The Van Life VIP List: 16 Dream Vans You’ll Want to Live In

So, you’re considering van life but not sure which van to live in? Here are the most popular choices, which include my beloved Chevy Astro and Sprinter van!

dodge promaster camper

If you’re considering living the van life, there’s a lot that goes into choosing the right type of van for your needs. If you want a campervan, but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered! 

When I first started living the “van life”, it was actually in a Toyota Prius! That was back in 2015, before I knew van life was even a thing. I bought my first van in 2018, a Chevy Astro Conversion minivan that my partner Tom and I lived in for three years while also splitting time on our sailboat.

Then, in 2021, I finally got the van of my dreams: A 2021 Mercedes Sprinter van which we are currently building out ourselves. If you want to follow along with our build journey and see what materials we used, go here: My Sprinter Van Build.

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more info.

1) Mercedes Sprinter Van

man standing in van with sprinter van window shades
This is our Sprinter van
  • Price: $35,000-$65,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD and 4WD
  • Roof: Low, Medium and High

A Mercedes Sprinter is considered one of the best vans for van life, even though it has a heftier price tag than similar vans in its class. We chose a Sprinter van as our second camper van due to its 4×4 capabilities, clearance, diesel engine, and resale value. As of 2023, new Mercedes Sprinters come in RWD or AWD. The 4×4 model is only available in used Sprinters.

With a Sprinter van, you can choose between two drivetrains, a diesel or gas engine, and 21 variations of the cargo van.

Mercedes Sprinter camper vans have higher-than-average off-road capabilities, are easy to handle and boast the highest payload in their class.

You’ll see many Class B RV manufacturers, such as Airstream and Winnebago, going with Mercedes Sprinter vans.

Sprinter vans are known for roomy passenger quarters, high-quality materials, and abundant safety features. The largest cargo van offers more room than the biggest Ford Transit.

Their biggest downside is their expense. The sales price, as well as the maintenance and repair costs, are higher than other vans. Remember that you’ll usually have to take Sprinters to a Mercedes dealership if you have any problems on the road.

Examples: Want to see a Sprinter campervan in action? Check out this incredible 4×4 off-grid Sprinter van, or these 18 custom Sprinter van conversions.

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2) Ford Transit

Photo Credit: @HomelessDon
  • Price: $36,000-$46,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD and AWD
  • Roof: Low, Medium and High

If you love looking at photos of camper vans, you’ve probably noticed quite a few Ford Transits. These are some of the best vans to live in thanks to their roomy interiors, smooth handling and choice between 2WD and AWD.

You can also choose between a gas or diesel engine and three different powertrains, two of which are new for 2020.

The Ford Transit has plenty of safety features, including forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, with many options available as upgrades.

The interior cargo space of the largest Ford Transit is smaller than that of a Mercedes Sprinter but larger than that of a Dodge Promaster.

Reviewers say the Ford Transit is pleasant to drive, with a modern interior and low freeway noise.

Van lifers consider this one of the best vans to live in thanks to its lower costs to maintain and repair.

Examples: Check out this video of a beautiful Ford Transit campervan conversion that costs under $1,000.

For a look at a custom-built, fully-completed Ford Transit campervan, check out Tim and Katie on YouTube!

3) Dodge Ram Promaster

Dodge Ram Promaster campervan conversion with awning at a campsite with grass and rocks
Photo of The Wayward Home writer Brooke Alexander’s Promaster van
  • Price: $32,000-$42,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD, Front
  • Roof: Low and High

The Dodge Ram Promaster has a few qualities that make it one of the best vans to live in. For one, it’s wider than its two main rivals, making it easier to sleep across the width of the van. Some say a person 6′ tall can fit width-wide in this van, which opens up a lot more space for a kitchen or dining table.

The Ram Promaster is the most “square” of the major cargo van options, meaning building it out is slightly less complicated than the Ford Transit or Mercedes Sprinter and their rounded curves.

Another main point is its tight turning radius and easy maneuverability.

The Dodge Promaster comes with just one type of engine: a 3.6 liter, V-6. According to CarAndDriver track tests, the Promaster is the slowest compared to the Ford Transit and the Mercedes Sprinter.

Other issues to think about is the Promaster lacks driver-assist and safety features offered by the Transit and the Sprinter. Both Edmunds and Car and Driver say the vehicle doesn’t have a refined feel when driving, with a loose-feeling steering wheel.

Examples: These two custom van conversion companies are offering Dodge Promaster conversions for under $60,000.

