“Have you ever thought about buying a camper van?” If 3 months ago you would have asked us this question, our answer would most certainly be: “YES!” We experimented with van life before and we loved it. However, if you would have asked: “When are you going to buy your camper van?”, I believe the answer would be quite vague.
Certainly, we wanted to have it one day, but for sure after our round the world trip planned for this year.
Who would predict that suddenly the pandemic would change the whole world situation? No flights, borders closed, quarantine… COVID-19 messed up with our initial project, so we desperately needed a backup plan.
That’s when we thought that this could be a great opportunity to follow our camper van dream! It seemed to be “perfect” timing to buy a home that would literally drive us to freedom!
We have spent our honeymoon renting one in Slovenia and it was love at first sight! So, the idea of buying a camper van felt just right.
We wanted to initiate our adventure as soon as possible, so we started searching. But wait, searching for what? We knew nothing about this “camper world”. What are we looking for? What are the important things to consider before a purchase like this? A million questions were popping up into our heads!
Honestly, buying a camper van might seem very overwhelming at first, but it doesn’t have to be so. The pandemic didn’t make things easier for us, but after a couple of weeks of research, we finally got our Benny!
Benny is an oldie, but with young spirit. It’s a 25-year old Mercedes Sprinter, which has traveled 107K km. And we believe that there are many many more ahead!
At the end of all process, we decided to list what were the key factors that made us choose Benny from several campers we saw. These in our opinion are the most important things for you to consider before buying a camper van.
Table of Contents
Well, this is a no brainer, if you want to buy something, you need to know how much money you can spend, right? In this post, we won’t approach the differences between prices in different countries or regions, we rather instead focus on the overall strategy we used to finally buy our Benny.
Before setting our budget, we investigated the market online using the most common search engines and marketplaces. We totally recommend doing the same in your country/region before defining your budget as this will give you a clearer idea of what can you expect for your money.
After a small overall research, make sure you write down a list of your top priorities that might make you feel convinced to buy a certain camper van. The further points that we mention in this article will help you to define it.
Remember, the price doesn’t mean what you pay at the end, you can always negotiate Usually people selling online always price their products higher than they really expect to receive for them so there always is a margin for negotiation and the sensation of a win-win situation at the end of the deal. Our advice: bargain!
#2 Your Travel Plans
One of the first things to think about before buying a camper van is how are you going to use it. Are you planning to enjoy short weekend getaways or are you going for a longer trip? If you can’t decide on your next destination, check Lonely Planet guides for plenty of fresh ideas.
Think also how many people will be traveling in it. Are you going to face adventures solo, as a couple, or with a whole family?
From these 2 factors will depend what size of a van and what number of beds you will need.
In our case, we wanted something trustworthy to have piece of mind for several months on the road.
We are planning to travel mostly as a couple, so one bed was enough for us.
But the advantage that Benny has is that it can actually carry 6 persons onboard. Our bed transforms into 2 sofas that are equipped with seatbelts. So, if we wish, we can transport 4 more persons that may sleep in a tent, for example.
#3 Time and Effort You Are Ready to Spend
If you are not limited with time and are willing to put some work into your future camper, you may choose a van in worse condition, that will lower the price significantly.
Our first idea was actually to buy an older van and to convert it from scratch. It’s a kind of an hobby we would like to have to occupy our weekends. It would allow us to build a van according to our taste and also save some money. But despite we wanted to start as fast as possible our road trip, this was not an option.
So, we decided that our future van had to be in a quite good condition to avoid bigger changes.
#4 Car Age
This is a very important factor because it influences directly both the interior and exterior condition of the van. An older van is usually in worse condition than a more recent one and in theory, has bigger milage.
Actually, we were tempted to go for a classic oldie, but 2 things made us change our minds. First, the possibility of it getting broken is higher and it’s harder to find parts to fix it. Second, old classics are even more expensive than some newer models, and we wanted to keep our costs low.
So, we decided that we would go for an older van but not a “classic” one, let’s say from the ’90s, ideally, late ’90s
We wanted external aspects to be acceptable but with no need to be flawless because we could do some quick fixes. Interiors could be old because we decided that, since we were going for a long trip and we would be living 24/7 in the van, we were going to renovate it ourselves making us feel at home.
