One of the unexpected highlights of our last trip across country was our two week running and hiking tour around southern Arizona in a hand-painted Escape Campervan rental.
As you know if you're riding along at @wilddrivelife -- Ben and I spent most of the winter living in and around the southwest U.S. in our 31 ft. bus home. We did a mix of off-grid boondocking on public lands, staying with friends, family and amazing hosts (now friends!) that we met through social media.
This particular experience provided some unique perspective on the differences between traveling in our bus and a smaller, newer van to help others in their search for a nomadic vehicle/home.
What about the bus, though?!
Don't worry! We love our bus. Our main goal in this campervan test ride was to explore travel ease and feel in a smaller vehicle. We wanted to visit several state parks, a few vegan restaurants, work remotely and of course hike and run. Most of all we wanted to gain some perspective in order to better answer other's questions about nomadic living/travel.
Here are some of our observations and a few notes about how different traveling in a van and a bus can be — they're both worth exploring!
Van + Bus Travel -- Let's Explore
We had the campervan test trip idea in January, right around our one year anniversary of living and traveling full-time in our bus.
We joined a meetup north of Joshua tree with several other buses and vans to celebrate New Years and it got us thinking, “We love our bus but I wonder how we would feel about traveling around out here in a van!”
Limitations on the Road
The years of work we put into our bus home make it very personal and close to us, our story and this chapter of life. It's a part of us.
As much as we’ve enjoyed the thousands of miles traveling around the county in our bus, driving a vehicle of this size (31 feet) or larger poses its limitations and stresses on the road.
Being the “Why not?” kind of people that we are we decided to experiment. Through our research we found these cool adventure vans for rent at Escape Campervans in Phoenix. They have rental depots all over the country but their PHX location was just a few miles away from where we were parked at our host’s house in Tempe. Perfect!
- 1989 Chevy B6P
- 31 ft. long
- 20,000 lbs.
- Seats two and sleeps two with an awesome dog named Moose
- 10 mpg. average
- Solar & shore power. It's our house.
- FMI on our bus click here.
- 2017 Ford T-350 (Big Sur model)
- 19.8 ft. long
- Seats five and sleeps up to five
- 19 mpg
- Small battery bank for fridge & lights.
- Minimalist but perfect for weekend getaways.
- FMI on the campervan rental amenities click here. Use code WILDDRIVE10 for 10% off the daily rate for our Mavericks and Big Sur models at all locations in the US and Canada. Certain restrictions apply. Subject to availability.
Unique as the drivers inside!
Escape Campervans are packed full of character on the outside. We’re used to getting looks driving our bus around and not much changed when we switched to the Big Sur “Jumper” van from Escape. It brings people joy when they see it and we really LOVE that positivity.
Escape collaborates with artists to hand paint every vehicle in a different way, with a unique personality/vibe/scene — it’s one reasons we were drawn to them in the first place. You get waves, honks, peace signs, and the occasional knock on the window, “Hey, cool van, man!” Spreading positivity, our favorite.
Bus vs. Van - Ease of Travel
The size, weight and length of your travel vehicle are all factors that determine WHERE you can drive and park safely. Travel in a bus our size or larger has its limitations, frustrations and occasional stresses that just don’t exist as much with your smaller size car or van. There are pros and cons to each depending on YOUR preferences.
We read road signs more intently than ever when we drive the bus. We plan routes according to clearances and road weight limits, and so on. There’s a lot more to it.
During our two week van trip, we traveled about 1,300 miles on a variety of road grades without thinking twice about it which was a great mini break.
What did we bring with us?
With the bus we just GO because our whole lives are in there. I imagine that's how it is for vanlifers too.
Escape Campervans provides the necessities like linens for the pull out bed, dishes, cups, essential pots and pans, a dish towel, etc. -- They fill the 5-gallon water tank before you leave the rental depot.
We kept it super simple. We are well trained from bus life, hah! Our advise is to stick to nutrition, water and the activities you plan to pursue.
We brought our backpacks, hiking boots & gear and an MSR water blatter to fill up with potable water at state parks; the more the merrier. We always bring a couple water bottles for quick fill-ups here and there. Water is important to us if you haven't noticed!
We brought our favorite easy to prepare foods: big loaded salads (arugula, tomatoes, carrots, avocado), pasta/veggies, sandwich fixings (repurposed the salad stuff here too) and a lot of dried fruit/nuts/oatmeal for the in between time. We also really love simple ingredient bars like Larabar (well priced on Amazon!) and GoMacro.
