Written by Drew Zieff
Here at Luno, we have a simple philosophy: the best road trip rig is the one in your driveway. Don’t get us wrong, we love overlanding 4x4s decked out with aftermarket armor, racks, suspension, and more. We adore vans with platform beds, sultry tongue-and-groove ceilings, well-organized kitchens, and solar power. But those rigs are expensive. If you’ve got thousands to spend on the ultimate road trip rig, all power to you. But the truth is, none of that’s necessary to hit the highway. All you need is a set of wheels, a tank of gas, and an inclination to explore. Oh, and maybe some snacks.
Over the years, we’ve camped in just about every vehicle you can imagine, from sedans and vans to SUVs and RVs. To help you find the perfect road trip rig (hint: it’s in your driveway), we’re going to break down the pros and cons of each below.
The Pros and Cons of Vanlife
I know firsthand what it takes to build out a dream van—and to be honest, it’s a nightmare. A few summers ago, my partner and I bought a gutted, retired plumbing van—a 2006 Chevy Express with a fiberglass topper, to be more precise. We started building out the van in June and figured it would take two months to transform the empty shell into our ultimate adventure mobile. We wanted to kick off #vanlife by road tripping to Vancouver Island by the end of August, but we drastically overestimated our carpentry abilities (which were non-existent) and underestimated the task's difficulty (which was very existent). Despite regularly putting in 12-hour build days, summer slipped away, and we didn’t make it to Canada until October
Granted, once we finally hit the road, we fell in love with our van. Our maiden voyage was a three-month surf trip from Vancouver Island to Baja, and since then, we’ve explored all over the American west, living in the van for up to six months at a time while surfing, hiking, fishing, biking, and climbing. Vanlife has been a blast, no doubt, but it’s full of challenges, too. That said, here are a few pros and cons to consider before you blow your savings on a Sprinter:
Pros of Vanlife
Vans aren’t huge, but well-designed vans are much more livable than you might expect. Our van has a queen-sized bed that transforms into a seating area, wood ceilings reminiscent of a cabin, a small electric cooler powered by solar, a two-burner stove and sink, and even a compact wood stove for heat. It’s comfortable, well-insulated, and we can live in the van for months at a time without breaking up.
When you think about it, vans are really just mobile gear closets. We prioritized gear storage with our van build and added aftermarket racks to have room for up to five surfboards, two snowboards, and two bikes on a single trip. (Picture: @grovesandcoves)
When we were hunting for our dream rig, we test drove a small bus, and it was beyond nerve-racking in traffic. Vans, at least the smaller ones, are relatively easy to drive.
Depending on your van build, stealth camping is an option. For those unfamiliar with the term, “stealth camping” refers to spending the night in a parking spot that wasn’t intended for overnight camping–say, in front of a YMCA or on a quiet residential side street. Granted, this goes out the window if you have boards and bikes strapped to the van and smoke pouring out the chimney.
Park like a Pro
Unlike buses and RVs, standard vans fit in a single parking space. This makes finding a place to camp for the night much easier!
Cons of Vanlife
The Build May Break You
As I mentioned earlier, our van build took us twice as long as estimated. Expect blood, sweat, tears, and painfully expensive trips to Home Depot. Here are a few lowlights from our van build to paint a picture of the pain:
- I insulated the cramped quarters of our fiberglass topper on a 95-degree summer day. Not only did I sweat like a samoyed in a sauna, but I got foam insulation stuck in my chest, head, and back hair. My partner had to bust out a razor and shave it off.
- I messed up the chimney cut, waited a week for a new chimney to arrive, only to mess up the cut again. Maximum pain.
- I broke at least eight jigsaw blades while cutting holes in the roof. Probably more.
Building a van can be extremely expensive, but having someone else build it for you is even more pricey. That said, due to our traumatic relationship with van-building, my partner and I always joke that if we ever get another van, we’ll pay someone to do it. However, van builds don’t come cheap! Custom builds can cost six figures, and the same goes for stock options like the Winnebago Travato.
Compared to RVs, vans aren’t the most family-friendly, and it can get pretty cramped with more than two people in a Sprinter-sized setup. In fact, that’s precisely why we invented our Front Cab Air Mattress. Designed for Mercedes Sprinters, Dodge ProMasters, RAM ProMasters, as well as the Winnebago Travato and Solis, this nifty inflatable air mattress turns the front seats of a van into a small sleeping area—one perfect for a child or pup (pictured below).
