How to Choose a Van for Van Life

Ready for a new adventure? One that involves travel? And possibility living out of your van? We’ve spent many, many hours discussing, processing, debating and learning about how and what kind of van we should get for van life. In this post we discuss some of the questions we’ve wrestled with ourselves. Answering them should help you narrow the decision making process and get a van that suits your needs: How to Choose a Van for Van Life. Already picked a vehicle? Head on over to our thoughts on outfitting the inside of your home on wheels.

What’s the best van for van life?

Best Van for Van Life | Authentic Asheville.jpg
Who doesn’t love the look of this van?!

Is it a vintage VW? A mini van? A cargo van from the 90’s? The long and short answer is that the best van for you might be the worst van for someone else. (We’re making the assumption that you’ve decided to actually live in a van and have already ruled out school buses, RV’s, truck campers, etc.) Vehicle choice is a personal decision and one that is going to take a good bit of time to figure out. For starters, though, we’ve found that the following questions are good jumping off points for figuring how to choose the best van for van life.

How much money do you want to spend?

The answer to this question is one of the most important when it comes to figuring out how to choose a van for van life. Your budget is definitely going to impact your options. You might be lusting after a 4×4 Mercedes Sprinter van with clearance, a hitch, a bamboo ceiling and all kinds of internal wiring as well as solar BUT if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. Figure out how much money you have (or want to spend) on a van and go from there. There are so many options these days that figuring out your budget is going to be one of the first steps in narrowing your options.

In addition, a new van is likely going to be more expensive than a used van. That said, if you have the experience necessary to fix up a used van, you might be able to save a lot of money by buying a vehicle someone else has given up on. We’ve had two vintage vehicles but we will never go down that route again. Lesson learned! We dumped way too much money into them and ended up abandoning both.

Also, when it comes to money, think about gas mileage. Our Dodge Ram Promaster City gets pretty good gas mileage. It averages about 24 miles per gallon. If you think you’ll be doing a lot of driving, this might be a question to really ask yourself when trying to decide which van to choose for van life.

Starting prices for our top three van life vehicles are below.

Will you be living in the van full-time?

This is another one of the critical questions to ask when deciding which is the best van for van life. Part-time adventures mean you can have a rig that maybe isn’t the perfect fit  but it’s close enough because you can problem-solve relatively easily. For example: the van is missing a shower but you’ll mostly be staying at campgrounds so it’s not a big deal. Or, it’s lacking electrical wiring but you’ll only be using it on weekends so you can bring most of your gear fully charged.

How many people and pets will be traveling?

Space needs will be different based on how many people and pets you plan to travel with. The fewer the people and paws, the less space you will need. Space needs include seats, seatbelts, sleeping spaces, food storage spaces, gear storage spaces, etc … all of which expand as you add more bodies to the trip. We traveled with a dog for a while in our 1976 Toyota Chinook but it was tight. For the last year it’s just been the two of us. We’ve managed to cut down on how much space we’ll need by decluttering (more on that HERE) and making sure that almost everything in the van has at least two purposes.

Do you need to stand up?

What's the Best Van for Van Life | Authentic Asheville
We drove across the country and back in this van and are thankful for good gas mileage!

At first I wrote, ‘Do you want to stand up’ but then I realized, almost everyone is going to want that. It’s one of the main reasons we have outgrown our van (pictured above.) Most of the time being able to stand up isn’t an issue but it really gets the best of us when the weather is bad and we’re cooking and making coffee outside. But purchasing a high roof van is going to impact how much it costs. There are different options for van height but, basically, the taller you go, the more it’s going to cost. That goes for both the cost of the van as well as gas mileage. That said, if you’re only going to be weekending or taking short trips in your van, you might not need the extra height. Update: we recently purchased a standup Ram Promaster with a 136 inch wheelbase.

Do looks matter?

What the van looks like really comes down to personal preference. For the longest time I really wanted to get a VW van. I just love the way they look. But when it came time to choosing a van, the practical side of things took over. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice reliability for something that looked really great on Instagram. Maybe you are? (Especially if you’re handy with tools and love a good project. In all honestly, I’ll probably always love the way a VW looks but will never own one because I’m too afraid of the costs.) One look at Pinterest will show you that the sky is the limit when it comes to van life aesthetics. That said, often the most affordable rigs are really, really ugly. (A quick scan on Craigslist is bound to turn up all kinds of examples.)

What are your van life needs?

How to Choose the Best Van for Van Life | Authentic Asheville
Making coffee in the rain is one of the drawbacks to a smaller van.

Some van lifers can get by with fewer amenities than others. We have traveled for over a year without a bathroom or running water. There are lots of different hacks to staying clean on the road but if you can get away without a bathroom, you’re going to save yourself money and valuable space.

