Picking the perfect house takes time, thought, and above all else, a feeling that you can turn it into the right home for you. This is especially true if you’re looking to live the van life. Every little feature can turn into a lifesaver or dealbreaker on the road, so you really need to ask yourself: “what is the best van to live in?”
Before you buy a live-in van, learn how to spot a lemon
Initiates to the van life often begin shopping with second-hand vans for conversion, or for campers that have been prebuilt by companies. In fact, we took the latter route, as it makes good sense for truly customising your kit.
Here’s what we’ve learnt about assessing whether the van’s in good nick before you buy it:
- Check the seat belt for wear and tear. Pull it down a few times and check to see if the material is frayed. This will give you an indicator of how much use it’s had (after all, odometers can lie!)
- Feel the bonnet before you switch the ignition on. Some dealers or sellers will warm the engine up before your arrival so that it looks as though the van starts up on the first time. If the bonnet is cold and it starts on the first go, then you’ve got a winner.
- Place a hand near the exhaust pipe while the engine is running. You want to make sure that no black soot is coming out with the exhaust fumes.
- Check the engine for signs of exterior wear and tear, and have a good look at the underneath of the chassis and exterior panelling for any signs of rust. Look closely, as they’re easy to cover up!
- Finally, ask as many questions as possible, and do a DVLA check for previous owners before you go to look at the vehicle. Take a mechanic or a friend who knows their stuff with you if you’re a little unsure.
The 15 best vans you’ll love living in
The tiny houses you see on Instagram and Pinterest are often still palaces compared to your van, so it’s important to make sure that every inch of your ride counts. We’ve found the fifteen best vans to convert into rolling homes :
1. Mercedes Sprinter
The quintessential conversion vehicle has to be the Mercedes Sprinter. They come in all shapes and sizes, and are the go-to vehicle for many conversion companies, thanks to their durability and power. If you’re looking for a sturdy base vehicle that is still reliable even when you get into ‘hundreds-of-thousands-of-miles’ territory, then a Sprinter is the van for you. Indeed, it is an ideal candidate for the off-the-grid home of your dreams.
Mercedes are a global name in the motoring world. So, whether you break down in Morocco or lose your exhaust in Kent, parts and spares aren’t hard to get hold of. There’s also lots of aftermarket products and specially made gear that you can buy to fit your Sprinter too, making it one of the most malleable vehicles on the market.
2. VW Bus
The VW Bus remains the top choice of ‘best van to live in’ for many since the 1970’s. From the So-Cal surf days through to today’s Digital Nomad, the Volkswagen Bus Camper is an iconic vehicle immersed in van life culture. And, when you take a look at these busses up close, it’s not hard to see why.
Sadly, the early VW busses aren’t in production anymore, so parts can be hard to come by, and expensive to purchase. Nevertheless, there’s a cadre of van life DIYers and small businesses using 3D printers to make some of the smaller interior parts themselves. There’s even a growing niche of companies specialising in replacing VW Bus engines with 100% electric options–perfect for turning a classic ride into an eco camper.
These busses are loved today just as much as they were almost 60 years ago, and remain the quintessential van for that ‘summer of love’ feeling. (Indeed, this is one of Van Clan founder Brandon’s personal favourites!)
3. Vauxhall Movano
I couldn’t wait any longer for this one! The Vauxhall Movano is the van I began full-time van life with. I’ve been riding it through the UK for 14 months, and can attest to its virtues for the gig firsthand.
We bought a 2003 model, with 90K miles on the clock and a fibreglass maxi roof. This is one of the tallest vans I’ve been in (it’s tall enough for Rose to do a headstand in), and it’s served us comfortably on our UK Van Life journey thus far.
The best thing about a fibreglass roof is that it’s easy to cut through, and even easier to patch back over if you make a mistake or change your build plan. We had to do this pretty recently when we removed our beloved log burner–it’s still too soon to talk about it though.
As a live-in vehicle, the Movano has been a dream to run. Practically speaking, it’s just the right length to not have to worry about finding extra large parking spaces. Overall, if you don’t need the extra length of a Sprinter but want something tall enough for a fixed bed, then this is the best van to live in. Yes, I’m pretty biased, but I love our Vincent!
