Van life has taken social media by storm, with popular Instagram and TikTok accounts showing off the freedom of living in a van. While everyone was stuck in their home during the COVID pandemic, people that chose the van life had some of the most exotic locations in the world all to themselves.
Van conversion companies experienced a major boost in sales, as consumers wanted a way to safely travel the country.
And driving one of these vans is a lot easier than driving an oversized RV. You can go virtually anywhere in one of these vans, enjoy the comforts of home and do it all without needing to leave your van.
Your home is the open road. You can park at national parks, in the mountains or at the lake one day and change your scenery the next day.
What is it Like to Live in a Camper Van?
When you go behind the scenes, past all of the glitz and glam of social media, you’ll find that there are perks and drawbacks to life in a van. First and foremost, the planning and actual costs to get into a van are high.
Costs and planning often take consumers by surprise because they don’t realize just how much goes into the life:
- Planning locations where you can stop and rest
- Planning out your weeks and stops
- Ensuring you have Internet and options to connect to work
- Downsizing to be able to bring all of your essentials with you
Van life is a small niche, so it can be difficult to find valuable resources that will help you get the most out of the “life.” If you plan to go off of just Instagram posts to find locations to visit and stop, you’re sure to be disappointed.
Planning will consume most of your time, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
There are a lot of advantages to living this life.
Van Life Advantages
Why do people decide to give up on normal life and go to live in a van?
It’s a question you’ll get a lot when you make the transition to life in a van.
The answer is simple: there are a lot of advantages.
- Costs are a lot more upfront than most people think they would be. You’ll spend a lot of capital but you won’t have to deal with rent, mortgage or any of the other costs that come with owning a home or renting, like utilities.
- Experience a new side of the world or country by going to locations that you would never visit otherwise. You can opt to visit any location, park your van and stay without worrying about hotel bills.
- Society is left behind, allowing you to break free from work culture, neighbors and also finding your own sense of solace.
- Community can be found with the tightknit community of van lifers. It’s your own built-in social club that allows you the opportunity to meet and socialize with people that you may not have met otherwise.
Van life allows you to find the simplicity in life that is hard to find when you conform to social norms. Society is always changing, and while some people prefer to remain in the constraints of a 9-to-5 and living in the same location for years, you can enjoy true freedom when you live the van life.
You’ll learn to appreciate the little things and become more self-reliant when you live in a van.
A few questions that you’ll have to ask yourself include:
- How will you make a living? Do you have enough cash to pay for food and gas?
- Do you need to have a stable Internet connection?
- What will you do in bad weather?
- Do you have enough money for repairs and maintenance?
Your van is your home, so you’ll have to upkeep it and be prepared for the unexpected. You may be lucky and never breakdown on the side of the road. You may also be driving along a rough stretch of road and will have your van breakdown. Planning for these occurrences ahead of time will allow you to be better prepared for these inevitable issues.
How Much Does It Cost to Convert a Van?
Pricing is going to vary drastically from one van conversion to the next. The main difference in price is going to be your own level of customization.
You can have a base van customized with kits that cost less than $10,000, but if you want a higher-end customization, you can easily spend $40,000 to $80,000 or more.
Do you mind doing some of the work yourself?
If not, you can save a lot of money on your van. There are a lot of van customization companies that allow for partial customization. You might do all of the interior customization and save a ton of money in labor costs, but you may need help with installing a toilet and plumbing, which a lot of companies offer.
Anyone willing to get their hands dirty and do some of the work themselves can cut down the cost of a customization drastically.
Speak to one of the leading conversion companies – we outline a few below – and find one that will work in your budget. Financing may or may not be available, and you may have to put down a $2,000 deposit if you plan on working with some companies.
Spend time outlining the features you want the most so that you can mix and match features to your liking and within budget.
Kits, while lacking some custom options, are the go-to options for anyone wanting to start their van life with as little costs as possible. You’ll often spend 60% to 70% less when you choose a kit over a truly custom build.
Top 4 Van Conversion Companies
Location: Denver, Colorado
Vanlife Customs is a van conversion company that offers custom camper vans with a focus on three main types of vans:
- Ford Transit
- Mercedes Sprinter
- RAM Promaster
Multiple van options are available, including customizing your own van and purchasing vans from the company’s inventory. Vans in the company’s inventory range from $28,000 to $185,000. They’re not cheap, but they definitely are unique and well built.
