Camp Westfalia

Archive for Happy Camping – Page 2

Using the Vanagon Westfalia Refrigerator

The Vanagon Westfalia Camper refrigerator is convenient and efficient; here’s how to use it.

No camper-van kitchen is complete without the ability to keep your food cold to preserve it and prevent spoilage. And the value of a cold beer or soft drink at the end of a long hot day of road tripping requires no explanation …

Full operating instructions excerpted from the “Supplement to Volkswagen Vanagon Owner’s Manual” for the 1983 Camper can be found here >>

Introduction

The Vanagon Westy Dometic RM182 refrigerator is located in the lower kitchen cabinet, immediately below the stove. At 1.5 cubic feet (45 liters) of interior volume, it’s a little smaller than a dorm-room mini-fridge, so smart packing is required.

Generally speaking, when the original Dometic is in good working order, it is capable of keeping food about 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit (or 20-25 degrees Celsius) below ambient air temperature. It will struggle to keep food at safe temperatures when temps inside the van exceed 90-100˚F (32-38˚C).

The refrigerator interior features two moveable shelves, and two additional compartments on the inside of the door for small food items, bottles, or cans.

In the upper-rear of the fridge interior is the evaporator core, or cooling element. When ice occasionally forms on this evaporator, turn the fridge off to defrost and allow the ice to melt.

Power

The Westy refrigerator is operated by one of three power sources:

120-volt AC electrical power (household or shore power)

To use this, connect an extension cord from a nearby power outlet to the van’s external power inlet on the side panel near the other utility hookups. The fridge is very effective when powered this way, keeping food quite cold.

12-volt DC (alternator or auxiliary battery)

In stock form, Westfalia Campers were equipped with a relay to allow the fridge to be powered by the alternator whenever the engine is running. It automatically cuts all power to the fridge when the engine is stopped, to prevent draining the starting battery.

Some owners add a second, auxiliary battery to their van and wire it through a relay or other circuits in order to power the fridge via 12V for longer periods.

Liquid Propane (LP)

The fridge can also be fueled by the same external LP tank as the Westfalia stove. Just after the main shutoff valve and two-stage LP regulator attached to the tank, the supply splits into two copper lines: one feeds the stove, and the other the fridge.

The fridge is also very efficient when powered this way, with a full LP tank supplying the fridge 24/7 for at least a full month before requiring a refill.

See below for more info on starting and operating the fridge on LP.

Effectiveness

As for temperatures, the Dometic fridge will attain its coldest temps when powered by (in order):

  1. 120-volt AC
  2. Liquid Propane
  3. 12-volt DC

Controls & Operation

The Dometic controls are located inside the fridge door, just above the main compartment.

Full operating instructions excerpted from the “Supplement to Volkswagen Vanagon Owner’s Manual” for the 1983 Camper can be found here >>

The Fridge Routine

As outlined in “The Routine,” here’s a brief synopsis of running your fridge during a typical trip:

Pre-Trip Preparation, often the day prior to departure

  • Ensure that LP (liquid propane) tank is sufficiently full, and that main shutoff valve on tank is closed
  • Pre-chill refrigerator overnight on 120V AC shore power; add cold beverages to provide thermal mass

Hitting the Road, the day of departure

  • Load any remaining cold food into pre-chilled refrigerator
  • Disconnect refrigerator from 120V AC shore power, switch to 12V DC, or open main LP valve and light for driving

Arrive in camp:

  • Park van using parking brake and, if necessary, RV levelers
  • Open main shutoff valve on LP tank to operate refrigerator on liquid propane, switch refrigerator control to LP, and light
  • If 120V AC power is available, you can optionally power the fridge with this; use extension cord to connect campsite shore power station to camper hookup; switch refrigerator to 120V AC

Breaking camp

  • Disconnect 120V AC shore power and water hookups
  • Close main shutoff valve on LP tank, switch refrigerator to 12V DC or LP for driving

Post-Trip Cleanup

  • Turn refrigerator off; remove remaining food and wipe clean

Tips & Tricks

In addition, here are some insights gained from many years of operating these compact, convenient, efficient, but sometimes fretful fridges.

