve never thought about it. A couple of times we turned our minivan to a camper van for a camping trip. We couldn’t do much since our son and dog sat on the back seat. But it was a good transformation for a weekend.

  5. This is such an important part of the planning when living a van life. Choosing the right campervan makes a huge difference. I want to live a van life someday and I really have been reading a lot of blogs and information so I can plan. Thanks for this article, it clarifies some of my questions.

  6. This post educated me on the various types of campervans. I honestly did not even know the various types – big or small and what one should consider when hiring or buying it. You really have broken it down well. Amazing post!

  7. Great post guys, you really break it down for the noobs. The one part I would comment on is the need to be “stealth”. We have been living in our Toyota Sunrader (20-foot camper) for over 4 years now…and we sleep in cities/towns/libraries/parking areas a LOT. and as long as you follow the rules (which we do) we have only been “knocked on” 2 times in 4 years (both times because we missed the “no overnight parking” signs. so i think the idea that you need to be stealth (unless of course you are living in a city full-time in your van, that to me is the only time you need to be steath).

    That said, love the post, and your blog guys!

  8. This is quite an insightful post about campervans and life in a van. While I have a wish to just get a van for myself and start travelling, I also realise that there are many things to take into consideration. This post answers a number of my queries.

  9. It’s my dream to own a campervan someday! I don’t live in a country where there’s a lot to explore unfortunately and owning a campervan here can be expensive as well will have to be seasonal because the summer is too hot to explore and camp outside. Also, there is not much nature around here except desert and it’s a really small country (the UAE) geographically. But I love how practical and informative your tips & suggestions are. Thanks !

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