Another question to ask yourself is whether or not you’ll want a sink, or electricity, running water, a bed that you don’t have to break down or not. The answers to each of these questions is going to impact the amount of space you’ll need and therefore the size of your vehicle.

Conversion kit or DIY van life build?

Another super important question to consider when trying to narrow down which van to choose is whether or not you’ll be using a conversion kit or doing the build yourself. A conversion kit will take a lot less time to install (this means getting on the road faster) but it can potentially cost more money than doing it yourself. A DIY build, however, requires having the skills to do the work or learning them. In addition, building your own van out requires time, tools and the space to do it.

There’s plenty of options when it comes to custom builds but if you’re trying to keep costs low, you can pretty much cross this option off your list. The minute you go custom, the costs start skyrocketing. We’ll post more about the interiors of different vans and their options. For now, we’re going to just stick on the vehicle itself.

Gas or diesel?

Ah, the debates for this one seem to go round and round. Especially on reddit. Personally, we’re big proponents of gas engines. The main reason for us isn’t actually fuel economy or torque (we’re not going to be towing anything) but it’s that we don’t want to have to stress about being able to find a diesel mechanic if we break down.

So, what’s the best van for van life?

Since you made it this far you probably guessed we were going to say “it depends” when it comes to choosing the best van for van life. It’s really all about your needs as van lifers (or weekend users) which are different from one person to the next. But we’ve narrowed our top picks to three:

Dodge Ram Promaster City

This is what we’ve been traveling in for about a year. You can read a ton more about it by checking out our Van Life page. It’s got a Wayfarer Plug-N-Player Camp Conversion Kit in it. It’s great for people who are on the smaller side (especially if there are two of you traveling). It is also great if you are wanting a daily driver (meaning that your van will double as your regular vehicle) and want to still get fairly good gas mileage. It’s also the most affordable option of all the ones listed below. It’s starting price new back in 2018 was $23,995. These days you can get a used one for much less. Full disclosure: We’ve had some issues with our van. We finally decided to write about it. You can learn more here on our post Problems with the Ram Promaster City.

Dodge Ram Promaster 1500 with a high roof

This is the bigger sibling to the Dodge Ram Promaster City. You can stand up in this van and spread out a bit more (it’s got a super boxy shape to it.) If you’re wondering why we like this one over the Ford Transit, it’s mostly because the base models come with more things than the base models of the Transits. In addition, we like the look of it a tad more than the Ford, it has a few more inches of roof height and we can get a Wayfarer kit for this van. It’s starting price new is $32,695. Again, this is for a high roof. The standard sized roof Promaster starts at $29,295. Update: The 136″ wheelbase is the van we upgraded to!

Mercedes Sprinter Van

We never really considered buying a new Mercedes Sprinter van because it’s a big jump up in price from the Dodge. Not only does the cost go up for the vehicle itself, but it also prices the conversion kits and van life builds in a much higher group. Rising costs = rising panic. That said, if you can find a used one that hasn’t been in an accident and has low mileage, you might have found a winner. We think it’s a great vehicle and it makes the list because, even though it’s out of our budget, it’s still a great vehicle. New Mercedes Sprinters start at around $36,495.

All of the above vehicles we mentioned above are at the 2018 models.

Additional Camper Van Resources

How to Choose a Van for Van Life Recap

There’s obviously lots to think about when it comes to figuring out which is the best van for van life. Hopefully the information above helps you in choosing a vehicle that fits your needs. If you’ve already picked a great van for van life, hop on over to our next post in this series about Custom Builds, DIY Van Conversion and Conversion Kits.

Still not sure which van to choose? It’s helpful to try them out. Luckily there are numerous companies out there that rent vans so you can test them out for a weekend or a week-long adventure (even more) to see which ones suit you best. Learn more on our post about the 7 Best Camper Van Rental Companies.

In addition, be sure to check out the full list of van life posts HERE.

Authentic Asheville is a team of two. We are freelance Squarespace web designers, photographers, writers and content creators.

Review of the Merrell Women’s Speed Solo Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot

Erin joined Merrells’ Hiking Club as a Trailblazer in 2023 and has been testing out numerous pairs of their hiking boots. Several pairs have become favorites such as the Merrell Women’s Moab 3 Mids and the Merrell Antora 3 Mid Waterproofs. Today, though, we’re going to do a full review of the Merrell Women’s Speed Solo Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot.

Features of the Women’s Speed Solo Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot

Merrell's Women's Speed Solo Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot are on both Camille Nevarez-Hernandez and Erin McGrady who are both walking on a wooden bridge. Erin has on brown shorts and a green Merrell logo'ed t-shirt with a tan backpack and yellow hat. Camille has on black pants and a tan t-shirt and green backpack. Erin is holding the railing. They are both looking down.

