RV, Van or Bus...Conflicted!

So to start off this is my first post/ forum so hi!! I’m 17 and I’ve been interested in the whole van life for a couple years and I’m getting close to actually being able to buy a vehicle of choice…however this is also my dilemma! I started off falling in complete love with buying an old high top van and converting it myself with my dads help, I absolutely love the vibe that I get from just thinking about it and I’m sure many of you can relate. Thinking about van life some more I decided that a toilet/shower/more space was going to be a must for me to be able to live happily on the road and besides, Van’s are too expensive for me to afford so the next idea was an old motorhome that I renovate myself. This sounds good to me except I dont have the same excited puppy love vibe which is a little disappointing but I was fine living without the vibe. Then I came across the idea of converting a shuttle bus the other day while searching for motorhomes and I had that vibe back! I was so excited again so i brought this idea up to my dad and he explained to me that it’d be a lot of time/money/work to certify it as an RV. I went to do my own research on this and I agree…reading the requirements feels very discouraging and scary but i still really love the idea of the bus. So I need help!!! What should I do?? Can you guys please share you’re experiences with either rv/motorhomes and converting your own bus?

(Edit) forgot to add that I’d be living in the vehicle for holiday breaks from school, weekends, summer, and then eventually I will be living in said vehicle for a min. of 6 months (a summer and a semester or 2 while in college, during those semester(s)I will be studying online)

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Greetings & Welcome!

By your description, you need something that is going to be stealthy to park on city streets etc. This limits your choices to vans.

Building it yourself is a very poor choice for newbies. The promoters are looking for suckers to make expensive purchases that will translate into money into their pockets. Don’t be a sucker. Older, move in ready, factory built camper vans can be found much cheaper than you can build your own. You want one that is fully depreciated and not more than maybe $5k-$6k. You DON’T want to remodel it, find one that is suitable to begin with, floor plans mean EVERYTHING!

Only lots of time and experience will qualify you to build or remodel something. Until then, nobody can tell you accurately what you’ll want or need down the line, that takes actual experience living this lifestyle.

I can tell you some things to avoid, solar panels for one, and 12v compressor fridges top the list of foolish purchases. Both are expensive, and neither are the best choices. Get something that is move in ready, and live in it the way it was originally designed. A propane fridge, and charging your house battery while driving are both better choices. If you need additional power, a cheapie generator and battery charger are far cheaper and more efficient than solar.

Vehicles can be money pits, I lost over $30k in just one year on a newer, self converted van. I have never lost money on any of my older, cheaper vehicles. There are tons of factory camper vans from the 70’s & 80’s that are still in excellent shape and can be bought cheap. The less you invest, the less you have the potential of losing. There’s a reason there are still so many of those old campers on the road, they were built to last, unlike the newer stuff.


"Those who believe money can't buy hapiness, don't have either." ~ An Anonymous Vandweller

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Actually I intend to boondock mostly, I dont want to spend much time in cities at all, so I do want solar panels and i fully believe in my father and my own capabilities in building/remodeling anything that needs to be done. As for the older fully built Van’s, do you have websites you used/recommend because I have yet to see any on facebook/craigslist ect. That have what I’m looking for: toilet, shower, SPACE


Based on your description of what you’re looking for, I’d highly recommend a van. If you get into a bus or an RV, it’s not only going to be harder to drive, but also much harder to find a place to park when you’re not using it. Especially since it sounds like you’re not going to be living in it full time to start.

Also, vans have a shorter wheelbase and better turning radius which makes it much easier to get into boondock sites and will give you more options for where you can go.

As said above, keep a look on Craigslist, but make sure you’re looking all over the country. We found our 1986 Ford E350 on there. The older ones that are fully set to start will give you a great idea of what you like or don’t like, so if you ever decide to get a new one you’ll know exactly what you want. If you build one from scratch now you might put all your resources into something that doesn’t actually work for you.

As far as space goes, my suggestion is think about what is more important, the ability to easily park and go more places or having a bit more interior room. For comparison, my husband and I with our two larger dogs find our 18 ft long van has more than enough room to hang out inside and be very comfortable.

Good Luck!

