Vanlife in a smaller van?

When looking at videos, websites and plans of vans, we normally just see full time van-lifers using bigger vans like Sprinters, Transits, Masters and such. We get the idea behind it, having a bigger van means a bigger space to live in. But what if you don’t want or can’t afford the luxury of a bigger van and need a smaller footprint?
Which vans can offer the most bang for your buck?

This is the question I’ve been asking myself since the price of new vans here in Iceland is pretty hefty and used vans are normally very used and expended so to speak. They have high mileage and often a poor maintenance.
We’ve been looking for a few months for our “unicorn” or “the one” for us in van-lifer terms. And we have yet to find ourselves a van we really truly see ourselves getting into the lifestyle with.

But why a smaller van?

Well, there are many reasons why we are looking for a smaller van. They include:

  • Smaller footprint, they get better km/L and there for are better for the environment
  • smaller vans take less wind and Iceland is a pretty windy place, so it’s safer to travel in a smaller van
  • they cost less to buy new
  • they are smaller and therefor it will be cheaper to deck out and build it out

A lot of statements have been made that you can’t live life in a smaller van and I agree to a point that it isn’t for just anyone to do such a thing. When I am talking about a smaller van I am not talking about vans to the likes of the Daihatsu HiJet as seen here to the right, but more on the lines of the Ford Transit Connect and it’s bigger brother Ford Transit Custom. There is a big difference between those vans in height and their interior cargo holds, but those are the two vans that we’ve mostly been looking at. Of course we’d love their bigger brother the full Ford Transit L3H3 with 4WD and all, but you can get close to two Connects for the price of one of the bigger Transits.

What do we want in a camper?

What we want in a van is mainly a safe and warm place. But we are pretty fixed on a few things:

  • A bed that can be turned into a sofa
  • A table for eating at as well as being usable as a desk for work
  • A portable composting / chemically based toilet
  • Storage space for clothes
  • A small cutting board
  • Portable two burner gas powered stove
  • A small fridge
  • A big bank of batteries to run computers and other electronics off of

These things can all fit quite comfortably inside the Ford Transit Custom, but can they fit as well into the Connect? I’m not sure. I think we’d have to skip some items or do a lot of amazing Tetris work to make it work for us. So I think we’re going to go with the Custom to start with.

Bottom line?

We’ll see if we start with the smaller car and thin out our list of “required stuff” and just start traveling or go for it’s bigger (but still middle) brother and get all our “required stuff” into the van from the get go.
We’ll probably go back and forth while we save up some money for the project, but until then it’s at least nice to have found the difference in car manufacturers and the vans they offer. We’ve settled for a Ford since it costs way less than lets say , the Mercedes Sprinter, but still offers tons of extras at a much lower price.