Full-time vanlife is a great way to travel and explore. But, for an enjoyable life on the open road, you need a solid van for your adventures.
Finding the right van can be tricky, especially because there are so many great options to choose from. So, whether you’re looking to convert your own van or buy a premade adventure rig, here’s our roundup of the best vans for full-time vanlife.
The 9 best vans to live in:
1. Ford Transit
The Ford Transit is a relatively new vehicle in the grand scheme of things, but it’s taken the vanlife world by storm during its short time on the market. The Transit is so popular among vanlifers because it has a fairly high roof and lots of internal space, which makes it more comfortable to live in.
There are many different models of Transits, though, some of which have less headroom than others, so pay attention to the specs of a given vehicle before you commit.
It’s also one of the easiest vans to drive for its size. Even though it’s quite spacious inside, the Transit’s responsive steering, quality suspension, and wide wheelbase provide drivers with good control, even on bumpy roads.
The Ford Transit is also one of the more affordable vans out there today, offering many of the great features that you normally find in a Mercedes Sprinter (e.g. high ceiling height) at a fraction of the price. The box-like shape of the Transit also makes it easier to install wood paneling and other household appliances, which cuts down on conversion costs.
That being said, one of the main drawbacks of the Transit is its fairly low towing capacity when compared to other similar vans. So, it’s best for vanlifers who don’t expect to do a lot of towing but want a budget-friendly option that’s easy to convert.
VanDOit Custom Ford Transit Vans – Companies such as VanDOit also make getting a fully customized Transit a walk in the park. VanDOit offers two Transit conversion packages, the LIV for anyone that wants a luxe sleeping area and a fully kitted out gear storage system and the DO, which offers an open floor system that can be customized to your unique needs.
2. Ram ProMaster
The Ram Promaster is the North American version of the Fiat Ducato, which is one of Europe’s leading vans. It features a tall ceiling height and a wide interior, which provides enough internal space to fit a full-sized bed and all of your gear. Similar to the Transit, the Promaster offers nearly straight-sided walls, which makes conversion much simpler.
Wayfarer Van Conversion Kits – Companies like Wayfarer Vans offer easy conversion kits for turning a Promaster shell into a fully-functional vanlife vehicle.
Unlike many other vans, the Promaster features front-wheel drive, which improves your fuel economy and makes it easier to drive on the open road. While this also means that it’s not as great in the snow as an all-wheel-drive vehicle, the Promaster’s better gas mileage does mean that you can save a bit of money during your travels.
Additionally, the Promaster is fairly affordable as vans go, so it’s a good all-around option for vanlifers on a budget.
3. Mercedes Sprinter
The Mercedes Sprinter has long been one of the most popular vans for full-time life on the road, and for good reason. This vehicle comes with one of the tallest ceiling heights of any passenger van, making it possible for all but the most vertically-endowed adventurers to stand upright inside.
Plus, the Sprinter more or less pioneered the nearly-straight-sided walls trend, so they’re a great choice from a conversion perspective. Since they’ve also been on the market for so long, there are also plenty of great companies that can quickly and easily convert your Sprinter into a home on wheels. The major downside to a Sprinter is the cost.
Mercedes is often associated with luxury in the North American vehicle market and the Sprinter is no exception. Since it’s a European vehicle, Sprinters can also be quite pricey to repair for North Americans since all their parts have to be shipped in from overseas. But, the Sprinter is also known for being one of the most reliable vans out there, even when you cross into the realm of six figures on your odometer.
Outside Van Custom Sprinter Vans – Additionally, as one of the most popular full-time vanlife vans, there are plenty of great companies ready to customize a Sprinter. Outside Van offers a set of prebuilt unique conversions that are ready to drive or the option to customize your own Sprinter to best meet your needs.
4. School Bus
Converted school buses, or skoolies, have become a fairly hot commodity in the vanlife world, especially for adventurous couples or anyone else that likes to have a lot of space to stretch out and relax. Even mini school buses offer more internal space than a van, and a full-length school bus is just as big as a tiny house.
Although buying a new school bus can easily run you upwards of $50,000, used models can be quite affordable when it comes to upfront costs. Of course, all that extra space inside a school bus does mean that skoolie conversions can be quite expensive.
However, when they’re fully outfitted, a skoolie provides just as much room as a studio apartment and it can go on all your adventures with you. School buses are also specifically designed to have high ceilings, so they’re comfortable to walk around in.
That being said, there are two downsides to skoolies once they’re out on the open road. First, they can be expensive to maintain and they use a whole lot of diesel to get from point A to point B. Plus, skoolies can be difficult to drive and you may need to get a CDL, air brake certification, or a special license to operate them. When it comes to overall living space and comfort, though, a skoolie can’t be beat.
Wind River Tiny Homes – If you’re not sure that you can handle a skoolie conversion on your own, there are a few companies that know exactly how to turn a beat-up old school bus into a beautiful home. Wind River Tiny Homes offers complete customized skoolie conversions for people that want something that’s turn-key ready. They also offer the option of a roof raise so you can convert your skoolie on your own.
