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Which Vehicle is Best For You to Live In?
- Box Van stealth parking in the city: 6 Years
- 24 foot Travel Trailer in an RV Park: 1 Year
- Home-Built camper on a 4×4 pickup living on public land: 3 Years
- 4×4 pickup pulling a Home-Built cargo trailer living on public land: 2 Years
- Cargo Van pulling a Home-Built cargo trailer living on public land: 1 Year
Why have I lived in so many different vehicles? As my circumstances changed I changed vehicles to best meet my needs. For my first 6 years of vandwelling, I lived in a city so stealth was my top priority. Beyond that, I had two sons who spent weekends with me so I needed plenty of room for them. A box van is perfect for that situation and was my only good choice! Later, one of my sons came to live with me and the box van wouldn’t work because he had to go to a school. So I put it in storage and lived in the Travel Trailer for a year in an RV Park.
I needed to be able to leave my home in one place while I went to work and the camper was not removable. So I got rid of it and bought a 6×10 cargo trailer. It was perfect because in the summer I could leave the trailer in my campground and drive the truck at work. Then in the winter I could take the truck and trailer into sandy desert areas without worrying about getting stuck. Having the truck bed empty also allowed me to buy a motorcycle and drive it at work and throughout the year and save a lot of money on gas.
But when I broke my arm, I could no longer work as a campground host and my circumstances changed again. The pickup was old and worn out and had to be replaced. Since I no longer could work, my summers were free to travel. That meant the new vehicle I bought had to be a good one to travel in during the summer and then pull the trailer in the winter. To me the ideal vehicle for that is a 1 ton Extended Van, so that’s what I got. And I have to say, it has met all my expectations. It pulls the trailer easily and makes a great home for extended summer trips. Next summer I’m taking it to Alaska and tremendously looking forward to it!!
The reason I’m telling you all this is that you have to choose a vehicle for your specific circumstances. What works great for me might be the worst possible choice for you. You also need to be aware that with time your circimstances may change requireing a different choice. Next, lets look at how to choose a vehicle.
Setting Your Priorities.
We all want to live in a perfect vehicle which meets all are needs, but that’s impossible! It can’t happen because no vehicle does everything well. For example, a minivan has outstanding stealth and gets very good MPG, but it is very small and uncomfortable. An RV is very large and very comfortable but has terrible stealth and gets terrible MPG. You have to choose which of those opposing factors is most important to you. To do that you need to answer these two questions:
To answer that question choose which of these best describes you:
- I’m close to a minimalist and need just the bare essentials.
- I like to camp and don’t need much. I want to be as comfortable as I can, but I don’t need a shower, toilet or running water. I can get by with sponge baths, a 5 gallon bucket (or porta-potti) and a spray bottle.
- I can live in a tiny space but I need a hot shower, toilet and running hot water.
- I need all the space and comforts of home.
You have to be really honest with yourself as you answer this question or you will make a bad choice. As we go down the list of my recommended vehicles, choose the one that meets your minimum comfort needs.
2) Where will you spend most of your time?
You basically have three choices so decide which one of these best describes you (none of them may describe you perfectly, but you need to choose which one is closest):
- I’ll live mostly in a city so stealth (the ability to sleep in your van without being noticed) is a top priority.
- I’ll live mostly on Public Land so back-road ability is important but stealth is not.
- I’ll travel a lot so I need good gas mileage and don’t really care about stealth.
Now that you know the answer to those two questions you can set your priorities. Here are my recommendations based on where you live. As you read them, refine your choice by which meets your comfort needs.
STEALTH: YOU SPEND MOST OF YOUR TIME IN THE CITY
If you will spend most of your time in the city, then the ability to not attract attention is your highest priority (we call that stealth parking). These are your best choices for a vehicle in order of best to worst:
- Cargo Van: great stealth; cheap to buy; decent MPG; quite a bit of room; Best All-Around Choice (unless you are a couple or have a family)
- Mini Van: great stealth, very good MPG, but not much room or comfort; Best for people on a tight budget or who travel more
- Box Van or Step Van: great stealth, plenty of room (especially headroom) so it can be very comfortable; but terrible MPG so not for travelers; Best for couples or families who live in a city, or if you are self-employed and need more room.
- High Top Conversion Van: slightly less stealth and MPG, but more comfortable than any other van. You may ask, “Why not a standard Passenger Van instead?” Because a high-top van is more comfortable and has the same stealth so why not get it?
- You have other choices but I don’t recommend them. A Box Truck or Van Pulling a Cargo Trailer can work but you have to get out and walk around to get in them and that hurts your stealth. Any RV is obviously a home and will attract police attention. The only exception is some Class Bs have very little to give them away as RVs and they work well if you can find one. Your standard RoadTreks and PleasureWays generally are obviously RVs and have poor stealth.
BOONDOCKER: YOU SPEND MOST OF YOUR TIME ON PUBLIC LAND
Nearly any vehicle will work for a Boondocker (a person who camps on Public Land like National Forests or BLM land). But you also have a new consideration: how far back into the Back-Country do you want to go? The better the off-road ability of your vehicle, the more remote you can be which will give you more privacy and less likelihood to see a Ranger. Because stealth is not important, better MPG and comfort become higher priorities. Of course those two are opposites so you have to decide which is most important to you. Here are my recommendations in order of best to worst:
- Slide-in-Diesel Truck Camper (4×4 with a lightweight camper) Very comfortable; up to 18 mpg; excellent back-road ability; more expensive to buy and maintain: Overall Best Choice!
- Class B Camper Van: Very comfortable; decent MPG; decent off-road ability (but ground clearance can be a problem); more expensive to buy and maintain: Very Good Choice
- High-Top Conversion Van: quite comfortable; very good MPG; very good back-road ability; cheap to buy and maintain; very good stealth when you need it: Great Choice
- Mini-Van: very good MPG; with AWD and a lift very good back-country ability; minimum comfort, but better than a tent, cheap to buy and maintain, very good stealth if you ever need it: A Great Choice (if MPG is your highest priority)
- Van or Truck Towing a Small Trailer (Cargo or Fiberglass): poor MPG; good comfort, good back-road ability with a cargo trailer: A Surprisingly Good Choice
- RV Towing an Economy Car or Motorcycle: Most comfortable of all; combined MPG of RV and economy car is quite good; back-road ability is very poor; stealth is poor if you ever need it; much more expensive to buy and maintain. A Surprisingly Good Choice (unless back-road ability is a high priority)
- RV: extremely comfortable; terrible MPG; terrible back-road ability: Poor Choice (unless you are on a tight budget and need lots of comfort)
TRAVELER: YOU TRAVEL A LOT
If you intend to rack up lots of miles and see as much of the country as possible you have different needs than anyone else. You need the best MPG you can get and a vehicle that’s pleasant to drive. These are good choices for you in order of Best to Worst:
- Mini-Van: can get very good MPG; much more comfortable than a tent; cheap to buy and maintain; easy to drive; very good back-road ability: Best Choice
- Economy Car and a Tent: Excellent MPG, very little comfort or room; very susceptible to bad weather; extremely cheap to buy and maintain; very pleasant to drive; Best Choice if you are a true minimalist and need very little comfort; Terrible Choice for most people.
- High-Top Conversion Van: good MPG; pretty confortable; good headroom; good back-road ability; very good stealth; Great Choice if you need more comfort than a min-van can give
- Class B: very comfortable ; decent MPG decent to drive; Great Choice
- RV: extremely comfortable; difficult to drive; terrible MPG; Terrible Choice unless you need extreme comfort.