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.

7 Best Latinx Restaurants in Asheville, NC

Let’s be honest, while Asheville is known as Beer City and we have a ton of great places to eat, it can be a hard place to find good, authentic Latinx food. So I’m making it easier for you. Check out my top picks for the 7 Best Latinx Restaurants in Asheville, NC.

Little Chango | 134 Coxe Avenue | South Slope

This little yellow brick building definitely caught your eye while driving around Asheville’s South Slope. It’s home to a mix of Latin American dishes, like their delicious and savory arepas mounted with various toppings like Pernil (adobo seasoned pork shoulder), Ropa Vieja (shredded flank steak), Chorizo, and so much more! Along with a great selection of arepas, you have an array of add-ons to try, like my favorite, and a Puerto Rican staple, arroz mamposteao (rice and beans) and tostones (fried plantains). Top it all off with a homemade flan or tres leches to get a perfect balance of sweet and savory.

Taqueria Muñoz | 1438 Patton Avenue or 870 Riverside Drive | Asheville 

You ask anyone in town and they will say Taqueria Muñoz is the best place to get affordable & authentic tacos. You can find them on Patton or at their taco truck parked at Zillicoah. They have many choices for tacos like pollo (chicken), carnitas (pork), Asada (steak), and more! Along with the classic tacos, you can enjoy their tamales, quesadillas, burritos, tortas, and sopes.

LIMAQ | Mars Hill

LIMAQ (formerly known as Ayni5) served their last pop-up series this January before switching over to their brick and mortar up in Mars Hill. It is scheduled to open once their $35,000 crowdfunding goal is met. This food brings you Peruvian flavors and dishes with a twist — it’s all vegan. This brings new and exciting flavors to dishes. Here we see vegan ceviche using mushrooms and sweet potato instead of seafood still bringing a similar texture and tangy taste.

Pupuseria Patty | 1563 Patton Avenue | West Asheville

If you haven’t tried pupusas before, you need to get with it! You need this thick griddle cake or flatbread with your choice of filling in your life. Patty’s has a great selection of pupusas like Chicharron con queso (pork skin with cheese), Jalapeño con queso, pollo con queso (chicken with cheese), and Queso con Calabaza (cheese with pumpkin) amongst other great choices. Make sure to dip your pupusas  in the red salsa to get the full experience. This Salvadoran, Honduran, and Mexican food joint is full of great dishes sure to leave everyone more than satisfied.

Cousins Cuban | 108 Broadway Avenue | Black Mountain

Once you step into Cousin’s Cuban you immediately get the familial feel of the restaurant. It could be the family pictures on the wall; the empanadas, croquettes, pastelillos de queso displayed on the heating stand; the beautiful flamboyant paintings on the wall; or the cafeteras on each table. Whichever one, it brings an authentic feeling into the space, and you haven’t even gotten to the best part: the delicious food and café. Here we have the Ropa Vieja Cuban Bowl with white rice and black beans, plátanos maduros (sweet plantains), and to top it all off, a slice of cuban bread crostini. This meal will satisfy all your taste buds and is easily makes our list as one of the 7 best Latinx restaurants in Asheville, NC.

Guajiros | 122 Riverside Drive | River Arts District

This bright red food truck parked in the River Arts District is another eye-catching spot. It has everything from cuban sandwiches and Bistec de Palomilla (top Sirloin steak served with sauteed onions), to the strong colada (cuban espresso) that’s guaranteed to wake anyone up. If this spot didn’t already entice you with their great menu, they often have specials and seasonal items to reel you in. For example, this special menu item caught my attention immediately: Chicharrones de pollo topped off with red onions, red peppers, cilantro, and limes.

Abejas House Cafe | 1550 Hendersonville Road | South Asheville

Don’t worry South side of Asheville, I haven’t forgotten about you. Abejas has a mission to bring healthy food to their communities by using mostly organic ingredients and blending recipes from different cultures. This is the best spot to get a fun brunch on the weekends. Aside from their classic huevos rancheros, breakfast sandwich, and Abejas Platter, they specialize in housemade baked goods and desserts. You definitely have to check out their Tres Leches. 

7 Best Latinx Restaurants in Asheville, NC Recap

Pin or share this post so that the next time you’re craving some tacos, empanadas, tamales, etc., you know where to go. There’s so many restaurants in Foodtopia to choose from but these are authentic spots that are guaranteed to hit the spot. Thanks for reading our guest contributor’s article on the 7 Best Latinx Restaurants in Asheville, NC!

