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How to choose vehicle for the roadtrip?

Last Updated on February 23, 2020

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Our Story

Planning our excellent road trip, we decided to buy a van in the greater Vancouver area, BC, in Canada. First of all, we love van style and browsing the internet, and you can think it is not hard to find a proper van for your road trip. We were sure we knew how to choose vehicle for the roadtrip. It was a theory…

…practice turned out to be a little bit different. After the whole week of looking for a van, we gave up to some extent. Not with the road trip itself, but with going in a van. The main reason was the price, and the second was availability.

Price for a good, not very old van, with low odometer, one that you think you can trust, is starting at 23-24k CAD. Everything below this price was excellent in pictures. Still, with a closer look, it appeared to be in horrible condition or damaged or have some other “imperfections,” causing them not acceptable for our long road trip. Of course, they might be right for others, but we are a little picky 😉

So after we had found our dream van in Ashcroft and had agreed to buy it, the next day, the seller decided not to sell it to us. After this incident, we turned our heads to camper trucks – the other option we considered mainly because of a price and availability. It is much easier to find a truck (there is plenty of them for sale at a reasonable price) and camper to put on separately. This is how we finally did it – and here it is, our El Mundo!

camper truck with reflection in the water - how to choose vehicle for roadtrip
RAM 2500+Okanagan Camper, BC, Canada
(c) TheVanEscape 2019

General introduction and assumptions

Usually, if you go on a road trip, at least you want to have a place to sleep and cook. It means you need a bed and some propane installation, and sometimes it might be used from the outside if the van is a small one. If you have just a little more money, it would be nice to have a toilet as well. Shower is luxury, but if budget can hold it, it’s worth considering. Only the above assumptions are reason to have really plenty of options, so it’s good to know different types of vehicles available on the market and how to choose among them the proper vehicle for your road trip. We will try to shortly summarize it and give some recommendations fitting your needs and requirements.

Types of vehicles good for a road trip

Regular car + tent

This is easiest, but the least comfortable option for your road trip. Just buy a regular car (even as cheap as 1000 USD/CAD or less and simple tent In Walmart). With such a setup, you can move fast and see a lot in a short time. It’s easy to sell your car at the end of a road trip because it’s cheap. And people are looking for inexpensive things – it’s in their nature.

tent put up in the forest
Coleman Tent at the campground in Katmai National Park, AK, USA
(c) TheVanEscape 2019

Cons

  • low comfort
  • must find a good spot to put up a tent
  • weather might not be favorable (wind and rain is not nice for tent users)
  • lack of heating
  • lack of electricity, water – you need a campground at least each couple of days

Pros

  • cheap
  • you can buy a bigger tent for better comfort not spending much more money (3 ppl tent in Walmart starts as low as 40 USD)
  • easy to sell after a road trip
  • you can travel faster with such a simple set
  • lower fuel consumption

Regular van

If you are short on a budget, it’s the 2nd option for you. You can buy an old van as cheap as 2-5k CAD. Of course, it will be old and may require additional funds for fixing mechanical imperfections, but at least you can afford it, and if you set it yourself, you will trust it more. In a van, you can usually build some regular beds and shelves. You can even think about the kitchen (usually installed at the back to make cooking more comfortable from the outside in standing position). It’s not hard to install the water tank and propane oven. Some people even fit a simple chemical toilet in the vans. With such a piece of minimum equipment you can start your road trip, and for most people, it’s more than enough. Still relatively very cheap, but much more comfortable than a regular car.

van in front of route 66 diner - how to choose vehicle for roadtrip
Ford E350 in Williams, Route 66, AZ, USA
(c) TheVanEscape 2018

Cons

  • you must put some work to convert a van into your road trip vehicle or buy a ready to go one (little more expensive usually)
  • usually, a vehicle is pretty old, and there’s a risk of stopping in unforeseen location and situation (might be a cost to get out of trouble) – good to have AAA/CAA insurance just in case
  • usually, it’s not hightop so you can’t stand in it – lack of comfort
  • you need to use campgrounds to have shower and other services sometimes

Pros

  • relatively cheap
  • might not need to expand bed each day (saves time on the move)
  • better weather comfort
  • more space
  • relatively low fuel consumption

Examples: Dodge Caravan, Ford Econoline 350, Dodge Van 3500, Chevy g20/g30, VW California etc.

