Should I Buy A Camper Or Convert A Van?

Camper trailer and conversion van

If you are looking to acquire some type of camper, you have probably looked at different options. There are many different types of camping solutions that one could purchase and discovering the one that is the best for you can be a difficult choice.

I went back-and-forth on this difficult decision many times as I searched for the perfect camper for my needs. I wanted something that I could use for weekend getaways and the occasional trip that spans longer than a weekend.

I also did not want to spend a ton of money on it. Some campers can get very expensive, especially if you buy them new. I was not looking to purchase a new model and I knew I wanted to keep my costs low.

I liked the idea of owning a camper van because of the size. A motorhome the size of a van is easy to drive around and take wherever I want to take it.

On the other hand, however, converting a van takes a lot of work and can be very time-consuming. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go through this process when it would be easier to simply purchase a camper that had already been done for me.

Purchasing a new class B RV was out of the question for me. These are simply too expensive for what they offer. I looked at many different models and realized that if I was going to own a camper van, it would have to be a self-converted one utilizing a used van.

If you are going back-and-forth on this decision, I hope the following article will help you discover which type is best for you and help you to narrow down your search.

This decision comes down to a few questions that you should consider asking.

  1. How much are you willing to spend? The price will decide the type of camping solution that most people will choose. Some of the larger RVs are quite expensive as well as professionally built class B motorhomes. A converted camper van will be considerably less then you would probably pay for a large camper.
  2. How much space do you need? Vans are small and if you are already considering converting a van, you already know this. Some campers may be just as small as a van but some are much larger and make a better choice if you prefer more space or have a family that would like to camp with you.
  3. Do you have a towing vehicle? If you already have a vehicle that is capable of towing a travel trailer, this may be your best option. A travel trailer is a great value because you can have all you need in a nice package and the smaller ones are easy to tow. These are affordable and can be cheaper then a converted camper van if you find a good used one.

The Realities Of Converting A Camper Van

Empty cargo van
My empty cargo van before I converted it to a camper

If you think that converting a camper van will be the easy choice, think again. Converting a camper van takes a lot of work and it helps to have experience and skill with construction projects.

Depending on how advanced you want your conversion to be, you may experience a lot of frustration during your build. How do I know this?

Because I went through it. I have a lot of experience with construction projects and have been woodworking for most of my life.

However, converting a camper van is something beyond my skill level and I tried my best to make it work out. In the end, I ended up with a result that I am proud of.

The conversion came at the price of a lot of frustration along the way. There were quite a few tools thrown and four-letter words said along the way. If you think that something like this would be fun then this may be the project for you. 🙂

I thought the project would be fun as well but what I discovered once I began the conversion was that the difficulty took the fun out of the project.

What kept me going along the way was my dream of having the perfect conversion van for my travels. There were many times along the way that I considered stopping and then selling the van as it is because I felt like I was in over my head.

However, I stuck with it and ended up with a converted camper van and I spent considerably less money on it then I would have if I had purchased a professionally built camper van.

You might think by watching videos online that converting a van is an easy task but it is not.

Before you make your decision on what you want to purchase, just know that converting a van in this way will take a lot of work. My van took me over a year to complete and I am still fixing and improving parts of it a year and a half later.

Looking back, I probably would not decide to build another van. Even if I decided that it would be the right choice, I would probably buy a conversion kit and use that instead.

Don’t let me discourage you but you should know the realities of doing this and what it will take to make it happen.

How Much Does It Cost To Convert A Camper Van?

The cost to convert a camper van can vary depending on the type of van you choose and the complexity of your layout. The finishes that you choose will also determine how much the final bill will be.

I purchased my van and converted it into a camper for around $33,000. This was for a van that was almost brand new and a conversion that was very high quality.

I compare my van to what I would spend if I would have chosen a professionally built Class B motorhome. In the end, I spent much less then I would have if I had chosen to buy one already done for me.

Many people convert vans for much less than what I spent on mine. Many spend much more than I did.

You could probably find a used, reliable van for less than $10,000 and spend only a few thousand dollars converting it if you wanted to stay within a more affordable range.

The problem with determining costs on converting a van is that it’s very difficult to stay within a budget. This is mainly because there is not a one-size-fits-all solution and each layout is a guessing game that will require tweaks and changes throughout the conversion to arrive at a converted van that you are happy with.

It is easy to break the budget on a conversion van if you are not careful.

An exception would be to purchase a van conversion kit. These kits are designed for specific van models and install much easier than a DIY approach.

Let’s look at an example price for converting a van using a conversion kit.

If you were to purchase a used Ram Promaster High Roof 2500 159″ wheelbase, you could find a used van that is a few years old with 60,000 miles or less on it for around $21,000.