Camille Nevarez-Hernandez (she/her/ella) 
I’m a Puerto Rican visual storyteller who values community, creativity, and breaking down barriers. I love to capture raw moments and culture through my pictures. Due to moving around a lot while growing up, I don’t have a set place I fully call home – I find home in the people I meet, the food I eat, and the moments I experience. I’m passionate about documenting anything and everything that encompasses. I am open to doing jobs around photography, writing and video production.

Camper Van Conversion of the Ram Promaster 1500 High Roof

Y’all we said we’d never buy another Ram van after the problems we’ve had with our Ram Promaster City (2018). And yet, we did just that. We purchased a used 2019 Ram Promaster 1500 high roof van. It has a high roof and a 136-inch wheelbase. And we’re pretty darn stoked about it. Keep reading to learn more about our camper van conversion of the Ram Promaster 1500.

Why Did We Buy a Ram Promaster 1500 High Roof Camper Van?

The addition of our sweet rescue pup, Maggie, was a good excuse for us to start looking for camper vans again. We’d pressed pause on our search when the pandemic hit. Like many, we stuck close to home and had honestly gotten pretty used to being in one place. It was nice to be at home, around friends, and in one spot for more than just a night or two. But when our friend Marty sent us a message that his van was for sale, it was hard to not consider it. His thoughtful design and skill in bringing the van conversion together made it almost impossible to look away. Plus, the low mileage the van had and the fact that we knew and trusted the person who built it, gave us the confidence that we might have found the perfect camper van for us.

Specifications of the Ram Promaster 1500

We bought our van used. It’s a 2019 and at the time of purchase it has just under 27,000 miles on it.

As mentioned above our van is a 1500, has a high roof, and a 136-inch wheelbase.

Engine: 3.6 liter V6

Fuel type: runs on gas. The fuel tank holds approximately 24 gallons of gas and we’ve been told by the previous owner that we can expect to get about 14 miles per gallon. (This is a big departure from what you’ll read online for these vans but we’ve added a rack, solar panels, and a bit of weight to the interior for the build.

Front-wheel drive.

Doors: It has 2 front doors, one sliding side door on the passenger side, and two doors in the back.

Gross vehicle weight rating is 8550 lb and our van, when taken to the transit station pre-purchase came in at 6360 lb.

Other cool features of the 2019 Ram Promaster 1500 High Roof 136-inch wheelbase include a backup camera, key fobs, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Roll Stability Control (RSC) and cruise control.

Specifications of the Ram Promaster 1500 High Roof Van Conversion

2 captain-style swivel seats up front

A full-size bed with a memory foam mattress. The bed platform is made of aluminum with wooden slats.

55-inch couch with storage underneath

A small Lagun table that swivels

Renogy 800 watt solar panel array

300ah RELiON Lithium Battery Bank

Renogy 3000 watt inverter with a switch in the kitchen to turn it on/off remotely

Dometic CrX 65 12v refrigerator with a small freezer component (57 Liters)

Espar D2L gas heater

Manual open Maxxair Deluxe vent fan

2 dimmable LED zones for the bed area and living space

Blackout shades for all windows

A sink with a 1.5 gallon gray water tank and a fresh water tank

Numerous USB outlets and a couple three-prong outlets

A DIY shower

Induction cook-top with one burner

Things We Love About Our Ram Promaster 1500 High Roof Camper Van Conversion

Coming from the small Ram Promaster City van we were traveling in, at one point, for 6 months at a time, there are so many things we love about our Ram Promaster 1500 High Roof Camper Van Conversion. The first is that it was already built out when we bought it. There wasn’t a waiting period, we didn’t have to do any installation of anything, we didn’t have to spend any time doing any of the outfitting, etc. Here’s a few more reasons why:

The Refridgerator

After dealing with ice and water and good food going bad because it became waterlogged, we are so pumped to have a fridge! Granted, the fridge isn’t huge. It’s the size you’d typically see in a dorm room but it keeps the beer cold and keeps our cheese from getting soggy. We’ll probably still travel with a Coleman cooler and throw it in the back so we can make one less stop at the grocery store when we’re on the road but having a fridge is a huge upgrade for us.

