There is no doubt that the lure of the open road is strong. I mean, what could be better than seeing beautiful sites, meeting awesome new people, and being able to work remotely from the comfort of your awesome camper van?
And while #VanLife might be a little different in reality than it is on Instagram, the fact remains that being a nomad is a very cool way to live. Of course, to get in on the #VanLife movement, you first need a van.
Some folks are adept at buying box trucks or old buses and converting them into bespoke campers. Other people choose to forego that route and instead buy a camper van, be it used or new.
Regardless of your preferred method of finding the right van for you, there are a few considerations you should make before plunking down your hard-earned cash. With that in mind, let’s get to a quick camper van buying guide to give you some direction regarding what you should look for in your new home on wheels.
Editor’s Note: To illustrate some of the features you should look for, I use the TrueVan Vision X as an example. These vans are beautifully made, smartly designed, and offer incredible versatility for short-term and long-term use.
First Things First: What’s Your Camper Van For?
When considering the kind of camper van you’d like to get, you need to think about the different purposes it needs to fulfill.
For example, do you need a van with a workspace so you can work from the road? Do you need storage for items like mountain bikes or surfboards? How many people does the van need to accommodate?
These are just a few questions to ask, but they’re all related in that you want to look for a van that offers you versatility.
Not only is having a versatile camper van important from one trip to the next (e.g., on one trip you might be solo with your laptop for work and the next one it might be you and your family for a weekend getaway), but it’s also important for how you can use the van in the future.
For example, you might be spending most of your time in a temperate climate right now, but what if you want to hang out in a cold climate for a few months? You’ll want a van that’s insulated to keep the cold at bay.
The Vision X from TrueVan is a great example of what a versatile camper van should be.
Consider this: the van is fully insulated, so whether you’re trying to keep the warm air out or the cold air out, you’ll have a van that offers you a comfortable place to hang out, relax, sleep, or work.
Likewise, this van has a rear office space that includes a four-foot work table and a fold-up bench. It’s more than enough room to get your work done, and when you’re finished for the day, the space can be used for dining, playing games, and otherwise hanging out.
The versatile theme continues up front where you’ll find a fully adjustable maple-top table behind the driver’s seat. The table can be used as a small workspace or dining area, and since the driver and passenger seats swivel around 180-degrees, you can use this area as a lounge for up to four people.
The bed is also versatile – it folds down to create a near queen-sized sleeping space, but when you aren’t sleeping, the bed folds up and out of the way so you have more room to move around inside the camper.
Heck, there’s even an extra shower unit outside, that way if you’re dirty from a day at the beach or on the trail, you can hose down before coming into your van. Talk about versatility!
Camper Van Buying Guide: Consider the Power Situation
One of the linchpins of van life is having power that’s portable and reliable. In today’s world, that means having a solar power system.
The Vision X has dual 100-watt solar panels on the roof that are paired with a set of eleven 100A BattleBorn batteries, the result of which is 1100A and 13.2KW of power. In other words, you can run all the basic electronics in the van for several days on a single charge, or you can run the air conditioning for up to 12 hours on a single charge.
The system comes with an additional alternator with a dual alternator regulator as well. This enables you to consistently charge the batteries as you drive (or even as you idle). You can even run all the appliances – including the air conditioning – as the system is charging. In other words, this system allows you to stay off-grid as long as you like. Van life is all about freedom, and that’s exactly what you get with this power system!
To top it all off, there’s a 10-year warranty on the batteries, so you get tons of peace of mind that the most expensive components of the system are insured.
So, before you buy, be sure you give the van’s power system a good, hard look. If your goal is to hit the road for a lengthy amount of time, the type of power system and the amount of power it can produce are critically important.
To Bathroom or Not to Bathroom?
One of the most crucial questions you need to ask yourself is whether or not you need or want a bathroom in your camper van.
Personally, I don’t see the point of investing my money in a camper van if there isn’t a bathroom, but I understand that it’s not a big priority for some people.
If a bathroom is on your list, you want your van to have something that’s actually functional to use – which many camper van bathrooms are not.
