Choosing a Vehicle for Long-Term or Full-Time Travel: Van, Class B RV, or Travel Trailer
Researching My Long-Term Travel Fantasy
Decisions, decisions. Are you agonizing over what mode of transportation you want for long-term travel? Me too!
For the past 2 years I have watched literally hundreds of YouTube videos on moving into a van or RV. Now I'm hooked and want to DO IT, yet my indecision, mixed with a little fear, is holding me back. I was so addicted to watching vloggers reveal their adventurous spirits, and I reveled in their stories of life on the road. Now I've watched enough, and am facing the reality that not all on YouTube is of direct value to me personally. In fact, some of what is presented is nothing more than propaganda that I have had to sift through to find a few kernels of true guidance.
Still the extended road trip adventure is something I want to manifest, for a couple of years at least. So I am using this medium to examine the pros and cons of the various options, factoring in categories of cost, mobility, freedom, space, and lifestyle.
If you are reading this, it might indicate that you have a similar interest in doing the whole RV thing. I have done so much research and feel that I can offer some help to anyone thinking of taking the plunge.
Some obstacles to Launching Into Full-Time Van or RV Living
Fear Of Change
One Youtuber who goes by the channel name Curious Karli pointed out in one of her videos that you can't know in advance what to do from one moment to the next when making a big change, referring to the scary decision to move into a vehicle, and that life has a way of showing us if we just trust in the process. After watching I thought "yeah, you do have to just figure it out as you go."
Later, I watched another YouTuber seemingly counter this ferocity by saying it is a good idea to have some of the framework for your income and desired lifestyle in place before you hit the road.
As usual, I am of two minds on this. I think it's important to take risks to keep ourselves young, with the realization that some stability is needed to ensure our risks do not have dire consequences.
Work and Lifestyle
Some travelers are quite happy working seasonal jobs and moving from place to place. Others are digital nomads who work in marketing or copyediting, or something similar.
There are some secure types of employment that pay well and allow for mobility. Traveling medical professionals such as nurses and medical technicians seem to be able to easily secure employment in cities and towns across the U.S., fulfilling one contract and then signing up for the next one in a different state. I expect this trend of converting more jobs from stationary to remote will continue.
If you do plan to work while traveling, or while living in a vehicle, my only advice is to try out a job in your hometown before making it mobile. I tried medical transcription for a little over a year, thinking that this would be a good fit given my health background, as I was already familiar with medical terminology. Not only was the pay abysmal at $10/hour, it required long hours sitting and staring at a computer. Yes, you can take breaks, but that is not that easy since the dictation requires very focused concentration, and it is near impossible to pull away from the recording halfway through. For my efforts, I was rewarded with a very stiff neck. Not for me.
Security, Safety & Savings
Unless you travel with your existing job, it is a good idea to build up a savings account before you take off. I think that about $5000 in savings is the minimum, to cover breakdowns, emergencies, and other unexpected events. Having about twice that amount would provide a much better cushion. Mechanical repairs are costly and it might not be as easy to recover losses if you are traveling.
And if you are going to be changing jobs frequently, I think you should really save a lot more. It's really much easier to continue saving if you already have something saved -- it sounds illogical but it seems to be true nonetheless.
Another aspect of safety is the age of your vehicle, and the type of vehicle. Driving a Class B RV or travel trailer would allow you to stay in RV parks and campgrounds where there are safety features such as lighting, gates, and employees who check on the grounds.
Driving a van or Class B allows you to stay inside the vehicle without having to exit, something that might be important if you plan to stay in national forest or more remote areas.
Consider the age of the vehicle as well. Older vehicles are going to need more maintenance, and are prone to sudden breakdowns. This happened to me when I drove a cheap van across the Nevada desert to go from San Diego to Denver , and the experience was not so bad, but I wouldn't want to go through it again. It might be worth having to make payments for a newer vehicle if it means sleeping easier at night.
