Ford transit conversions are becoming ever more popular in the US. They’re not just a holiday vehicle! All over the world people are opting to live full time in their Ford Transit vans.
A combination of easy handling, cheap replacement parts and reliability make living in a Ford Transit perfect for full time vanlife. Also, being a USA company, there are plenty of dealerships around to get any mechanical work done as the need arises.
I spoke with some van lifers living in their Ford transit vans full time. Here is what they had to say about their vehicles…
Wildland Firefighter Carl’s Ford Transit
Carl (@dangerpiccarreta) is a wildland firefighter and full-time vanlifer. For 4 to 5 months a year, he parks his Ford Transit near his firefighting crew. For the rest of the year, he takes off to explore the world.
Carl chose the Ford Transit because it was cheaper to fix than the Mercedes and because it had a gas engine. He knew this would save him money when compared to a Diesel engine. That being said, Carl pointed out Transits can be a lot more expensive to buy than alternative RVs.
Overall, Carl is saving a lot of money now that he lives in his Ford Transit.
“Between car payments and insurance, my monthly “rent” has been cut by about 60%, of course, that’s compared to what I was paying as a roommate in a shared apartment. If I had come from living in my own apartment, and had owned a car, downsizing to a van would be saving me well over $1000 a month.”
By working for 4 to 5 months a year as a wildland firefighter, Carl is free to travel around the world for the rest of the year.
“I feel retired in my 20s which is kind of priceless in my opinion. A ton of firefighters live out of vans and trucks, the guy I stole this idea from was a coworker when I was on a crew in Alaska.”
For anyone considering living in a van full time, here is Carl’s top piece of advice:
“I would say go cheap for your first one. Figure out if you really like the lifestyle before getting something expensive. If you need tons of room, box trucks are cheap, the gas mileage sucks but it’s really important to see if you can hack it first. Plus, if you don’t have a ton of time to road trip, gas mileage isn’t as important.”
Jess and John Left City Life For Full-Time Vanlife
Jess and John (@dwnshifters) live full time in their self converted 2019 Ford Transit (pictured top of article as well).
Their van build is by far the most carefully thought out and meticulously executed that I have ever seen. Just like Carl, Jess and John didn’t want to have a life that revolved around work and deadlines all year round. Looking for something more from life, they set out for a change.
“We were sold on getting a Ford Transit because of the overall height of the van. John in 6’3” and we wanted to ensure that he could stand up and walk around without hitting his head. They are also really reliable vehicles with wide commercial use and dealerships in many cities, so we felt like we’d be able to get parts or repairs easily on the road.”
The Ford Transit is Jess and John’s first full-time vehicle. They can’t compare it directly to another make of van, but they can certainly speak for its drivability and reliability.
“The pros for us are that the Ford Transit is easy to drive and the Turbo EcoBoost makes it really peppy considering its size and weight.
Another big pro is that whenever we’ve needed a repair or routine maintenance a local dealership is easy to get to. We bought our van new so we’d have a warranty on our house/vehicle.”
They wish they had the all-wheel-drive offered for the 2020 transits – but you can’t have it all!
Jess and John don’t save quite such a huge percentage of living costs compared to a lot of people I’ve spoken to. This is partly because they choose to convert a brand new van, and partly because they still enjoy going out and having a good time.
Living in a van does not have to mean you are slumming it!
“Before living in the van, we were in Brooklyn, NY. We did the math and we spend around 22% less each month on our van payment, van insurance, internet, and gas costs compared to our NY monthly rent and utilities.
Our more variable costs are gas and food. If we’re traveling more, gas costs increase. If we’re out in rural spots, we’re spending less on food costs and going out.”
They support themselves by working remotely. John is an architectural and product designer. Jess manages finances, HR, and operations for an environmental nonprofit organization. Jess and John’s top piece of advice for living in a van full time is this:
“All vehicles have mechanical issues. Buy the most mechanically sound van that you can that’s within your budget. Learning some basic mechanical skills will pay dividends down the road. Issues are going to come up, just remember that it’s all part of the adventure!”
You can find out more about their adventures on their website.
Tyler and Brittany’s Self Converted 2015 Ford Transit 350
Tyler and Brittany (@adventure.acquired) are from Wisconsin. They travel the US full time in their self converted 2015 Ford Transit 350 with their cat Toothless. They have gone for a functional rather than fashionable build, and have managed to fit 4 mountain bikes into their garage space!
They chose a Ford Transit for full-time vanlife due to its lower maintenance costs.
“Since we’re US-based, it would be much easier for us to find a Ford dealership wherever we are. We also went with the Ford Transit since we found it to be a lot easier to drive than a Dodge Sprinter or the Ram Promaster.”
Tyler and Brittany love the size of their Ford transit. They have enough space for their needs, whilst still having a vehicle that is easy to park and drive. But a word of warning – Tyler and Brittany told me that the Ford transits can be more difficult to convert than other models, so beginners should proceed with caution.