As with all gear, there are numerous features to take a look at. With hiking boots, we’ll explore options like color and width options and then dive into some of the other properties that makes this boot one of our favorites.


As of September 2023, there are four colorways to choose from in Merrell’s Women’s Speed Solo Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot. Those colorways are: Burlwood, Jade, Rock Multi, and Tobacco/Gold. Merrell’s Men’s Speed Solo Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot comes in a Clay/Olive, Black, Earth, and Black Multi.


Although Merrell has numerous boots that offer a Wide option, these, unfortunately, only come in a Medium width. I often choose a Wide width when it comes to footwear, but I found these to be comfortable even though they’re a medium. I just wore a slightly thinner sock than normal.


The sole on the Speed Solo Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot is made with Virbram Technology. Specifically, it has a Vibram Ecostep Recycle outsole which is deisned with 30% recycled rubber. We’ve found it to be grippy in wet conditions where you’re walking on rock or stones. It gives us confidence to trust our step. As you might expect, it also does really well on dry surfaces, helping you find a firm purchase even when carrying extra weight such as in a backpack. This, combined with a protective and abrasion-resistant rubber heel and toe cap make this one of the best women’s hiking boots on the market. One added bonus is that the lugs are spread out so you rarely have to pick rocks or sticks out of your sole.


One of the features we always look for in a hiking boot, and something we refuse to compromise on, is its cushioning. Luckily, with the Merrell Speed Solo Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot, you don’t have to. It’s got a built-in rock plate for protection to help keep your feet from bruising from sharp objects on the trail and extra weight on your back. It’s also got a FloatPro Foam midsole that’s not only lightweight but also durable.


The Merrell Women’s Speed Solo Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot weighs 12.34 ounces. The men’s boot also weighs the same.


One thing we’ve come to rely on with all Merrell footwear is comfort. Plainly put, Merrell understands feet and in particular, understands what feet will need and want after a long day on the trail. And for those of us who love to hike, we know that if our feet are feeling good, so will the rest of our body. And as a result, we’ll enjoy our outdoor adventures so much more. Naturally, with these Speed Solo Mid Waterproof Hiking Boots, they fit great right out of the box. Unlike some other brands, they did not require any special break in period. They’re comfortable, cushy, and good for half-day or day hikes with a light to medium pack on your back.


Merrell's Women's Speed Solo Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot is seen splashing through a clear creek. There are several different brown boulders nearby. The hiker is in brown shorts and a green short and only half of their body is in view. Green leaves are in the background.

Waterproof hiking boots are a must in Asheville and the surrounding area since we get a ton of rain and there’s almost always a puddle on the trail. We almost always prefer to hike in waterproof boots because you never know when there might be a stream crossing or an unexpected rain shower that leaves a little moisture on the trail. Plus, the waterproofing on these boots still allows for great air-flow so you won’t overheat in them.

The Merrell Women’s Speed Solo Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot Review Recap

We’ve basically put these boots on and then haven’t taken them off. They’ve been a go-to for us all summer and we plan on wearing them into the fall season, too. TLDR? The Merrell Women’s Speed Solo Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot is one of the best out there right now.

Where can you buy these boots?

We always encourage our readers to buy from local businesses whenever possible. If you’re unable to find a Merrell vendor near you, you can also source these boots online at the following links below.

REI Women’s | REI Men’s | Amazon

Not sure where to hike in Western Carolina? Here are some of our favorite hikes near Asheville, NC.

How To Pass the Part 107 Exam To Get Your Remote Pilot Certificate

We’ve been shooting photos for brands and businesses since 2016. We entered into video and filmmaking in 2022. During the summer of 2023, we decided to become certified to fly a drone for commercial work including photos and 4K video four our clients in Asheville and beyond. We wanted to offer them another skill and we knew that getting a drone up in the air would allow us to offer both aerial stills and videos. Keep reading to see how we earned our Remote Pilot Certificate (RIC) by passing the Part 107 Exam. We both passed on our first attempt of the Part 107 Exam so we hope that our tips will help you do the same!

Check Out the FAA Website on How To Become a Drone Pilot

One of the first things we did to see about getting our Remote Pilot Certificate was to head to the FAA website. It’s a good first stop when getting info on how to become a drone pilot. It’s also where you’ll need to register in order to become an “Airman” and where you will be issued a Flight Tracking Number (FTN). You’ll need this FTN in order to register to take the Part 107 Exam. More on that later.

