Deciding to purchase a van was a big step for me. It required selling my car before being able to make the purchase and I didn’t know how I’d get on with driving it around. There were lots of decisions to make over size, price, age, previous use, my reasons for purchasing it, whether I’d have enough money to complete the conversion… The list goes on.
But now, having owned the van since January 2016, I can definitely say its one of the best decisions I’ve made. While there have been a few days where I’ve wished I had a car instead, this probably is less than 1% of the time. Having the van means we can go anywhere, anytime to do anything. We’ve got enough space to pack away gear for the many activities we do. We can sleep anywhere on long journeys. And, we’re part of an awesome community. We definitely can’t imagine life without a van.
To help you decide which van to get, we’ve put a few key considerations together that definitely played a role in the choice of our van and future vans.
Our three Ps of choosing a van:
Price is obviously a big one, especially for us. We can’t afford the tens of thousands of pounds for a new VW transporter or even a Ford Transit Custom. Instead, we’re limited to 2nd hand vans, most of which are usually ex-contractors vehicles. There is an abundance of these vans on the market which come in at a fraction of the cost of a new van. The older the van, generally the lower the price, but these sorts of vehicles do generally rack up the miles pretty quickly. The higher end vans, as mentioned before, can still be more expensive than new mid range vans, such as the Renault Trafic and its variants. The most common vans seem to be the “H1, L1” or short wheel base, low top. If space isn’t an issue for you, there are smaller vans, or even car derived vans which come in at a much lower price. These can still be quite roomy, you just may need to be a bit more inventive with your storage solutions.
We made the purpose the next key point because many ‘vanlifers’ use their vans for different things. Some head away on trips for several months while others use it on occasional weekends for surfing or cycling. This point brings into consideration the time that you’re going to spend in the van (this will direct your areas of cost) and the equipment you’ll likely want to store in/on the van. It goes without saying that on longer trips you’ll want more storage space while for weekend use you won’t need all the food/water/clothing storage. This enables you to have a more spacious layout or a smaller van.
For me, the initial reason for getting the van was for cycle racing, and having somewhere to sleep (for free) and be able to keep my bike safe. Being a student, staying in B&Bs or even campsites was expensive. The van purpose began to change when I decided that I’d like to drive around Europe between graduation and starting work. I adapted the bike storage space to house climbing gear and other equipment for weekend use. The van is now a good compromise for all purposes, both in terms of size and layout. We’ve managed 4 and 6 week tours of Europe with bikes and bouldering pads inside but it also serves as my daily vehicle. The comfort of a slightly large vehicle is welcome on my long commute, but i’m still able to negotiate urban environments and find car parks that I can fit in. Longer wheel base vans usually come with a higher roof, meaning that it is both harder to navigate around the narrow streets and 90 degree bends, but also easily find parking.
Our final P is People – something that is becoming more of a consideration for us. Here we think it is important to consider how many people you’ll likely be taking around, and this will probably be similar to your current lifestyle. A lot of vans come with a double bench seat in the front, enabling 3 persons to travel together. Offering lifts is then less of an option unless you’re considering fitting a rock & roll bed in the back. Some vans come with this sort of setup already in them, and commonly have a sliding door on either side.
Our van came with the double bench seat in the front and we have sometimes found it annoying that we can’t take a couple of friends to the crag/hill for the day and instead they’ve had to drive there as well. As I mentioned above, its becoming a consideration for us as we look to purchase a new van – one that will last us for a good few years. The bench seat has served well allowing us to pick up the odd hitch-hiker on our travels, but we are leaning towards the rock & roll bed setup.
And there we have it, our 3 Ps of choosing your van. There are many other personal preferences that you may have but we’ve tried to dig down to the roots of our decision making and share these with you.
How much did you get the van for? I bought the van back in 2016 for £1200. It was a very good deal helped by knowing the right people. Two other identical vans went to auction from the contracting company and sold for £2700 each. There are many ex-work force vans out there on a whole host of websites and dealerships, you just have to sift through to find the well look after ones!
How did you choose your layout? The layout changed during the conversion process. Before buying the van I thought I had it set, but physically lying down on a dirty builders van floor, I realised that my plan wasn’t going to work. I decided to have a bench seat running front/back behind the drivers seat, that would pull out into a bed. Cupboards would line the passenger side wall behind the sliding door and bikes would be stored internally across the rear doors. Deciding to travel around Europe resulted in more storage space being added to accommodate the various activities and less space for bike storage.
How much did you spend on the conversion? I don’t have an exact figure of the conversion cost, but I know its around £1000. The battery, insulation, cabling & sockets and carpet were the most expensive bits. I would have been prepared to pay a more significant amount for the sleeping as this was the primary reason for the purchase, however an IKEA memory foam mattress that had only had one use was going on gumtree for £30!
How much do you actually use it? We struggle to think back to a weekend where we haven’t slept in the van, or at least gone away in it. In 28 months we’ve driven 70,000 miles, and a rough calculation shows about 30,000 of those are commuter miles. The rest are our adventures.
If you have a more specific question, drop us a line on any of our social media channels and we’ll happily try to help.