Two motorhomes and a camper van are parked along a cliff next to the the ocean coast

RV Life Versus Van Life: Which Is Better?

Our society is full of controversy. But let’s look at a fun competition. Which is better? RV life or van life?

Are Nathan and Marissa from Less Junk, More Journey living the best life in their fifth wheel, or are Nick and Aubry from The Matneys living the best life in their Sprinter van? And which lifestyle fits you better?

Let’s dive into this controversy and explore the pros and cons of both ways of life!

Van living or RV living? Which is right for you?

What’s the Difference Between RV Life and Van Life?

Most people choose the RV life or the van life because they want to travel. They want the freedom to explore new places, see amazing sights, and learn about other cultures. But there are differences between living in an RV and living in a van. The biggest difference is the space. 

A Class A motorhome can be more than 35 ft long. A fifth wheel can be more than 40 ft long. They might have several slides that extend and open up the space even more. The ceiling heights are taller, so often, people who travel in an RV really feel like they’re traveling in their home.

On the other hand, vans are much smaller. Typically, they’re anywhere from 18 to 24 ft. They also have shorter ceilings, which means you might not be able to stand up inside. Families often choose to travel in an RV, while solo travelers and couples may opt for a Class B van.

Because the sizes are so different, the travel lifestyle tends to be different. RVers tend to stay more at campgrounds and RV parks with full hookups. Van lifers tend to stay at more off-grid locations or in smaller sites at national parks.

This doesn’t mean that RVers don’t boondock. There are lots of RVers who love to stay off the beaten path. But it does mean they require more energy and more power to do so.

What Are the Benefits of RV Life? 

One obvious benefit to living in an RV instead of a van is the space. Especially for families with children, having room for everyone is essential to maintaining privacy and boundaries.

Vans don’t come with a bunkhouse. Some of them don’t come with a bathroom. When traveling with children, parents choose space and convenience.

Another benefit of RV life is having a separate vehicle. When traveling in a van, your home is also your car. However, motorhomes are capable of towing an extra car. Travel trailers and fifth wheels are towed by another vehicle.

It’s nice to have that separation when traveling. You don’t have to haul your dirty dishes with you to the grocery store.

A woman enjoys a picnic table outside of her fifth wheel RV

What Are the Benefits of Van Life?

For folks wanting to squeeze into small spaces in national parks or backwoods locations, a van is a perfect vehicle to do that. They can withstand off-road adventures, whereas bulky RVs can’t.

There’s also little set-up involved. If you want to camp on the edge of a cliff, you just pull up and park. There’s no leveling or unhitching involved. You’re ready for your adventure.

The smaller size of a van also makes running errands easy. Vans can fit into a regular parking spot. There’s no need for an extra car. Plus, with an extra car, you have to worry about hitching it up and unhitching it. With a van, you just get in and go.

Even though both RVs and vans create a minimalist lifestyle that focuses more on experiences than stuff, a van will force you even more into that type of life. With the smaller space, you have to give up more gadgets and conveniences that you can still use in an RV. This may sound like a disadvantage, but it’s also a huge benefit when you’re seeking a slower pace and less consumerism.

A couple playes guitar in the doorway of their conversion van, posing for the true van life image.

What Are the Disadvantages of RV Life?

Sometimes it’s not a benefit to have a bigger rig. When you want to visit a beach campground or stay at a national park but can’t because of your RV’s size, it’s disappointing. There are some places you just won’t be able to visit. 

Another disadvantage is the cost of maintenance and repairs. Taking care of an RV is expensive. Repairing slide-out motors, getting a diesel engine serviced, and repairing cracked roofs is costly. It’s also time-consuming. You want to be spending your time outdoors exploring new areas and not dealing with repairs.

When things break, it’s never at a good time. Maybe you’re taking a cross-country trip, and on the second day, a tire blows out. Or perhaps you’re packing up to head out to your next destination, and the slides won’t come in.

It’s not just an RV that needs repairs. It’s your home. You might have to spend a few days in a hotel. You might have to cancel your travel plans. It’s always hugely inconvenient when something goes wrong.

Although RVs are bigger than vans, they’re still relatively small. Living in 300 sq ft can be challenging for a family of four. Having little to no privacy can be hard on a marriage. Teenagers can especially hate having no place to call their own. Living in a tiny space can add stress that can build up and ruin the dream of RV life.

What Are the Disadvantages of Van Life?

The small design of a van has its benefits. But it also has its disadvantages. Taking a shower in a wet bath and then having to wipe down everything when you’re finished gets old. Not having a shower at all and having to find public showers everywhere you travel also gets old. It can also get expensive to pay gym fees or yoga studio fees to use their facilities. 

If you’re traveling with a partner, the van life can be just as stressful as the RV life. It can put a strain on your relationship if there’s never any alone time. If one person is trying to get a report done for work and the other is trying to fold laundry in the same space, conflict is bound to arise.

But then, if you travel alone, the van life can be pretty lonely. Having a space all to your own is advantageous. You make it fit your needs and don’t have to worry about what anyone else wants. But living in a van can limit your interaction with others.

Dry camping somewhere in the Badlands sounds exciting and adventurous, but then when you return home, it’s just you and the scenery. It’s beautiful and peaceful, but it’s also lonely and isolating.

A solo traveler looks out over the water, his camper van parked right along the coast to enjoy the view.

Are Vans Cheaper Than RVs?

A Class B van is the most expensive RV per square foot. Camper van conversions are cheaper but require a lot more work.

Depending on the type of RV you purchase, it could be $15,000 or $250,000. Because RVs vary so much in size and type, the price range is all over the place.

You can find a 2022 Dutchman Voltage toy hauler for $96,000 on RV Trader. Then you can find a 2006 Coachman Freelander Class C motorhome for $14,000. If searching for Class B vans, you can find a 2022 Airstream Atlas for $273,000 or a 2004 Roadtrek Versatile for $34,000.

So it’s very difficult to say whether or not you’ll pay more for a van than an RV. But overall, you’ll pay more per square foot for a van than an RV. You usually get more bang for your buck in an RV.

Is Van Life a Good Investment? 

It’s a good investment if it brings you joy. If you sell your house and get completely out of debt by traveling around in your van, then it’s a good investment.

Financial freedom is one reason van lifers choose this life. Because of the financial freedom they have, they enjoy life more. You won’t get the return on the resale of your van like you would by reselling a house, but that’s true for any RV. RVs depreciate whereas homes appreciate.

Is RV Life or Van Life Better?

This is totally dependent on your travel lifestyle and personal needs. If you’re high maintenance and need lots of stuff to make life convenient and enjoyable, living in a van will be extremely difficult. You might appreciate the luxury that Class A motorhomes provide. But if you want to camp anywhere and everywhere, a van is the only way you’ll be able to do that. 

There are benefits and disadvantages to both RV life and van life. It’s up to you to adjust to whichever life you choose.

Is one calling your name? Will you be an RVer or a van lifer?

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