Since grinding to a complete halt at the beginning of 2020, hope for international travel is on the horizon. As we look toward the future, it’s time to start imagining where our next travel adventure could take us.
We travel by van and some places are more suited to overland travel than others. These are 10 places we would love to travel by van or would love to travel by van again in 2021. Places where having your own wheels can help you see more and do more, places with vast distances or where public transport can’t take you everywhere, places where it pays to get off the traditional tourist circuits and places that welcome van lifers and road trippers with open arms.
If you have been dreaming of taking off to see the world on your very own van life adventure, why not consider these epic destinations? These are 10 awesome places to visit by van in 2021.
Mongolia tops our list of places to travel by van in 2021. Lonesome roads stretch on and on through the endless expanse of the Mongolian steppe taking travelers across the land of blue sky.
At one point the largest empire in the world, today Mongolia is one of the world’s least densely populated countries. It is also the land of the nomad, and it makes sense that van travel is an excellent option here.
From the singing sands of the Gobi Desert to the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and further to the Altai Mountains, the sheer size and diversity of Mongolia means that the best way to see everything it has to offer is to self-drive or to take a tour.
As a result of the nomadic history of the Mongols, wild camping on public land is permitted throughout the country. The nomadic culture of the Mongols has also given rise to a level of hospitality unparalleled in other countries. Here in the harsh and unforgiving tundra, it is not unusual for weary travelers to enter the homes of strangers to receive a warm welcome and a hot meal.
You can rent a car (or a motorbike in the warmer months) in Ulaanbaatar and take a self-directed tour through Mongolia. Alternatively, Sunpath Tours offers guided tours by van taking explorers to the far-flung corners of this impressive country. They have a number of planned itineraries or you can customize a route. Book a private trip or join a group tour. I toured Mongolia with Sunpath Tours in November of 2016 (hint: it’s very cold) and was amazed by the country and you will be too.
2. New Zealand
We haven’t traveled New Zealand by van, but it’s high on our list! A natural wonderland, the freedom of van-based travel just seems like it would be a perfect fit with New Zealand’s rugged and remote natural attractions.
With epic landscapes, stunning national parks, and major attractions spread out between the major hubs, the ability to range far and wide would surely be an asset in this incredible country.
Another reason New Zealand makes the list for best places to travel by van in 2021 is their hospitality and welcoming attitude to nomadic travel. Free camping is available throughout New Zealand with over 500 “responsible freedom” camping sites dotted around New Zealand. Responsible freedom camping is free of charge, but not free of responsibility and travelers are reminded to tread lightly as they explore this naturally abundant and beautiful land.
From the beaches of the Caribbean in the north to the coffee plantations in the foot hills of the Andes, Colombia was made to be travelled by van. A large country with an astonishing amount to see and do, Colombia will keep van lifers busy.
We travelled through Colombia in 2018 and found it to be perfectly suited to overlanding. The people were friendly and hospitable, the natural beauty was jaw dropping, and the food was delicious and so cheap.
Even though wild camping might not technically be legal in Colombia, it seems to be accepted throughout the country (be aware some parts of the country are not considered safe to travel due to the ongoing drug war). We found plenty of places to set up for the evenings and found that the Colombian people were some of the most welcoming anywhere in the world. Everywhere we went, curious locals were happy to stop for a chat, and would often offer us, coffee, fresh-baked bread, or a shower.
Perhaps not the first place you might associate with van travel, when we think about Japan and all the unique experiences it has to offer, but we can’t think of a better way to travel the islands of Japan than with our own wheels.
With so many fabulous destinations spread out along the length of the country, we wouldn’t want to risk missing out on anything. And there are bound to be countless more things to see and do that are off the beaten path that we just can’t wait to discover.
Although Japan’s van and road trip culture might not be known globally, the Japanese have been quietly perfecting the art of van travel. Over 1,000 public free camping facilities exist, many with toilets, showers, and, of course, vending machines to make your van life experience as comfortable as possible.
One downside to travelling Japan is the difficulty for foreigners trying to buy a van. And, although van rental is extremely common in Japan, it is also expensive. Never the less, we are looking forward to the day when we can travel to Japan and explore it by van.
Argentina is yet another South American country that is perfect for exploring with your own vehicle. A large country with a variety of different experiences there is so much to see and do here that having your own transport is the perfect way to explore Argentina.
From the stunning nature of Patagonia in the south to the gastronomy of northern Argentina’s wine country, you won’t run out of things to do and see in this fascinating country.
