Making a van decision

This proved to be a lot harder than we ever expected. 

Every day we are bombarded with immaculate Instagram pictures of #vanlife, where equally immaculate hipsters seem to be living the dream in their self converted vans with stunning American scenery in the background. We decided we wanted that. We had achieved it in Europe, why not here? So there we were, entering craigslist with the expectation that we were going to find our future home in the click of a button. 

What we found was a lot of warn down vans, and a long road ahead of us. But we were ready! We were optimistic! And we were imaginative (something you have to be to be able to picture your future home within the 4 walls of an old van)!

Let me break down the factors that helped us make our decision on the van we would ultimately call our future home. 


We wanted a reliable van within the budget we were working with - not an easy task. We wanted the van to have all the necessary maintenance performed routinely and to have no current mechanical issues. Another factor are the miles it had travelled and the age of the transmission and engine. We had to balance out the number of miles with the age of the van. If the miles were high, then we wanted a younger van but if the miles were low, we were then flexible on the age of the van. Overall, we didn’t want to settle for a van that would need a lot of mechanical work before we even got it on the road.


Originally we budgeted approximately US$8000 for a fully converted van, which would include a fully functioning engine, bed and kitchen. We were unable to find a converted van for this price, so it was necessary to broaden our view. As a result, we concentrated our search to include cargo and conversion vans. We were then able to adjust our budget, allowing a separate budget for the installation of living quarters within the van. We decided we would work within US$4000 for the van, leaving a further budget for the work needed to build it in.



Our current address within the United States of America is in New Jersey, consequently we needed to try and purchase a van within the area. In doing so, we were able to easily register and insure it promptly after purchase. Keeping the van search local also allowed us to look at a higher number of vans in a short period of time, which enabled us to compare a wider variety and choose the best one available. We relied solely upon our friend to drive us to look at vans, therefore time was of the essence, as we were not just spending our time, but also hers. 



Size and Design

As we hope to live in the van for about 2 years, we wanted a van that we would be comfortable to live in for an extended period of time. One that was big enough that our bed didn’t double as a dining area, but not so big that we would end up owning an RV. We also wanted to be able to stand up in it but also be able to park in a standard parking spot. 

Originally we were looking at cargo vans and building it in ourselves. The most discrete van would be a cargo van as they are usually used as work vehicles (not camper vans), thus allowing for stealth camping throughout the States. However, we were having issues finding a van that matched the above criteria, such as; mechanical issues, rust in the exterior, high mileage, etc. Therefore, we were required to broaden our search to conversion vans; a full sized passenger van with the ability to be modified to allow liveability. These vans are already equipped with chairs that convert into a bed and legally carry passengers. They are also tall enough for Amelia and I to stand in (but perhaps not anyone taller, without crouching down), allowing us to cook in the van, and move around freely.

We found our van after approximately a weeks worth of searching and inspecting (not including the months searching craigslist prior to being in New Jersey). We purchased a beautiful maroon 1996 Ford E150 Econline Conversion van from a fellow traveller within our budget. We were faced with the arduous task of building it in, but that is where the adventure begins!

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