From Sprinter to Volkswagen Bus and everything in between, it can be daunting to decide the best van to live in. I asked the vanlife community what they love (and sometimes curse) about their tiny homes on wheels to help you select the best type of van for you. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or looking for a van to live in full-time, I’ve dug though all the options out there to help get you on the road!
This post is your one stop shop to help you find the best van to live in. This is your space to open the hood and see the the crucial differences between the most popular cargo van conversion options like the Sprinter, Transit, Promaster, and Nissan.
Once you have found your perfect vanlife home, check out these sections below about where to buy and rent a used camper van online and tips on how to customize your van.
Disclaimer: An important note about finding the perfect van to live in.
There is no perfect van.
As good as it might look on vanlife Instagram accounts, even the most enchantingly gorgeous and spacious van is going to drive you crazy sometimes.
Researching is important but there is such a thing as too much research. Don’t get lost in the researching phase and never launch into action. Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis.
According to the paradox of choice, spending too much time deliberating between options can actually leave you feeling less satisfied with your ultimate choice. Agonizing over which van is right for you uses valuable brain power and will not necessarily result in you making a better final choice. Pick your top 2-3 must-haves and as soon as you find something within your price range in good mechanical condition, go for it!
The Best Van to Live In: A Buyer’s Guide
I scoured the interwebs and polled the Instagram vanlife community about their homes on wheels and put together a collection of youtube van tours, blog links, and Instagrams for you to follow, get inspired, and reach out to to ask questions.
Ready to find the best van to live in?
Alright, future vanlifer, let’s get this party started!
Living in a Van: An In-Depth Look at Your Options
Ready to find your ideal van to live in? Here are the key features that you need to know about the most popular van life options out there.
When you think #vanlife, you think cargo van. Cargo vans are extremely popular for the vanlife lifestyle because they are a great balance between comfort and convenience. You can park most cargo vans in regular-sized parking spots, they’re easy to drive, get decent gas mileage, stealthier than an RV, the interiors are completely customizable because you’re starting from a blank slate, and they’re tall enough for the average person to stand up inside.
There are four main options here: Sprinter, Transit, Promaster, and Nissan. We’re all dreaming of an electric cargo van (are you listening, Tesla?) but for now, this is what’s on the market today.
So many people in the vanlife community consider these to be the best vans to live in (and it’s what I live in!). That’s why I am spending extra time here digging into the ins and outs of the various cargo van options. If you want to explore the other livable vehicle options, scroll down a bit, but if you’re here to learn about cargo vans, here’s your in-depth guide.
From the novice perspective, these vans might all seem virtually the same, but when you’re living in your vehicle, every little difference matters!
Tip- There are some inexpensive and simple upgrades that will transform your new home on wheels. If you want to live in a van, don’t underestimate these! You’ll find that it’s the small changes that make all of the difference.
Which cargo van should you convert into a camper van?
Cargo vans are an ultra popular pick and it’s the option that made the most sense for me. If you are thinking about living in a van solo (and read my essential tips on solo female van life before you do!), these are a top pick.
Mercedes Benz Sprinter
The Sprinter is popular for a reason! It’s the most expensive option, but it’s also the best for all possible weather conditions. Get the 4×4 and you’re nearly unstoppable on and off-road. The high-roof Sprinter comes in three lengths and the biggest one is so long it’s basically like a small RV, so there can be space to fit a shower, toilet, and closet (a total vanlife luxury!).
The most common complaint from Sprinter owners is that they are extremely expensive to repair. Mercedes Benz parts are pricey and usually they need to be special ordered. Additionally, only a small number of mechanics shops are able to properly repair Sprinters, so you might have to search a bit for a shop that can help you out (and deal with towing your vehicle there).
Love them or hate them, the Sprinter is here to stay. Check out some of these rad IG accounts for the ins and outs of Sprinter-living.
Dynamo Ultima has a fantastic tour and van build guide of their 4×4 Sprinter 170″ extended (the big boy!). They also have an adorable dog in their van, so check them out for tips about living with a pet on the road.
For a super creative and beautiful smaller conversion, check out Van There. Jess & Mike used to live in a 170″ Sprinter but they downsized to a 144″ and love their (even tinier) tiny home on wheels.
