The ultimate showdown: campervan vs house vs boat on cost, maintenance, safety, and freedom.
Why should we consider alternatives to houses?
Houses are getting expensive; in 2022, the average house price is £260,000 – around 8 times the average salary. Prices have risen faster than salaries for several decades, which pushes buyers to request larger mortgages and take on more debt.
Due to the uncertainty and spiralling inflation, this increased debt means a complete lack of financial security for people wanting a home.
A trend among the younger generation, popularised on YouTube and TikTok, is “van life”. This involves converting normal vans (like Mercedes Sprinters) or campervans, into a tiny home. These make the most of the limited space by maximising storage around the bed, toilet, and kitchen area.
For the sake of this comparison, campervans will be considered together with motorhomes and RVs. This is because they are all essentially the same thing – small, mobile homes on wheels. The only variation being that motorhomes are slightly larger and more expensive, and RVs even more so.
My favourite van life couple is Eamon & Bec.
A slightly more out-there alternative to traditional lifestyles, boating is another option to consider. People opt for a boat that could range in size from 23- to 40-foot, with the hull (bottom) being made from wood, fiberglass, or metal (each having their pros and cons). The larger boats take 2 people to sail, whereas the smaller ones provide a suitable bolt hole for one, much like campervans do.
No prizes for guessing what houses are. The traditional, stationary lifestyle that also includes flats, bungalows, and static caravans.
I’ll be comparing all 3 options in 4 categories – cost, maintenance, safety, and freedom.
As I mentioned earlier, the cost of a house is the highest, at around £100-300k in the UK. Houses in the USA and France being cheaper – from $40k upwards. This usually means a deposit of around 10% (+estate agent fees around £2k) and ongoing payments for the rest of your life of around £500.
Conversely, a van will cost anywhere from £15k to £50k, depending on age and mileage. Roughly same goes for sailboats. Sailboats include extra costs of survey, broker, tax, and registration, totalling about £3.5k.
This means you can buy a tiny home for the cost of a house deposit in some countries. It does not mean, however, that there’s no ongoing payments to fork out for.
Aside from mortgage payments, houses rarely require expensive maintenance. Only every few years does something structural need addressing like subsidence. The main issue is appliances breaking, such as boilers, dishwashers, etc.
Vans come with all the faults of cars, as they are essentially a tent attached to a car. Therefore regular servicing and replacement parts will need budgeting for. They are also much less efficient than cars due to weighing over 2 tonnes, so lots of diesel is on the cards.
Boats get a little more complicated, and pricey. Every year or so, they need pulling out the water to repaint the hull. Due to erosion and rust from the saltwater. Other fees include: Mooring, docking, insurance, maintenance, bureaucracy (around borders), fuel for the motor, ICC, winterising, dewinterising, bottom paint, sailing club membership, and tax. More on sailboat costs here.
Houses depend largely on the location. In a nice part of town, houses will likely be safe your whole life, assuming things are secured up sensibly. Extra CCTV cameras and alarms can be fitted for peace of mind.
Being made from thin metal rather than brick, vans are prone to break-ins. The safety of a motorhome depends completely on where it’s parked. At designated campsites, there won’t be any issues. But campervans parked on a road or in a public car park at night face theft from local yobs. Tyres can be popped, windows broken, and valuables stolen. The latter can be mitigated with a safe for your technology. Of course, you can drive somewhere safer with a van, but both urban and remote areas provide risks that often prevent travellers’ peace of mind.
Boats are an interesting one, because the hazard comes from the environment as much as from people. Therefore, the safety of life on the water depends primarily on the captain’s competence. Weather, tides, currents, aquatic wildlife, and the troubles of navigation all present dangers, but for the skilled sailor, this danger can be minimised. Being in the ocean you are far from people and potential threats, with one notable exception – pirates. Yes, they are real, and some countries in Asia and South America are more known for pirates that can board your boat and steal. However, choosing locations sensibly can make this safer.
Houses have both the least freedom and the most. They have anywhere from 500-1500 square feet, providing by far the most storage space. This means you can have more food piled up, clothes, shoes, and so on. They also give you the ability to make friends and have them all remain local to you. However, for those who tire of the same town, that’s where travel lifestyles come in.
Vans let you take a small number of possessions on the road. With the necessary paperwork, you are free to drive across the continent, seeing the sights and living in the middle of the action. To cross a continent, a ferry can transport your van for a fee. This freedom does, however, rely heavily on having a remote job that can be performed anywhere. Therefore, you’ll need either a laptop job or a trade that you can complete, self-employed, from anywhere.
Boats offer similar freedoms to vans. However, rather than being in the city-center, you’ll be anchored at the nearest port. Therefore, you should enjoy your own company, and not get claustrophobic. We all know the best locations on Earth are tropical beaches, and thankfully they’re all accessible by boat.
That’s my comparison of campervan vs house vs boats! More travel content here.