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Choosing the Right Camper Van: Factors to Consider for Your Van Life Journey

This post was updated on September 10th, 2023

If you’re a budding Vanlifer, you’re likely pondering the expenses and choices that come with finding or building the right camper van. Let’s dive into the process of choosing a van that works for you and your style.

Why Your Van Choice Matters

While the dream of Instagram-worthy vintage Volkswagen vans is tempting, it’s crucial to weigh your options. Different types of vans offer various pros and cons.

Vintage Vans: High on style but often low on reliability and fuel efficiency.

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Modern Vans: More reliable and often come with advanced features, but can be pricier.

A vintage camper van parked in a scenic location

Finding the Right Camper Van

Choosing the right camper van is akin to selecting a new home—it’s a decision that will significantly impact your experience. Investing time and research into this choice is crucial. The last thing you want is to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with a broken-down vehicle. Here’s an in-depth guide to help you make an informed decision.

Fuel Efficiency

Fuel costs can quickly add up when you’re on the road frequently. Look for vans with good miles-per-gallon (MPG) ratings. Diesel engines often offer better fuel efficiency than their gasoline counterparts but may come with higher upfront costs.

Storage Space

Storage is a premium commodity in van life. Evaluate the van’s built-in storage options and consider how easily you can add additional shelving or compartments. Think about your specific needs—will you be carrying sports equipment, musical instruments, or work tools? Plan accordingly.

Off-road Capabilities

If your adventures include off-the-beaten-path destinations, the right camper van for you will have solid off-road capabilities. Look for features like high ground clearance, four-wheel drive, and robust suspension systems. Keep in mind that off-road-ready vans may consume more fuel.

Mileage and Maintenance Records

A low-mileage van may seem like a great deal but don’t overlook the maintenance records. A well-maintained van with higher mileage could be a better long-term investment. Always ask for service records and consider getting a pre-purchase inspection from a trusted mechanic.

By paying attention to these key factors, you’ll be better equipped to find a van that not only meets your immediate needs but will also be a reliable companion in your van life journey.

Budgeting for Your Van Build

Embarking on a van life journey is thrilling, but it’s crucial to have a well-planned budget to avoid financial pitfalls. Whether you’re considering a DIY van build or hiring professionals, your budget will dictate your choices. Here’s how to budget like a pro.

DIY vs. Professional Builds

DIY builds can range from $5,000 to $10,000+ (not including the cost of the vehicle), depending on the materials and appliances you choose. Professional setups, on the other hand, can go upwards of $20,000 or more, especially if you opt for high-end finishes and technologies.

Hidden Costs

Don’t forget to account for hidden costs like permits, tools, and unexpected repairs. Always keep a contingency fund to cover these.

Financing Options

If you can’t pay for everything upfront, consider financing options. Personal loans, van-specific loans, and even crowdfunding are avenues to explore.

By meticulously planning your budget, you can avoid common financial traps and make your van life dream a sustainable reality.

Ongoing Improvements for Your Van Camper

Embarking on a van life journey doesn’t mean you have to have it all figured out from day one. Many seasoned travelers started with just the basics and made incremental improvements over time. This approach not only eases the financial burden but also allows you to tailor your build to your evolving needs and preferences.

Phases of Improvement

Think of your van build journey in phases:

  • Phase 1 – The Essentials: Find the right camper van for you and start with a bed, basic storage, and necessary kitchen appliances.
  • Phase 2 – Comfort Additions: Add items like a better mattress, blackout curtains, or a portable shower.
  • Phase 3 – Tech Upgrades: Incorporate solar panels, Wi-Fi boosters, or a high-quality sound system.
  • Phase 4 – Luxuries: If your budget allows, consider adding a mini-fridge, air conditioning, or even a compact washing machine.

Cost and Budgeting for Improvements

Each phase will come with its own set of costs. Budget for these improvements and save a little each month to fund your next upgrade.

DIY or Professional Help

While DIY improvements can save you money, some upgrades may require professional installation. Weigh the costs and benefits before diving in.

Future-Proofing Your Van

As you make improvements, think about how they’ll serve you in the long term. Opt for modular furniture and tech that can be easily upgraded or replaced.

Remember, your van is more than just a vehicle; it’s your home on wheels. By making thoughtful, ongoing improvements, you can ensure it remains a comfortable and functional space for years to come.

For more insights, check out Drivin & Vibin’s guide on building a DIY camper van:


Embarking on a van life journey is more than just a lifestyle choice; it’s a commitment to freedom, adventure, and self-reliance. From choosing the right camper van to budgeting for your build and ongoing improvements, each decision you make shapes your experience on the open road.

If you found this guide helpful, don’t keep it to yourself like a hidden treasure map. Share it far and wide, and let’s grow the Vanlifer community together. Click the share buttons below and spread the knowledge!

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