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Solar is not necessarily a give away. There are solar panels that are super low profile but they are a bit more expensive. You could also go with something like a step van. These vans are large and have a much higher roof making the solar panels much less visible.
They also have more room so that you could do something like a shower etc.

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I couldn’t disagree with this post more (except maybe the first line about wanting something stealth).

The roads (and backroads and trails and beaches) are filled with people who started out by building a DIY van! Sure, it will take a lot of research and you’ll get some things wrong that you want to “renovate” later, but start with simple systems a look at those changes as “upgrades” later on. There are tons of resources to help a new builder.

Most older RVs arent going to meet your needs unless you’re in a paid campground or connected to the grid in a friend’s side yard, both of which defeat the purpose of traveling in a van (or other vehicle). Solar panels are fantastic for living off grid. In a weekend project (or less) you can have a simple plumbing system that will last you a long time, and everything else you can figure out as you learn how you live. Modern (especially top opening) 12v fridges are efficient enough to run off solar, and old propane fridges hate being parked on anything other than perfectly flat, which prohibits almost anywhere we ever wanted to camp. :wink:

As far as what vehicle… whatever you can get your hands on!
Don’t be afraid to rent or borrow a few different things to experiment on weekends before you decide! IF you plan on boondocking or stealth camping (especially if ever in cities) a van tends to be the way to go… but also means you need to be comfortable in the smaller space (SO worth the trade off).

Try no to look at these decisions as lifelong… it’s a starter van and starter build, then you renovate, then you upgrade. And who know, maybe you hate it all and decide 3-6minths in it isn’t even for you- no big deal. :wink:


That’s the difference between somebody with years of experience and somebody without.

Sure there are, and most of them won’t last 6 months. If you start out right, you’re much more likely to succeed.

Once again you’re showing your inexperience, the older RV’s were MUCH better designed to live off the grid than more modern ones. You obviously haven’t had solar or 12v fridges long enough to learn to hate them. Between those and expensive batteries, I wasted over $20k because people kept telling me how much better they were. THEY AREN’T! Just charging while driving, I can stay camped for 2 full weeks without running out of power, when I was relying solely on solar, having power was always a continual worry. Not to mention the need to park in the sun during the summer. It’s closer to punishment than to enjoyment. RV’s are also much easier to level than vans are, because they’re designed to be leveled. If you aren’t stealth camping on city streets, RV’s are almost always a better choice. If you’re camping in parking lots while in the city, RV’s are a better choice.

You’ll spend more to rent one for a week or two than you will to buy one. If you buy a cheap one and don’t like it, you can get most or all of your money back, renting one, that money is gone for good. I’ve had multiple RV’s that were still small enough to park in a regular parking spot. This shouldn’t be a race to see how fast you can spend your money.

Yeah right… Don’t worry about doing it right the first time, keep spending money so the promoters keep making more and more money. BALONEY!!! Take your time, buy cheap, but buy something ready to roll. People following your advice are much more likely to fail. I’ve been there and done all that stuff, and I’ve learned from my mistakes. You’ll learn too if you stick with it long enough, and then you’ll be sounding just like me.


"Too hot? Seek shade and ventilation, not insulation.
Still too hot? 12v SWAMP COOLERS WORK!" ~ Happy Camper

Thank you so much for your input! I greatly appreciate your optimism and Do you have a toilet and/or shower in your van? Did you build your van yourself and if so do you have pics of the interior?


I have both a toilet and shower mine…


"Just because everybody's doing it, doesn't make it right." ~ THOW (Tiny Home On Wheels)

Im not sure what you’ve decided in your mind about who I am or what my experience is, but maybe you should ask…

My wife and I (and our 69lb dog) have lived vanlife full time for 7years. I’ve built every van (and some tiny/small homes) from scratch and have helped coach/counsel countless others to do the same. I never built for the smallest possible budget, I built vans so that all three of us could be happy living in it and want to continue doing so for as long as we decided to.

