How I Picked My Van For Vanlife
When it comes to travel no two people will have exactly the same wants and needs, so naturally that means there are a lot of options for finding your ultimate vanlife domain. From micro campers to deluxe drivable tiny homes the options can quickly become overwhelming.
When I starting really entertaining the idea of vanlife I had already been traveling for close to 4 years. Along this journey I was driving a small economical Nissan Versa and camping along the way. It really made me realize that purposeful packing was something that could make or break an adventure. It also showed me just what was missing from my travel gear when away from home.
I needed a few things in my van:
1 - Good fuel economy
2 - Ability to shower or carry water to shower
3 - Travel toilet
4 - Full length bed
5 - Storage for camera equipment
Making a list of the must haves was something that really started to put things into perspective on spacing and needs. I realized that by really taking a hard look at these items I could see what kind of real space I would need, and I as very surprised by what I discovered by having this honesty hour with myself.
I had started out looking at Sprinters, ProMasters & Skoolies, all of which have ample room to really spread out and have a larger bed. You can stand in most of these and that was a great idea in theory, but when I really started looking at what I personally would be doing in this van I realized I don’t need much more room than what I had already in my small car when it came to storage. I also realized that a big bed was a waste of space if I am traveling solo, which I typically do.
I then started to look more and more into smaller vans and how people were using their space to create ideal stealth campers. I started seeing Ford Transit Connects and how they were using very small spaces to create ample living space for travel. The more I dove in the more I realized the fuel economy savings were massive with these smaller units and that I could almost get the same bang for my buck at the pump as I had with my small car.
Youtube can be a great resource when researching and the more and more I continued to go down the rabbit hole of micro-campers or van builds that are smaller, the more I started seeing that the UK very commonly sells something I had never seen in the US in a camper form, the Nissan NV200 Caravan Option. This option typically is prebuilt and sold to the public with everything you need already stock. The set up maximizes on spacing with a Rock & Roll bed, side cabinets which include a sink, cook top and refrigerator, electrics panel and ample storage.
This got me thinking that perhaps this could be a valid option for myself as I already knew from years of driving just what the Nissan was capable of on the open road. Unfortunately these models were not available in the US at a dealer, so I started looking into what it would take to convert the same style of van on my own through a build.
When you compare the NV200 to the Transit Connect they have few differences in overall performance rating. The Transit Connect is said to have a slight advantage in horsepower, however the Nissan has a better overall maneuverability rating with its smaller turn radius and slightly more narrow overall body. Interior spacing for conversion is also very similar with each taking a small advantage in different categories. Transit Connect has an over cab storage while NV200 has more narrow wheel wells on the inside and slightly more square walls with less protrusions.
The main difference for me however came with the actual purchase points. The NV200 price point was a bit better and for that better price you also receive a much better warranty. The Transit Connect typically starts out at $24,000, however I will say I was hard pressed in the search to find one at a dealer for under $27,000. Their standard warranty is 3 years or 36,000 miles. The NV200 on the other hand typically starts out at $23,500 and I found they were true to price on these at most dealers. Nissan also has a 36,000 mile warranty, but something they offer is a 100,000 mile warranty that is unmatched in my opinion after being a Nissan driver for several years.
Looking on at these two items alone I think you can already see where the gears started really turning in my head more so toward the NV200. In just under 4 years I put 80,000 miles on the car and so 36,000 would be less than 2 years at most for a warranty, that wasn’t going to cut it and wound’t justify the purchase of something new at all. But 100,000 miles over 5 years might just make more sense!
So now the real question was could we justify this as the official van for my vanlife based on my other criteria?
Could I have a full length bed?
A twin bed measures between 70 and 75 inches in length. I am 5’7” which means I need a minimum of 67 inches. The cargo space of the NV200 is 70 inches in length. So yes! I could have a full length bed in the NV200.
Could I have a travel toilet?
A company named Thetford makes RV style travel toilets which you can easily use in RVs of any size this would easily work with a micro camper and could be added to the cargo area once the van is converted. So again, YES!
What about a shower?
Showering was one of the more interesting things to think about when it came to a smaller van. The cargo space is only 53” in height which makes it impossible to stand up. Something that is a great alternative however is having an outdoor shower. As someone who travels mostly in more remote spaces an outdoor shower is a valid option as it is easily stowed in small spaces and can be used just about anywhere. Again yes the NV200 would work for this!
Can I store all my camera equipment?
After traveling for many years the worst feeling is knowing you left a piece of equipment at home that would otherwise be helpful. I wanted to pack in all my tripods, cameras, drone, lenses and auxiliary items. Some of this has been simplified with a good customized case, but other items would be loose and need a place. The cargo area of the NV200 would have great space and after a build could conceal anything I needed for my adventures easily.
Overall all the boxes were checked for me with the NV200 and with a little work everything I wanted could be achieved. So that led me to the ultimate decision of this being the perfect micro-camper for vanlife. All I had left was to find a dealer and make the purchase!!
While I realize not everyone would be ok with a space that is 48 inches in interior width space x 53 inches in height of usable space x 70 inches in length of overall cargo space, this space had more than enough room for my simplistic needs on the road. I encourage everyone who is looking to find their perfect vanlife vehicle to make a list of your must haves and start the process from there. Check out videos on YouTube not only to see the glamorous portions of the vanlife but the gritty ones to learn about how things work and do not work for those who are traveling and why they selected the various styles of vans they have for their own personal journeys. This is a resource which can be more than helpful to finding your perfect way to enter the vanlife too!!