5. Chevrolet Express
The Chevy Express is a mainstay of the passenger van world because it’s durable and ready to drive hundreds of thousands of miles. It’s been on the market for nearly four decades and comes in two different sizes to meet the needs of any vanlifer.
The main advantage of the Express is its uber-durable chassis and the quality of its build. While it doesn’t have as high of a ceiling height as some of its competitors, the Express is easy enough to convert and features lots of windows for natural light and great ventilation on hot summer days.
Additionally, although the Express comes with a decently high sticker price, since it’s been on the market for so long, it’s pretty easy to find a used model on the cheap.
Contra Vans – If you are looking for a company to convert your Chevy Express, you’ll want to take a look at Contra Vans as they are one of the few who specialize in this model. (contravans.com/chevy-express-details)
6. Ford Econoline
Like the Chevy Express, the Ford Econoline is an absolute classic in the world of full-sized vans. In fact, it was the best selling full-sized van in the United States for decades having been first produced in the 1960s.
Unfortunately, the Ford stopped making the Econoline (or E-series) vans when they introduced the Transit to the North American market, but these super durable vans are still easy to find at a used car dealership.
One of the biggest assets of the Econoline is its roadworthiness. It has a powerful engine and a burly suspension for use on rough roads. Since the Econoline doesn’t sport the high ceilings that its successor, the Ford Transit, has, it’s best for people who aren’t too concerned about being able to stand completely upright in their vehicle.
Sportsmobile – In terms of quality, durability, and reliability, however, a used Econoline is hard to top. Plus, the popularity of the Econoline over the years means that it’s easy to find conversion kits and companies like Sportsmobile that are willing to convert your van for you without much of a hassle. It’s also often possible to buy a used converted Econoline off of another van lifer to save you time and money.
7. Mercedes Metris
The Mercedes Metris is a smaller van than many of the other options on our list. In reality, it better resembles a minivan than a full-sized rig.
But, despite its small size, the Metris is a solid choice for full-time vanlifers that want a vehicle that’s super easy to drive and features a powerful engine. The van is available in a standard or extended length, either of which can be converted into a home on wheels with a bit of elbow grease.
Due to the Metris’ small size, though, many people opt to add a pop-top for some extra living space. This is a great way to maximize your living area, but it can cost a pretty penny during the conversion process. The Metris also comes with a classically high Mercedes Benz price and it uses premium fuel, which means more money out of your pocket at the pump.
However, for overall quality and a compact van, the Metris is a solid choice for any aspiring full-time vanlifer.
Peace Vans Modern – For help turning your Metris into a pop-top camper or for a full conversion, companies like Peace Vans Modern offer multiple affordable package options to get you right out onto the road in no time flat.
8. Lightweight Truck Campers
A lightweight truck camper is perhaps the simplest vanlife option. Unlike other vans, truck campers generally require little to no conversion process or any alterations to your vehicle. All you need is a powerful pick-up truck and a camper that fits in the truck’s bed, unless you want to go all-out and permanently mount a camper to your truck’s chassis.
Truck campers are popular because they allow you to take advantage of the functionality of your truck while also giving you the convenience of a cozy place to sleep. Many models require no set-up when you get to your parking spot for the night while others simply require you to pop up the top for some extra living space.
Truck campers also provide a comfortable living space that comes pre-made from the factory. They are literally designed to be lived in, so there’s no need to troubleshoot how you’re going to install a bed or extra storage space because that’s all been thought out for you. So, truck campers are a good option for van lifers that want a simple, ready-made package for life on the road.
Four Wheel Campers – There are plenty of great lightweight truck campers to choose from and the folks at Four Wheel Campers can help you decide if a slide-in, topper, or flat-bed model is right for your needs.
9. Nissan NV200
The Nissan NV200 is considered a lightweight or compact van, so it’s a bit smaller than the competition. However, it’s an industry leader in terms of gas mileage (26mpg highway) and price (from $22,800 new and significantly less used), so it’s a great choice for vanlifers on a tight budget.
Since it’s a bit on the small size for full-time living, many people choose to add a pop-top to their NV200, which provides the vehicle with plenty of room to stretch out and relax. As far as the rest of the conversion process goes, the NV200’s straight-ish walls make adding in wood paneling and other furniture a walk in the park.
It doesn’t offer nearly as much ceiling height as a Transit or Sprinter, but the NV200 is large enough to fit a full-size mattress if you plan your layout right. Thanks to its small size, the NV200 is also easy to drive and has a small turning radius for easy parking and maneuvering in tight spaces.
Recon Campers – If you’re not sure that you want to handle your NV200 conversion on your own, Recon Campers offers great packages for turning your van into a home on wheels. Their Envy package is particularly great for full-time van lifers because it comes with everything you need to live life on the road, plus an outdoor shower. What more could you want?
My Final Thoughts…
If I had to choose just one of these vans for full-time vanlife, the Ford Transit would probably be my top pick. The Transit’s combination of a high internal ceiling and lots of living space make it a no-brainer when it comes to comfort on the road. Plus, its affordability and durability are par-none in the world of full-sized rigs for van life.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.