Van Life vs Large Motorhome Living

Published on December 7th, 2021

The Difference Between Van Life and Large Motorhome Living

When you choose to travel via RV, that in itself isn’t the only decision you have to make. You have to decide where you want to go of course, but before you even do that, you have to decide whether you prefer van life or RV living. 

Those who have never traveled in an RV or van before might think the two are the same, and in some ways they are. Living and traveling in a van or RV requires you to carry out all daily activities in a small space. It also gives you the freedom to get up and go whenever you like. That said, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. 

If you aren’t sure which option you prefer, this is the article for you. In this piece we will discuss the differences between the two and the pros and cons of each, giving you a better understanding of van life vs large motorhome living. 

RV campsite in trees

Drivable vs Towable RVs: The Various RV Types

First, let’s talk about the various different kinds of RVs. Understanding which RV type is which will help you better understand what living in each would be like, giving you a better idea of whether you prefer van life or RV living.

— Drivable RVs —

Drivable RVs are the types of RVs that have a motor of their own. These are often preferred because they make it so easy to pack up and go. That said, they do require general vehicle maintenance, and that can get expensive quickly. Additionally, many who travel in drivable RVs feel they need to tow a car, something that can make the packing-up process a little more of a hassle.

Class B/Campervan

A class B RV (or campervan) is the size and shape of a van, though some are a bit taller than typical vans. This type of RV is very basic, as it is very small and doesn’t have space for a lot of bells and whistles. That said, it is also the easiest to drive and provides the best fuel economy out of all of the motorhome options out there. 

Class C Motorhome

The class C motorhome is larger than a class B. It is set on a van chassis and has a bunk or storage area that hangs over the cab. These drive much like a regular van, so they are appealing as rentals. That said, they don’t provide much in the way of cargo carrying capacity.

A super C RV (a class C set on an even heavier-duty van chassis) solves the capacity issue, but is a little less natural to drive. 

Class A Motorhome

Finally, there is the class A motorhome. These are the motorhomes that look the most like buses, and are often referred to as “coaches.” In general, they are the largest of the motorhomes (besides some super Cs) and they are the motorhome of choice for many who are on the road full-time. 

— Towable RVs —

The towable RV category includes the trailer-style RVs that must be pulled with a truck (or sometimes a heavy duty van). They are a bit more difficult to get ready for travel, as they must be hitched up. That said, traveling with a towable means you will have a truck to drive on a daily basis. Additionally, maintenance on towable RVs tends to be easier and less expensive. 

Bumper-Pull Trailer

A bumper-pull trailer is sometimes referred to as a travel trailer. It hitches to the very back of your tow vehicle. These trailers can vary in size quite a bit, meaning there is a bumper-pull for everyone. However, they can be finicky to tow, so they aren’t a favorite of those who travel often. 

Fifth Wheel Trailer

Fifth wheel trailers tend to be the towable of choice for full-time travelers. These RVs are hitched up and over into the bed of your truck, giving you a better turn radius and more control when towing. They are much bigger and taller than bumper-pull trailers and are often made with higher quality materials, making them more durable. 

Pop-Up and A-Frame Trailers

Finally, there are the pop-ups and A-frame trailers. These are the lightest and easiest to tow of the bunch. Both types fold down flat, so they don’t catch the wind during travel, nor do they do much swaying. That said, they both require extensive setup. Additionally, neither style provides much in the way of storage. 

Class A motorhome in the woods

Defining RV Living

So what exactly is RV living? In a nutshell, it is just what you’d think: living in an RV. In most cases, people include class A and class C motorhomes as well as towable trailers in this category. Vans are not generally included, as they have their own category which we will touch on in just a bit. 

Some people feel you need to live in an RV at least part-time to be living the RV life. Others feel that anyone who goes RVing on a regular basis is living the RV lifestyle. There are those who feel you need to be traveling to truly get a sense of what RV life is, but then there are those who think even those staying in a stationary RV are living the lifestyle. 

No matter how you define it, RV life almost always involves living small-ish while escaping either to a local campground or to new and exciting places all over the country. RV travel might be slow or fast, and the people traveling in RVs might be outdoorsy people or not. There is no one way to live the RV life, and people can tailor their RVing experiences to suit their needs and preferences. 

Class C motorhome in the woods

RV and Motorhome Pros and Cons

So what are the pros and cons of choosing RV life? Below we have listed the most important things you’ll want to take into consideration when deciding whether you prefer van life or RV living.

RV Pros:

More Space

Generally speaking, an RV is going to give you much more living and storage space than a van. This allows you to keep more of your things and spread out a bit more, something that can make or break the travel life for some. 

More Amenities

Because RVs are bigger than vans, they also tend to have more amenities to offer. If slide-outs, roomy showers, plenty of places to sit, counter space, and fancy appliances are your kind of thing, a large RV is probably more your style. 

More Beds

Another thing you can fit in your home-on-wheels when you have more space? More beds. If you’re traveling with more than one other person, this is likely a must-have. For this reason, most families choose RV life over van life. 

