You see them shuttling people at airports, transporting tools to worksites and out on package deliveries, but increasingly you see them full of kids, dogs and camping gear. We're talking about Mercedes Sprinter and Ford Transit vans which are making the switch from workhorse to adventure wagon. Both are available in a variety of height, length, and layout configurations to fit your lifestyle. With high ceilings and large cargo areas that are easily converted into beds and kitchens, some folks have traded their house keys for van keys permanently.
We tried out a Mercedes Sprinter for a week and created a video of the unique advantages of van ownership. We took our loaded four-wheel-drive Sprinter hill-climbing on a rough road to test its capabilities. And of course, you can't drive a van without meeting other van people. (We can't call them "van drivers" because they're so much more than that.) They gave us some insights into van life we wanted to pass on.
The Lawrence family
The Lawrence family of Paradise takes full advantage of the versatility of their 2011 Sprinter. Most of the time the seats stay in to accommodate their six kids and car seats, but the seats come out for adventures as needed.
This summer Alan took his sons mountain biking in Moab, Park City and Pocatello. They slept on mats on the van floor and saved hundreds of dollars in hotel bills. Eventually, Alan wants to live and travel in the van full-time, which his wife might be into when their kids are grown.
The Winger family
We ran into the Winger family at the MS Bike Ride in Logan, 500 miles from their Las Vegas home. The Wingers don't sleep in their retired 15-passenger Ford Transit van; they've configured it with one row of rear seats, a full-height partition, and motorcycles, bicycles and gear in the back.
"It's the new toy-hauler," Adam Winger said. They stay in hotels and don't worry about people stealing their gear like they would in a pickup truck. They added body-matching wraps on the windows to keep prying eyes out.
Mercedes is focusing on how adaptable vans are for work, and Ford recently published the stories of three women who have customized their Transits (and one smaller Transit Connect) for adventure and work.
Tasha Rivard is a graphic designer and surfer in Colorado who can use the van's freshwater shower hose for cleaning up after the waves.
Teri Lou Dantzler is a photographer in Seattle or wherever you need her.
Rebecca Gross is a professional mountain bike racer and trainer in Colorado who lives in her van eight months of the year.
Rivard and Dantzler are completely rent-free, and blog about their van-conversion process, literally and figuratively.
Ready to re-"van"-p?
If you're ready to ditch your mortgage for a car loan, head on over to KSL Cars for dozens of homes on wheels.
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