Luxury van (high roof)

This is our favorite option because we love the style of mid-90-ties and earlier vans – they look great on photography, are small enough to park In regular space, but big enough to keep all required facilities like bathrooms, kitchen bedroom, etc. You have everything needed to live on quite a small floor space. Usually, those vans are suitable for 2, max three people. What’s essential, you can stand inside, have a lot of storage for your stuff, and even take a shower! The problem is that on the market there’s plenty of old and worn out vehicles which makes it risky to travel with them. However, people can go in 40-50 years old cars, so it depends on your risk acceptance level. The newer ones don’t have the style (yet) and are relatively expensive (more expensive than similar motorhomes)

campervan in front of washington capitol - how to choose vehicle for roadtrip
Roadtrek, Washington DC, USA
(c) TheVanEscape 2018

Cons

  • keep the high price on the market
  • hard to find well-maintained ones
  • high odometer mileage
  • low reliability of the most used ones

Pros

  • act as a small motorhome
  • usually includes all facilities inside
  • relatively good fuel economy
  • stylish
  • easy to resell, because market demand is big

Examples: Chevy G20/G30 High Roof, GMC Vandura, Pleasure Way, Roadtrek, Leisure Travel, etc.

Truck Campers

If you plan to go off-road, it might be the best option. If you already own the track, it’s an even better option. There’s a wide selection of campers mounted on trucks. Actually, they are as big and as comfortable as regular motorhomes (I mean smaller ones). They usually have a full bathroom, a comfortable bed, a full kitchen, and a lot of storage. Electricity hookup+batteries, water tank, etc. You can use it only for vacation, and the rest of the year just store it off the truck. If you want to check your truck for a newer or different model, there’s a big chance your camper will fit it as well, so if you buy once, you can keep it forever. There are 4-seasons versions, so if you plan to go skiing, don’t worry about your water and heating installation, it should be prepared for colder season as well.

campertruck ford f350 - how to choose vehicle for roadtrip
Ford F350 V10+Frontier Camper

Cons

  • fuel consumption will be much higher than on regular van (12mpg might be good result)
  • bigger set, usually needs bigger parking slot and more expensive tickets on the ferries
  • much harder to drive with such a big set, need some experience and proper truck (heavy duty, super heavy, etc.)
  • door at the back, rarely side door

Pros

  • very comfortable
  • lot of space
  • full hookups
  • can be 4WD/AWD, can get virtually anywhere

Examples: Arctic Fox, Adventurer, Northstar, Kodiak, Lance etc.

Motorhome

If you can afford it and use relatively often, why not buy a regular class C motorhome? New ones are costly, but older is losing value pretty fast, so you can find a perfect one for good money. What’s essential, they usually are not so damaged, because people are using those one/two times a year mainly (We do not count those who live in theirs whole year or those that belong to rental companies). There’s no need to talk a lot about motorhomes. They are useful if you need comfort, but it’s not that easy to drive them, especially on narrow roads. Fuel consumption is enormous because motorhome might be cumbersome and large.

motorhome sunseeker
Sunseeker Class C Motorhome, AK, USA
(c) TheVanEscape 2016

Cons

  • high fuel consumption
  • not easy to drive and park
  • might be expensive
  • bigger ones hard to resell after road-trip

Pros

  • lot of space
  • high comfort
  • full hookups, big tanks
  • good for living full-time

Examples: Coachman, winnebago, Sunseeker Forest River RV, Fleetwood, etc.

Summary

Here we wanted to put our subjective summary of the choices you have for the road trip. Use it at your own risk 😉

 Car+TentVanHighRoof VanCamper TruckMotorhome
ComfortVery LowLowMediumHigh Very High
How long roadtrip?
(months)
11-21-121-anyany
Storage spaceSmallMediumMediumMedium+Huge
Gas Fuel Economy (mpg)20-3017-2016-2012-158-12
Park & Drive EasyEasyEasyMediumHard
Used price (USD)
starting at:
1000+10000+10000+12000+15000+

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This blog entry shows you some options how to choose vehicle for a roadtrip. After reading it you should be able to understand all options.
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ABOUT US

the van escape

Hi, we are Agnes & Chris! Welcome to The Van Escape! We are travelers, photographers, and bloggers. Our goal is to share travel & photo experience and inspire you to outdoor adventures through America. We love wildlife, off the beaten path places, soaking in hot springs, and van life. We also like cities by night and tasting local food & wine. We give you ready itineraries, hints, and essential tools to prepare you for your unforgettable lifetime journey. We only describe the places we have been, which we know and recommend without hesitation. All photos are also ours. We are so glad you’re here!

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