4. VW Crafter
Another classic VW product, and another quintessential van life pick. The VW Crafter, like the Sprinter and the Movano, is a commercial vehicle for transporting goods. Its spacious nature, plus its amazing build quality from a trustworthy manufacturer, make it a top pick for van dwellers around the globe.
Parts are much easier to obtain for Crafters than their retro cousins, as they’re still in production today. So don’t worry about visiting a garage on the other side of the world on your travels.
These vans can cope with rough terrain just as well as they cruise down motorways and country lanes. Moreover, the Crafter is a top choice if you’re looking for an LWB (long wheel base) vehicle that doesn’t cost the earth.
5. Ford Transit
A true British classic, and the ride of choice for “white van men” everywhere, the Ford Transit Camper may just be the best van to live in. This is in no small part due to its universally renowned maker, with plenty cheap parts, and overall rugged construction.
The Ford Transit is typically a MWB (medium wheel base) vehicle, so it’s a little smaller than the likes of the Sprinter and the Movano. However, you can get LWB and E-LWB to make extra space for onboard showers, stoves, etc.
The Ford Transit Camper Conversion is a natural choice for the van-lifer in training who doesn’t have a massive budget, but wants a quality van to get them going on their travels.
It gets a hard rap from some people in the business, but we think that they’re great runners. Besides, their shape makes them easy to add wood panelling and interior features without too much hassle. It might not suit if you’re looking for extra headroom, so try out a few different models before you buy.
6. School Bus
I know it’s not a van, but you can’t have a list based on alternative living methods without including the poster child of the lifestyle. Ask any American traveller, and they’ll tell you that this little yellow bus is the best van to live in because of its space, its durability, and because converted busses look downright awesome.
Think about how these busses get used day in and day out during their service lives. They’re kept in good nick by the schools, and built to last because they have to get kids from A to B on time, every day. Parts are readily available because American schools still use them. And, their bright yellow colour means that you’ll never lose track of where you parked your home again.
So, why do we like this little adventure bus so much? Well, they can take on pretty much anything that you throw at them, and they look very homely inside once converted. The windows give ample light, and they’re high enough to have a fixed bed without losing tonnes of living space.
We’ve seen so many different school bus conversions, that we’ve lost count (one even had roof tiles on it!) Indeed, there’s a network of bus lifers out there who can help out if you’re stuck on what to purchase, or having mechanical problems. Trust in the people, and buy yourself a bus!
7. Renault Trafic
Renault, Citroen, and Vauxhall vans are usually very much alike. In fact, they’re pretty much the same vehicle, with a slightly different exterior and badge. That being said, the Renault Trafic has seen some major conversion upgrades by certain companies that have thrown it ahead of its competition.
Take German conversion company Kompanja. They’ve turned a ‘run-of-the-mill’ goods vehicle into a camper with attitude, showing us the possibilities that can come with purchasing one of these vehicles.
In its base form, the standard Trafic van isn’t the best vehicle for long-term off grid living because of its height. It is, however, perfect for the weekend warrior who likes to get out whenever they can. If you buy a ready-made conversion or are thinking about adding a pop-top into the equation, then everything changes.
Being able to stand up in your home is the one thing that we believe is essential if you’re on the road 24/7, and the addition of extra height would undoubtedly make us reconsider adding one of these to the Van Clan mobile fleet.
8. Knaus Boxdrive CUV
Knaus is well known for making futuristic looking vehicles with all of the modern conveniences that you could ever need for life on the road. And their Boxdrive CUV is a serious contender for the title of ‘best van to live in’. With space-age LED lighting, a clean and comfortable living space, luxury leather seating, a master bedroom, and an onboard shower, it is a true luxury van. Yet, it somehow doesn’t cost the earth.
This ‘Caravanning Utility Vehicle’ is based on the VW Crafter that we touched on above, so you can see what is possible if you do want to convert your own home on wheels. While I love the country-house-on-wheels that Rose and I converted in our Movano, there’s no way that we could compete with this factory-made finish, nor the stylish, sleek interior that you get from a proper company-made model.
9. Citroen WildCamp
Like the look of a retro van but don’t want the hassle of maintaining it? Citroen has come to the rescue with the WildCamp–a thoroughly modern vehicle with that classic motoring touch. It’s over 70 years since the Type H Van was roaming around our streets; now the WildCamp has brought this iconic ride back to life, and it’s ready to foster a whole new generation of van life stories.