I think it's important to take risks to keep ourselves young, with the realization that some stability is needed to ensure our risks do not have dire consequences.
Picking A Vehicle For Full Time Living or Travel
Full-time Van Life is the New Craze
Van Life is trending, more so for young people than working people or retirees. Vans are perhaps appealing because they are smaller, more affordable, and safer on the road than any of the other choices for long-term travel. I like the hippie lifestyle of van life, but with today's technological conveniences it isn't really all that rugged, or even counter culture.
Vans offer the easiest entry to the travel lifestyle because they can be purchased used and in relatively good condition. They can also be fixed by almost any mechanic, especially if you buy a popular and common one like a Chevy, Ford, or Dodge.
While the idea of converting a van and putting in things like a refrigerator, camping stove, and bed (not to mention electrical to run a fan and charge devices) seemed overwhelming at first, the extra effort could prove worthwhile since you would then really know how to work all of the systems yourself. On the other hand, RVs are already set to go and don't require as much prep work. So let us compare the main options.
Minivans and Small Cargo Vans
Not too many are brave enough to attempt to live in a minivan full time, but there are some special adventurers who do it. For example, YouTube vlogger Crystal Vanner lived in a small Mercury Villager for a few years.
Other vloggers have chosen small cargo vans. Toby in Transit lives in a Ford Connect and travels all over the U.S. including national forests and campgrounds, in between his seasonal work. Static Camper Van lives in Seattle and resides full time in a Dodge Ram City ProMaster.
All of these have found a way to make it work, some with solar and elaborate builds, and others with basic "throw a bed in and go" builds.
Recently I test drove a Dodge Ram City Promaster because I like the build and interior of these little vans. I was surprised to discover that it drives just like a car! I was a little worried about being able to see around the sides of the van, and the mirrors were okay but I still wasn't sure about it. I am sure you get used to the visibility after driving it for a month or more. I chose to start out with this mini cargo van because I have learned that it has great gas mileage, of up to 28 mpg on the highway, and adequate cargo space to fit a mattress, along with a small amount of gear. It can also hold a small refrigerator and stove.
How much cargo space is there in the Dodge Ram City Promaster? The specs put it at 131.7 cubic feet. The length inside from back of seats to back door is 87.2 inches and the width from side to side, between the wheel wells, is 48.4 inches. The head room is about 5 feet so not tall enough to stand up inside.
Standard or Extended Cargo Vans
The small cargo vans like Dodge Ram City Promaster and Ford Transit Connect are what I like to call the "bare bones," with no room to do anything but sit and sleep. No standing or stretching, and not a lot of ways to configure your sleeping set up. And if you travel with a pet or another person, it is even more of a challenge.
The larger model of cargo van, such as the The Ford E150 and the Chevy Express are more spacious and that means you can carry more of your essentials along with a few luxuries. Most of the van conversions I have seen on YouTube feature one of these. Caravan Carolyn was traveling in a Ford E150 van for about two years before she moved into a fifth wheel.
There are many possible configurations available when converting these vans, that allow for ventilation, propane cooktops, sinks, and shelving. Some of these conversions really do evoke a homey feeling too, as you can decorate with your own style, adding personal touches like custom-made shelving, wood or carpeted walls, kitchen fixtures, appliances, and rugs.
Class B vehicles: Roadtrek, Hymer Aktiv, Winnebago Travato
Class B vehicles, such as the three named above, are very appealing in that they are also on the smaller size, and so can be parked in a regular-size parking space. They also sport built-in interior fixtures that may include everything you need for domestic life -- stove top, refrigerator, bed, air conditioning, generator, and storage, As compared to a van, however, they can be rather cumbersome at times. Not only do they have huge water holding tanks, there are also tons of cabinets. That sounds great, right? Yes, but then you have to drive it around and listen to everything shake and rattle as you go, including all the stuff in your cabinets, the water tanks, and more.
Travel trailers were initially at the very bottom of my list. Why would anyone want to bother with hitching and unhitching, not to mention towing a giant house butt down the road?