A Full-Size Memory Foam Mattress

In our old van we’d be sleeping on a DIY bed that we finally started using after several other failed attempts to get comfortable. And for what it is and what it cost, it was a pretty good setup. But the thing that sets this bed and van apart from the old one is that we no longer have to put it away and make it every single day. It’s just there! Which is amazing because nobody wants to stand out in the ran and get wet before bed because you’re trying to set it up.


We never had a sink in the old van. We did the dishes when we could and tried to only serve ourselves what we thought we’d eat so there’d be less of a mess. From a food standpoint, this is a big upgrade. But it’ll also be nice to be able to wash our hands with soap and water rather than rely mostly on hand sanitizer.

Solar and Electrical System

I was nervous about having a solar and electrical system. I love the idea of renewable energy but it seemed quite complicated to install and maintain. Luckily this system was already installed for us so all we had to do was learn how to operate it. And rather than getting the propane stove out for every meal, with our solar and electrical system we can now use an induction cook-top, charge our laptops, heat our water, and even charge our phones. In fact, we have more than what we’ll need as far as our available energy goes and it’s a big departure from having to use the Jackery Explorer 500 Portable Power Station that we used in our other van. While the Jackery is rad for what it can do, it does have it’s limitations such as planning for ways to recharge it and then allowing it the time to recharge. The solar system just charges wherever you are, provided there’s sun.

What We Wished We Had In Our Ram Promaster 1500 High Roof Camper Van Conversion

The following are things we wished we had in our Ram Promaster 1500 High Roof Camper Van Conversion. Though they’re not dealbreakers and because we’ve traveled for so long in such a tiny space, being able to stand up in this van will be amazing in and of itself.

A Bathroom

After traveling in our Ram Promaster City van for several years we learned to live without a shower or a real toilet. We’ll be using the old bucket system for our travel in our Ram Promaster 1500 Conversion Van. To learn more, read up on how we pee and poop in a van. Not having a bathroom isn’t a dealbreaker. In some ways it makes sense for us not to have a toilet. They get really gross really quickly, but in other ways, it’d be nice to ditch our old system.


Though we’d love to be able to work remotely from within our van, we can’t because we don’t have wifi. To start, we’ll most likely be pulling up near places that offer it. We used a MiFi from Verizon for a while but we ate through the data really quickly and our internet speed was slowed down which made it almost useless. In a pinch, when we’re able we’ll probably use our phone as hotspot. That said, it’s not a sustainable way of working remotely. At some point we hope to get a signal booster. Satellite internet isn’t really an option for us due to the cost.

Extra Seatbelts

There are seatbelts for the driver and the passenger. But those are the only two seatbelts in this van. We’re okay with that since there are just two of us. However, if you’re traveling with other people, you’re going to want and need to find a way to add them. Some people choose to install them on the bench seat. Others end up changing the layout so they can have two regular van seats with seatbelts in the van.

Air Conditioning

Though we have regular A/C that we can use while driving the van we do not have an air conditioner that we can run when the van is parked. That will limit us to where we want to travel (Moab in the summer is out!) but it shouldn’t ultimately be a dealbreaker for us.

All-Wheel or 4-Wheel Drive

One quick look under the van and you’ll notice that there is very little clearance. A Subaru has a lot more room than this van. So it’s not surprising that the Ram Promaster 1500 is not an all-wheel or 4-wheel drive vehicle. While we that we could take it off-road or into areas with bumps and big potholes, we’ll live. We don’t plan on driving in the snow.

Better Gas Mileage

We’re getting about 14 miles a gallon in our Ram Promaster 1500 High Roof camper van. It’s a lot less than our smaller van but we’re planning on staying parked in one spot longer than we had before.

Camper Van Conversion of the Ram Promaster 1500 High Roof Recap

Sure there are things we wished we had in our Ram Promaster 1500 High Roof Conversion but overall, we think this vehicle is a great fit for us. More than anything we love that we can stand up in the van. That was the number one thing that got old for us in our small Ram Promaster City van. Coming in second is the full-size memory foam bed that we never have to break down and set up again.

Stay tuned as we update our van with a mattress, a new table, and some other touches. We’ll also be sharing our thoughts about it after we’ve spent some time in it. First up: Skidaway State Park in Georgia!

If you’re interested, follow along with us here and on social media at @authenticasheville, @e.mcgrady, and @carolineperdue to learn more about our van and join us on our adventures.

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