Can Tow a Car (or Drive the Truck after Unhitching)

As mentioned before, most people don’t like to drive their RV around on a daily basis. This means driving the tow vehicle or towing a small car behind your motorhome. Unfortunately, a campervan cannot tow a car, meaning if you want a second vehicle as a daily driver, RV life is the better bet. 

RV Cons:

Can Be More Expensive

A used towable can be gotten for very little money. That said, a truck to tow that trailer can be incredibly expensive, especially if the RV is very heavy. Meanwhile, class A and class C motorhomes are very pricey, and even older used models can go for a pretty penny. Renting a motorhome is also pretty pricey, and unless you have a large truck, you won’t be able to tow a rental trailer and will have to have it delivered. 

Harder to Drive

RVs are big. This makes them much more intimidating to drive than a van would be. For some this is a deal breaker, and those who feel uncomfortable driving a large vehicle should probably choose van life over RV life. 

Poor Fuel Economy

Because RVs are so big, they don’t get great fuel economy. This is true for large motorhomes, but is also true for tow vehicles that are used to pull big trailers. If fuel economy is important, keep this in mind when choosing your home-on-wheels. 

No Stealth Camping

An RV is a pretty obvious thing. Therefore, you won’t be doing any stealth camping in the middle of a big city in a traditional RV. You might also find it harder to boondock, as driving off the paved roads is pretty tricky in a large rig. 

Campervan parked in front of rising sun

Defining Van Life

So what about van life? What exactly is it? Well, as you might have guessed, it involves living and traveling in a van. Both class B and campervan conversions are included under this umbrella. 

Like RV life, some feel you need to live in the van for months at a time to consider yourself a “van lifer”, but there are others who say even occasional travel in a van puts you in this category. For the most part, people who live in vans don’t stay stationary for too long, but we suppose you would still be living van life if you did choose to hang out in one spot for months at a time. 

You can, of course, live the van life any way you choose. That said, most van lifers move quickly from one spot to another. Often (but not always), they choose boondocking or stealth camping over campgrounds. Many van life people are outdoorsy and enjoy recreation in the great outdoors over sitting around cooped up in their teeny tiny living space. 

Campervan parked in grass

Van Life Pros and Cons

Like any other lifestyle, van life does have its pros and cons. Knowing these will definitely help you decide whether van life or RV living is more right for you. Therefore, we’ve listed the top pros and cons below. 

Van Pros

Stealth Camping 

One of the best things about van travel is the ability to stealth camp wherever you happen to be. People are much less likely to notice a van than a large RV, meaning you usually can park in a parking lot or on the side of the road to sleep without an issue. You can also drive off-road much more easily, making boondocking a cinch. 

Easy to Drive

Vans are much easier to drive than larger motorhomes and big towables. In comparison, a campervan or class B RV is downright nimble, and can easily be driven down tight roads and parked in small spots. 

Better Fuel Economy

Another big benefit to having a smaller rig? Better fuel economy. As we said before, a campervan will probably give you the best fuel economy you’re ever going to get from a motorhome, making this the vehicle to choose if you want to travel long and far on a tight budget or you just want to go green. 

Generally Less Expensive

Newer, fancier class B RVs are very expensive. That said, if you’re willing to look for an older rig, you can probably find a campervan for a relatively low price. This is especially true if you’re willing to convert an old van yourself. This savings carries over to rental vans, which can usually be found for less than a rental motorhome. 

Van Cons

Less Storage and Living Space

A smaller vehicle means less storage and living space. This is no big deal if you’re only planning a short trip, and can even be a benefit if you’re looking to live a minimal lifestyle. That said, those who wish to travel with a lot of creature comforts might find this to be annoying and inconvenient.

Bare Bones Basics Only

In addition to offering less space, a campervan will almost always have fewer amenities than an RV. That said, some van conversions do include some pretty awesome and unexpected amenities, so this is something you’d have to confirm for yourself before buying or renting a class B. 

Fewer Beds

Clearly, you can’t fit many beds in a van. Most only have one, but if you’re lucky, you might find one with a couple of beds. In any case, traveling in a van is usually best only if you’ll be traveling on your own or with one other person. If you’ll have kids or friends in tow (no pun intended), an RV is probably a better idea. 

Can’t Tow a Car

Driving the van isn’t hard, but it can be annoying to unhook your water and electric if you happen to be in a campsite with hookups. Additionally, it isn’t fun to pack everything up every time you leave. That said, if you’re traveling in a van, that is exactly what you’ll have to do, as a class B does not have the capacity to tow a car.

What do you think? Is one of these lifestyles for you? Do you think van life or RV living is more your style? Hopefully this information will help you make a decision that is beneficial to you so you can go out there and live your best life. If you need to do more research, consider renting both an RV and a van to see which suits you best. This will almost certainly help you decide whether you prefer van life or RV living.

What do you think?

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