Check out the popular Travato campervan by Winnebago, built on a Dodge Ram Promaster chassis.

4) Ford E-Series (Econoline)

Photo Credit: Courtney Stephenson
  • Price: $4,000-$15,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD, Rear
  • Roof: Low

The Ford E-Series is one of the best vans for van life if you plan on doing a lot of stealth camping. These nondescript white cargo vans are often used by construction workers, electricians and plumbers.

Ford replaced the Econoline with the Ford Transit in 2014, except for the cutaway version, which Sportsmobile now uses for its 4×4 van conversions.

You won’t be able to stand up in a Ford E-Series van unless you install a pop-top, but its large, boxy interior gives you plenty of room for a bed, kitchen and storage.

Ford E-Series vans come with the choice of both gasoline or diesel engines, with three different gas engines to choose from.

Some downsides to this van is it doesn’t come with safety features, and one reviewer claims it has loose steering and soft brakes.

Nevertheless, the Ford Econoline vans are Sportsmobile’s van of choice. The van conversion company builds its Classic 4×4 van using the Ford E-Series.

Example: Check out photos of the Sportsmobile E-Series van in this post about 4×4 camper vans. You can also check out how this couple converted an E-250 on the cheap.

5) Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana

4x4 Chevy Express campervan, one of the best vans to live in, parked on a hillside with a mountain view
This Chevy Express campervan is available for rent on Outdoorsy.
  • Price: $33,000-$40,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD
  • Roof: Low

The Chevy Express and GMC Savana are basically the same van with different names. Like the Ford E-Series, these are some of the best vans to live in for urban stealth camping.

You’ll find a powerful engine on these vans, but there is no high roof option like the Ford Transit, Sprinter or Promaster. The look of the van is also a bit outdated – the last body redesign was in 1996!

Choose between several trim options with this van. You can even get an extended version of either the 2500 or 3500 versions, giving you more living space.

A safety package on the brand new Chevy Express and GMC Savana vans requires an upgrade that’s a little over $2,000.

If you’re craving windows in your campervan build, you can choose between a cargo van and a passenger van for either one of these options.

Need a little more headroom? You can find Chevy Express and GMC Savana conversion vans, which have a higher fiberglass roof and plush interiors. We’ll go more into conversion vans to live in later in this article.

6) Chevy Astro Van

Gray and white Chevy Astro van, one of the best vans to live in for stealth camping, near the Golden Gate Bridge
Me sitting in my Chevy Astro van, what I think is the best van for van life, but I may be biased
  • Price: $2,000-$7,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD or AWD
  • Roof: Low

The Chevy Astro van is one of the best affordable vans you can live in. These sturdy cargo and passenger vans have a cult following, with people either jacking them up to make them off-road capable, or lowering them.

Chevy Astro vans were built between the years of 1985 and 2005. They were sold along with the GMC Safari. Both vans are nearly identical with different names and branding.

I’m partial to Chevy Astro vans because I lived in one! I purchased my Astro conversion van for $6,000 off Craigslist with only 57,000 miles.

Some people report finding these vans online for just $2,000-$3,000, and they often run up to 250,000 miles.

A Chevy Astro van only works if you’re okay with a limited amount of space inside your van and semi-poor gas mileage. Cargo and passenger Chevy Astros have a barebones, outdated interior, but that’s what you get for an older, affordable van.

Get the AWD version if you’re planning on driving on sandy beaches, down muddy roads or through snow. I can’t imagine being without my AWD!

Chevy Astro conversion vans with a fiberglass roof are hard to find, but if you do get lucky, you’ll have a foot or so more of headrooom.

I just loved my Chevy Astro camper and think it’s one of the best vans to live in for the price.

Example: See how I turned my Chevy Astro into an off-road van.

7) Dodge/Chevy/Ford Conversion Van

Brown Dodge conversion van with side doors open to see van interior, one of the best vans to live for affordability
GnomadHome’s conversion van
  • Price: $1,500-$28,000, depending on year
  • Drivetrain: 2WD or AWD
  • Roof: Medium

A conversion van is a Dodge, Chevy or Ford van that an outside company turned into a luxury passenger vehicle.

Usually, these best vans to live in are decked out with a TV and VCR, unique overhead lighting, captain’s chairs and a high fiberglass roof.

They were built for leisure travel, so you’ll often find conversion vans with low mileage, stashed in someone’s garage for years. At least that’s what happened to me!

You can find older conversion vans for van life for pretty cheap using Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist or Ebay.