Im glad the direction you took in your van/RV worked out well for you… but that doesn’t mean it’s also a good fit for everyone else. There is no perfect build for everyone and the original poster has already pointed to a few things they need/want that your build and/or lifestyle might not be a perfect fit for (just like much of my build and/or lifestyle wouldn’t be perfect either).
That’s okay… in fact that’s why we all build our own perfect van!! :star_struck:

You cite several my my “inexperience” and the fact that no “newbie” who builds their own van will last for 6months… but I’ve been living offroad and out of campgrounds for 7years and know countless people who built their own vans, many/most of those also living very comfortably for much longer than 6months (and counting) thanks largely to solar/electrical systems…
That’s also without having to go for a drive every time you want to top off the batteries. For us, that meant if we wanted to sit on a mountaintop or beach for a week or more we could and often did (which in my mind, is what made our van a home rather than just a vehicle with a bed).

Im sorry you wasted 20k on an electrical system that didn’t work out. I’d be bitter too… but that doesn’t mean others aren’t doing it successfully every day!

I do happen to agree on one point… that an old RV can be a great option IF you never plan on leaving campground or parking lots. The original poster said they plan to boondock a lot, so an RV might work… but they also talked about living in a van for semester at college, which would require something more stealth.
Hanging out in campgrounds and parking lots also isn’t why many of us move into this lifestyle, one which can focus on travel, adventure and freedom… but if its a good fit, than an RV can be a great option (as could a box truck, skoolie or shuttle bus conversion).

Mostly… Im not sure why this seems to have turned into some kind of a personal attack on me. We’re both just trying to help the original poster, and have different options that they can then choose from as to what is a best fit for the lifestyle they are planning… so let’s focus on that. :+1:

There are many different paths to success in this (and every other) lifestyle, and it looks like you’re on here to help those looking to enjoy some of the values that you’ve found from it… Good for you!
Just keep in mind you’re not the only one out there living the life, not the only one who has learned from their own mistakes and not the only one who might have might have some ideas/input to pass down to others… that’s exactly why they allow/invite multiple people on forums. :wink:

We all have a different version of happiness in this lifestyle, and not everyones is an old RV that costs less than a week of a rental van. It’s awesome that it works for you…but that doesn’t mean its what everyone else is after. Keep sharing your ideas/methods as they will be a good fit for some… just don’t attack the rest of us that do it in a different way.

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Yes, I built all of our vans myself.
Yes, I was a rookie when I started and probably did 10k hours of research and made mistakes along the way. It’s why I try to help others now… to save them some of those hours and/or mistakes.

It sounds like you’re on a tight budget now, which is all the more reason in my mind to start with a simply DIY build that you can add onto as you learn more about how you live.
Everyone seems to think that their first build has to be perfect…but take a look at social media and how many people are now on their 2nd/3rd build, both because they realize they can upgrade to a new vehicle and make good money off the first build, but also so they can make upgrades/improvements based upon what they learned (about their build and about their own habits).

Our van(s)-
We’ve run the full spectrum from our first van with no toilet, shower or sink (still lived in it for almost 2 years, and drove it from Canada to Panama and never missed any of those things) to having all of the above amenities (with an outdoor shower).

I personally would never install a fixed shower inside my own van…but i’m admittedly OCD when it comes to that much moisture inside a metal box that my family is going to sleep in.
Sadly, thats the result of tearing apart too many decades old campers/RVs and seeing the mold/mildew horrors that live behind the walls (no matter how much plastic/vapor barrier was used trying to keep it out). :mask:

@theDangerz Have you or your clients (sounds like you have a business) ever had issues finding bathrooms while traveling in the van? Is it a pain to try and find somewhere to hang a solar shower? Do you put small portable toilets in the vans that want to mostly boondock (assuming theres no porta potties). Would you put a toilet in anyways just for emergencies? Do you have a guess on what you feel the average budget is for doing a diy van? Sorry for so many questions but its greatly appreciated!!!


Moisture is definitely the biggest enemy in mobile living, but showers aren’t really the biggest culprits, holes in roofs, improper insulation installation, and improper ventilation procedures, and unvented propane heaters are the biggest problems.

My shower is portable for my choice of indoor or outdoor use, but it creates no moisture issues because if I’m using it indoors, which I do daily, I open opposing windows, and stick a fan blowing outwards in one of them on low. My shower doesn’t even steam up my windows.

