Choosing a van

For those of you who have followed our journey, you will know that Rosie (our motor home) was an impromptu purchase due to circumstances. We had looked at motor homes and campervans before leaving but not found anything we could agree on. Doug and I had very different ideas of what we should get and the ones we looked at were out of budget. Doug was in the motor home camp and I was in the campervan camp, the VW transporter camp to be precise. It pains me to say it but he was right!

Why should you listen to us?

We don’t profess to be experts. Our combined experience of motor homing prior to owning Rosie was Doug’s one week in New Zealand with 3 boys. That said, we’ve now lived in Rosie full-time for 8 months out of the past 12 so we’ve got a good idea of what works and what we would change if we were buying again.

So for what it is worth here goes…

Motor home -v- Campervan -v- Converted van
Motor Home

The main determiner for us was usage. There will always be compromises but think about how those will impact on your intended use.

We are full-time van lifers. Rosie is our home, office and school so usable space and practicality were high on our agenda. She might only be 38m3 but we all have permanent beds, different zones we can retreat to, plenty of head room, loads of storage and our own toilet and shower. Trust us when you live in each others pockets these things matter.

If something annoys you in the showroom imagine what it will be like after living with it for 8 months with 2 other people. If it’s a permanent thing, move on, it’s not the right van for you but for example our bunk ladder lasted 3 weeks before Doug bought a stepladder (damn him he was right again!)

Campervan

Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of people we meet who live full-time in a VW campervan and frankly I am in awe. If this is the way you decide to go there are other ways to increase your usable space with the addition of a pop-top roof or awning tent. However, it’s worth considering that are temporary extensions and having lived in a tent for part of our journey the novelty of putting up, taking down and watching the weather soon wears thin. When storage is at a premium, having to store an awning tent would also have been an issue for us.

Van conversion

The third option is a van conversion; either one already converted or a self-conversion. Whilst it’s something we might tackle in the future, it’s not something that we can advise on at this point. There are plenty of others who are far more qualified than me so I’ll just put it out there. Something to consider is that any conversion will have to be signed off by the DVLA and there may also be insurance implications.

Whatever you chose, it’s also worth having one eye as to how your needs with change in the near future. 

Despite there only being 3 of us, we actually have a 6-berth motor home.  It’s enabled us to host friends, sleepovers and gives Issy flexibility for her area (she can either have 2 bunks for friends sleepovers, a bunk with table and chairs underneath it or a single bunk).

Old v New

This is usually determined by budget as new vans are expensive. We could have only afforded a new van if we’d culled our entire trip so we had to buy an older one. 

New ones have the advantages of coming with warranties etc but as with everything the depreciation on them is very steep in the first few years so it’s worth considering a van that’s 5-10 years old (still relatively new in motor home circles). Rosie is 21 and still going strong. 

It’s also worth noting that if you buy a van abroad and seek to register it in the UK you don’t pay import tax on older vans.

Right hand drive -v- Left hand drive

Rosie is a left-hand drive. Even before we bought Rosie in Germany we had decided that we would look for a left hand drive as were intending to Europe and further afield for extended periods. 

If the main bulk of you driving is going to be in the UK with occasional overseas trips then it probably isn’t that important.

Size

Size matters!

We wanted a van that was less than 6m as once you start getting over that things like tolls and ferry costs increase and we can park her in most supermarket car parks without a problem. When we have found ourselves in narrow streets, tight turns or anywhere in Italy having a shorter van has been a distinct advantage. 

Height is also a consideration. When you live in her full-time being able to stand up all of the time was one of our non-negotiables. 

Rosie is 2.89m high (again relatively short for a motor home) but we’ve still  had a few hairy moments in Italy with narrow roads and balconies. We also had the “Intermarche incident” in Coimbra. They had failed to mention that whilst there was no height restriction on the way in, the exit was limited to 2m!

And to think we would have missed out all these adventures if we’d played safe with a VW camper.

Layout

This largely comes down to personal preference and there is no substitute for going and looking, climbing through and making a list of things of non-negotiables. 

We love our permanent beds because no matter what happens during the day we can come back and climb into bed. Never underestimate how much these simple pleasures mean if you are on the road for long periods of time.

 

The space has to work for you. Rosie has an amazingly efficient layout which means that we each have our own zones; Issy retreats to her area at the back, Doug tends to sit in the cab or in our bed and I sit at the table. At the same time, if it’s raining outside or we’re wild camping one of us can be making breakfast, one of us getting dressed and the third can be in the bathroom and we’re not on top of each other.

Amenities

If you are looking at free camping then having a fridge/freezer and heating system that runs off gas as well as electricity is a distinct advantage. We retro-fitted solar panels which increase our ability to go off-grid.

Practical things like where are the lights, power sockets, usb charging points (12v charging points on older vans) and bike racks are also important considerations.

Summary

Our top tips are

    1. Look at as many motor homes, campervans and van conversions as you can. If you can hire a similar one for a week and see if it works for you, do it.
    2. Speak to people who are already van owners. We got so many little titbits before we were even thinking of buying a motor home.
    3. Write a list of negotiable and non-negotiable points. For us our non-negotiable points were permanent beds (preferably bunks for Issy), toilet and shower, kitchenette and as close to 6m as possible.
    4. Have a realistic budget. We started with a budget of €10,000 and had to up it €15,000 but for that we got a van with everything we wanted and so much more (most of which we didn’t know we needed)

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