A camper van is an excellent choice for those looking to travel lightly in a small vehicle. It’s a great option for traveling long distances with greater ease than it would be in a larger vehicle. Camper vans have become popular as unique and amazing van conversions have been shared online through social media and other means.
A camper van can either be a custom DIY type of van or it could be one that you have purchased from a reputable manufacturer that has already been converted. Either way, you end up with a small home-on-wheels that you can either use for camping or living in for short periods of time. It might even serve as your primary living residence as you travel the country where you live or even beyond the borders of your own country.
A van makes a great vehicle for those who are not satisfied with the status quo and are looking to pave their own path and travel to new and exciting places. If this sounds like you, then perhaps a camper van would be the choice for you. There are a lot of great things about owning a camper van but as with anything, there are some caveats that go along with it.
After traveling in my camper van for a few years now, I have put together a list of pros and cons that might help you decide whether this lifestyle is the way to go or not. Of course, everyone’s pros and cons list will be different but this is my experience throughout the time that I have traveled and enjoyed some adventure.
1.) They are Small and Easy To Drive
If you look at other options on the market, a camper van stands out as one of the easiest ways to drive a home-on-wheels. Due to its small size, you can easily travel anywhere you want without being concerned with whether you will fit into a place. Camper vans generally range from 18-25 feet in total length and can fit into nearly any location that you choose to park. Even a large van will be easier to drive and park than a larger class of RV.
An average-size camper van can fit into a standard parking space with no problem. You can pull into a parking lot and park beside other cars just as if you were in a passenger vehicle. I have done this many times as I have pulled into a store parking lot or a restaurant. Once parked, I can pick up my takeout order from the restaurant and then come back out and eat my meal in my van just like I’m at home.
If you are looking for something easy and small to travel in, a van will be one of the best choices that you can find. There are smaller choices of campers on the market but none that contain a drivable living area all in one structure.
2. They Provide an All-in-One Solution
As mentioned previously, there are smaller options, but those smaller options are usually trailers or truck campers that require you to have a separate vehicle to use them. Having a living area and a driving area in one space allows you to go from the driver’s seat to your living area without ever going outside. This can be beneficial when the weather is bad or safety is a concern.
Beyond that, the pure convenience of this is probably the biggest benefit.
3. They Get Great Gas Mileage
For the most part, camper vans get great gas mileage and are going to be much better than any other types of motorhomes. In comparison, a Class A or Class C motorhome has more weight to haul and requires more work from the engine which in turn uses more gas along the way. The compact size of a camper van allows it to travel lighter and use less gas in the process. This is great news for those who want to spend less on fuel and perhaps do something better for the environment.
You can expect to get around 20 MPG in most modern camper vans as this is what I have averaged throughout all of my travels with my RAM Promaster van. Most newer models of vans are very fuel-efficient and will give you a great way to travel without worrying about high-priced gas bills.
4. Easy To Remain Stealthy
Whether you are looking to be stealthy or not, traveling in a camper van will be a way to travel that doesn’t make you stick out like a sore thumb. Being able to park easily in parking lots and other locations allows you to park without getting lots of attention from others. Depending on what your van looks like, people may not even think twice about it and they may just assume it is another work van of some kind.
Being stealthy like this allows you to pull into a parking lot, move from the driver’s area to the living area without anyone knowing. You can then eat meals, take a nap, watch TV, or whatever else you like. I have done this many times during daytime hours. As people are coming and going, I’m enjoying life in my little home without anyone even knowing.
5. They Are Fun
Having a camper van is so much fun! It gives you a way to pack up and go on a trip easily without having to fuss around with large cumbersome vehicles. I have had so much fun over the years in my van as I have been able to travel places I would not have gone otherwise. If I had to pull a larger RV around, I would not have as much interest in going to some of the places I have been to.
While the living space of a large RV can be inviting, moving it from place to place is nowhere near as easy.
It’s a fun experience pulling into a secluded location knowing that your van is fully decked out as a fully-functional home environment that allows you all the conveniences of our modern-day lives, yet be secluded in nature.
I look forward to every time I go on a trip.
6. They Are Convenient
We’ve already discussed how small and easy-to-drive a van is, which goes along with the overall convenience of the camper van. Once you get to a location, you just pull in and everything is done. This is unlike a larger RV that is going to take more work to get it set up and leveled. With a travel trailer, you’ll have to do more work to get it all set up by connecting and disconnecting from your vehicle.
A camper van is a walk in the park. It’s so convenient to pull into a location and not have to do anything. You can simply turn the key off and you are home as long as the place is level.
I have been to locations where warnings were given for RVs over a certain size not being able to fit or get in and out of a location. I did not have to worry about this knowing that my van will be fine.
7. They Are Safer Than Other Options
A camper van will provide some safety because it will allow you to shimmy out of a sketchy situation rather quickly. If you happen to be parked in an area where you don’t feel comfortable, all you need to do is jump in the driver’s seat, turn the key and take off.
This might be a little more difficult with a larger motorhome and especially with a trailer that needs to be re-connected to your vehicle. A pop-up camper will need to be broken down, a truck camper will require you to get out of the living space and walk around the vehicle into the driver’s area.
