Choosing a campervan


5 questions to ask yourself when buying a campervan.

Welcome to Vanlifezone's guide to choosing a campervan for your van life adventures. Upfront, let me be honest: there is no one perfect campervan. It really depends on what you intend to use it for, where you plan to go, and various other factors.

That said, let's run you through some things you need to consider before purchasing or renting a campervan.

A couple enjoying a meal at a portable table with chairs next to a white Renault Kangoo van, parked in the Icelandic countryside with cascading waterfalls in the distance, lush green hills, and overcast skies.
Camping in Iceland - @hayleyandjake 10/2020

What is your budget?

Budget is probably the primary consideration when choosing a campervan as it will determine exactly what you can afford. Be completely honest with yourself about the amount you are willing to spend.

For some, this may mean investing life savings into a dream. For others, it might be about finding a budget-friendly van so there's money left over for travel.

Newer vans come with a higher initial price tag but less maintenance and fewer issues down the line, which could save you money. Conversely, an older van might be cheaper to purchase initially, but it's wise to reserve some of your budget for potential mechanical problems.

In addition to the cost of the van itself, consider any upgrades you might want to make. Do you need solar panels and a larger leisure battery for off-grid travel? How about an awning, chairs, and a BBQ if you plan to spend time in the sun? Think about all the little things that could add up.

If you plan to do a DIY camper conversion, spend some time researching and planning the cost of your build so you can factor that into your budget. Plan for material and tool purchases, and possibly professional help, depending on your skills.

There's already a lot of information on the internet about the average cost of a camper conversion—take some of those figures and include them in your budget.

What do you want it for?

Are you looking for off-road adventures, long-distance cruising, or a vehicle for weekend getaways? Each use will dictate the best suited campervan.

If your adventures will take you into rugged terrain, you'll want a van that's higher off the ground, with robust off-road tires, and ample storage for food and water.

Alternatively, if you envision long road trips, consider a camper that's easy to handle and fuel-efficient. Older campervans are notorious for poor gas mileage, which could quickly drain your travel budget.

As a weekend warrior, you have more flexibility, which will allow you to choose a campervan that fits your style rather than strictly functional requirements.

A blue Volkswagen T5 camper van with pop-up roof parked on a grassy field at a campsite in the UK, under a sky with dramatic clouds.
The Happy Camper, a Volkswagen T5 - @thehappycamper2020 10/2020

How many people does it need to sleep?

Most campervans are quite cozy, and it's rare that they sleep many people. Consider if you'll ever want more than two people in the van.

Do you have children who will join, or perhaps the occasional friend or another couple?

All these factors will require a slightly larger van to accommodate more people and their belongings. Conversely, if you're traveling solo, you can opt for a much smaller van.

Also consider the storage you'll need for everyone's clothes and other items. If you're taking your van to the coast for surfing, ensure there's enough storage for all those boards and wetsuits.

What comforts do you need?

Not all campervans offer the same amenities, which is an important consideration. If you like the old-school VWs, they rarely include space for a toilet, or at least a conveniently placed one.

Conversely, newer, larger campervans might offer toilets, showers, and microwaves!

Ensure any campervan has the basics, such as a means to cook hot food, store water, and keep food dry. While a fridge might not be essential, it certainly is convenient.

For me, the point of having a campervan was to simplify life while traveling and living in it, so I opted to forego many typical home comforts for simplicity.

Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. The best advice we can give is to make a list of common household comforts and decide what you can live without. Remember, the more "stuff" you have, the more that can break or require maintenance.

What's the weather like?

While not the first consideration for many, climate is genuinely important to consider. If you're traveling in a tropical country where your living space can extend outdoors, you might manage with a smaller or more packed interior.

Conversely, if you're traveling in very wet or cold areas, having enough space to comfortably live inside your van becomes crucial. I've spent a lot of time in Scotland in my VW T3, and I am always grateful for the ¾ width sofa bed and swiveling captain's chairs.

If I had been traveling in Morocco, for instance, I would have probably appreciated an outside awning and chairs more.

Consider the seasons you'll be using your van, and the countries you want to visit. This also ties into the level of comfort we've already discussed.

If you plan to venture into the Alps in your van during winter, consider installing a heater. Diesel heaters are effective and safe when installed correctly.

In summary, warm weather means less indoor space is necessary, whereas cold, wet weather means you'll spend more time inside.

Which campervan is right for me?

The best campervan is the one that meets your criteria. Having clearly defined answers for all the questions above will help you narrow down your search for the perfect campervan.

Be honest with yourself about your needs and preferences. For instance, you might think you don't need an onboard toilet, preferring public restrooms instead. However, if you frequently need the bathroom during the night, this could quickly become inconvenient.

Other than that, enjoy the process! Visit several vans before settling on one, and try to relish the journey of choosing your campervan.

A yellow Volkswagen van with the license plate '75 VIBES' drives along a coastal road. Surfboards are visible on the roof rack, hinting at an adventurous beach outing. Inside, a person is focused on the road ahead, while the backdrop features a calm sea and a clear sky at twilight, conveying a sense of freedom and the spirit of a road trip along the picturesque coastline. @75vibes_ 09/2020 - Vanlifezone (Issue 1)
Going with the flow - @75vibes_ 09/2020


Most reliable campervan

Older vans tend to be more unreliable. It's just a fact, so if you want to avoid any potential problems, try to get a newer model. VW Caddies, Ford Transits, Sprinters, and Citroëns all have a good reputation for reliability.

If you are purchasing second-hand, try to obtain any service history or receipts for work done, as this helps ensure the van has been maintained properly with regular servicing.

Best VW campervan

If you want groovy old-school vibes and like to take it slow, then the T2s and T3s will be perfect for you. Their timeless hippie style will have you picking up lots of smiles and shakas as you cruise, but be aware of their more frequent mechanical issues and higher fuel costs.

If time is tight and comfort is valued, then opt for one of the newer models like the T4s or T5s. These will give you the same feel as any modern car but are kitted out for any adventure.

Best time to buy a campervan

Prices of campervans fluctuate regularly. Typically, spring and summer are more expensive times to purchase as people prepare for upcoming holidays. This often means winter is the cheapest time of year, with people wanting to sell vans rather than pay for storage.

About Josh McClean
Josh McClean is a writer and digital marketer who can be spotted cruising the Southwest of England in an old VW. Vanlifezone team member
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