Some of the basics you’ll learn from the FAA website in regards to becoming a certified drone pilot are these requirements:

You must:

Be at least 16 years old
Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English
Be in a physical and mental condition to safely fly a drone
Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam: “Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG)”

What’s on the Part 107 Exam for the Remote Pilot Certificate

There are 60 multiple-choice questions on the Part 107 Exam. You’ll need to answer 42 of them correctly in order to get a 70% (passing) score. You’ll also need to do so within the two hour time limit.

You’ll need to know about airspace classification, flight restrictions, weather, small unmmaned aircraft loading, emergency and radio communication procedures, airport operations, crew resource management, aeronautical decision-making and judgement, physiological factors such as drug and alcohol use, maintenance, preflight inspection procedures, tons of abbreviations and acronyms.

The two toughest categories for us to learn were reading the sectional charts and decoding METAR (aviation weather reports.)

Best Study Guides and Resources for the Part 107 Exam for your Remote Pilot Certificate

The first resource we recommend obtaining is the FAA study guide for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems. The study guide is free and is found online via the FAA site. It’s 88 pages long and gives a broad overview of the topics that will be on the Part 107 Exam. It’s definitely a good idea to read the entire study guide but unless you’re a genius or have a lot more experience in the aviation industry, you’re probably, like us, going to need some additional help.

The second place we went for resources for the Part 107 Exam was YouTube. These days we do a ton of learning on all sorts of topics on YouTube so it was a no-brainer for us to seek out commercial drone pilot info here. And wow, there’s a ton. To help you sort out some of the best, we recommend checking out the following YouTube videos:

Altitude Academy – This video is a little over 90 minutes long but goes into everything in the FAA study guide with even more detail. The instructor speaks slowly and clearly and explains the information in a way that was really easy for us to understand.

Tony and Chelsea Northrup – This video is about 1 hour and 45 minutes long and it’s similar in content to Altitude Academy. It’s one of the most popular Part 107 Exam videos out there with close to 3 million views. What makes this video great is that there are sample exam questions in the video.

We also found some flashcards on the site Quizlet that were super helpful in reviewing information.

Lastly, we ended up purchasing the Altitude Academy’s online course. It cost us about $100 dollars. For that price we were given even more videos, the Airman’s reference booklet, and five practice exams. Some of the best videos were those that helped us learn how to read a sectional chart. The most valuable aspect of this course was the instant feedback that the exams gave us. We knew we were ready to take the Part 107 Exam once we started scoring in the 90’s.

What Surprised Us About the Part 107 Exam and Drone Pilot Certification

One of the first things that we were stunned to learn was that unlike your drivers license test, you don’t actually have to fly a drone in order to pass the Part 107 Exam. It’s strictly knowledge based.

Another surprise about the Part 107 Exam was that you only need a 70% to pass. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not upset about the cutoff, but it was a bit shocking because it comes with such a big responsibility.

The cost of the Part 107 Exam also surprised us. Our exams were each $175! Unfortunately, if you have to retake the exam you have to pay again.

We were also very surprised at quickly we found out we passed (five minutes after completing the exam) and then were able to obtain our temporary Remote Pilot Certificate. Almost as soon as we passed the exam we shared our scores with the FAA through the online portal and within a few days we had a downloadable version of our temporary certificate.

Another thing that surprised us about the Part 107 Exam was that if you are flying a drone recreationally, you don’t need this certification. This is only for people flying drones commercially and/or those who have drones that weigh more than .55 pounds.

Things We Wish We Knew Before Taking the Part 107 Exam for our Remote Pilot Certification

The Airman’s resource booklet I used on my practice exams was the same exact one on the exam. Literally the same thing. So, because I had become really familiar with the book, it took some of the anxiety out of my exam. And though none of the practice questions were on my actual exam, some were similar.

We received ear plugs to use during the exam!

If you’re taking your drone certification Part 107 Exam in Asheville, you’ll be over in West Asheville. The parking is free and the building is in the one-story tan buildings over near the post office.

The Airman’s resource book is the same one you’ll use on the exam.

How To Pass the Part 107 Exam To Get Your Remote Pilot Certificate Recap

As of 2022, only 7.9% of all certified drone pilots are women! We’re very excited to add our names to this list and take our place up in the sky. If you’re considering taking the Part 107 Exam to get your remote pilot certificate, we encourage you to study and go for it! We spent about 20 hours total studying for the exam and it worked for us. You should have a pretty good idea if you’re able to access some of the practice exams.

Are you a certified drone pilot in Asheville or elsewhere? If so, we’d love to hear what you thought about the test. And if anyone has gone through the steps of keeping their license after their two years are up, we’d love to hear your thoughts!

If you enjoyed this, check out our Favorite Photography and Video Gear.

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