Builds take 8 to 12 weeks to complete, with the average build costing $60,000 to $80,000 depending on the:
The company provides custom quotes and estimates for each build, and you can schedule your build starting date as early as six months in advance.
If you need only partial work or component installs done for you, Vanlife Customs can get you on the schedule in 2 to 4 weeks. While the company offers customization, they do not work on SUVs or small vans. Instead, these experts prefer to stick to the van models that they know the best.
Financing is not available through Vanlife Customs, and the warranty is 3 years or 36,000 miles – whichever comes first.
If you plan on a DIY build, you can consult with Vanlife Customs to see their thoughts and how the company can help you along with your build. Sourcing materials and components is also possible, allowing for a one-stop shop whether you plan on paying for a custom build or plan on doing the majority of the work yourself.
2. Outside Van
Location: Portland, Oregon
Outside Van has been customizing vans for over 30 years and customizes around 100 vans annually. Customer satisfaction remains one of the highest in the industry thanks to the attention-to-detail that the company offers.
A variety of interior and exterior components are made by Outside Van to provide customers with the best products in the industry. The company has experts in numerous professions help make van customization a reality:
- Upholstery experts
Premium interior packages are included with every build, offering everything from safety features to sound dampening and insulation.
Owners have the option to customize the seating layout, cooking and systems. There are upgrades for television, audio and more. Specialty options are available through the company, including working on Sprinter van conversions.
Time for completing each project is 2 to 4 months, with a $2,000 deposit required and pricing options starting at $32,000.
When you contact the company, you’ll have two main ways to get behind the wheel of your van:
- Custom built options
- Ready to drive options
You can browse through the entire Outside Van inventory to quickly get started on your dream van life. Delivery options are also available. If you want, you can go to the factory to pick up your van or opt to have the van delivered at your location. An expert will come along for the delivery to point out all of the van’s features for you.
Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado and Reno, Nevada
Wayfarer Vans focuses on 100% modular design concepts, allowing van owners to rapidly change their van in the future to meet current design trends. The company offers pre-designed conversions that can turn an empty van into a camper van in as little as four hours.
There are also options for complete van pick up that allows you to get to your next adventure immediately.
Conversion prices depend on the vehicle and range from:
- $5,200 for 2015 to current RAM Promaster vans
- $11,400 for 2014 to current RAM Promasters with a 159” wheel base
Financing is offered as well as multiple interior options. While Wayfarer may not offer the same level of customization as Sportsmobile (which we’ll review next), the company’s kits do offer a powerful custom van option that is more affordable than the competition.
Custom builds are not available, although you can choose from a few custom options when ordering your kit.
Since everything is offered from a kit, the company is able to cut your costs for conversion by as much as 60%.
Another major perk: installation is free for all kits.
If you need a van to start converting, the company has partnerships with manufacturers and can help you purchase and customize your van. For a pre-build kit that allows you to join in on the perks of van life at a fraction of the cost, Wayfarer Vans is a good option.
Location: Huntington, Indiana and Austin, Texas
Sportsmobile is one of the van conversion companies that are pioneers in the industry. The company opened in 1961 – long before today’s fads – and they’re known for being able to work on a variety of vehicles, including custom camper vans, that other companies cannot.
When choosing this conversion company, you’ll enjoy a robust service that includes:
- Length requirements
- Height requirements
- Fuel options
- Custom options
You can even use their online studio that allows you to convert your van digitally before going into the actual conversion process. You can also rent one of their vans to try out the lifestyle for yourself to see if it’s a good fit for you.
When you customize your van, you’ll be able to choose from:
- Heating and cooling
- Electric and solar
Costs include a $2,000 deposit and start at $35,000 for the conversion. Production can range from 3 to 14 months. Pre-owned models and new stock are always available allowing you to choose from custom builds or pre-owned models that you can rapidly get behind the wheel of for your next can adventure.
With multiple customization options and designed for comfort, all of the Sportsmobile offerings are perfect if you want to start your van life.