The Ford Transit is another solid and popularly converted cargo van. The biggest perk of the Transit is that the high roof is very very tall. The interior height is over 6’4″! If you’re on the taller side and want to have items like an AC unit and lights on your ceiling without worrying about bumping your head in your home, the Transit may be right for you.
The Transit is a little narrower than the other cargo van options, so keep that in mind. Depending on your height and how you sleep, you may not be able to sleep perpendicular to the length of the van.
For a gorgeous conversion of the biggest Transit on the market, check out The Ladies Van. These ladies own a conversion company SD Campervans that converts Transits just like theirs, so if you’re in the San Diego area, reach out and let them know Vacay Vans sent you!
The Promaster is quickly becoming the most popular cargo van to convert and for good reason. First off, the Promaster is more affordable than the Sprinter. Plus, the front-wheel drive makes it feasible to drive in winter weather. (I know more than a few ski bums who live in Promasters full-time in Colorado and Montana and say it handles great.)
The Promaster is a couple inches wider than the other cargo vans. This might seem like a small detail, but when designing your van home, every inch matters. If those few extra inches mean that you can sleep sideways in your van, you can turn the orientation of your bed and viola!– you’ve just added extra living space! The Promaster also comes in a different length options so you can have a more spacious home if you’d like.
Since cargo vans are gaining in popularity due to the exponential growth of vanlife, it might be difficult to find a reasonably priced Promaster in your area. It’s possible that you’ll need to travel long-distance to find the right Promaster for the right price. Scroll down below for tips on where to buy a van to live in!
Trent and Allie are popular YouTubers with a totally gorgeous Promaster conversion that’s basically a condo on wheels. Check out their tour below!
I live in a Nissan NV2500 and I love it! The Nissan is the least commonly converted cargo van of all the options, which means it’s the one that yields the most opportunity. Your odds of finding a Nissan that’s affordable and in great shape are higher because the demand is lower.
The Nissan is about the same width and length as the 144″ wheelbase Sprinter. It works great for one person and many have made it work for two as well. Nissan’s are super reliable, easy to fix, and also come with a 5 year/60,000 mile warranty unmatched by the other van manufacturers.
The biggest drawback for the Nissan is that it only comes in the one size, so if you want a longer wheelbase, you’ll need to check out the other options. It’s rear-wheel drive, but as long as you have quality tires, you’ll be in good shape in most off-roading situations. I have Hankook Dynapro all-terrain tires and I’ve driven on some pretty sketchy off-road situations without any issues at all!
Thinking outside the cargo van: more options for your home on wheels
The skoolie is like the modern day hipster version of the traditional Class A RV (the tour-bus sized behemoth that grandma and grandpa drove across the country). The big skoolies are BIG. Like two-bedroom apartment big and can fit a lot of stuff and a lot of humans.
For an example of an adorable (and large) nomadic family on wheels, check out this bus tour with Contented Nomads, a family of six (with one more on the way!). This family is an amazing example of how families can still follow their vanlife dreams!
The large square footage of the skoolie offers creature comforts that the other mobile living options don’t often provide, including full kitchens with a full fridge, oven, multiple hanging out areas divided into various rooms, plus a full bathroom with a proper toilet and shower.
Not all skoolies are this elaborate, but the point is that they can be.
Buying an unconverted skoolie is technically more affordable than buying a cargo van but you need to keep in mind that the mechanics of an old school bus might need a lot of work. Add in those costs too!
Besides potential mechanical issues, a challenge with a skoolie is managing interior climate control. The more windows in your vehicle home, the more temperature issues you’ll have to account for. Make sure you insulate your van home very very well!
Some skoolies might not be tall enough for you to stand up inside, so you might need to raise the roof. Trust me, if you have a big-ass skoolie, you’re going to want to be able to stand up in it comfortably.
For an example of a skoolie bachelor pad with multiple freezers and an absurd amount of solar and water for ultimate off-grid living, check out The Off-Grid Skoolie.
Class C Camper
Ready to hit the road…yesterday? Get yourself a Class C: these smaller RVs come already built-out and are spacious enough for you to fit a lot of stuff without having to go through the mega intensive minimalism detox needed for a transition to a Sprinter or Nissan.
These vehicles aren’t exactly stealthy because it’s clearly a livable vehicle, but they are smaller and therefore easier to park and have been gas mileage than the big skoolie or Class A RV. These are also great if you have limited construction knowledge and funds for the conversion because they’re typically already ready to go.