Pre-Chill on 120VAC Shore Power

The Dometic fridge does well at maintaining cool temps, but benefits from a head start. A few hours before using your fridge, plug it into shore power to pre-chill it. The thermal mass of a cold six-pack inside will further aid pre-chilling, and help make the fridge easier to light on LP later.

Pack it Cold

When loading foodstuffs in the fridge, try to use pre-chilled food whenever possible, so the fridge needn’t struggle to get/stay cold.

Check It Out

As mentioned in the Owner’s Manual instructions, the Flame Indicator Light will tell you the fridge’s LP chamber is still burning. But you can also easily confirm the fridge’s continued operation from outside the van by feeling the exterior vent with your hand: a bit of warmth here indicates the fridge’s LP chamber is still burning.

Just Chillin’

A small clip-on RV fridge thermometer lets you monitor your fridge’s interior temps; a simple analog model requires you open the fridge door to have a peek (losing some of your precious cold air), while a wireless version works remotely.

Stay on the Level

When parked, the Dometic fridge must always be kept somewhat level; the Owner’s Manual specifies no more than +/- 8 degrees on incline, to prevent overheating and permanent damage to the heating element. A set of RV levelers and level indicators will help you find a suitable parking spot.

Made in the Shade

To help the fridge keep your cucumbers cool, choose a parking spot or camp site out of direct sunlight, and if possible open a couple of windows an inch or so to keep the van interior cooler.

Periodic Maintenance

Though usually very trouble-free, the Westfalia’s Dometic fridge may sometimes be difficult to light, or fail to keep your food cold. Here are some ideas to try before removing the fridge for DIY service.

Photo: Shooftie

Suck It Up

The fridge’s exterior vent houses two conduits: air intake and exhaust vent. These can become plugged with debris which can make its way down to the burner chamber: leaves and seeds, dead bugs, spider webs, etc.. Remove the outer vent cover to expose the two conduits, and alternately apply the end of a shop vac to each one to clean out any accumulated junk.

Clear the Air

Igniting the LP burner requires a bit of fresh air in the burn chamber, usually provided by the tiny pump built into the ignitor knob. But over time this pump can begin to fail, making ignition difficult. If you’re having problems, remove the cap from the small condensation drain pipe below the fridge and attach a bicycle pump. Give it several strokes of fresh air, and try igniting the fridge again.

Hope this helps you enjoy your own Westfalia Dometic fridge. And if you have any fridge questions or suggestions, post ’em up below!

Original Vanagon Westfalia Toilet & Cabinet

Making boom-boom the European way, mit die Defäkation Karton!

We recently sold our original-equipment portable chemical toilet with wooden cabinet. Though the previous owners seldom used it, and we never did, I thought I’d share these photos and a bit of history for the sake of posterity.

Apparently available only to those customers who picked up their new Vanagon Campers in Germany as part of VW’s tourist delivery program, the cabinet boasts classic Westfalia design.


This authentic vintage piece features a sturdy plywood cabinet with the familiar Westfalia laminate finish, and a padded seat top upholstered to match the interior of the early Vanagon Westies.


The enclosed Porta-Potti is a compact two-chamber toilet: open the lid and do yer bidness, pull the front handle to open the bowl valve, and give the unit a couple of flush pumps to rinse the bowl clean; then close the valve. Waste is collected in the sealed lower chamber, preventing odors. When full, simply empty into any campground toilet or sanitary station, rinse, and continue using! Refresh with common RV toilet chemicals available at any RV supplier.

Made by Thetford, still the world’s leading manufacturer of mobile sanitation products for the RV, marine, camping and truck markets.

Here’s more info on operating one of Thetford’s similar models: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyhqPO3TfYA

When you don’t need a toilet for your trip, the entire combo can be easily removed for storage, or simply remove the toilet and just use the cabinet as a basic storage compartment with convenient padded seat top!

The Westfalia-Thetford portable toilet combo is a classic piece of vintage camping kit, and ready to ‘go’ wherever you go!

POSSIBLE REPRODUCTIONS AVAILABLE

Due to the surprising amount of interest in this vintage item, even after it was sold, I may consider offering reproductions of the toilet cabinet.