Newer conversion vans are pretty expensive and may be upwards of $30,000! But if you don’t mind living in an older van, you can find great deals on these vans.

The conversion vans you’ll typically see are full-size vans, but on a rare occasion, you will find a Chevy Astro conversion van, which is what I have.

We think conversion vans are some of the best vans to live in because they’re affordable, have built-in cabinetry, fun lighting and even window shades!

Example: My friends over at GnomadHome bought a conversion van for just $1,500 and converted it into a camper!

8) Nissan NV 200

Photo Credit: Caravan Outfitters
  • Price: $24,000-$25,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD, front
  • Roof: Low

The Nissan NV200 is an affordable and stealth small van you can live in. This cargo van gets great gas mileage (24-26 mpg on the highway), fits into a compact parking space and is really easy to drive.

If you’re looking for an affordable van to live in, the Nissan NV200 is the cheapest in its class of compact cargo vans.

Each Nissan NV200 is powered by a 4-cylinder, 2.0-liter engine, which offers less power than similar vans, like the Ford Transit Connect and Mercedes Metris. That means it also hauls less weight than other vans of a similar size.

However, its cargo space is above average for its class, making it a great small van for van life.

The Nissan NV200 is the van of choice for conversion company Recon campers, which adds a pop-top to create an even roomier interior.

Example: Check out this couple’s super cheap Nissan NV200 van conversion.

Did you see that awesome awning above? Check out this article for even more amazing awnings for your campervan!

9) Mercedes Metris

Mercedes Metris van for van life with a pop-up camper on top, rated one of the best small vans to live in
You can buy a Mercedes Metris with a pop-top right from the dealership
  • Price: $34,000-$37,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD, rear
  • Roof: Low

The Mercedes Metris is a new van to the North American market, being introduced in 2015. What’s cool about this powerful little van is that you can order the Weekender camper package right from the dealership.

The Weekender includes a pop-top roof with a bed that can sleep two, a sliding rear bench seat that converts into a bed for two, and and front swivel seats. You can pay for even more upgrades or do them yourself.

This Mercedes Metris has a turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine with a 7-speed transmission. The Mercedes Metris can carry more than the other vans with a maximum payload of 2,502 pounds.

But on the flip side, it is the most expensive compact cargo van, needs premium fuel, and the extended wheelbase is more difficult to park than smaller vans.

Example: Check out these Mercedes Metris camper conversions for some inspiration.

10) Ford Transit Connect

Woman posing with a Ford Transit Connect campervan in front of a mountain in Iceland
Writer Brooke Alexander with a Ford Transit Connect campervan rental in Iceland (@pettyprinethepromaster)
  • Price: $24,000-$29,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD
  • Roof: Low

The Ford Transit Connect is one of the best vans to live in if you’re looking for great gas mileage, a peppy engine and maneuverability.

This small campervan was introduced in 2012, which means you’ll find a lot of used vans on the market.

You can get two types of engines with this small camper van, a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder van, or a turbocharged 1.6-liter Ecoboost 4-cylinder. Maximum payload on this van is 1,620 pounds.

This is a very small van (the second smallest in this class) that doesn’t offer the same cargo space as some of its competitors.

Also, some people say this small camping van doesn’t have a lot of power but is comfortable to drive.

Example: Why I chose a Ford Transit Connect Camper for Van Life

11) Stepvan

The bright red stepvan parked near water is one of the best larger vans for van life
Instagram: The Stepvan Diary
  • Price: $2,000-$70,000, depending on new or used
  • Drivetrain: 2WD
  • Roof: High

If you’re looking for even more space, you may think a stepvan is one of the best vans to live in. You’ll often see these boxy vehicles on the street working as delivery trucks. Think UPS or old milk delivery trucks.

A stepvan is a light-duty/medium-duty truck that got its name from a step leading up to the driver’s compartment. It was made to be driven either sitting down or standing up. Current stepvan manufacturers include General Motors, Ford and Freightliner trucks.

Choose between a gas or a diesel engine when looking at a step van for van life. These are also typically low-slung vans, which may not be best if you want to do a lot of off-roading.

The roomy interior of a stepvan means you’ll have plenty of space for things like a full kitchen, bathroom, bed, and workspace. There’s also no problem with standing up inside your van.

A stepvan also makes a great stealth camper as nobody will suspect you’re living in a bread truck!

Example: Single mom turns stepvan into adorable tiny home

Looking for more vans with bathrooms? Check this out.

