In recent times, one unexpected trend has taken the world by storm (or at least the United States): van life. Van life is when you convert a van into a living space–think a tiny home on wheels. Of course, new van lifers need to start in the same place. They need to choose a van for their base, which is unquestionably the most important part of the process. This list of best vans to live in will help YOU decide which passenger van is the right choice.
The short answer is the Ford Transit or Chevy Express, however it all depends on your budget and needs. If you need more space, then a different type of van, like a camper van or converted school bus might be a better solution than a passenger van.
When choosing a van, make sure do extra research on the specific trim levels, as well as extra research (pulling the carfax) if it is a used vehicle. These vans (generally) have a long life to live as long as you take care of them.
Here’s a list of the best vans for van life.
Ford Transits are a tried and true, reliable passenger van that can host your life on the road and is one of the best vans to live in. Available in all four wheel drive, these can be converted into a Ford Transit Camper, with or without the aid of conversion companies.
The Ford Transit is a readily available in various trim levels. The newer models are equip with a multitude of safety features, including a backup camera. As for gas mileage, the Transit gets 15 city/19 highway, for a combined 16 mpg.
This van’s initial intent was to be a cargo van, however retrofitting them to you on-the-go lifestyle is very achievable for vanlife. This is one of the best vans for van life on this list.
Another popular van of choice is the Mercedes Sprinter van. Although it’s standard with rwd, all wheel drive is an option. Like the Ford Transit, the Mercedes sprinter van has plenty of space for a van lifestyle, albeit with a slightly higher price tag.
Mercedes Benz has a track record with reliability issues, but as long as you are doing regular and consistent maintenance, your sprinter should be ready to hit the road. This van does, however, have a slightly nicer interior because of the brand it’s associated with, making your van life experience slightly more comfortable.
Because this is just a Mercedes Sprinter cargo van, it will fit in any regular parking space, meaning you can sleep in all the Walmart parking lots you want.
The Dodge Ram Promaster is similar to both the Mercedes Sprinter and the Transit (are you sensing a theme?), however this can be come with a turbo diesel engine. I would heavily advise against that particular model, do to a multitude of reliability concerns with the Diesel engine. However, the 3.6 liter V6 engine model is more reliable (Promaster 3500). This is also a front wheel drive vehicle.
With these commercial sprinter vans, you’ll have to get creative with storage space (although the Ram Promaster is decently sized), but proper van conversions will ensure that your vehicle is ready to be a full time van for life on the road.
The Chevy Express is just the GM version of the Ford Transit cargo van, and has a similar cost as well. This is a classic choice. With all of these vans, it’s important that your van-of-choice has reasonable ground clearance to accommodate for different terrains or crappy roads.
The Chevy Express is slightly longer than the Transit, allowing for more space for your van life lifestyle. This is another one of the best vans to live in.
The Nissan NV is much like the other cargo vans, however this has a higher roof than the rest, especially on the Cargo model. If you opt for the passenger model, then the shape is much more squared off, which might be more aesthetically appealing to some.
In terms of price, this is very similar to the other vans and starts at about $30k. In terms of quality of product, as well as brand reliability, this is one the best vans for van life.
Camper vans are a fantastic alternative if you want something that’s plug-and-play. Of course, this might come at an increased cost–not to mention that the different sizes and quality will have a vast range.
One money saving opportunity on the camper van front is to just get a camper and tow it with a truck. This really only saves money if you already have a truck. You do have the added benefit of your vehicle not intruding your van life living space.
Everybody has different amounts of stuff that they’re bringing into the van life lifestyle. Therefore, not all cargo vans are one size fits all and choosing from the best vans for van life is very subjective. The larger the van, the more space there is for a bed. Also, finding a van with a high roof will help with being able to stand up (see the Mercedes Sprinter). As previously stated, cargo vans may or may not be tall enough. However, they might have a pop top to act as a skylight.
With van conversion kits, doing research on the conversion kit company is crucial. If you do enough research, you can do it yourself. A lot of people also buy a school bus and do various bus conversions, which is optimal for more space (although mileage takes a massive hit. You have to choose your priorities).
Some people also opt to live in a classic VW bus, which is the original van life vehicle. Automotive technology has come a long way since then, but if you’re into the classics, then that might be a viable option for van life.
With a camper van, you might need a truck to pull it, which is an added cost if you don’t already have one. It will be important to make sure your truck makes enough power to tow the camper.
One other honorable mention is the Class B RV camper van. While these are certainly more expensive, they are the next step up from the smaller camper van.
Once you choose your home on wheels from this list of the best vans to live in, you’ll be ready to go wherever the wind takes you on your van life journey.