We also brought our Jackery portable power station which was more essential than we thought to keep things running! It kept our devices charged up for work/play, powered our fan at night at our immersion blender for smoothies!
The artsy old mining town of Bisbee, AZ is a basically a collection of winding HILLS and backstreets. The bus would have struggled there but the van said, “No problem!” It’s an INCREDIBLE day trip idea and you should add it to your list!
We CAN go to a lot of these more challenging places with our bus, yes, but with the van the stress factor was pretty much zero for two weeks. It felt like we were driving around a standard SUV.
With the van we never worried about if there was going to be a place to turn around or if there was a monstrous downhill ahead packed full of hairpin turns. We just said, “Yeah, we can go there!” without worry. Adventure on.
Road Speed & MPG
It was a treat to be able to go +70 mph again in the van. With the bus we typically average about 58 mph. We don’t mind that at all to be honest, we take things a little slower and adjust our plans accordingly. The van was a welcomed, worry-free treat to drive.
Fuel was cheaper with the van, always something to consider when choosing your travel or full-time living vehicle. We like to hunt around for deisel stations with the best prices/easy access for our bus too, which takes patience. With the van (gasoline) we could go to any station without worry of being able to fit.
Quiet, Smooth Ride
We almost forgot how QUIET vehicles other than the bus are to ride in! Our 30 year old diesel engine is noisy and our belongings rattle around. We talk wicked loudly over the hums and rumbles and have grown to love how quirky this all is. It has character!
HOWEVER, the whisper quiet van was a joy to adventure around in for two weeks. It's something to consider when shopping out your nomadic abode; age, size, and complication of build factor into the noise while driving.
Comfort & Simplicity
As far as comfort goes our bus takes the cake in that it’s our HOUSE. We built it ourselves. We have everything we need to be out in the boonies for an extended period of time.
There’s something to be said about the simplicity of a van like this, especially on a shorter trip vs. living full-time. We enjoyed getting down to necessity for a couple weeks: a comfy bed and kitchen in a reliable and snazzy looking vehicle. That’s all we needed! I could see these vans being a perfect option for family and friends on short outdoor adventures together -- WAY better and more memorable than getting hotels!
With the van, we felt our get up and go time was sliced in half. We could wake up, make our coffee and green smoothies, travel to a trailhead, slap on our gear, and go on a hike or run.
The prep list is a bit longer in the bus: let her warm up, check the fluids, address any mechanical issues, stow away things that might fall over, etc. There’s more certainty, peace of mind I guess, with a newer vehicle — that’s just something to consider.
There’s no worry about setting up camp outside after you park as there would be with car camping. It’s all right there in the van which we loved! You park, you pull the bed out, you cook something tasty in the kitchen out back, and you’re ready for bed. It’s simple, comfortable, clean and easy.
Things get messy and cluttered FAST in a small space.
What I really liked about the Escape van was all the storage space throughout the vehicle. We stowed things under the seats and filled the drawers under the pull out bed. It kept things pretty neat and tidy, like we’re able to achieve in our bus.
Ben and I appreciated those features on this trip. Our car used to get WICKED messy with car camping. It’s super important to keep tiny spaces neat, at least it is for us, we go a little crazy otherwise. It's the little things. 🙂
Here's a bit more insight into the campervan amenities:
So, will we switch to a van?
Well, yes and no. We loved our experience, it provided us with a reminder of how much love we’ve put into our bus and how much we appreciate where it’s taken us in the past three years.
It would also be REALLY nice to have a van for shorter trips and weekend adventures moving forward. I’m pretty sure Ben and I will add that to our lineup in the next year or two as we build a home base in New Hampshire.
There’s something for everyone.
Many people swear by their vans for full-time living and love them fiercely. They couldn’t imagine traveling around in a behemoth like ours. To that I say, AWESOME! Other couples and families LOVE their full size bus and thoroughly enjoy the adventure that is touring around in a vehicle of that size. To that I also say, AWESOME!
The beautiful thing is that there’s something for EVERYONE in the overland vehicle/tiny home world. It’s all about deciding what YOU want your day to day to look and feel like. Chances are you can find something to accommodate your budget and goals. Oh, the options are endless!
Thanks for reading and thanks to Escape Campervans for providing us with the opportunity to try out one of their campervans for two weeks.
USE CODE WILDDRIVE10 at Escape for 10% off the nightly rental rate.
Restrictions apply, depends on availability.
We wrote another blog about all the places we visited and our experiences along the way on our southern AZ van road trip itinerary blog. Stay tuned for that. Enjoy and reach out with any questions.
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