12) Volkswagen Westfalia

Orange VW Westfalia camper with the pop topped and side door open
This VW Westfalia camper is available for rent on Outdoorsy.
  • Price: $15,000-$45,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD, rear
  • Roof: Low with pop-top

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Volkswagen Westfalia, long considered one of the best vans to live in by hippies and families alike.

Even though this van is slow, doesn’t like hills, and is overly expensive, it continues to be a favorite among van lifers.

Many love driving around a piece of history on wheels, I mean, who doesn’t love the look and style of an old VW Westfalia?

This is a great van for van life if you don’t want to put any money into converting your own van. The Westfalia comes with two comfortable captain’s chairs up front, a little kitchen with a stove, fridge and sink and a bed.

It also features a pop-up roof so you can stand and walk around in your van.

Due to its iconic nature, this little van does keep its value in case you ever want to resell.

But if you want to go climb mountains, go off-roading or drive in snowy or sandy conditions, the VW Westfalia isn’t for you.

Example: Check out these VW Campervan interiors for inspiration

13. Toyota Sienna

Toyota Sienna Camper conversion
Photo courtesy Oasis campervans
  • Price: $32,000-$55,000
  • Drivetrain: 2WD or AWD
  • Roof: Low

The Toyota Sienna is a popular minivan camper as it’s one of the only brand new vans available with All Wheel Drive. To boot, The newer (2001 and on) Siennas are exclusively hybrids, meaning you’ll get incredible gas mileage driving to far-flung destinations.

The Sienna is one of the best minivans for van life due to its roomy interior and length. Believe it or not, this minivan is longer than both the Ford Transit Connect and the Ram Promaster City.

However, it is the most expensive in its class. If you’re looking for a cheaper minivan, you may want to check out the Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Pacifica.

But if AWD is important to you, the Sienna is your only choice.

14) Winnebago Class B Campervans

family around a campfire with Winnebago campervan in front of Grand Teton
Photo by @winnebagorvs on Instagram
  • Price: $140,000+
  • Drivetrain: 2WD, front
  • Roof: High

A trusted name in the RV world for decades, Winnebago has a wide range of options built on the Ram Promaster or Mercedes Sprinter chassis.

Models including the Solis, Travato, and Revel are popular choices for those ready to hit the road in comfort and style.

From basic builds to customizable colors and interiors, Winnebago is a great place to start if you’re in the market for a Class B RV for van life!

15) Storyteller Overland Class B Campervans

Storyteller Overland Mercedes Sprinter campervan with back doors open and two women laughing on the bed
Photo by @storytelleroverland on Instagram
  • Price: $181,000+
  • Drivetrain: AWD
  • Roof: High

Storyteller Overland offers sturdy rigs built for off-road and off-grid exploration. From beefy tires, modular interiors, and upgradable solar and exterior packages, Storyteller Overland has really dialed in their high-quality features.

Originally crafted on Sprinters, Storyteller Overland expanded into the Ford Transit campervan market when the AWD Transit Trail came onto the scene.

These Class B campervans are quite expensive, but they are RVIA certified, making them easy to insure and finance.

16) Thor Motorcoach Class B Campervans

Couple standing in front of their Thor Promaster Campervan in a forested campsite
Photo by @ourmixedjourney on Instagram
  • Price: $125,000+
  • Drivetrain: 2WD (Promaster), AWD (Transit), and 4×4 (Sprinter)
  • Roof: High

Thor Motorcoach offers Class B campervans on all of the major models in the van life game: Mercedes Sprinters, Ford Transits, and Dodge Ram Promasters.

Whether you’re getting into solo van life or looking for an option that sleeps up to 4, Thor has a van to match your needs.

Factors to Consider When Choosing The Best Van for Van Life

nemo patio blanket is great for outside a campervan
This is my 2021 Sprinter van!

Here are some things to think about when looking for your perfect van:

Height

Will you need to stand up in your van? 

It’s not a necessity, but if you’re living full-time or traveling in your campervan often, standing room is nice to have! There are several high-roof options we’ll cover in the post below if this is something important to you. 

Use 

How do you plan to use your van? 

Will you take weekend trips, live full-time, or travel part-time? 

Do you have sporting equipment or adventure gear that you’ll be bringing? 

What you plan to do with your campervan can lead you to a model that will work for your needs. 

4×4 vs. AWD vs. 2WD

Woman sitting inside a Chevy Astro, one of the best vans for van life
This is my first campervan, a Chevy Astro that was an AWD and required minimum building

Do you plan to take your rig off-roading and into some difficult terrain? 

