Van Life: How to choose your mobile home?

Considering we were total newbies to the Van Life world – all fantasy, no experience – choosing our future mobile home was quite the difficult task. Being such an important and definitive decision, it meant a lot of anxiety and sleepless nights, weighing pros and cons.

I can’t really tell you how to make that choice. What I can say for sure is that it really depends on yourself and what your needs and expectations are for your future van life experience. 

Let’s take a closer look at me and Pedro :

  • Couple still working “regular jobs” – nights for Pedro, mornings for me;
  • Proud “parents” of 2 lovely, but spoiled, house cats;
  • A working life centered in Cardiff, Wales, which would include short trips around town and the occasional long trip on holidays and days off;
  • Goal: Living full-time in a mobile home for a few years (or so we thought).

And, we would require:

  • Considerable garage space for our bikes, aquaroll, tools, etc;
  • Solar panels & gas bottle for energy;
  • Room for us and our cats to move around, without having any cabin fever issues;
  • space for a cassette toilet and maybe a shower
  • a small lounge area (table and  a couple of seats, really)
  • and some cupboards and general storage space.

So, even though we preferred a smaller, stealthier vehicle to park anywhere without drawing too much attention, that wouldn’t really work for us. A bigger vehicle, like a motorhome, proved to be essential for our little family of humans and cats after all.

It would be tougher to find where to park without any doubt. Sadly, due to some misbehaved people out there, full-time motorhomers are not very welcome in most neighborhoods – people assume you’re going to stay there forever and annoy them as much as possible.

Moving along… Besides choosing the size and features of your vehicle, you will obviously have to be able to afford it. You need to know if you will have enough to buy it, insure it and repair it if something happens to it. We would have loved to buy a brand new, top of the line motorhome, but the cost was completely impossible and unrealistic for us.

We started to look for a used one, no more than 10 years old, affordable, strong and reliable. For almost a year, we looked at hundreds of Ebay, Gumtree and dealership deals. In the beginning, this was mostly done to have an idea of what was out there in terms of prices and amenities. When the time came, we thought we had enough knowledge to choose the right mobile home.

We found Charlize online, a couple of months before we had to leave the house we lived in, in a dealership’s website. She looked great! We booked a viewing and drove 2 hours to get there, secretly hopeful, but telling ourselves to calm down and be reasonable. The price was ok for the type of motorhome, but a little bit over our budget.

Even though we had planned to hold an inexpressive  “poker face” and haggle for a better price, we completely failed at hiding how excited about “her” we were, and after a few questions and a bit of nosing around, we closed the deal. 

The day we fell in love with Charlize and took her home!

Charlize was our home for a whole year and we loved her dearly. Unfortunately, I have to tell you that when it was time to sell her, we discovered that our home was sold to us in pretty bad shape. We took her to several motorhome workshops and all of them confirmed she had a lot of internal issues that would probably show themselves in the years to come.

Of the £30, 000 we paid, we got £15, 000 back after 1 year of ownership. This money was supposed to fund the initial investment for the building of a Tiny House in Portugal. We felt betrayed and frustrated, but we are moving forward. We will need to work and save more money to pursue our dream, but that’s ok.

Our lovely motorhome Charlize 🙂

Our advice to you is : don’t rush it. When viewing your potential ride/home, take someone with you that knows about vehicles/motorhomes/vans or seek advice from veteran van lifers. There is a whole community of people who are chasing the freedom of nomad life and would be glad to share some knowledge with you. Look at a lot of vehicles before making a decision.

Don’t let doubt set in. Chose your home, commit to it and never look back.

We still miss our Charlize. No regrets!

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