Then I thought about the fact that a trailer can be left in situ at an RV lot or campground, while I drive my SUV or truck anyplace and at any speed I wish. This ramped up the appeal of travel trailers by a huge percentage. In fact, it is now at the top of my list (although knowing me, this could change at any moment as new facts or ideas filter in).
Trailers also have more space inside which would allow one to exercise, stretch, cook more elaborately, and just feel more at home. Having visited some RV dealers in my area, I've been surprised at how spacious they feel once you step inside. The layouts allow for very efficient storing of goods, and there is often storage underneath the rig as well, on the bottom underneath the flooring.
Small Mini Van
Large Cargo Van
Class B RV
Trailer and SUV Combo
Pros: Park anywhere, Maneuverability, Great gas mileage, cheaper up front and maintenance costs.
Pros: Park most anywhere except small parking spaces, loads of options for conversions including sinks, ovens, shelving, and cabinets, gas mileage is pretty good (usually better than Class B RV)
Pros: Comes equipped with all systems intact including refrigerator, stove, oven and electrical; has A/C for cabin area; able to be used at RV parks due to 30 AMP connection
Pros: If you are staying at RV parks, you can leave the trailer while you use your tow vehicle to explore the area; trailer is like a tiny home with all the conveniences as those in Class B RV
Cons: Cramped and tiny living space, minimal storage capacity for gear and other items, not big enough for 2 people
Cons: Conversions can be time consuming and potentially costly, repairs will cost more than smaller cargo van in most cases due to a bigger engine,
Cons: Because they have water tanks they can be very heavy and cumbersome on the road; gas mileage is usually pretty bad (12-17 mpg) due to size of engine; no ability to design it yourself or modify interior
Cons: Maintenance of 2 separate vehicles is required; difficult to find places to park other than truck stops and Walmarts while traveling; must become comfortable hitching and unhitching at each stop
YouTube Channels on Full Time RV Living
Check out the following YouTube channels to learn more about full-time, and long-term living in an RV:
- Creativity RV
- Gone With the Wynns
- Toby In Transit
- Static Camper Van
- Interstellar Orchard
- Carolyn's RV Life
- Crystal Vanner
- Story Chasing
- Curious Karli
Sum It Up: The Right Vehicle For Traveling
Questions to ask yourself:
How often you will want to change spots (move from town to town, or from town to country/remote areas)? If you will be driving every week, and covering long distances, a small van might work best since it does not require any prep time to get going, and the gas mileage is better.
Factor in whether you will be working (remote work/seasonal jobs/travel jobs/stationary jobs), and whether you need or prefer to work full time or part time, or as a volunteer. For retirees and young people seeking adventure, work may not be as important. Any vehicle can be used as a base for working, however you might not like being cramped into the tiny space of a small van, especially if you will be stationary for weeks at a time.
How many creature comforts will you require? Be brutally honest with yourself about this. If you need a big space to sleep and lounge, then a small vehicle won't work for you. Same goes if you need three pillows and four blankets to sleep well, or have a big shoe collection. If you plan to spend most of your time outside hiking or exploring, a small vehicle might work.
Do you have any health or personal needs that will shape your travel style? For example, will you need gluten-free choices? Will you need to shower every day? Do you hate bright sun, rain, or have a preference for a certain clime? Travel trailers and Class B vehicles offer built-in showers, and are more spacious inside for those days that you won't want to venture out due to climate, computer work, or just laziness! They also have more storage space for your special food items, and a larger wardrobe.
What is your dream of travel? Do you long for starry skies at night, wide open spaces, waterfalls, national monuments, or big cities? Do you want to visit national parks, state parks, or forest? You might like to install a solar system on your van or RV if you wish to boondock out in remote areas.
So what is your pick? Please comment below if you have some tips or would like to share your experience traveling out on the open road. Or if you haven't yet ventured out, feel free to share your plans and dreams.
I hope that this information has been helpful. See you around the campfire!!