You are here

Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.
Jason Leach | 06.24.2019

Vanlife can seem like an amazing way to declutter your life and see more of the world. It can also be rather expensive. New vans without modifications can start in the $30,000 range and go up from there. Add in the cost of the modifications, and you can be looking at almost six figures if you have the work done professionally.

You could also try it before you buy it! Renting an already modified van and taking it on a trip can be a great way to get a feel for what the lifestyle can offer. It also can save you a ton of time and money upfront in case you decide the lifestyle isn’t for you. At a minimum, you get a unique and amazing vacation out of the experience for little more than you might pay to stay in Airbnb or a hotel.

While still cheaper than a house, the #vanlife is not something to be undertaken without careful thought. Below are some things to consider when renting (or buying) your first van regardless of travel destination.


The van camper is more than just a place to sleep, especially during inclement weather. Jason Leach.

Awake Hours

Carefully consider that time amount when you are looking at what size van to rent. While in Iceland, we had an unexpected weather windstorm keep us inside and unable to drive for almost a full 24 hours. During times like these, having a bit of extra space is a nice convenience. The time spent cooking, relaxing, or sitting inside riding out a storm can add up quickly, and while there is (usually) more room than a tent it is important to consider how many hours you plan to spend just hanging out in and around the van. Take that estimate and then tack on a few extra for unexpected weather hangouts.


One of many styles of van campers, this one provided by Happy Campers. Jason Leach.

Van Height

In addition to overall floor space, take your and your travel partner’s heights into consideration. Van height can range from 6 feet to 14 feet in high-roof versions. Generally, the larger the van, the more overall cost for both the rental fee and gas. A van of “normal” height means you may spend a lot of time either sitting on the bench seat in the back, kneeling on the floor, or crouching. Not necessarily a good or bad thing, but for those over 6 feet tall any future vanlife excursion should involve a tall van that allows you to, for example, stand while washing the dishes. I recommend trying whichever height you think would be most comfortable.

Flooring Material

There are two things to think about here—comfort and ability to clean easily. Sadly, these two can be mutually exclusive. Carpeting, while comfortable, can be harder to clean. Hardwood is easier to clean, but it can be harder on the knees. Some vans offer rubber as a flooring material; this could be a happy medium, but depending on the patterning might be harder to clean.

Hardwood allows you to easily sweep it at the end of every day. It is a bit hard on the knees, but you can bunch up a pillow for that. Sitting on the hardwood and enjoying the views from inside the van is perfectly comfortable.


Electric amenities make a huge difference in a van camper, but they come at a cost. Jason Leach.

Electric Amenities

How many power outlets does the van have? Does it include a power inverter, or will you need to rent or buy one? Does the van have Wi-Fi built in? Is there a backup battery for the “extra” electrical items, or does it just run off the van battery? How is that backup battery charged? Is the faucet electronic? Does the van include a fridge? Is there a secondary heating source included?

These are all critical concerns for van living. Make sure to ask these questions while you’re searching for a van to rent, and follow up with an inspection when you pick up the van. Plug into each outlet to be sure that they work. Test the Wi-Fi if your van comes equipped. This alone will save many headaches as you use your phones to navigate and keep an eye on the weather or any such use of your devices. 

Some vans run off of a backup battery that is charged by both a solar panel and the van’s alternator when driving. This offers peace of mind because you can run Wi-Fi, a faucet, a fridge, and a secondary heater without the fear of needing a jump start should the battery drain. Next to the Wi-Fi, a secondary heater is a luxury that takes the edge off the chill late at night or early in the morning.

Exterior Space

Depending on your destination (and the weather), you could find yourself spending lots of time with the van doors open enjoying the great outdoors! Some vans include an awning setup or a rooftop tent to help you maximize your time outside. Some vans involve the kitchen being pulled out and cooking entirely outside.

If you plan to spend any amount of time hanging around outside of the van at a given spot (and you should!), I would recommend considering the following:

  • Rent or bring camp chairs. If your van does not have an awning, bring a tarp with strings on it to create a makeshift one, which can also double as ground cloth if needed.
  • Exterior lighting (for example,a Black Diamond lantern) or string lights, even if you plan to set up a base camp.
  • Consider renting or bringing a folding table as well.

These amenities can help extend your overall footprint and help make things feel more homey. Additionally, using exterior space helps give you some room to stretch, since cooking in a van (with the door propped) doesn’t allow a lot of elbow room!


En route near the Ring Road in Iceland. Jason Leach.

The Van Towel

Bring a big beach towel! This is an essential item! It allows you to sweep out the van quickly as you go, wipe down the kitchen, place muddy shoes without spreading dirt, wipe the condensation off the windows in the morning, and generally just makes the van cleaning routine that much easier. You can tackle it in small chunks each day rather than let it all build up to the end of your trip. Make note: Most companies ask that you return the van in a clean condition and will charge you a hefty fee if it is not. Bringing at least one is worth the effort!


Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.