I know all too well the horrors of insulation, mold, and moisture problems, which is one the reasons I now use window vans without any added insulation to trap moisture. Since mine started life as a passenger type vehicle, there was no need to add insulation for soundproofing, and regulating the indoor temperatures are as simple as using the right techniques and equipment. Mine had been stripped when I purchased it, so I replaced the original interior from passenger vans at wrecking yards, the carpet & padding, wall and door panels, window trim, etc. Basically covering up all of the metal to create a thermal break between the interior and exterior, but keeping the factory ventilation scheme designed to combat moisture build up. The result is easy temperature control and no moisture problems.


"Just because everybody's doing it, doesn't make it right." ~ THOW (Tiny Home On Wheels)


I still have nightmares of all the disgusting public bathrooms and showers I was forced to use by not having my own, it addition to frantically searching for a public bathroom to avoid an accident. Having my own is heaven in comparison. Both my toilet and shower are portable, so I can move them outside if I choose.

My solar shower is a weed sprayer, so it doesn’t need to be hung, and provides great water pressure while requiring no power. With a free standing pop up shower tent, there is no need to “hang” anything other than to the shower tent.

Conversions can range from a hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars. You can also buy a factory job that is ready to go. My current set up is in the couple hundred dollar range, and it has kept me comfortable and happy, even in extreme weather conditions, for over 10 years now. I still have everything I want or need, it’s just not picture perfect. I went for comfort, convenience, and reliability over looks. I no longer feel the need to impress others, it’s my home, so the only person I need to please is myself, and since my income isn’t related to vandwelling, I can also afford to tell it like it truly is.

Over the years, I have learned that the price tag does not accurately represent the results. Desirable results can be obtained even on the smallest budgets. Most “builds” become practically worthless when considering the resale value of the vehicle. My current van, and the conversion, cost no more than a couple of months rent, so it paid for itself very quickly, and has been paying dividends ever since. On a previous van, I lost over $30k in a little over a year, and that van was the most miserable living conditions of my life. Factory camper vans and motorhomes that I paid under $2k for were much better. You don’t always get what you’ve paid for. Failure can come with a huge price tag, and success can come cheap. Much of it comes down to the difference between good choices and bad. This is where experience and history can really make a difference.

Don’t listen to the promoters, look at the failures, and look towards the people with years of experience that have nothing to gain by telling it like it is. The majority of the advice available originated from promoters looking to profit from it, and it’s really terrible advice, but it keeps getting spread anyway. They promote expensive and unnecessary purchases. The most expensive thing in my set up is a $99 generator for comparison. Everything else was much cheaper.


"Just because everybody's doing it, doesn't make it right." ~ THOW (Tiny Home On Wheels)

Yes, we always recommend installing a toilet, even if just for emergencies. Typically steer people towards cassette toilets (check out Thetford’s line), both for space and ease of use. Just because I have lived in a van without one doesn’t mean I choose not to install them moving forward… the wife is FAR happier in a van with one, and like it or not, emergencies do happen. :rofl:

Average build is impossible to say (really that’s because the “average” is impossible when some people can spend less than 5k while others can easily spend 100k plus). It’s all up to what amenities you want/need and how you plan on living/using the final outcome. Could we live in a van built for under 5k? Sure - we’ve lived in empty/hollow shells of vans with nothing but a mattress on the floor… but the real question is would we want to or continue doing so for an extended period… probably not.

For us it was always a matter of balance.
We lived in higher end/extremely comfortable (and I think beautiful) builds because that’s what made us happy, that’s what made sure we were happy doing so for a longer period of time and what allowed us to live minimally/affordably every day after the build was complete.
All a matter of balance. We always figured if we built the van on the cheap we were more likely to spend the same amount of money in the months/years following in bars/restaurants/movie theaters, etc trying to find places we were comfortable hanging out. Instead, we spent all our time in the van (and the nature surrounding it) and saved the money every day after for bigger and better things to come. :wink:

theres no one right answer… its all up to you what constitutes your perfect build, whether its a weekender or whether its a full time home on wheels.

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