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  • Writer's pictureTyler

Why A Van?


We FINALLY moved into our van, Peri, on April 3, 2022! We packed up our house, sold all our furniture, and put the remainder into a storage unit. Hard to believe it's real! Now seems like a great time to look back at the mobile living options we considered and walk you through our decision-making process. For months, we went back and forth, thinking a travel trailer would be perfect, then a skoolie, or a van - SQUIRREL!


When we asked friends and family for advice about living on the road, we got a lot of feedback, but some of it was conflicting because we hadn't clearly communicated our must-haves (partially because we didn't know them ourselves in these early stages). Travel hardened family members suggested going with a fifth wheel for the space and comfort, while others cautioned against the limitations imposed by the size and maneuverability of anything towable.


Our Criteria


Starting out, our pro/con lists were all over the place, and our brains were fried! We had no idea what to choose. Then, thankfully, we decided to design a list of criteria to help make apples to apples comparisons between all the options. Examining each of the living spaces through this lens made our final decision so much simpler. We came up with these to help inform what type of RV would most enable us to embrace a peregrine lifestyle while working full-time. Henceforth, we will use “RV” as a blanket term for simplicity referring to any kind of mobile living space, including vans, skoolies, trailers, motorhomes, etc, even if that’s not technically always correct.


Before we get into the three leading contenders for our future living space, let’s break down what we decided was important to us for life on the road.


2 work areas


Jess and I are both very fortunate to have the ability to work fully remote. Therefore, this was an extremely important factor, if not the most important, for us to each have a viable separate work area. Jess is in sales calls and client meetings most of the day while I am usually pretty head down as a software engineer, but we still need some physical separation to avoid interfering with each other. Therefore, we knew we needed something that would allow us both to have room inside if the weather wasn’t nice enough to be outside.


All the options we looked at could be set up in a dual workspace way. Vans are a blank page that can be designed to spec, motorhomes and larger trailers typically have a ton of extra space where you could set up a makeshift chair and desk if needed. Teardrops and truck campers were the form factors that suffered most in this department, but we could always have one of us sit in the cab of the vehicle in a pinch.


Ease of travel


This category ended up having a few sub-criteria we kept coming back to. Some of the RV's we considered would be easier to travel with than the others, especially in cities, and down the narrow dirt roads that often lead to the best off grid camping sites. We ideally wanted:

  • A way to get into town without bringing our whole rig with us, so we wouldn’t have to worry about losing our campsite while getting groceries in case we were camping in a crowded area.

  • Maneuverability in town and at campsites

  • Ability to stealth camp


Being able to go into town without bringing our living space was the biggest non-negotiable in this category, we wanted freedom! Always having to take our entire house with us when we go out for groceries or giving up our campsite to run a small errand was not a hassle we wanted to deal with.


A second ease of travel consideration for us was the fact that neither of us have pulled a trailer before, so that alone would be a huge learning curve, let alone learning to navigate narrow, winding, dirt roads with a 30 foot object behind a giant truck. Furthermore, being small and maneuverable enough to fit into any campsite or park in town easily would hugely improve our flexibility to make on the fly decisions.


Having the ability to stealth camp was also a serious consideration. We plan to travel pretty frequently vs staying in one area for an extended time, and being able to park on the side of a road and crash for a night without drawing too much attention definitely gives you more options if overnight parking is sparse. In some urban areas, it’s really your only practical option for many miles that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. (HEY SAN DIEGO, I’M LOOKING AT YOU!.. At least you’re pretty.)


There was not immediately a clear winner in this category. There were trade-offs in every direction. In a van, there’s no obvious way to get to town easily without losing your camping spot. A truck and full-size trailer might not fit into every campsite and is difficult to maneuver in town. Motorhomes lose in both ways. Small teardrop trailers actually seemed like they were starting to pull ahead here with the fewest compromises for ease of travel, but with extreme compromises in space and off-grid capability, plus, they still don’t allow you to follow the first rule of stealth camping: never leave the vehicle! This one stumped us for a while. Stay tuned for our solution!


Off-Grid Capability


Being able to camp in undeveloped locations was critical to us. There are so many beautiful sites available for free, but in order to stay for more than a day or two, robust power, water, and waste management systems are extremely helpful. In order to power both of us working full-time, a kitchen set-up, and climate control systems to maintain a safe internal temperature for Leo, we needed systems that could keep us up and running for at least a week off-grid.


For power, we decided to avoid propane. That way, we wouldn’t have to worry about a leak or running out at an inopportune time. That meant we needed a powerful solar and battery system to provide electricity on the road. For water, we wanted enough to ideally last for two weeks if used conservatively, but this would ultimately be influenced by the size of the living space. We also wanted a simple, self-contained waste management system, and we preferred a composting option over a black-water tank.


