Choosing a Vehicle for Life on the Road

When we decided we wanted to live on the road, we didn’t understand our options- but along the way have learned about some of the fast or cheap ways to hit the road. This overview may help you decide how you want to get going.

#MidsizeSedanLife: Sleep out of your current car. With a fold-down rear seat this can be quite comfortable, otherwise plan on tenting. We have friends who’ve lived out of a Toyota Prius for 3-4 months!

  • Cost: Free, if you have a car
  • Pros: Fast and easy way to hit the road.
  • Cons: No headroom, constantly repacking, not comfortable in the rain or cold
Full-size living in a small-size package

Minivan: The ultimate stealth camper, with seats removed a minivan can fit a bed, gear storage, and a kitchen while still getting good fuel economy and easily being parked anywhere. Think of it as the affordable DIY alternative to a Eurovan!

  • Cost: $0-12k
  • Pros: Cheap, good fuel economy, stealth
  • Cons: Limited space, limited headroom, no 4×4 option
Minivan conversion- it’s basically a VW van, right?

Covered truck bed: A covered truck bed is the perfect size for sleeping in… Cook on the tailgate, stash your gear under your bed, and enjoy unfettered four wheel drive freedom for a cheap cost- particularly if you already have a truck!

  • Cost: $0-20k
  • Pros: Cheap four-wheel drive living, high clearance
  • Cons: Limited space, limited headroom, uncomfortable in rain
Truck bed camper conversion: cheap high-clearance 4WD

Truck camper: If you own a truck and want comfortable off-road living, there’s a wide variety of campers designed to sit in your tuck bed and provide all the comforts of home. These are popular amongst offroaders in Baja, backcountry skiers in Alaska, and fishermen around the country. Find a used camper in good condition, and this can be an affordable way to get four-wheel-drive comfort, and the sky’s the limit on the amenities this can offer.

  • Cost: $10-30k
  • Pros: Cheap 4WD living with all the comforts; good market for used campers
  • Cons: Limited customization options, limited gear storage, fuel economy
We’ve seen a lot of truck campers at ski resorts we visit along the way

Tow-along camper: If you don’t want to buy a new vehicle but don’t want to live out of your sedan/SUV, there’s a wide variety of tow-along campers for mobile living, from tiny teardrop campers to the ingenious A-liner to larger campers. Mobility, parking, and stealth camping options may be limited, but they give you additional freedom by allowing you to do nimble day trips from a base camp without worrying about rattling all your possessions.

  • Cost: $10-30k
  • Pros: Convenience
  • Cons: Difficulty parking/offroading, no stealth option
Scamp fiberglass camper towed by a Subaru Forester

VW vans: Volkswagen vans have a cult following, and are the source of many vanlife dreams and websites. We spent some time looking into these, before ultimately deciding against a VW due to the limited space, high cost, and high maintenance needs of the older vans.

  • Original VW Bus (1949-78): The iconic #vanlife image, this van sparked a million road trips, but is now an expensive collectors’ item with a finicky engine and limited storage space. This is a great option if you love working on your engine and want to live the slow-paced roadtrip dream in warm climates (there’s limited space for insulation).
  • Vanagon Westfalia (1979-1992): These boxy ‘Westy’ vans aren’t going to be mistaken with their eye candy brethren, but have become the hotbed of current #vanlife Instagrammers. Their popularity means that these are still surprisingly expensive (expect to pay >$20k for a Westy, and >$50k for the 4WD ‘Syncro’ variant) but their age means that they are still plagued with mechanical issues in the engine, chassis, and conversion parts. Uphill speeds are limited unless you spend an extra $20k replacing retrofitting a Subaru engine to your van.
  • Eurovan (1992 onwards): More mechanically reliable than its predecessors and more affordable, due to the lack of a cult following. These are practical but limited .

 

Conversion Vans: These vans were originally built as bare-metal commercial vehicles, but have been converted into live-in vehicles either professionally or by a do-it-yourself enthusiast like ourselves. We chose this route because we could build a custom design that fit all outdoors gear at a reasonable price (all-in cost of the finished van of <$20k).  There’s also a strong market for used conversion vans, which can offer a quick and convenient way of jumping into the lifestyle, at a variety of price points.

Our post on conversion van options provides an overview of  conversion options and van details, with their pros and cons.

  • Cost: $20-100k+
  • Pros: Wide variety of designs, DIY possibilities, options for most different budgets and needs
  • Cons: New professional buildout much more expensive than other options, limited 4WD options
photo of sprinter van
Our T1N sprinter conversion van

RVs, mobile homes, recreational vehicles: If you dream of touring Route 1 in a Winnebago or are jealous of musicians’ tour buses, this is the way to go. Unconstrained by the walls and wheelbase of a conventional vehicle, these offer the most space and ‘feels-like-home’ comfort. Because they often have flat walls and standard parts, they can also be relatively easy to refurbish, modify, and expand. With a long production history, there’s a huge market in used vehicles- though older vehicles may have body rust, water leaks, and mechanical problems.

  • Cost: $5-300k+
  • Pros: Lots of space, wide variety of options, endless amenities, strong used market
  • Cons: Limited mobility, low fuel economy, parking, no stealth option
There’s a very, very large market of used RVs out there…

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