“The walls aren’t as straight as the Ram Promaster, and there’s far less van builds for the Ford Transit that can be found on the internet. Less van builds meant more trial and error that we had to do during the build.”
By living in their Ford, Tyler and Brittany have cut down massively on their expenses.
“Prior to this, we each had our own apartment with rent and utilities to pay, as well as having 2 cars with insurance. Now, in the van, our main expenses are gas and food. So yes, we are saving quite a bit of money now.”
This certainly takes the pressure off when it comes to finding work.
Right now we’re both technically unemployed. I, Tyler, recently got a job selling mountain bikes online, yay. But we’re basically living off our savings for now.
The best advice that Tyler and Brittany could give you about full time vanlife, is to just keep an open mind.
“We built our van ourselves and soon learned we’d rather have a functional van than a 5* hotel. We also wanted to hit the road, so we sped up our build so we could start vanlife.
Another tip we have is to slow down and enjoy life. We started out van life trying to hit up every mountain bike trail we came across, and everything in between. It started to be overwhelming, so we slowed it down a notch and started to spend more time in places. We now enjoy our lives a whole lot better.”
You can read more about Tyler, Brittany, and Toothless’s adventures at their blog, Adventure Acquired.
Joel Works Remotely In A Ford Transit Luton Box Van
Joel (@larrytheluton) works in cybersecurity, which he does remotely from his van. Unlike the other people I spoke to, he decided to go for a Ford Transit Luton Box Van.
The Luton Box was designed for large and heavy loads, so Joel has a lot more space than the people who chose to go for a more conventional Transit van. To be precise, Joel has an impressive 10 square meters of living space! That’s further maximized by the fact that his bed is lifted off the floor.
Joel chose a Ford Transit because of its reputation…
“I have had Fords previously, I find them fairly reliable and well known. This in turn makes them fairly cheap to maintain as specialist garages aren’t needed. I know them to last a long time as long as well looked after, then when it came to looking for a van, they were very reasonably priced compared to similar vans.”
The cheap parts and services take off a huge amount of pressure.
“Parts are cheap to source, so the upgrade process is really affordable. I drive around without worrying about expensive breakdowns and problems that similar-sized vans sometimes have. The main downside is the small amounts of rust, but unfortunately, this is something transits are known for.”
Joel saves nearly $600 a month compared to when he lived in a 1 bedroom flat.
My savings have improved dramatically since living in a van and I always keep some money put away in case of breakdowns or problems.
Working in Cyber Security, Joel’s Luton Box is an office as well as a home.
“I installed a router with multiple sim cards so I always have a signal. I work around 14 days a month and can work anywhere in the world essentially as long as I have a phone signal. I also have experience repairing phones, laptops, and other electronics, so do this for friends/family for additional income when it’s available.”
For anyone considering full-time vanlife, Joel advises you just get out there and do it!
“It’s not easy, some days you wake up wondering what you’ve done, but those days are few and far between compared to the good ones. The freedom it gives you is unbeatable, although it can be stressful at times.
The other bit of advice I would give someone is to make sure you have enough space! Small vans are great for weekends, and when its nice out. But when the weather’s not so great you need space to sit and relax without feeling cramped.”
Grandmother of 5 Debbi Lives Full Time in Her Ford Transit
Last, but most definitely not least, I spoke to a wonderful woman named Debbi. Mother of 4 and Grandmother of 5, Debbi lives full time in her Ford Transit with her dogs Koda and George. She is a creative soul, who makes money with a few different endeavors. These include refinishing and flipping furniture, doing macrame wall hangings, and delivering pets cross country.
For many years, she worked for transportation companies in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Having driven all kinds of vans, the Ford Transits were her favorite.
When she isn’t working, Debbi spends her time visiting her family between Oregon and Colorado. She loves the freedom of following her whims, whether that’s to the beach, the mountains, or the trails of a National Park!
I’m a road tripper at heart. I have been since I got my license at 16.
It’s not always easy though. She misses having access to a proper bathroom and kitchen.
Debbi isn’t saving any money compared to when she lived in an apartment. She decided to live in a newer van and enjoys making the most out of life. She said she could definitely save money if that was her goal.
She has some great safety advice for new vanlifers.
“Once someone decides to pull the trigger and buy the van, they need to focus on safety when traveling before the common questions on what kind of floor is best. For instance, what’s the plan if they’re in a remote location, do they have a jumper box in case the battery does? Do they have plenty of water? Are they prepared for weather like ice storms, mudslides, tornado warnings in the area?”
Debbi also pointed out how important it is to stop in small towns to eat at the local diner or find a unique gift shop. Connecting with communities is just as important as disconnecting in nature.
My closing thoughts…
You can absolutely live full time in a Ford Transit. Whether you’re on a tight budget or you’ve got some money to burn, the Ford Transit is a brilliant vehicle to make into your home!
Up Next In Van Life: