Hello, all. I'm a new member on the site, but I've been lurking for several days, reading up. I have not yet found a thread that exactly addresses my question (but if someone can refer me to one, that would be fine).
I am planning to take a long road trip in late May, probably lasting until the middle of July. My route is still developing, but trips up portions of the East and West coasts are probably going to be included, as well as visits to Montana, Colorado, and New Mexico. All in all, I am expecting a trip of between 15,000 and 20,000 miles. I have a budget for the trip, including the cost of the vehicle, of $15,000, though I could spend somewhat more if there were justified expenses that would dramatically increase the quality of the trip.
I will purchase a vehicle specifically for this trip (and likely resell it afterwards), and I'm weighing the options. For background, I'm a 37-year-old, American citizen, male engineer with good technical skills but very little experience working with cars and no significant camping experience. Assuming my realistic budget for the vehicle were $8,000-10,000, here are my thoughts at the moment. But these are preliminary thoughts, subject to any advice you can offer.
Option 1: A purpose built camper van, such as the ones found on The Samba website and others I've seen recommended on RTA.
Pros: Bed included, some kitchen services included, spacious, aesthetically interesting, room for travelling guests (some legs of the trip will have company along), easy to keep tidy due to installed storage spaces, comfortable. Well suited to the slow, ambling pace through rural America I am interested in experiencing.
Cons: Large and less maneuverable. Gas-hungry. High up-front cost; one in my price range would probably be older, and perhaps more mechanically unreliable. I have no experience dealing with these vehicles and there could be unexpected difficulties/costs that I am not anticipating. From what I've read, trying to sleep in your vehicle is dodgy; there are different rules state by state, and it can often be hard to find a safe and legal place to overnight. Specialty product that I may have to drive two states over to purchase. Tough resale market.
Option 2: A factory-standard minivan, stationwagon or SUV
Pros: Space for gear allowing use of any suitable camp site. Newer options available in price range with great safety features. Purchase and resale more convenient, due to market and availability. Room for sleeping in the back if opportunity presents itself. Could be modified with road-trip specific features (such as better bedding or installed storage) without too much difficulty, either by myself or by a contractor. Space for friends to ride along. Less gas consumption than a camper van.
Cons: Not going to be a really comfortable living space. Harder to keep tidy and squared away. Still-high gas consumption. Would need roadside services for getting cleaned up, preparing meals, changing clothes, toiletry activities, etc. Would probably spend a larger portion of the trip staying in motels/hotels, at additional expense.
Option 3: Typical sedan or hatchback.
Pros: I've been driving these all my life, including several long road trips (3000+ miles). Will do much better on fuel. Fewer logistical surprises. Just settle on staying with friends or in motels and be done with it (logistical simplicity). Easy to maneuver in cities. If I like the car, I can just keep it afterward as my regular car. Lower insurance costs. Lower purchase costs, even with late-model safety features. Simple.
Cons: Sleeping in the car would be essentially a stuck-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-with-no-other-options situation, not comfortable. Difficult to keep tidy week after week. Could be space and storage issues, especially when friends ride along on legs of trip. Would be very dependent on roadside services for sleeping, eating, showering, etc. Prices could compound. Boring.
Option 4: Pickup truck with camper back or general purpose van
Pros: Inexpensive options available; blank slate could be modified with living accommodations similar to option 1 for $1000-2000. Therefore similar pros to option 1, in theory.
Cons: I would be taking on more workload, since I'd be responsible for customizing the vehicle. Costs could get out of hand. I have a lot of project management experience but this would be a type of project I've never undertaken. Cons are simply unknown, which is scary. As I plan to hit the road in about a month and a half, I may not have time to fully customize.
Option 5: ??? What am I not considering?
So those are my current thoughts. Obviously, even within each option, there are dozens of reasonable vehicles I could consider, so please feel free to offer specific recommendations. If you think any of my pros or cons are unrealistic for any reason (optimistic or pessimistic), please chime in. I'll be posting elsewhere for suggestions on camping, on helping plan the route, and on packing gear and supplies, so other than regarding storage issues, I hope none of that is too relevant to this discussion.
I'm looking forward to seeing what folks think about this, and I'm glad to see such a vibrant community on this site.
PS: If you have any advice on other places to post this question, either elsewhere on RTA or elsewhere entirely, feel free to offer that as a suggestion! I'm probably going to post something about this on Reddit, for example.