Any vehicle that uses the words ‘wild camp’ is bound to be built for off-grid living, and Citroen delivers on this model’s namesake. This is the easy choice for those adventures who just want to buy a vehicle and get out into the wilderness on the same day.
With its nostalgic retro feel and modern interior, you’ve got yourself an Instagram star in the making. More importantly, the CUV is comfortable, spacious, has enough storage for all of your cooking accessories and campervan gifts. It’s a reliable, smooth-running van that you can trust to get you to your destination–without feeling like you’ve been on a roller coaster for half of the journey.
10. Four Wheel Campers
Got your own truck but don’t want to buy a separate camper for the weekends? You need to give Four Wheel Campers a try.
These camping pods attach directly to your truck bed, and can be removed and put into storage whenever you like. We were lucky enough to be flown out to California to spend a bit of time in these beasts. We couldn’t believe how user-friendly they were, and how quickly we made them feel like home.
The pop-top on these four wheel campers provides ample space for standing, cooking and working, and the bed pulls out to make a sleeping platform that you never want to leave.
All in all, these camping units provide your favourite truck with an option into the van life. We thoroughly recommend checking out the Four Wheels Co website to find out more information–and to locate a dealer near you!
11. Mercedes-Benz Luton Box Van
A Mercedes-Benz Luton Box Van can make a perfect home, as they allow you so much space. The Luton is still a fairly unusual choice, but is growing in popularity thanks to the rise in self-conversion and independent campervan conversion companies.
One of the best things about a Luton van is that the extra space above the cab of the van is large enough to comfortably hold a double bed that you can sit up in. This means that you can use the entirety of the main space solely as a living space and kitchen area, without worrying about where the bed should go.
A Luton van is even big enough to create a generously sized bathroom–and carry enough water to actually be able to use it! It also features an easy shape to convert, as all edges are straight and square. They also allow for more overhead storage, making the interior feel like a room in a house, rather than the inside of a van.
The Luton Box Van may boast a tonne of living space, but it’s small enough a vehicle to allow for easy driving and parking in most places. They are not an unusual van to see in a city (think removal and delivery vans), so driving really shouldn’t be a problem for you or anyone else on the road.
As they’re made by Mercedes, they are reliable and durable. Indeed, the most important feature of any van for full-time living is that they’ll go anywhere and last you a long time. Besides the practical aspects, there’s just so much room for creativity in your interior decorating! Overall, if you’ve got the will to make it work, the Luton Box Van is a shoo-in as one of the best vans to live in.
12. VW California
If you’re looking for a reliable van for day trips or long weekends, the VW California may be the perfect choice. Heck, if you’re used to spending a lot of time outdoors and love a minimalistic lifestyle, then you could probably live in this van for months at a time!
The VW California comes in at about £50,000, so they aren’t exactly the cheapest campers on the market. But the extra expense is definitely worth it, especially if you’re looking for a flexible ride equally adept at navigating the wilds as an underground carpark.
Just like the VW Busses of old, you can customise the VW California to your specifications. This vintage-looking number above is a testament to the fact that a modern camper can still hold a sense of retro-class. That picture also gives you a good idea as to how easy it is to live in this van once the top is popped.
This VW California may be ‘the best van to live in’ because it shows that the very notion of van life is totally subjective. It’s really all down to how small a space you can comfortably live in.
With a pop-top or awning, you can transform a small space into something luxurious. Imagine cooking outside in good weather–it could even feel like you’ve got an extra room in the van (albeit a massive green and blue one, with no roof, and lots of birds floating about). Besides extendability, small campers like the VW California (and its junior counterpart, the VW Caddy) can get to places where big panel vans just can’t.
Consider the type of places that you want to go to before you purchase your van or start converting!
13. Rivian Electric Truck
It’s come to my attention that we don’t have many electric campervans in this list, so I’m changing that straight away. The Rivian Electric Truck could well be the best van to live in if you like living green, and are conscious about the environment (as well you should be!)
Rivian’s latest creation can drive almost anywhere, and can cover over 400+ miles with a single charge. That’s a mammoth distance for an electric truck to cover, and a serious feat of engineering.
