So you want to drive around a country and live out of the back of your van… sounds freakin awesome! But where do you start? First of all… I’m not gonna talk about motorhomes… I think its out of the price range of backpackers. I’m talking about a mini van, one that you can easily take the seats out of at the back and put in either a mattress or build yourself a simple bed and put it in. Then you can get yourself a gas stove and a basin and you’re off! For any summer travelling this is all you need. The next stage of doing up your van requires a lot more work and insulating, or buying a big van that you can install kitchens etc.
So… you know what you want so lets figure out the best places to get it! Websites and mechanics are going to be your best bets for getting a value deal. Websites like autotrader (for UK), Kijiji (Canada), craigslist (U.S.A) and gumtree (Australia) is where you’ll find a lot of options. Talk to a local on what the best site is for the country you’re in. This type of information is often changing too hence why asking a local is always best.
The other option of a mechanic can be particularly financially rewarding! Mechanics often get given cars or vans by clients (who like their mechanic) who gives them some money for it and he’s picked up a cheap vehicle. He will then do it up and sell it on. He makes a good turn around and you get a good deal as a result of that! So do a round of the mechanics in town, often you’ll find an industrial area where are a few are clustered, or simply call a bunch up and ask them do they have any vans at the moment.
Barter like hell. If you don’t think you’re getting a good deal you’re definitely not… and even when you’re think you’re getting a good deal you should still barter lower… most people will look frustrated if they truly believe they’re not getting much profit out of it and that’s how you know you’ve got a bargain. Look for specifics about the owner or the vehicle to lower the price. If you know the seller is flying home in a few days or the vehicle has poor paintwork, use this to your advantage in the bartering process.
Something that is critical when you look at your prospective purchase is a few key mechanical things to look for. Take the car for a spin, take it on small back roads to check the steering. Is it clunking on when turning only left? Hit the brakes quickly. How does it respond? Does it make a noise? The car on the highway and give it some revs? Is it coughing and struggling? Whats the car look like under the bonnet? Is there signs of rust? Check the car interior, is the upholstery bad? On the exterior are there signs of significant dents? Park the car on your test drive on a clean section of road and let it idle for a minute or two. Then move the car forward a car length. Look at the road. Do you see anything? Green fluid probably indicates an anti-freeze leak while pink may indicate transmission issues and oil might indicate engine issues which is never a good sign.
Research the make and model you’re looking at. This gives you specialist knowledge into what its worth and common issues it has, which means you can look specifically for them on your inspection.
Check the VIN (vehicle identification number) or whatever the equivalent no. is in another country. This will show up any information about the vehicle title and records. This is easy and important to identify if there has been any previous issues with the vehicle.
So… there’s my tips and you’re on your way. Living out a van is an amazing experience and I go into more detail about it in my book Travelling on a Shoestring which can be found at:
A picture of my friend and I near Mt Robson Provincial Park with his van… cost only 1000 US and went from Vancouver to Wyoming, up to Alaska and back to Vancouver… oh and he sold it for 300 more than he bought it for… he bought it from an Aussie mechanic who liked us simply because I was from Aus 😉