Last year became the year we rediscovered road tripping. Sales and rentals of RVs, Airstreams, and vans skyrocketed, not just across the country but around the world. We opted to explore new places via their roadways, enjoying the convenience and security of our own mobile accommodations. For many, the appeal went beyond the vacation and into a way of life, and once borders swing back open, people are looking forward to living their best #vanlife in new destinations.
When it does come time to get out on that highway — or autobahn or carretera — some countries stand out as top choices for exploration from a van. The folks at Cool Camping took a look and came up with the definitive list of the best countries for #vanlife. Their 11 criteria points include seven practical aspects of living on the road: traffic, road safety, fuel costs, public restrooms, safety at overnight stops, road connectivity, and WiFi availability. To that they added four criteria that are what make our road life meaningful and memorable in the first place: natural beauty, clean air, fair weather, and the happiness of the place we’re visiting.
The scoring for each category was one to five, with five being best. While their final list includes 35 countries, in reverse order, we share the top 10 below.
10. United States
With a total of 43 points, the United States comes in at 10th place, earning scores of “5” each for road connectivity, WiFi access, public restrooms on the road, and, of course, its inimitable natural beauty. With options like coastal camping in California, an absolutely stunning variety of road trips to choose from, and incredible campgrounds in every single state, it’s no doubt that the US would land in the top 10. In fact, the only single low mark (“1”) was for road safety. With so much stunning landscape to explore, the tough choice here is where to start. We suggest a few excellent #vanlife destinations for starters.
9. New Zealand
New Zealand got top marks for natural beauty, air quality, and good weather. It was one of the few countries nabbing a “5” for happiness. Earning four points apiece for traffic, road safety, and the price of fuel, the only real negative was the “1” it got for connectivity on the road. But maybe the inability to be reached by your office while you’re vacation in Queenstown is a reason for that “5” in happiness? When you do go to New Zealand, check out some of the most amazing Kiwi beaches on both the North and South Islands.
Whoever decided France should only get a “4” for natural beauty has not road-tripped through the French Alps, along its Mediterranean beach coves, by its mountainous border with Spain, or up its Atlantic coast to the breathtaking cliffs of Normandy — as yours truly was lucky enough to do last year. But France does get top marks for weather, connectivity, and public bathrooms. The sole “2” it earned was for road safety, and it got just three points for campground safety. (In regions where petty theft is an issue, just take your valuables with you when you head out for the day). France is pretty agreeable about parking your van in locations that aren’t official campgrounds. Just be sure you arrive early enough to snag a spot in the most beautiful locations.
With a total of 44 points, fourth-placed Sweden has great roads, superb air quality, and excellent connectivity on the road (all “5s”). The natural beauty was graded a “4” — but we guess that was really a “4-plus.” Like other Nordic countries, Sweden is a blissful place, earning the top score of “5” for happiness. While the ranking criteria doesn’t include cities, we think your road trip through the country most definitely should. Beyond photogenic Stockholm, where even the subway stations are works of art, Sweden is packed with stunning cities and villages you need to visit.
It should come as no surprise that the seventh-best country for #vanlife earns a “5” for happiness. After all, Finland is consistently called the happiest country in the world. (It’s so happy, in fact, you can “Rent a Finn” to learn the secrets of their felicity.) Finland’s roads are seriously uncrowded, and both they and its campgrounds scored “5s” for safety. And wherever you park, it’s your right in Finland to explore the natural surroundings — even on private land. Just don’t expect WiFi at campgrounds and do expect to pay a lot for fuel. But when you travel to just some of the country’s 188,000 lakes and forests of birch and beech, you’ll see why it’s picked up all five points for natural beauty. If you’ll be there in the summer, check out the ultimate Nordic road trip to catch the midnight sun.
With 45 points, Canada is unmistakably an awesome place to live the #vanlife — with “4s” and “5s” on pretty much everything except road safety (“3”) and campground safety (“3”). The lone two-pointer the country received was for its weather. So plan to explore the Great White North in summer, and if you must extend your stay into the colder months, we’ve compiled a list of the best 4×4 winterized vans to make the most of Canada’s winter offerings. And, whatever you do, make sure it’s the height of summer when you head out to explore Canada’s rugged highway through the Northwest territories to its northern tip on the Arctic Sea.
In fourth place, Portugal is looking very appealing. The tiny country with a stunning Atlantic shoreline and so many delightfully uncrowded beaches got “4s” and “5s” in nearly every category — with “5s” in road traffic and connectivity, natural beauty, air quality, and weather. Portugal is well-known for being a safe country, as its “4” rating in campground safety attests. So it might just be the place to go ahead and set up shop as a digital nomad. The lone “2” was in the price of gas — but when you factor in how inexpensive, and tasty, Portuguese food is, living the #vanlife in Portugal will still turn out to be an incredible bang for your Euro.
As one might expect, third-placed Switzerland is organized and safe. If you plan to spend a week or a summer exploring its breathtaking natural beauty (“5”), you can count on limited traffic, safe roads, immaculate public bathrooms, and safe places to stay — all “5s.” So many “5s” may explain why the residents are all so darn happy (“5” again). According to Cool Camping, the only drawback in Switzerland is the price of fuel, which landed it only two points in that category. We suggest the price of speeding tickets be factored in as well, as Switzerland is notorious for its seemingly ubiquitous speed cameras.
The 46-point runner-up Australia practically invented the surf road trip, and with an entire continent of beautiful nature (five points) to explore, it’s a place you’d want to live the #vanlife irrespective of the other rankings. But, in fact, beyond logistical things like public bathrooms and connectivity (“5” and “5”) Australia has good weather, clean air, and all around happiness (yet more “5s”). Road traffic, gas prices, and safety are just fine with their three- and four-point ratings, and there are no low marks to speak of. So get out there, mate!
If you want to pack up and live the #vanlife for as long as your passport or visa will let, you might want to start practicing your “Una cerveza, por favor” on Duolingo. With 48 points, Spain is the winner as the overall best place to spend your days on the road. It got “5s” in six of the 11 categories: traffic, road connectivity, WiFi, natural beauty, and air quality. It earned four points for happiness, and “3s” and “4s” in the remaining categories. But you didn’t need a ranking to tell you all this. That hardest part of #vanlifing in Spain might just be choosing where to go — perhaps the La Cerdanya valley bordering France, the Iberian rift between Spain and Portugal, or the less explored province of Galicia? Wherever you go, it’s sure to be epic.