Luckily, most types of RV’s offer packages that can be added to make them more capable off-grid, or they can be retrofitted. On the other hand, you will become physically limited by space for things like water and waste if you choose one of the smaller form factors like a teardrop trailer or a truck bed camper.


The biggest winners in this category were larger rigs like full-size trailers and skoolies. There is a ton of space for water, batteries, and solar equipment on these. However, the larger the space, the more power it consumes, and the larger, more expensive, and complicated the systems and build will be. We found out that these costs added up quickly. This significantly impacted the upfront cost of making a large rig off-grid capable.


Financial Impact


If you’ve learned anything about us so far, you know we’re always thinking about the next move for our financial freedom. So how would we be able to leverage this living space to benefit us in the future? Resale value, future investment through renting to others on apps like Airbnb, VRBO, or Outdoorsy, and future adventures with friends and family were all considerations in this category. We also wanted to make sure the upfront cost didn’t set us back in our longer term goals.


Depending on which RV option we chose, a vehicle purchase was in our future. With a large travel-trailer, the full-size trucks necessary to tow such a large trailer were all very expensive. Most retailed around ($70,000+). The used car market is wild right now, and a lot of used trucks were even more expensive than buying a new one. We were scouring the market to find a deal, but we began to lean toward a new truck so we would have a warranty for the year we planned to spend on the road. For a van, we were leaning towards either a pre-built van or building out a Mercedes Sprinter 4X4. Add in the cost of a trailer or building out a van, and we had some sticker shock.


There is a healthy rental market for camper vans and full-size trailers (both mobile and simply as a stationary place to crash in town for a few nights cheaply), but motorhomes and teardrop trailers did not seem to fair as well based on our limited research into the RV rental market. Luckily, a smaller, lighter trailer like a teardrop would also allow us to avoid buying a full size truck and tow with our small crossover. What it lacked in future investment opportunities, it made up for with its low upfront cost. Vans fell somewhere in the middle after accounting for a full custom buildout.


Safety


Another consideration was being able to drive away without exiting the vehicle if we felt unsafe for any reason at all. We haven’t found many posts about this scenario, but this is something we felt strongly about. Being steps away from the driver’s seat in an emergency was certainly preferable to sleeping in anything towed, which we would have to exit, exposing ourselves to potential danger, in order to drive away. Obviously, any form of pull-behind does not offer this option. While some custom truck campers have this ability by cutting through the rear of the truck cab, vans and motorhomes were the main two types of RV’s that enabled this.


Comfort


While we couldn’t wait to embrace mobile living and travel across the country, we still wanted to have some of our creature comforts. A shower, toilet, and indoor kitchen are luxuries on the road. We have seen some amazing builds without them, but these were bonuses that we wanted to have regardless of the living space we chose. Luckily, almost all of the RV categories offered these to varying degrees. Truck and teardrop campers were the most limited. Some only featured outdoor kitchens, but even these were surprisingly feature-packed.



Options We Eliminated


We know there are a TON of great ways to adopt life on the road. Motor homes, skoolies/buses, vans, trailers (large, small, fifth wheel, etc), converted SUV’s, truck bed campers, 4x4 overlander rigs, rooftop tents, tiny houses on wheels. The list goes on! We discussed each of these, but most of them were quickly ruled out for a variety of reasons, and we don’t want to spend too much time explaining those, so in broad strokes, here is how we narrowed it down to just three quickly:


Too Small: These didn’t offer enough space or comfort at a birds eye view, so we crossed them off quickly.

  • Truck bed campers

  • Converted SUV’s

  • Tents of any kind

Supply Issues: These were difficult to find in good mechanical condition within our timeline (forget about a warranty) and had fewer options for conversion services.

  • Skoolies/Buses (also, most are not 4x4, a huge deterrent for us)

  • Overlanders (Large 4x4 commercial trucks with a camper on the back, we found out about these when we were passing through Gunnison, CO and met one of the builders. We still think these things are awesome, but it just didn't work with out timeline, and a 4x4 van fit into roughly the same niche. Check him out!)

Too Big: These were too big to maneuver easily, and we didn’t want to be limited in which campsites we could visit.

  • Fifth Wheel (these things get heckin' huge!)

  • Tiny Home on Wheels

Layout: These offered limited floor plans that didn't fit our dual remote work lifestyle without wasting space on unnecessary things like excessive bathrooms and living areas.