The build-out materials will likely be sub-par and not exactly your dream layout, but you can always tear it apart and do a remodel in the future. For now, though, a simple coat of new paint can go a long way!
Just make sure the engine is in really good shape. Like really, really good shape. Get an outside professional opinion and check extra well for previous water damage to avoid any moldy surprises.
I absolutely love Slow Car Fast Home‘s Class C camper. They completely gutted their home on wheels, so this isn’t what it looked like right off the lot, but this is an amazing example of how livable (and gorgeous!) a Class C can be.
A short bus is a great option if you want something larger than a cargo van that’s completely customizable. You can buy skoolies and short buses for cheap but keep in mind that the mechanics need to be in good shape! If not, you’ll be dropping lots of time and money to fix things. Since short buses are empty shells, you can design your ideal tiny home, which can be costly but also can be a lot of fun.
Go for a short bus if you’re ready to do an in-depth conversion exactly the way you want it and if you’re not worried about it taking six months or more to complete before you can hit the road.
Pro Tip– always double the amount of time you think the conversion will take!
You’re going to love following Luv Martha, a solo female entrepreneur who makes custom-designed swimwear on the road in her adorable short bus! Her bus is a colorful crafting dream and she’s just as bright and happy as her adorable home on wheels!
A conversion van is similar to the Class C because it usually comes fully or partially built-out. Sometimes there’s just a bed and seating area though, so in that case you might need to add a kitchen. That said, a camping stove and gallon of water with a spout can work if you’re looking to do something cheap and easy.
The hard-top high roof conversion vans are great because you can stand inside and you don’t need to do anything to convert it from day-to-night (unlike the soft-top pop-up roofs, which need to be finagled with every time you want to park for the night and then taken down again before you can drive).
Again, the mechanics of the van are really of the utmost importance. Many of these vans are from the 80’s or 90’s, so make sure everything is in great shape for long-term use before buying!
Gnomad Home is a great account to follow for everything vanlife. They have a sweet conversion van and an extensive blog that helps you renovate the van of your dreams. Their blog definitely helped me a ton in my vanlife journey!
There’s no doubt about it: vanagons are damn sexy. It’s hard not to swoon every time I see one– they are just toooo cool for school!
Buying a vanagon means buying into a really tight-knit community of life-long VW lovers, which provides an invaluable source of friendship and support on the road.
Speaking of support on the road, you’ll likely be needing a lot of that if you get a vanagon. I have several close friends with vanagons and it seems like they are always having van trouble. They love their vans and accept these challenges as part of their journeys, but still, I have to stress to you: only buy a vanagon if you have money to pay for repairs AND you love getting your hands dirty because let’s be honest, you’ll be spending a lot of time under that vintage hood.
Vanagons are great because the interiors come completely built-out with lots of creative storage and they work great for couples on the road. They’re not exactly stealthy though, since you have to pop-up the top in order to sleep up top, so they are best if you spend lots of time parked in one area in nature and don’t plan to drive everyday.
Tip- Even if you aren’t into auto repair, I recommend getting your head around the basics. As a woman, I’ve struggled with mechanics who tried to scam me. To keep your sanity and cash, it’s essential to get your head around the fundamentals.
Two of my favorite vanagon accounts to follow are Irie to Aurora and Idle Theory Bus. These creative, rad, eco-minded couples are pillars in the vanlife community and co-host events with Vanlife Diaries.
If you want something large, unique, and retro, a vintage RV might be the best choice for you. These vehicles are spacious and come built-out (though you’ll likely want to tear things out are rebuild some, if not all, of the existing conversion depending on it’s condition), plus they’re super cool.
The big cautionary note here is that the vanlifers I know with vintage RVs also tend to have a lot of vehicle troubles that cost a lot of time and money. If you’re interested in going this route, see what you can do at the outset to get the vehicle in the best shape possible.
Rad vanlifers to check out include The Van Project and A Girl & Her Commander. These rad humans honestly share their loves and challenges living on the road and keeping their gorgeous vintage homes on wheels going strong.
A unique option for tall folks and for those who already own towing vehicles, the box truck is underutilized and super versatile! You can buy a box truck for cheap and since it’s a trailer, there’s no concern about the condition of any mechanics.
Box trucks, like shipping containers, won’t come with any windows or insulation, so construction time, knowledge, and cost will be at a premium, but you can create everything you want in this tiny home. Plus you can find spot to stay long-term and leave your trailer, while you explore or run errands with just the tow vehicle for convenience.