Again, the general rule is, the more kilometers on the road the cheaper it is.
Sometimes you see big discrepancies, like a van with 100K km and other with 40K and the cheaper has less km. If that’s the case, raise a red flag and do further investigation, it might be a case when the seller wants to sell hardly due to mechanical problems or another serious issue. Which brings us to the next point…
#6 Mechanics condition
Mechanics condition is certainly the most important point to check before buying a camper van. You should always look for the best possible condition of the engine, tires, oil filters, etc..
Because we don’t understand anything about it, we decided not to purchase without our trusted mechanic’s support, who is taking care of all the family cars for many years.
Before we found Benny, we were very close to buying an other camper van (a Volkswagen T4). Our mechanic went with us to check it and give us his final verdict, and guess what? It had a serious problem that would have cost us a lot of money and even worse, could potentially destroy our so desired road trip.
So our advice is, always check mechanics with a professional. If you don’t know the real mechanical status of your van, it is very dangerous and it’s something that can turn your dream trip into a nightmare.
One more tip that we have for you is to try to get to know your future van as well as possible. Before you buy your own camper van, ask the owner in detail how to change a tire, how to check the oil, the battery levels, how to ensure proper use of water and electric supply of the van, and all other basics.
These questions may seem pretty obvious, but every van is different and you may save your time simply asking instead of having to discover all these by yourself.
We already had our first challenge as a result of not asking how things in our van work. We made a very common but stupid mistake and we are still trying to sort it out… and that is something that Pedro is still embarrassed about .
Small hint: check exactly how should you tank your van!
The legal aspect was something we were very serious about and we wanted a full licensed van. We were lucky because Benny can legally take up to 6 people and is licensed as a motorhome!
Some countries have pretty simple regulations on camper vans, but unfortunately, Portugal is not one of them. It’s very complicated and you have different options when licensing your van depending on its features.
Our honest advice is to check with the proper authorities if the camper van you are buying is legally prepared to hit the road. If not, and you really want to buy it, try to understand what kind of license you need considering your van’s characteristics, how much the license costs, how long it takes to get it (as this can influence your departure date like in our case) and how can you make it.
In Portugal, the cost might go from 500€ up to 1500€ from what we could understand, and it might take up to 4 weeks.
Truth is, it was very difficult to find credible information about this and what we found was not clear at all. We were not confident, so we asked some people as well… Then we got even more confused because people we considered as experts told us totally different things. This was a thing we didn’t want to be flexible about, so we decided to only buy a camper van that was already fully licensed.
Make sure to take the right decision on this one, so you avoid problems with authorities in the future!
More space normally means more comfort, but less mobility.
A bigger van is more difficult to drive and it can’t access certain areas like small villages, narrow old town roads, lower viaducts, etc. It is also more difficult to park – either in a parking lot or in a garage because of length and height limit.
However, the perks are huge: you can stand on your van, you may have your very own toilet and shower, a kitchenette, a bigger bed and so on.
On the other hand, a smaller van gives you more mobility – you can easily go to a city center and park everywhere. We felt so lucky with our Benny while visiting the French Riviera and the Cinque Terre region in Italy! It allowed us to move around freely and park close to all the attractions. The cost was having less space and comfort inside, but in our case it was totally worth it!
We appreciate mobility a lot and don’t like the idea of having to leave our van out of town, so we didn’t want anything too big. Our only requirement in terms of size was to be able to stand in our van. Thinking of spending several months on the road, it was our must-have because both of us are quite tall.
Benny has just perfect size – it fits in a standard parking place and is high enough for us. The disadvantage is we are not sure if it will fit into our future apartment’s garage.
#9 Features to have
While buying a camper van, we were not too picky regarding the features to have. We wanted to have as much as possible but our priority always was a smaller size of a van.
We neither wanted to have a built-in shower nor a toilet, because we were planning to sleep mostly at camping sites. Our preference was to have more space to be able to move inside and use some of the existing solutions for portable toilet and solar shower.
But there were some important features that we would like to have and that would definitely require more space:
This was our minimum to have, but we are lucky that our Benny has all of it and even more!
