By Gale Straub, She Explores
Ultimately, it’s a personal choice that takes time and consideration. Do your best to answer the following questions – they’ll get you on the right track. When reading them, think about the following categories of homes on wheels: camper van, car & tent, truck camper, trailer, RV. Sure, those are broad categories, but it can be tricky to even narrow these down.
If you’d like to refurbish a vintage trailer or do your own buildout in an unfurnished van, budget the amount of time you think you’ll need, then double it. Same goes for buying an old vehicle – even if you get a great deal, mechanical work before you hit the road can set you back. Make sure you are flexible with your “go” date and have ample time to devote to the project. Change doesn’t happen overnight.
If you don’t have time (or the interest) to customize, you may need to put more money in upfront for a vehicle, trailer, or RV that has what you need. There are a lot of deals out there, though!
For Bee Roper of VdubVanlife, space was a big concern when she and her boyfriend chose a Eurovan. She wanted to be able to move around in the vehicle when the weather was bad, or she’s stealth camping.
Think about what you want to put in the space. Do you want to cook inside your vehicle, like you can in a VW Westfalia, custom buildout, vintage trailer, or RV? Will you be sharing a bed with a significant other, or will you need a separate bed for a friend or family member? Will you go it alone?
Megan Barrett traveled solo in her vintage Toyota Land Cruiser. While she typically slept in her hammock, she chose the Land Cruiser because she’d be able to crawl in and find shelter at night if necessary. She was also able to organize the back for storage and cooking off the hitch.
The Malimish family has a 25-foot Airstream trailer to fit a family of five and a cat, while Our Open Road travels as a family of four in a VW Westfalia. It really comes down to personal preference.
Nikki Levi of Sprinter Van Diaries asked the right questions: “How do you plan to spend your time in and around the van? Is it important to stand up or are you willing to move around without standing upright? Will you be spending more time outside?” All are important considerations.
Crawling in the back of a Honda Element with a platform bed may be perfect if you plan to stay at campsites and eat dinner in the woods. If you want to be able to put your pants on standing up, like I did, you’ll want a higher ceiling. A Sprinter van with a high top gave me the space I needed to do so.
Nikki called this the “daily shuffle.” You can think about this as what you need to do to go to sleep every night, start your day every morning, get access to storage, and set up a table. With some camper builds, the bed folds down from a bench seat. You could choose to have 4WD truck with a pop-up tent on top for overlanding.
The daily shuffle is often a compromise for agility and a compact space. You can have a normal queen size mattress in your vehicle, but then you’ll have to have the space for it.
Stealth camping comes in handy when you’re driving through a city and you want to park overnight without anyone know you’re there. It’s difficult (but possible, depending on the city/town) to do it in a vintage trailer like a Shasta, Airstream, or Scamp, a Westfalia, or a traditional RV. Sara Moran of Sardine Taco had a rooftop tent on her 2001 Toyota Tacoma. She loved that it was 4WD, but sometimes wished that she could sleep surreptitiously like van dwellers. Alison Turner loves that she can make snap decisions on where to stay with her VW Eurovan.
Costs for a vehicle take on two forms: upfront and ongoing.
Upfront is simple – how much does the vehicle cost? What amount will you need to put into initial repairs and buildout?
Ongoing costs can be harder to plan for:
Kelly Shea and her boyfriend Brandon of Vancrafted liked that their 1984 VW Westfalia was old enough that they were able to work on it when it had mechanical issues on the road. It did break down over the six months they traveled, but they were able to figure out the issues so they never had to hire a mechanic.
Do research on the reliability of your vehicle – take into consideration the model and year.
Size, maneuverability and 4WD can determine where you’ll take your vehicle. If you plan on over landing and taking on undeveloped backroads, 4WD is a must. Sara of Sardine Taco chose a Toyota Tacoma for her Pan American adventure because it was reliable and tough enough to get through a variety of terrain. If you plan to stick on pavement and manageable dirt roads, 4WD isn’t a consideration.
A trailer can be a good in-between choice to get both space and separation for everyday adventuring. Mary Rondepierre of Lucille & Found appreciated that she could leave their vintage shasta at a campsite during the day and take the truck out to explore.
If you’re leaning towards a large RV or tow along trailer like an airstream, though, keep in mind that you may not be able to take it on scenic mountain pass roads. For example, the Going-to-the-Sun road in Glacier National Park does not allow vehicles to pass that are longer than 21ft. It’s a stellar drive that’s not to be missed.
Sometimes you just have to go with your gut. Rachel of Idle Theory Bus loved the aesthetics of their 1976 Volkswagon Kombi bus and took on the antique for its sense of adventure. Weigh the pros and cons of the factors above, but go with your gut. It’ll take you places.