  • Motorhomes

  • Class C's


That left us with three main options to dive deep on, so we’ll review each as they relate to our criteria. Some of our reasoning may not apply to you, so this is strictly meant to illustrate our decision process. For example, the best choice for a family of four who only uses their RV for long weekends at developed campsites is probably very different from ours as a couple who travels the country full-time with a dog while working remotely. Still, we hope you’ll find this comparison of the RV options we explored helpful, and maybe it’ll bring up something you hadn’t considered in your search. Cheers, and without further ado!


Our Top Three


After narrowing down the search, there were three main options that we analyzed more seriously. These three spanned the spectrum of cost, size, and comfort, so here is a high level graphic overview followed by a deep dive into the pros and cons of each.



Teardrop Trailer


2 work areas - Con: All options would require one of us to be outside the trailer during busy meeting times. We discussed the possibility of one of us sitting in the truck cab but didn’t really didn’t love this idea because it wouldn’t be very comfortable or look professional in video calls.

Ease of travel - Neutral: We would be able to detach the truck to head into town and still keep our campsite. A smaller trailer would be easier to maneuver than a larger one, but still a learning curve. Fitting in most campsites wouldn't be an issue, but parking in town could be a challenge. No stealth camping because of the need to exit the vehicle.

Off Grid Capability - Con: Solar panels in this living space option are possible and some even offered upgrade packages for both the panels and batteries! However, water capacity in this form factor was much less than what we were ideally looking for, between 6-21 gallons of fresh water. This really shortens the time between refills and also means you have to be extremely conservative with water. It is possible to store extra water in the truck, but refilling any amount over a couple gallons would be impractical.

Future Investment Potential - Con: This living space doesn’t really bring in future revenue. We could sell the truck later on and the smaller trailer isn’t too much money to keep for only personal use, but it also wouldn’t boast a lot of room if we wanted to take friends and family on a trip either (plus a purchase this size should offer some form of future revenue in our opinion). Renting it out is possible, but with a quick glance at the rental apps we know, trailers this size didn’t rent for much each night and there were already a lot of options available.

Cost: - Big Pro: High end teardrop trailer options were between ($35k-$58k) which was much more cost-effective than the other options we looked at. Because of their light weight, many teardrops can be pulled by a small crossover instead of requiring a full-size truck. This really made the small travel trailer a frontrunner in terms of upfront cost by eliminating the need to purchase a whole new vehicle. If we were just weekending and doing occasional longer road trips, this would definitely have been our choice.

Safety: - Con: Not able to immediately drive away without getting out of the trailer.

Comfort: - Neutral: Several of the small trailers we evaluated packed an impressive number of amenities like shower, toilet, and indoor kitchen, but each had some tradeoffs given the obvious space constraints.


Favorites in this category:

($40K)Safari Condo Travel Trailer - https://safaricondo.com/en/caravanes-alto/


Full-Size Trailer


2 Work Areas - Pro: After scouring the available options we found some options that had a specific office space or a bunk room that we could convert into an office. The downside here ended up being the addition of a second bedroom or loft area in these options, which wasted a lot of unnecessary additional space.

Ease of Travel - Con: Just like with a smaller trailer option we would be able to detach the truck to head into town without losing our campsite, but adding an even longer trailer behind would both limit campsite options and add difficulty to driving and parking in town without unhitching first.

Off Grid Capability - Pro: All options we considered had a robust solar panel and battery set-up as well as water. Perk of a larger living space, more room on the roof for panels and more storage for water tanks. Some of the options held enough water for almost a month!

Future Investment Potential - Pro: If we went the full size trailer route, we'd have enough space to live in it longer than the two years we planned to travel if needed (which would let us spread the cost over a longer period), and we could park it on a future property. We would either live in the camper and rent out the home, or vice versa. It would also have enough versatility for future friend/family travel. Nice ones also rent at good rates. On the downside, trailers tend to depreciate quickly.

Cost - Con: These campers had a wide price range depending on the “luxuries” onboard. In this category, we were most interested in a Living Vehicle, but it was also the most expensive and we saw hurdles in financing/timing of getting a used option. The “cheaper” options would still involve a full-size truck purchase, making the price-range for one of these setups the most expensive ($105k-$425k). BIG OOF!

Safety - Con: Can't drive away without leaving the trailer.

Comfort - Pro: In fact, many of the trailers we looked at had way too much room for us. They were designed to house 6-8 people and this was reflected in the every aspect of the build. We really didn’t want a large couch and 2 lounge chairs and a spare bedroom when it would just be us and Leo, it felt like a massive waste of space.


