Thinking about making this trip on the Pan-American Highway and finally deciding to really go ahead and do it, took us quite some time. But as soon as the decision was made we had to ask ourselves how we want to travel or rather how we want to get from A to B.
Because we want to travel freely, independently and without worries, we decided we want to travel with our own vehicle. This took us to the next question and decision we had to make: Do we want to go with a “travel-ready” motorhome or rather an expedition vehicle, or do we want to build our own van? Looking into all those different options we were soon shocked about how expensive campers “off the rack” are! We really did not expect camping to be this expensive, so it was clear to us that we are going to build our own campervan. This would give us the opportunity to design our own layout and choose the set-up and design we like. Another benefit of building our own van and the self-sufficient energy supply we will depend, is that we can determine our anticipated energy needs in advance and install just the exact supply elements that work for our needs.
So, we need a reliable basic vehicle that will be our new tiny home on wheels!
Mercedes Benz Unimog
At first, we were still stoked by those impressive expedition vehicles we looked at before, and the closest we could get to one of those was to convert a 4×4 Mercedes Benz Unimog – it was Jan’s dream vehicle! It has almost 30 cm (12”) ground clearance and the ability to keep all tires on the ground even on rough terrain. Basic used vehicles are available starting at 12.000 € online. But to create the actual living space it is necessary to have an extra “box” made of, for example, GFRP. Unfortunately the Unimog is literally too heavy, we are not allowed to drive such a heavy vehicle with the driver’s license we own. We would have to get a truck-driver’s license which is really expensive and takes a lot of time to get (in Germany, to get your regular driver’s license you have to take driver’s education classes and driving lessons, this will cost you around 2.000 €). The total costs for one of those Unimogs, including the purchase, the restoration of the chassis, new tires, the GFRP-box, building the interior and 2 truck driver`s licenses would add up to a total price of 80.000€ – this is way over our budget, so the Unimog was not going to be the vehicle for us.
But we spend a lot of time thinking about building a Unimog so here are some of Jan’s sketches.
Land Rover Defender
Pretty soon we were looking at the Land Rover Defender. It has 4×4 and in Germany is available starting at 13.000 € at 18 years old with a high mileage. We had lots of ideas and Jan drew lots of sketches, but we finally figured that the actual living space is too small, especially too low (Jan is almost 2 meters / 6´6” tall). Living on the road, we are planning to be outside of the vehicle for most of the time, but in case of bad weather, we would have to spend time inside and the space inside the Defender is just too small, even with a pop-up top, which we could not afford, because it costs another 8.000 €. We are quite sad about this because we really like the Defender and it was our favorite for a long time.
Here is one of Jan’s Defender conversion sketches.
Toyota Landcruiser HZJ
While looking at the Land Rover Defender we also looked at the Toyota Landcruiser HZJ. You can get it already fully converted, but rather badly in our opinion. While it is quite expensive it is very reliable, long lasting and repair-friendly all around the world. But unfortunately the price is not in our favor, as well as the availability in Germany.
VW Syncro (“Bulli”)
The VW is the legend of #hippielife! And the Syncro is suited very well for adventures out in the open terrain. With a pop-up top it has enough living and sleeping space. But here again our dreams were crushed by availability and price.
Cargo Van (Mercedes Benz Sprinter / VW Crafter / Ford Transit)
Compared to all the vehicles mentioned above, a cargo van is so big! The more we thought about the best basic vehicle for us, the more important got the actual living space, because this tiny space is going to be our home for at least 1 year. And we want to have a small bathroom with a shower and toilet, just in case. From all favorites this became our most favorite! But a new 4×4 Mercedes Sprinter is way too expensive for us, and even a used 4×4 costs at least 30.000-35.000 €. A used 2×4 Sprinter is available at a more reasonable price though, and it is possible to upgrade to a 4×4 at companies like Achleiter, Oberaigner or Iglhaut, but this costs about another 20.000 €. Why is everything so expensive??
So here is the big question: Do we really need 4×4 or will 2×4 work as well? If we had a bigger budget we would definitely choose a 4×4, but we do not want to spend all our money on the vehicle because we want to travel, right? So we now consider a 2×4 – to make it our campervan!