Camping is a national pastime in Argentina and the country is well equipped for camper vans. There are lots of cheap, private campgrounds throughout the country that offer varying levels of facilities. Additionally, wild camping is common throughout the country, especially in the less populated south.
6. The United States
The U.S. is the quintessential road trip destination where people have been taking to the road as weekend warriors, for extended holidays, or as full-time van lifers for many years. And being one of the largest countries in the world, the diversity found throughout the United States is unparalleled.
From the famous Route 66 from California to Chicago to the stunning Pacific Coast Highway drive along California’s dramatic coastline or even a road trip along the east coast from Savannah, GA to Maine through the original 13 colonies, there are so many different road trips in the US to embark on.
With a resurgence in van life culture, there are plenty of opportunities to find free and paid camping opportunities throughout the U.S. Whether it’s an annual national park pass allowing you camp in the country’s most spectacular wild places or just camping for the night in a Walmart, the American approach to van travel is easy and welcoming.
When 2020 threw a wrench into our plans to travel through Central America by van, we decided to explore my home country of Australia (or at least some of it) by van. What we found was that Australia is the perfect place to travel with your own vehicle.
Similar to Mongolia, Australia is home to a relatively small amount of people spread out over an incredibly large country. In Australia, the population is mostly concentrated around the coast of the island continent.
With free camping through many parts of the country, excellent roads, and great free facilities, like outdoor barbecues, outdoor gyms, heaps of free showers and clean public toilets, not to mention great weather year-round, it’s not hard to see why van-based travel is so popular here. There are also plenty of adventure activities in Australia to try as you drive around the country.
Australia has warmly embraced van travel. The Australian’s have been practicing overland travel, and welcoming overlanders for many years now from the international backpacker crowd known as whiz bangs (named for the sound their sliding van doors make in the dead of night) to the grey nomads who thunder up and down the country’s highways towing enormous caravans on their search for an endless summer.
There are dozens of amazing experiences to try in Australia. We have loved our time exploring Australia by van and are sure you will too!
We spent the majority of 2019 and the first part of 2020 exploring Mexico by van. In hindsight, the only thing we did wrong was not give ourselves enough time!
Mexico is another huge country which can never truly be known by flying in and out of major tourist hubs. A million unique experiences await intrepid adventurers ready to dive in and tackle the country with their own car.
Mexico has so much going on from ancient civilizations, stunning beaches, rainforest jungles, sprawling metropolises, and traditional villages, you could spend years here and not scratch the surface of what this incredible country has to offer. And of course you can’t beat the food!
With some simple precautions and research, traveling the country by van is easy and there are plenty of free and paid camping opportunities!
The Germans are some of the world’s great travelers, so it should come as no surprise when it comes to van travel, they are experts. We haven’t traveled Germany by van yet, but it’s somewhere that we are excited to travel to soon.
Like something out of a fairytale, the German countryside is dotted with historical places and natural wonders. Germany is steeped in history both ancient and recent with impressive medieval castles and stunning cathedrals as well as memorials and reminders to more recent events that have shaped the modern world. Germany is a fascinating place and one just perfect for the self-guided adventure that is van travel. Berlin makes for a great starting point, be sure to check out this list of 10 things to know before you travel to Berlin.
While the Germans aren’t as free and easy when it comes to popping up a tent on the side of the road, sleeping in your vehicle overnight is permitted. Additionally, thousands of stellplatz exist throughout the country where van travelers can camp for free (or next to free) overnight. The stellplatz usually offer dump points, water, and toilets to make camper van travel comfortable and easy!
The long skinny country is also perfect to see by van. A whopping 4,270 km long, and averaging less than 200 km wide, what better way to see this country than by driving its length.
While many tourists choose to head down south to explore Patagonia, one of the best alpine regions in the world, Chile’s north is just as interesting and well worth a visit as well.
The coastline, historic cities, extraterrestrial like environments, surf, and some seriously good wine are just some of the things you can expect on an adventure of a lifetime exploring Chile by van.
It’s easy and cheap to rent or buy your own wheels here. Additionally, camping laws mean you are free to camp up and park wherever you please in public places (although we do suggest making sure you are in a safe area and have spoken to the locals before pitching a tent just anywhere).
Chile is a great country to begin an extended van life trip through South America as it is slightly easier to travel than some of the other countries on the continent.
These are our top ten destinations to travel by van in 2021. But the reality is that almost everywhere is a great opportunity for van-based travel. Wherever you are planning your next adventure why not take that show on the road and try your hand at being a vanabond!