Outdoors Is Free has a really neat box truck conversion that will definitely get your creative juices flowing!
Truck Bed Camper
If you already have a truck and want to turn your truck into an easy adventure vehicle, get yourself a truck bed camper! These turn-key units can be installed right on the truck you already own and the expandable ones make it super easy to keep the camper on the back and still use your truck as your daily driver without much issue.
Other Unique Rigs
Another unique option in an ambulance! If you can utilize the existing storage, you can save some money on your conversion and also keep the general vibe of the vehicle in-tact, which is always fun!
Ambulances are sometimes old Sprinters so check the engines and all the ins and outs of how the vehicle runs before investing in it.
Fw.dude‘s vehicle below in a German fire truck and shows an example of how these unique vehicles can be really badass.
The financial barrier to vanlife entry is not as big as you may think!
It might seem a little crazy to live in a regular-sized car, but hey, it’s a little crazy to live in a van! There’s a large group of #subielife peeps who live in Subarus and car dwellers who have incredible tips and tricks for space efficiency.
Check out this video of a woman living in her car for only $800/month from godfather of vanlife Bob Wells’ youtube channel CheapRVLiving.
Tiny homes come in all sizes and varieties and it’s amazing to see how innovative people can be in tiny spaces.
Here’s a Subaru tour from my buddies Van Kookz— they’ve lived in and DIY-converted several different vans and have tons of great tips on their YouTube channel!
Another example of a simple, affordable conversion is the van I rented in Bali with PukuCamper. Here’s a quick van tour of that sweet rig!
Where to Buy a Used Camper Van Online
Ready to make a move and find your perfect tiny home? Start by scouring the internet on these websites using keywords and setting up automatic searches. Make sure you have your loans and finances in order first (sometimes it can be a tricky financing a cargo van because it’s considered a commercial vehicle and some states categorize it as such), and then scope out these websites for your perfect home on wheels!
Not Ready To Buy Yet? Rent a camper van with Outdoorsy!
So, you want to live in a van. That is an awesome and life changing decision. BUT are you really ready to take on all of the challenges of vanlife? I’ve got good news for you van-curious folks!
You can test out vanlife before diving in. Renting a finished out camper van for a road trip adventure is SO helpful. What better way to find the best van to live in than to stay in one?
Outdoorsy is the “Airbnb of camper vans” and it’s a fantastic way to test out the vanlife waters. You get to take a trial run with someone’s privately owned van. This will give a true feel for what it would be like to have a van of your own.
Outdoorsy has tons of inventory all over on this website and you can select anything from a basic van without many amenities to a full-fledged pimped-out Mercedes Benz Sprinter.
Outdoorsy is also a dream option for international travel. I recently decided to live in van abroad for the first time in Indonesia and had an unforgettable experience. Whether you are on the road full-time already or just looking at living in a van for the first time, this is a bucket list experience.
How to Convert Your Van for Full-Time Van Life
Of course, once you have the van, your true project is just beginning! From DIY van flooring to van insulation, you van is your new home and pet project. I have done (and am working on!) multiple step-by-step DIY van conversion guides. For now, let’s just run though the basics.
Keeping Your Van Warm in the Winter and Cool in the Summer
Insulation is essential! This was a simple DIY. Check out my Best Natural Insulation for Your DIY Camper Van Conversion for a guide on how to keep your van warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Another simple van conversion DIY was my floor. You can see it all on the Sustainable Non-Toxic Flooring for Your DIY Camper Van post.
To Toilet or Not to Toilet
I do indeed have a toilet. For me living in a van without a toilet is madness! Having a bathroom in your van isn’t a given in the vanlife community. For me, it is one of the 5 Things I Couldn’t Live Without in my Van Build!
DIY Furniture for Vans: Table, Bed, Couch
I love my van setup. The benches work with the table for a dining space then fold flat to create a bed/ couch space. My convertible bed changes in literally 60 seconds flat to move between a living room, dining room, and bedroom.
Customization is key to making a small space work. I was able to make mine exactly the way that I wanted to maximize every inch of my van space. Here’s how.
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Thanks for reading this detailed and hopefully informative post! Which van do you think is the best to live in? More importantly which is the best van for YOU to live in right now? Share in the comments below! I’d love to see what you are setting up.