4-wheel drive is helpful and sometimes required for those rough backroads. Lots of vanlifers get by with 2WD, but it can limit where you go. Keep in mind that many newer vans are all-wheel drive or 2WD, so if 4×4 is a must for you, you might want to consider older, used rigs. 

People and Pets

How many people and animals will you need to comfortably fit in your campervan? 

The amount of people, pets, and all of their belongings can change your options for van size and layout. While a minivan might be great for a solo van lifer, a family of four with a dog probably needs a longer and bigger van!

Pre-Built vs. DIY

Do you plan to build out your own rig or are you looking for something already finished? 

There are plenty of blank canvases out there if you have a custom build in mind, but also lots of turnkey adventure vans ready to hit the road. We’ll link some great Class B RV options built on popular van models below.

Budget

Of course, the amount you want to spend will be a determining factor in what type of van you choose. But remember you don’t have to break the bank to get into the van life. 

While the campervans you see on Instagram might be fancy Mercedes Sprinters or Ford Transits with $100,000 custom builds, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on your perfect van.

In fact, I bought my first van, Chevy Astro, with only 57,000 miles for $6,000 on Craigslist and made a few adjustments to make it an off-grid van. If you’re interested in going cheaper, here is a list of the most affordable campervans out there.

Considering all these factors, here are our picks for the best vans for van life.

Best Vans for Van Life Recap

Remember, the best van for van life is ultimately the one that fits your lifestyle, needs, and budget. Be open and adaptable and keep in mind you can update your van throughout your van life as things change.

Your perfect rig is out there. Take your time and enjoy the journey to find it!

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13 Comments

  1. Pingback: Campervan Conversion Kit: 7 simple ways to DIY your van
  2. Pingback: Camper Van Conversion: The best DIY campers and custom builds of 2019
  3. Pingback: 8 incredible minivan campers you have to see - The Wayward Home
  4. Have you any idea how many of us live in Dodge Grand Caravans?

  5. Andrew Pollard says:

    I’m looking for a car that fits the price but there are so many choices I don’t know which one is the best. Thank you for writing this article, it was really helpful for me. I will rely on your article to choose the best car.

    1. Andrew Pollard says:

      After reading a lot of reviews I think I will choose Ford Transit Connect. Thank you for this article.

  6. You omitted the VW Eurovan??

    1. Jenn Garden says:

      I too like the looks and simplicity of the Eurovan but be aware the van is twenty years old, made in Europe, so parts are hard to get and expensive (I know someone who had to pay for the shipping costs from Germany and that was SEVENTY dollars!) and there is a paucity of mechanics who know how to repair them (at this age many parts are wearing down) most VW dealers don’t know how. In the West Coast where there is a following, it’s easier to find a mechanic but if you take it cross country and it breaks down it may be hard to fix. To address this problem, Recon Campers made the Envy out of NV200 vans but they are no longer being produced. VW have class and style but as one person selling his VW said, “Now that schools are opening up, I have to go back to teaching, and won’t have time with my VW hobby ” (I am assuming he is meaning repairing it all the time!)

  7. cargo van says:

    Looking great work dear, I appreciated you for this quality work. Nice post!! these tips may help me for future while i was searching i found another website that can be help you to know more visit:-https://commercialvansolutions.com/blog/2018/07/20/cargo-van-shelving-ideas/

  8. HI,

    Thanks for a great run down. I just wanted to point out that the VW Vanagon did come in a 4×4 version, the Syncro. They are rare but amazing.

  9. Lucie Mewes says:

    Fabulous! I lived on a sailboat and 30’ TT but that changed with a car wreck. Very helpful analysis!

    1. Kristin Hanes says:

      You are welcome! Sorry to hear about your car wreck. We also have a sailboat 🙂

  10. You linked that homophobe-racist Amanda Keschner aka ArtVanGrow to highlight her Ford Transit van? WTF is wrong with you?

  11. Here is two more unique/exotic vans you can use for van life: Mitsubishi Delica and Toyota Alphard. The first one is the best for ultimate off-road use, the second one is a luxury.

  12. Vern Modeland says:

    You guys are just catching up with what I put together in the early 2000s and lived in and drove happily for more than 25 years. It’s a 1994 GC conversion van. Details are on line yet, I think, as “stealth solar” on a RV.com site somewhere. You’ll have to search it out. Has all the details of my conversion and pictures.

    Sorry I can’t provide more help, but at 91 I’ve hung it all up for sitting and remembering.

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