As an extra, we got a fully equipped WC with a toilet, a shower, and a second sink. Our bed may be transformed in a sitting area with 2 sofas (with seatbelts) and a table. And last, but not least… we have a wardrobe and hot running water! But the most important for us is that we still managed to keep the van quite compact.
In terms of features, there are 3 things in our Benny that we have already managed to improve and find very handy. As far as we will spend a lot of time in our van, we felt that we have to create better solutions for our electronics.
First, we have installed an additional cigarette lighter socket with a double USB charger in the back part to be able to recharge our mobile phones close to bed. And we bought a car inverter from 12V to 110V to be able to plug a laptop and other devices into a lighter socket.
With these 3 simple things, now we are more independent from camping sites’ electricity.
Every van is unique and there are infinite layout options, but while choosing from several vans, we noted 2 extremely important things to pay attention to before buying one.
First, check if the length of a bed is enough for you.
Our is quite short (1,74m) because it goes from the right to the left side and not from the back to the front.
Pedro is 1,92m and Angelina 1,77m, so we have to sleep on diagonal to be able to stretch our legs.
Of course, we would prefer to have a longer bed or an extensive one.
One more common dilemma is whether it’s possible to have a sitting area and your bed always done. It’s a dream, but unfortunately, it’s not our case.
If we want to sit by a table inside, we have to remove our bedsheets. We are ok with that, but doing it every day may be tiring for some people.
On the other hand, our toilette is massive which is good to take a shower and to store some stuff but takes a lot of the interior space as well and erases the possibility of a bigger bed. Also, our wardrobe right after the toilet is huge, which occupies most of Benny’s left side.
Basically, we feel that for the size of Benny we would benefit if we could have more space inside and less comfort in some features. The layout is not perfect, but we didn’t want to have the fuss of doing bigger changes now before our trip as it would cost a lot of money and would take a significant amount of time.
And we couldn’t wait to go on the road!
#11 Storage Space
Depending on the type of trips you are planning to do with your camper van, you need to be prepared to take with you all the essentials to provide you the necessary comfort crucial for a dream journey.
If you go for longer periods and if you travel in colder seasons you need to take more stuff to face the adversities, which means more storage space needed.
To realize how much space do you need in a van, try to think about everything you want to take with you and imagine where you can possibly store it. Remember about eating and sleeping stuff (that certainly takes a good amount of space), your clothes, toiletries, electronics, and other personal belongings. Think practically and start picturing where will you put what and if you can fit your belongings in the available place.
We found that Benny had the perfect storage space for our needs. It is slightly bigger than most of the camper vans, which allows us to take all the stuff we want for our adventure and some other, just for fun, like diving masks and some small things that will certainly make our life better. Plus, there is a big storage case attached to the roof, so we pampered ourselves with a barbecue, a sunshade, and a hammock .
Try to be practical with your needs and check if what you are about to buy will all fit in your van.
#12 Interior Design
Let’s face it, if one of us was more concerned about this point, it was Angelina. But we were not extreme about any requirements so we managed to compromise.
When we saw Benny for the first time, we loved it immediately and in the same moment, even before buying it, we were already thinking about what we could change and creating Benny’s concept in our heads.
As we explained before, we didn’t want to make bigger changes because of a time limit, but we both agreed that Benny deserves a nice refresh. So, we decided to do our small van transformation.
In 3 weeks we managed to do a deep cleaning, paint the entire van inside (walls, ceiling, and all furniture), change the bed (foam and covers) and the curtains spending less than €800.
And then finally we felt that it is our own project and that after all of the changes, Benny was ready to take us to a lifetime road trip through Europe!
And this is it! You finished reading our honest advice about the 12 things you need to consider before buying a camper van. We hope it was helpful and you feel prepared to start doing your search with confidence, (at least this is something we would have liked to read before we bought our Benny).
And if you have any doubts, need some further tips, don’t hesitate to give us a shout because we are here to help!
Hope you enjoy it, and… see you Around the World!
PS: Don’t forget to think about a cool name for your camper van At the end of the day it’s a new member of the family responsible to drive you safely into the adventure!
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