Van shopping for a future nomad (NorCal)

Hi everyone! I’m finally going for it, giving into my wandering soul. However i have no idea where to start, what kind of van i should look for, how much i should expect to save up first for converting or just buying an already converted and all the other questions. Any and all feedback would be greatly appreciated! :slight_smile:


Greetings & Welcome!

I’m a huge fan of older, cheap FACTORY BUILT camper vans or small motorhomes (Class C) for first starting out. With a little patience they can be found cheap, with low miles, and in excellent shape. I have rarely paid over $2500 for one, and they were mechanically reliable. Many had leaked at some point, and needed the roof resealed, then I used an ozone generator to completely kill any mold hiding in the walls, or musty smell, and they were good as new.

One had pretty severe water damage inside, and the mold smell would knock you backwards when you opened the door, but for $300 I just couldn’t resist the challenge. I sealed the roof, ran my heater for 2 full days on full blast inside to dry everything out, then ran my ozone generator in it, just like I had done many times before. That made it dry, mold & odor free. The interior damage was still obvious, but it was now livable. The interior walls and ceiling were pretty bad… So I bought some cheap paneling and used liquid nails to glue it right over the top of all the damaged wall and ceiling panels. After all was said and done, I probably had a total of $500 in a rig that looked & drove great, and looked & smelled like new inside. So within about a week, working a couple of hours a night after work, I had turned my $500 investment into a comfortable rolling home that I lived in for about a year before a friend who also wanted to travel insisted that I sell it to him for $5k, because that was all he could afford. He felt it was probably worth much more.

I have been blessed with the ability to see how something can be, rather than just how it is currently, but you really don’t need that talent to find a good one if you’re patient and search a wider area. Don’t be afraid to walk away if it isn’t what you’re looking for, or it will take more money or work to fix it up than you want to spend. Nearly perfect, just older, move in ready rigs can be found for cheap.

I don’t believe in spending big money in the hopes that it will save you money later, especially for newbies. For this reason, I start saving money at the very beginning starting with the purchase. I like rigs that cost no more than 2-3 months worth of rent. That way they start saving me money starting very quickly, while still providing me most of the comforts of a regular home.

If I’m building a camper van from scratch, I use the same monetary formula. I paid $700 for my current 1973 Dodge high top van, but it had been gutted. My “no build” build cost me about $300 for all the comforts and conveniences I wanted or needed. I moved my furniture in and secured it, rather than building it in. I’ve been living and traveling in my current van for 11 years now, and put 250k+ trouble free miles on it.

This lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and most of those instagram and youtube worthy rigs wouldn’t actually be comfortable or convenient to actually live in. Your rig can have a huge influence on your success or failure in this lifestyle. A background of camping, and the ability to find solutions for unusual problems, are both a huge plus. Last but not least, is to never gamble more than you can afford to lose.

Jobs & money are frequently glossed over by the promoters… This lifestyle isn’t free, and I’m a pretty firm believer that the best bet is to have a reliable income income in place before starting, as well as a sizable emergency fund. My emergency fund is large enough to replace everything including my entire rig & belongings, and support me for at least 6 months. I figure $10k is enough to accomplish this for me, but that could be too low for most people.

Good Luck & keep us posted… We always enjoy following along with the adventures of others.


"Opportunities are everywhere, but only action makes it happen." ~ Van_Dweller



After a year of converting my Shuttle, seeing how much money I’ve dumped into having to make it a livable situation, I’m finally starting to see with my own eyes just how much value is in those FACTORY BUILT Campers, Van_Dweller.

It’s like buying a car 2nd hand, the 1st owner took the real hit and now you can actually pick up value. I mean, for $3500 I could have gotten a Camper/RV that was 90% ready instead of my Shuttle that was only 15% ready. Forgetting that the work is already done, the material cost alone! I’m finally starting to really see with my own eyes just what you meant.

WestCoastSquirrel, aside from all the great advice that Van_Dweller mentions above, the one thing that has really helped me towards the end here has been seeing something “outside the box”.

Social Norms have taught us “This is what a sink is, this is what a sink is, this is what a sink is”.

“A sink is a faucet, a pump to run water, a heater to warm up the water, and a drain that leads to something”.

If you can drop that premise, and look beyond to the millions of other definitions and variations of what a “sink” could be… It’ll save you a lot of money.

“A sink doesn’t need a drain, a faucet is any medium that can provide varying amounts of water, and there are alternatives to pumping and heating your water that don’t require electricity”.

Don’t look around your home and try to think about how you could cram those literal things into that small of a space, think of new definitions that achieve the same desired outcome, whatever that might be or mean to you.

That has been the biggest learning curve for me, and what has proven to be most valuable since I began this endeavor. Or at least, it’s my favorite lesson I’ve learned, haha. :laughing:

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Very well said! Creative solutions are important in small spaces, and power saving solutions are helpful when you have to generate your own power.

There can certainly be great value & satisfaction in building your own if you have time, money, skills, and know exactly what you want and need. It’s just not as cheap, simple, or easy as so many people seem to make it look or sound like. I think experience can drastically change our wants, desires, and perspectives on things.

My own views change over time, in accordance with what’s available, as well as my personal needs changing as I get older and less physically capable or active. The world around us, and the laws are also constantly changing, and our ability to adapt and overcome any obstacles we encounter becomes increasingly important.

Many people have also been faced with new challenges regarding their income. Multiple back up plans are always a good idea, and while we’re living an alternative lifestyle, I think they’re even more important.


"Opportunities are everywhere, but only action makes it happen." ~ Van_Dweller