In the case of the Vision X, you can’t help but come back to the theme of versatility we discussed earlier.
To save space, the black water toilet and shower are in the same room. But, the shower is expandable so you get 5-7 additional inches of space to get cleaned up.
Additionally, the bathroom door can extend outward. This creates a dedicated space where you can use the restroom, shower, get dressed, and so forth, and do so with increased room and more privacy. That’s definitely not a feature you find in most camper vans!
Camper Van Buying Guide: You Need Storage
Storage space is perhaps the most precious commodity in a camper van. Being on the road means you can’t bring everything you own with you, but the things you can bring need to have a place to live inside the van.
You’ll need different types of storage, too. You’ll want good cupboard space in the kitchen, a place to keep your clothes and linens out of the way, and you’ll likely want a garage of some sort where you can keep your bike, climbing gear, paddleboard, or other items that are big, bulky, and potentially very dirty.
Take the Vision X as a great example of what good storage looks like…
There’s multiple kitchen drawers and cabinets for all your kitchen items, plus an overhead shelf in the van to keep commonly-used items up and out of the way.
My personal favorite is the open-space garage in the back of the van that gives you loads of storage – and easy access to it via the rear doors. There’s two fully adjustable L-tracks with ring fittings inside the garage, that way you can strap down your gear while you’re driving.
It’s an incredible amount of storage that enables you to keep your things neat, tidy, and organized while you’re on your van life adventure.
Now, not all camper vans offer this much storage, but not everyone needs that much storage either. But since you can’t exactly add more storage space later on, it’s important that you have a good understanding of how much storage space you’ll need before you buy your van.
What’s the Kitchen Situation?
I love to cook, so if I were shopping for a camper van, it would have to have a killer kitchen.
Even if you aren’t much of a cook, having a well-appointed kitchen is a good idea for your camper van. You can’t eat take-out every night that you’re on your trip, so having a nice space to cook is a must.
What strikes you about the interior of the Vision X is just how many goodies are in the kitchen space.
There’s a 4.2 cubic-foot refrigerator, an induction stove, a microwave, and a sink.
The sink has a cover that allows you to use the sink space as an extension of the countertop that gives you even more room to prepare meals. The stove is portable, so if you want to cook outside, you can deploy the outdoor table (which has a fully adjustable, custom-built leveler) as your cooking space. Cooking outside is a nice option, too, as it limits the cooking smells inside the van.
You might only need a fridge and a hot plate for your adventures, and that’s okay! Again, it all comes down to knowing what you need and making sure that your van can accommodate those needs.
Camper Van Buying Guide: Amenities are Nice
Sure, you can rough it with a bare-bones setup, but I personally like to have a comfortable space to come home to when I’m out adventuring. The Vision X certainly fits the bill!
As I mentioned earlier, the van is insulated to help you regulate the indoor temperature. To go along with that, you get a diesel air heater (that draws fuel from the main diesel tank) for those chilly nights. There are three air conditioning units to cool your rig down, too.
For charging your electronics, you can use one of the 16 20A outlets or 18 USB ports located throughout the van. There’s also three reading lights with USB ports for those late nights when you simply can’t put your book down.
This van also has rear screen and side screens with magnetic openings so you can get some fresh air in the van without worry of pests or insects making their way inside.
But perhaps my favorite amenity in this van is the home automation system…
This system controls just about everything in the van – you can check the black, gray, and fresh water tank levels, turn on or dim the lights and LED strips, and it has its own local Wi-Fi!
Of course, all this is built on the ultra-reliable and super popular Mercedes Sprinter chassis. You get all the room you need without having to be behind the wheel of an enormous motorhome.
At the end of the day, the features you want and need in a camper van are going to be different from what I want. But I think we all want some measure of comfort, flexibility and versatility, storage, and amenities in our vans.
The TrueVan Vision X is but one of many examples of what’s possible in your camper van. Bear in mind the primary features discussed in this camper van buying guide as you shop for your van, that way you’re sure to invest in something that will suit your needs now and for many years in the future.