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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.

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.

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.

Solo Stove: Bonfire 2.0 Review

We recently had the opportunity to test out Solo Stove’s new Bonfire 2.0! This is the latest version of the already very popular smokeless fire pit. Keep reading to see our thoughts on this cool piece of outdoor gear in our Solo Stove: Bonfire 2.0 review.

What are the Specs of the Solo Stove’s Bonfire 2.0?

One of the first things you may be wondering about when deciding whether to purchase this fire pit or not are its specs.

  • Diameter: 19.5 in | 49.5 cm
  • Height: 14 in | 35.5 cm
  • Weight: 23.3 lbs | 10.6 kg
  • Materials: Stainless Steel
  • Height with the stand: 16.5 inches | 41.9 cm (stand is sold separately)

Pros of Solo Stove’s Bonfire 2.0

Portable

One of our favorite features of Solo Stove’s Bonfire 2.0 is that it’s light enough that you can take it with you wherever you want to have a fire. Size-wise it doesn’t take up a ton of space and luckily it’s on the lighter side which means that most adults can set it up or carry it by themselves. The free carrying case has two handles which makes it even easier to move from the garage to the house or even the garage to the back of your vehicle for use at camp or the beach. This is one of the best portable fire pits on the market.

Great Design

Though there was a little bit of smoke upon starting the fire, it quickly dissipated. Solo Stove’s Signature 360° Airflow is basically magic. Just kidding. It’s great design. Each Solo Stove, regardless of model, is double-walled. Their stoves also have two sets of burn holes, some at the top of the stove and some at the bottom. The 360° Airflow system works to feed your flames and generate a secondary burn which is why you don’t get any smoke.

Smokeless

Solo Stove’s Bonfire 2.0 is a true smokeless fire pit.

We’ve all been there … you’re sitting around the campfire, drink in hand, talking story but you can’t quite relax because the smoke from your fire is making everyone shifty and irritable. Not so with Solo Stove’s Bonfire 2.0. You’ll need quality fuel (kiln dried hardwood is great) but if you have that you’re guaranteed to have a smokeless fire (see more below). Stay away from pallets, particle board, pressure treated wood, etc. because as they burn they’ll give off dangerous fumes. Oh, and one of the best parts? Your hair and clothes won’t smell like campfire for days.

Durable

All Solo Stoves are made with 304 Stainless Steel which makes them long-lasting. 304 Stainless Steel has a higher corrosion resistance than just regular stainless steel. And Solo Stove is so confident about its product that it offers a lifetime guarantee to its customers with proof of purchase. The stand is also made with the same materials.

Cons of Solo Stove’s Bonfire 2.0

Ash

This isn’t really a con. Ash is just part of the reality of having a fire. But in trying to write a balanced review we wracked our brains to come up with a con, even a flimsy one. And to be honest, it was kind of difficult to do. If we had to name a con we’ll just say that we wish that cleaning out the ash wasn’t something we had to do. That said, Solo Stove’s Bonfire 2.0 has an ash pan that comes with the stove meaning that the day after your burn you simply remove it and dump it somewhere safe. It’s a lot easier than some other portable fire pits where you have to drag the entire stove with you and then wrestle the ash out of it.

Learn more or Buy the Solo Stove: Bonfire 2.0

In the market and ready to purchase the Bonfire 2.0?

Already have a stove and want some accessories? These are some of our favorites:

Solo Stove: Bonfire 2.0 Review and Recap

a top down but angled view of Solo Stove's Bonfire 2.0. There is a portion of a log visible and the flames are just starting to rise out of the pit which rests on the stand which sits on asphalt.
Durable, good-looking, easy to use, smokeless and portable. What more could you ask for in a firepit?

If after reading all this you’re still on the fence about this smokeless fire pit well you’re in luck because you can order it and return it within 30 days if you’re unhappy with it. Like the Bonfire but looking for something a little smaller? Solo Stove’s most portable fire pit is the Ranger 2.0 which clocks in at 15 pounds, 8.3 less than the Bonfire 2.0. And for those wanting to go in the other direction – a larger fire pit – we recommend the Yukon.

Best Lobster Rolls in Asheville, NC

Though Asheville, NC is a destination for foodies, you may be thinking that in the mountains it would be hard to come by delicious seafood. Luckily, if you though that, you are wrong! In this post, Best Lobster Rolls in Asheville, NC, we’re sharing our top spots for eating one of our favorite things.

Baby Bull | 1 Roberts Street, #101

Burger fans already know how good the burger is at Baby Bull. It easily made it onto our list of the Best Burgers in Asheville. But what you might not know is that their lobster roll is pretty solid, too. The Maine lobster meat is served chilled and it’s tossed in a citrusy-mayo-butter concoction. It pairs nicely with the lobster without overpowering it. Though it’ll be hard to resist their burger, if you like lobster rolls, this is one you should try.

Cousins Maine Lobster Truck | Location Varies

We’d heard great stuff about the lobster rolls from Cousins Maine Lobster Truck so when we heard it was coming to Sweeten Creek Brewing we went. And whew, it was worth it! The location of Cousins Maine Lobster Truck varies so look at their website to catch up wit it. We think it’s one of the best lobster rolls in Asheville and it’s worth meeting up with!

Cousins Maine Lobster offer two styles of lobster rolls. The Maine lobster roll is served chilled with a little bit of mayo which we honestly couldn’t detect. It comes on a toasted roll and is served with a lemon wedge. The Connecticut roll has the same amount of lobster on it as the Maine roll but is served warm with butter and lemon. It’s also on a toasted bun. Though both were delicious we favor the Connecticut roll a tad more.

Jettie Rae’s | 143 Charlotte Street

Technically Jettie Rae’s lobster roll isn’t made only with lobster. Theirs is a Lobster and Shrimp roll. But it’s served with a hearty side of fries or chips and it’s mighty tasty and so it makes our list. If you go, we recommend trying a few of their fresh shucked oysters ahead of time. That and one of their craft cocktails. This is one of the few ‘seafood’ restaurants in Asheville and we love what they’re doing.

Lobster Dogs | Location Varies

Another one of the best lobster rolls in Asheville also happens to be on another food truck. This one is called Lobster Dogs and it’s divine. The lobster is served on a toasted bun and the meat is chilled. There’s quite a bit of melted butter on this lobster roll as well as what Lobster Dogs calls “a swipe of mayo” and special seasonings.

Mother Ocean Seafood Market | 640 Merrimon Ave

The lobster roll at Mother Ocean comes on a fresh baked roll by neighboring Geraldine’s Bakery and it is tasty! You can order your lobster roll one of three ways: plain, with butter, or with a light mayonnaise dressing and capers. Whichever way you choose it’s damn good. For a couple extra bucks you can make your lobster roll a combo meal and add on your choice of hushpuppies, fries or a house-made salad and a local soda from Devil’s Foot.

Best Lobster Rolls in Asheville, NC Recap

Though there are tons of dining options when it comes to Asheville, when you’re in the mood for a lobster roll, the above places are our top picks. Oh and each of the above has outdoor dining! Sure there are other spots in Asheville that have lobster rolls and while everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, these are our favorites! Like another roll in town better? Let us know in the comments! And if you ever find yourself in eastern Canada, check out our post on the Best Lobster Rolls on Nova Scotia.

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