Admittedly, the Rivian is perhaps more impressive for its off road capabilities than as a camper that you could live in full time. But it’s still perfect for living off grid on weekends, or for long holidays out in the wilderness. The pop-up tent on the back of the truck keeps you up off the wet ground (and away from annoying creepy crawlies), then packs down easily when you’re ready to move on.
There’s also a pull out kitchen for cooking, and plenty of dedicated space for storing gear and gadgets.
Electric off-road trucks such as the Rivian Electric Truck and the Tesla Truck Camper are making waves in the over-landing world. And, we may well start to see more electric behemoths hitting the roads over the next few years. Truck campers like this are perfect if your van life adventures regularly take you into the back-end-of-beyond, or if your driveway consists of 50 miles of rough desert road.
Be the king or queen of the wilderness without killing the planet with this massive 4×4 monster. Head over to our article on the Rivian Electric Truck for more information on what this baby can do!
14. Sportsmobile Classic 4×4
Up next on our list of the best vans to live in is one of my all-time favourites: the Sportsmobile Classic 4×4. If you’re looking for something that will serve you just as well on rough terrain as it does on the freeway, then this beast of a van is the one for you.
The Sportsmobile takes a Ford Cutaway body and moulds it with a reinforced fibreglass shell. The combination yields a unique look that’s perfect for off-roading, yet amply spacious enough for full-time van living. It’s got all the high-spec upgrades needed to take your vehicle on the rockiest tracks, including a ground clearance of a whopping 16.5”.
Inside, the Sportsmobile Classic 4×4 utilises a pop-top to give you extra headroom, meaning you can stand up without a problem. This is good news if you plan on living in or spending months at a time in your campervan, as it’s great to be able to stretch out and stand when cooking.
The interior is entirely customisable to your needs and can, therefore, include everything you need for a life on the road. This could consist of a full kitchenette with sink, hot water, cooker, fridge and storage space; a seating area that converts into a bed; and a complete solar electric system, eliminating the need to source electricity from the grid. Plus, there are plenty of extra storage boxes mounted to the exterior of the vehicle which are great for muddy or bulky equipment.
The Sportsmobile Classic 4×4 comes in at $40,000, with plenty of added extras available. Not the cheapest van on the market, but if you’re looking for a camper van to take you wherever your heart desires, then it could be worth the investment.
15. Ram ProMaster
Last but not least on our list of the best vans to live in, we have the Ram ProMaster. The ProMaster is becoming a significant competitor to the Mercedes Sprinter and Ford Transit vans in the campervan world, and is worth considering if you plan on living in your van all-year-round.
The Ram ProMaster earns its claim as one of the best vans to live in with ample space. Indeed there’s enough to fit a full-sized bed across the width of the interior. This is in contrast to the Sprinter and Transit, where you must sacrifice length. This can save you loads of space in your conversion for other components in your campervan build. The ProMaster is also the only one of these three vehicles to have front-wheel drive, making it easy to drive, handle and park.
You can easily convert the inside of a Ram ProMaster to accommodate everything you could ever need for an epic adventure. Here’s a practical example: a plug-n-play conversion kit from Wayfarer Vans. This handy little kit means any DIY novice can create an excellent campervan set up for under $10,000.
The kit comes complete with flooring; cargo tracks to secure your gear in under the bed; wall and ceiling panelling with 100% natural wool insulation; shelving; a kitchen unit with 5-gallon fresh and grey water tanks; sink with hand pump; large bed platform and mattress; boot box; and privacy panelling for sliding and rear windows. The only things left to add is your gear (oh, and a toilet) and you’re ready to start living in the Dodge Ram Van Life!
Is A Self–Conversion The Best Van To Live In?
Not at all! If you want to get a van that’s pre-built and cuts out the hassle, then that’s fine by us. The bonus of buying a pre-built camper is that if anything goes wrong with the interior fixture and fittings, then the deal can usually either fix it themselves or recommend someone good that they use themselves.
And That’s A Wrap!
Thank you for checking out our list of the best vans to live in. I hope that it has given you some inspiration for your own adventures and has helped you to pick a vehicle that is suitable for your individual needs. If you’re still spoilt for choice or need a little bit more help then join the Van Clan community on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and ask others to help – nothing beats advice from the experts after all!