Favorites in this category:

($350K) Living Vehicle: https://www.livingvehicle.com/

($115kish) Erv 226R - 2400 WATTS https://www.e-rv.com/floor-plans/


Converted Van


2 Work Areas - Pro: Van builders (or you, if you DIY) can completely customize the interior of your van. This meant we could allocate space for a table in the cab and a dinette in the back. Boom! Two workspaces! In nice weather, one (or both) of us could even work outside under the canopy. This layout was made possible by pursuing a van with a longer wheelbase (we ended up choosing a 170” Sprinter) so that the bed area could convert into a relatively spacious dinette where we work.

Ease of Travel - Pro: While still a much larger vehicle than an average car, a van makes it much easier to navigate main roads and campsites than a trailer. We would also have our choice of campsites due to the smaller size. While a van does not have the ability to get into town without losing your campsite on its own, we found an amazing workaround for this! I have been riding motorcycles my whole life, so I found a motorcycle rack that cleared our rear cargo boxes, tossed an old dirt bike on there, and we're in business!


Now, in a pinch, we can get to town on the motorcycle for small grocery runs or to visit a restaurant. Bonus: dirt bikes are fun! Vans are also probably the best RV type for stealth camping when needed. Even a large van like ours can go unnoticed in a lot of areas if you follow a few general rules of stealth camping. Finding a way to lug a secondary means of transportation around without towing a trailer really sealed the deal for us on buying a van. This addressed our one final sticking point that we didn't know how to solve at first. Looking back, it seems so obvious, but this requirement took us a a lot of head scratching sort out!

Off Grid Capability - Pro: With the custom aspect of a van build, placing solar panels on the roof is a no brainer, although roof space can limit your roof layout options, we found the space to be just enough. Water storage capacity depends on how the van is designed, but we worked out an option that allowed us to squeeze in 40 gallons of fresh water storage. 👌That's enough for a week or more if used sparingly between the two of us.

Future Investment Potential - Pro: When planning the van as a possible living space, we really wanted to make decisions that not only would benefit us in the short-term but also lend for plus’s later on such as the ability to sleep/drive up to 4. This would allow us the ability to entertain friends/family in the future as well as being more eye catching on a van renting app. We also considered that with vanlife becoming more possible for the average person due to working remotely gaining traction, we would be able to resell the van if we really wanted/needed to. We absolutely would have bought a built out van in the beginning if we saw one that had the capabilities ours was built for.

Cost - Neutral: The sky's the limit when planning out your van build, but so is the cost. You can save a lot of money if you build it out yourself vs having a company do it. While building it out ourselves seemed like a really fun challenge, we didn’t have the space at our Denver property or the time while working our corporate jobs. We really wanted to be on the road by April, so only giving ourselves 5 months in the winter with no prior experience didn’t seem like a do-able option for us. Heck! We were barely able to get everything else done to prepare for our departure in time! There are also many cost considerations when picking out materials and specs for your build. We’ll get to that in a future post. The other factor in this category is which van you choose to use as your platform to build in, anywhere from a new entry level Ford Transit at $42k up to the Mercedes Sprinter extended 4x4 ranging up to $80k+. There are a ton of options to consider before you even begin your build phase.

Safety - Pro: You can quickly jump out of bed and into the front to drive away if needed.

Comfort - Pro: There are obviously some space constraints, but because of the custom nature of a van build, you can fit in a kitchen, shower/toilet, and area to lounge, along with an additional workspace depending on how it’s laid out. These were our only space requirements, so it met the bar!


Once we boiled it down to a simple list of requirements, the van emerged as a pretty obvious choice above the others, especially once we found a way to bring a second vehicle along without a trailer so that we could get to town without losing our spot in a pinch.


It’s a personal decision


At the end of the day, the customizability of a van (inside and out) and the wide range of supporting products and services in the camper van industry made this the best choice for our travels. We had the ability to add a shower, compost toilet, kitchen, solar power, and pretty much everything else we were looking for. We even found a way to get back into town while our van holds our camp spot, and it was the only option that allowed us to drive away if for some reason we felt unsafe. The only con we could truly think of was how maxed out the industry is right now. With tons of people adopting the peregrine lifestyle right now, finding a builder that to squeeze us in before our departure deadline was tricky, but luckily our top choice had one last spot and made room for us on their build schedule!


All the RV's we considered had pros and cons, so we hope this peak into our decision process will help you with yours. If this is a lifestyle you’re interested in but haven’t pulled the trigger yet, stay with it, and keep brainstorming! With so many great options on the market, this is not an easy choice, but defining your non-negotiables early on really does speed up the decision-making. If you’re still unsure, rent something for a week or two to see if it works for you before you commit to the large expense of buying a rig.


Only time will tell if our feelings remain the same on what we initially felt was important or not. If you’re in the process of planning your traveling home, we’d love to hear about it in the comments! We hope you enjoyed the post. Until next time, bye from the fam!


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