To Pee, or Not to Pee?
Many van-builders forgo a bathroom, choosing not to dedicate precious square footage to a toilet and shower. You certainly can include a bathroom in your build, but it comes at the cost of floor space. If a bathroom is high on your list of priorities, you may want to consider an RV or bus.
Vans are notorious gas guzzlers. Factor in the weight of a complete build and not-so-aerodynamic accessories like rooftop decks and surfboard racks, and you’re in for a rude awakening at every gas station.
The Pros and Cons of RVs
Before vanlife exploded, RVs were the go-to move for road trippers looking for long-term solutions to life on the road. Nowadays, RVs are lighter, fancier, and more utilitarian than ever before, and if you’re looking for a pre-fab house on wheels, RVs are still where it’s at. On the other hand, RVs are more expensive and less maneuverable than other options.
The Pros of RVs
Live like a King
Relative to the rest of the vehicle types in this article, RVs are downright lavish. Most RVs have a bathroom, living area, compact kitchen, and separate sleeping quarters, so that life on the road feels just like life at home.
Have a Gear Problem? RVs Can Help
RVs are worth considering if you like to travel with a full quiver of snowboards, enough bikes for the entire family, or a couple of kayaks. Specific models have excellent gear storage options, enabling you to bring a shed’s worth of shred gear on your next trip.
From Travel Trailer to Motorhome
“RV” is an umbrella term, and it can refer to everything from travel trailers and pop-ups to campervans and 35-foot motorhomes. We’re big fans of tow-behinds since you can leave the trailer at a campground and use the truck for day-to-day adventure.
The Cons of RVs
The bigger your RV, the trickier it is to drive or tow. Finding parking and off-roading are also much more difficult in bigger rigs.
Price is a Factor
If the price of a van turns you off, high-end RVs will make you balk. Used RVs are much more affordable, but maintenance can be expensive.
Gas Ain’t Cheap
Towing a bulky trailer or driving a 30-foot motorhome means unsurprisingly pricey pit stops.
The Pros and Cons of SUV Camping
Last but not least, our go-to camping rig: the SUV. We founded Luno to make car camping in SUVs comfortable, easy, and accessible to all. Our inflatable Car Air Mattress comes in multiple sizes to fit hundreds of SUVs and crossovers, from Subaru Foresters to Toyota 4Runners, ensuring road trippers and car campers get a good night’s sleep miles from home. Without further ado, here’s why we love car camping in SUVs:
The Pros of SUV Camping
It’s Already in Your Driveway
Chances are, there’s already an SUV in your driveway. You don’t need to buy a van or an RV to road trip comfortably—you’ve got a capable rig already. What’s more, you can use an SUV all week long, driving to work or picking up the kids from school, then turn it into an adventure mobile come the weekend.
From Trunk to Bunk Room
Flat-folding seats are a game-changer for SUV car camping. Just fold your seats down, inflate our Car Air Mattress, and boom—you’ve got the ultimate road trip sleep system. Affordable, easy to set up, and remarkably comfortable, our air mattresses turn your trunk into a bunk room.
Whether you’re off-roading in the desert or crawling up a mountain pass during a blizzard, SUVs are the way to go. More maneuverable than RVs and more powerful than smaller sedans, the SUV is the perfect vehicle for camping and adventure.
Rooftop Tents + Luno Air Mattress = Bunk Beds
SUVs aren’t nearly as big as motorhomes, but you can comfortably sleep four adults between a rooftop tent and a Luno Air Mattress.
Compared to bigger RVs and vans, SUVs are much more fuel-efficient. Go with a hybrid or electric option to keep fuel costs and environmental impact low.
Cons of SUV Camping
Wear and Tear
Expect to see more wear and tear if camping and off-roading in your daily driver.
Cooking in Inclement Weather
If precipitation is in the forecast, van dwellers and RVers cook inside. SUV campers don’t have that option, and you’ll have to cook outside. Of course, that’s nothing a tarp can’t fix.
Don’t Overthink It: Just Hit the Road
Maybe you’re dreaming of a van but can’t swing it yet. Or maybe you’re wondering if you can sleep comfortably inside your SUV (you can!). The truth is, while we enjoy dissecting the pros and cons of each type of vehicle, it’s not what you drive that’s important—it’s where you drive it. That’s why we believe the best road trip rig is the one that’s already in your driveway. So whatever you’re driving, wherever you’re heading, we wish you safe and happy travels, and we’ll see you on the road.