All of these things will put you at risk of having to get out of the vehicle in an area that may not be safe to do so. With a van, you never have to leave the living space and can remain more protected. While I have never encountered a situation like this, it’s always in the back of my mind when I travel. I try to always park in a way that will allow me to escape easily if needed.
8. They Provide a Small Space for Limited Stuff
One might initially think that the small size of a van is a con. However, I believe it to be more of a benefit because it only gives you space for limited stuff. You can easily clear the clutter from your life when you have less space to clutter up.
Traveling lightly with fewer belongings frees you up to enjoy the experience even more. It takes a burden off your shoulders, gives you limited options to decide on, and allows you to simplify your life. This doesn’t mean that you have to do without but it allows you to prioritize those things which are most important to you while leaving the not-so-important things behind.
9. They Make a Great Conversation Starter
I’ve never been on a trip when someone didn’t approach me about my van conversion. Anytime I have been parked in a more public location with my side door open, I get the occasional passers-by who like what they see and want to ask questions. It could be someone who wants to do the same thing or has always dreamed of the lifestyle. It might even be other van lifers who can spot another one a mile away.
Whoever they may be, once people have caught a glimpse inside your van’s living area, you are likely to have some conversations about it. This can certainly be welcoming on the road as you are often secluded from others. The occasional conversation can help to overcome loneliness.
1. They Are Small
I’ve already mentioned above how having a small space can be a good thing. However, it can also be bad because the small area does not allow for lots of elbow room or have space for lots of people. It can get very tight in the living area of a small camper van. You aren’t able to pack as much for a trip and for those who live in a van full time, their lives have to be re-arranged a little to accommodate this reality.
For short trips, it’s not a big deal but staying for weeks and months on end in a small camper van can become tight, and depressing, especially if multiple people are involved. This is why it’s important to consider the layout of the van before purchasing one or converting one of your own. As an example, a van that has lots of windows and storage will allow it to feel bigger than it actually is.
2. The Bathroom Situation
Even though lots of camper vans have bathrooms, it can still be a challenge making them work for you. It is especially challenging if multiple people are traveling. It’s one of the only things that I hate when my wife and I travel together. The small space often creates a predicament where one person has to leave the van to give the other person their private time. Beyond that, it can sometimes be difficult to discard the waste after using the toilet.
It’s certainly a talking point and a pain point amongst van lifers everywhere which is why a lot of them opt to use only public restrooms. Cassette toilets work great and compostable toilets are even better if you plan on using them for numbers one and two.
3. They Can Be Expensive
One would think that the small size of a van would make it one of the least expensive options on the market. However, this is far from true. A camper van is among one of the most expensive types of RVs. It can become outrageously expensive if you choose a luxurious model on the market. Learn here why camper vans are so expensive.
They can become very pricey, specifically, if you choose a brand new one, a converted one that has been tricked out, or a professionally manufactured one. To save money, you’ll want to shop for a used one or take on the challenge of DIYing one yourself which is what I chose to do.
By converting one yourself, you can start with an empty shell and then spend as much or as little as you want.
Unless you have purchased a proper Class B RV that is titled as an RV, insurance can be a little tricky. This will all depend on where you live and the laws within your locale. A van conversion that isn’t titled as an RV will likely only be able to get standard car insurance for the vehicle itself. This may not cover the conversion part of the van or the contents inside.
If something were to happen, you might lose out on all the money you had spent on the van conversion. If someone were to break in and steal something, you’d be at a loss for anything taken. This is something to consider when you are on the market to purchase a van.
Living in a Van Full-Time
Living in a van full-time can certainly have its benefits but there are also plenty of downsides to doing so. The best way to live in a van full-time is to make a plan and only stick to that plan. Your plan may be to save up and live and travel in your van for a year so that you can travel and see sights you may have never seen otherwise.
It’s a great way to live fully and make sure you are well-traveled. However, living full-time for years to come isn’t always a great option. It may work for some but there are some cons to doing this. Here are just a few cons that are part of living full-time in a van.
- Your van is losing value. A vehicle loses value which is the opposite of a standard sticks-and-bricks home. Living full-time for a long time in a van will not allow you to build equity.
- Loneliness. It can get lonely out on the road and living this lifestyle by yourself.
- Inconvenience. While a van can be convenient for short periods, it becomes inconvenient the longer you live in it. Things like showering, washing clothes, storing groceries, and constant cleanup becomes a chore and it can get quite old.
- The temperatures can be brutal. A van doesn’t have the same temperature-controlled environment that a house does. There’ll be times when you are freezing and times when you are burning up. This can become a challenging battle to maintain a level of comfort.
Whether you live in your van full-time or just use it occasionally, it does offer many pros. However, as seen throughout this article, there are many cons that go along with it. This is the way it is with anything and especially with campers. There are always good and bad points with anything in life and you’ll have to find a balance that works best for you.
I thoroughly enjoy traveling in my van BUT I wouldn’t want to live in it full-time. I enjoy taking short trips and even some longer ones but I love knowing that I can always come back home when I am done. It allows me to venture out and enjoy life but always return to the safety of my home.
If you are young or don’t own a home yet, a van is a great way to help you get away, see the world, and decide on a place you’d love to live your life.