You could choose to purchase a van conversion kit from a company like Wayfarer Vans for the current price of $11,394 for this specific van. This would bring your total costs to $32,394 for the total van conversion.

The Case For Buying A Camper

Although campers are not as trendy as conversion vans are, they offer a lot of benefits. A fully finished camper can save you a LOT of time. Time is the most valuable thing we have in life so there is something to be said for this.

Unless you are the DIY type and are good at creating things and you enjoy doing it, a camper that is already finished and ready to hit the road is likely to be the better choice.

There have been many times that I wished I had chosen a finished camper so that I could just get going with enjoying the camping lifestyle. Instead, I spent countless hours going over details and trying to finish the van.

If you are seeking a camper over a van, a small travel trailer is a great option. Teardrop trailers are very small but can be purchased in larger models and the floorplans are often similar to the space you would find in a converted van.

You can walk around in them and there is plenty of headroom. On top of that, they usually have a shower facility and a bathroom inside if that is important to you.

I built these into my van but the shower was one of the most difficult parts of my conversion. Many people do not care about having a shower or a bathroom so this might not be an important consideration for you.

If you would like a motorhome that can be driven around instead of a trailer that has to be towed, a class C motorhome might make a great option as well. These can often be purchased used for a more affordable price then you would pay for a fully converted van.

With a class C, you have more living space but you also have a larger motorhome to drive around. This might not be attractive to the person who is looking for something as small as a camper van.

Driving a Class C around will limit the places that you can go to.

If I were going to do it over, and I decided I didn’t want to convert a van this time, I would likely choose to purchase a larger teardrop trailer such as the NuCamp Tab 400.

I already own a truck that can pull a trailer like this so it would make sense to me since the cost of this trailer is less than I spent on my camper van conversion. Yes, it is more hassle to have to pull the trailer along behind my truck but it offers amenities that my van does not.

Besides that, the trailer is already done for me. Instead of wasting time building the van, I can focus my energy on planning my camping trips.

The other good thing about having a trailer like this is that the insurance is much less. With the van, I have to pay yearly registration fees and maintain insurance on it at all times.

I do not use my van for full-time living and it is only my weekend getaway vehicle so this can be an extra cost to consider.

The Case For Buying A Van

After all of the long nights and the difficulties of converting my van, there are reasons that I still think it was the best choice.

Sure, the conversion was very difficult and time-consuming but what I ended up with is a work of art, in my eyes, and something that I am glad to go camping or traveling in.

There is one simple reason that I believe a conversion van will win out over other types of campers.


The convenience of a van is the biggest selling point for me. When compared to a trailer or other type of camper, the van is just so easy to pack up and head out on an adventure with.

Despite the difficulties of converting the van, the convenience of having it to use after the conversion is the best part. I could have probably purchased a travel trailer for cheaper and it would’ve been ready to use immediately but it would likely sit in my driveway for longer periods since it requires more work to move and take places.

I have used my van enough times now to know that it was a good choice because it is actually getting used. I am sure that if I had chosen a different type of RV, such as a teardrop trailer, it would have been a great idea initially but would probably get old after a few times of hooking it up to my vehicle and heading off to use it.

If you like the idea of being able to climb in your vehicle and drive it away just as you would your car, it is hard to beat a camper van.

Having your living space combined with your driving space makes it so convenient that you will be more likely to use it than you would something that takes more work to use.

Final Thoughts

It can be difficult deciding between a camper or converting a van but there are a few things you can do to help you along in the process.

I would suggest going to look at the types of vehicles that you are interested in buying and see what your intuition tells you. Tour a few campers that you would consider purchasing and see how you feel once you are actually inside them.

Does it have enough room for you and your family? Is it something that you could see yourself using regularly?

Go look at different vans that you are considering converting. If you are interested in the RAM Promaster, go check one out at your local dealer.

Likewise, if the Ford transit is of interest to you, go look at one and test drive it. Walk around inside of these vans and get a feel for how large they are.

Better yet, rent a class B RV for a weekend and use it so that you can decide whether it will be usable for you.

RVs are available to rent and can be found in your local area from other RV owners. You can visit to see options that are available in your area.

This is something that I wished I had done before I made my choice. I would have taken a camper van camping and I would’ve also rented a small travel trailer so that I could compare the two.

You have the opportunity to do this and if you are still in the phase of deciding which one to go with, I would suggest spending time with each type and making a decision after you have experience with both.

Dan Collins

I consider myself an outdoor enthusiast. I love to travel and go to places that most people don't get a chance to go. I want to see it all and live life to the fullest while I'm alive. My camper van is helping me to do just that. I write about my experiences to help inspire others to do the same.

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