These reproduction cabinets would be the same approximate dimensions as the original (or sized to fit popular modern Porta-Potties), would utilize all the same materials (laminated birch plywood, trim, hardware, etc.), and upholstered in new complementary fabrics. Estimated cost would be $399.

If interested, please contact me with any inquiries or questions!

Jeffrey Lee
Camp Westfalia

Vanagon or Westfalia Gift Ideas

Looking for the perfect Vanagon or Westfalia gift for a loved one? (Or for you?)

These gifts will keep your favorite camper (or camper van) safe, comfortable, entertained, and looking good!

Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow for Camping, Backpacking, Airplanes and Road Trips

  • Ultralight compressible travel pillow with soft foam filling that packs down small for road trips, plane travel, camping, and backpacking
  • Foam filling expands into a 4-inch thick pillow for head, neck, and back support in tents, cars, planes, and other tough-to-get-comfortable places
  • Compact design packs into a backpack, duffle, suitcase, or tote; drawstring and cord lock keeps pillow securely compressed when not in use
  • Brushed polyester cover is soft against skin for comfort; lofty urethane fill is an upcycled byproduct of Thermarest mattresses
  • Machine washable
  • Made in the USA

Get it here!

Covercraft Custom Fit Car Cover for Volkswagen Vanagon

This high-quality outdoor van cover provides great protection from snow, rain, dust, dirt, mold, mildew, and sun. This cover is ideal for high moisture climates. Available in two sizes to fit Vanagon passenger vans or Westfalia Campers!

  • High performance non-woven fabric with the film barrier edge for maximum dirt dust and moisture resistance
  • Provides ding protection of multi-layer construction
  • Light gray color doesn’t attract heat and the fabric is treated with UV inhibitors for extended outdoor use
  • Has bottom-edge elastic to hold the cover tight and is equipped with grommets for a cable lock and an additional grommet that can be installed to accommodate your vehicles antenna
  • Custom-made to hug every contour of your specific vehicle and most of these made-to-measure covers have sewn-in mirror pocket

Get it here!

“Blue Highways: A Journey into America”

Hailed as a masterpiece of American travel writing, Blue Highways is an unforgettable journey along our nation’s backroads.

William Least Heat-Moon set out with little more than the need to put home behind him and a sense of curiosity about “those little towns that get on the map-if they get on at all-only because some cartographer has a blank space to fill.”

Get it here!

Camp Westfalia Merch Store

Unique and custom VW Bus & Vanagon camping designs, available on a variety of tee shirts, hoodies, mugs, and more.

Wear your love of VWs and van-camping with pride!

Shop here!

Volkswagen VW Campervan Bus Heat Changing Mug

The retro camper is a true pop-culture icon worldwide, famed for its sleek design and pastel tones.

This Volkswagen heat changing mug is a groovy addition to your collection. When cold, the camper’s exterior is on show, and as soon as it gets warm, the side of the van melts away to show the seats inside.

Get it here!

ENO Eagles Nest Outfitters – DoubleNest Hammock

This comfortable hammock is versatile, durable, and compact, making it perfect for traveling, hiking, or chillin’ in camp. The strong nylon taffeta fabric and roomy design accommodate up to 400 pounds, so you can relax with a friend or just hog the whole thing for yourself. Built to last with triple-stitched seams, this baby will keep you swinging for a long time.

Get it here!

TOPDC Double-Cylinder Portable Air Compressor

Vanagon travellers tend to wander off the beaten path, often finding themselves far from major highways, and perhaps beyond reliable phone reception. Self-reliance is crucial, and a portable compressor like this can be a real trip saver.

The TOPDC Double-Cylinder Air Compressor fits neatly in the storage space beneath the Vanagon bench seat, and gives the assurance and peace of mind when travelling in the backcountry. With its compact size, weight, and versatility for other tasks, there’s no reason not to carry one of these as part of your emergency tool kit.

Full Review Here

Get it here!

Flower Power

Sometimes, when diesel is difficult to find, the Camp Westfalia rig runs entirely on alternative fuels. Like, Groovy Vibes, man!

Once, while parked and waiting for Lorie to return with coffee, I was approached by an old farmer who couldn’t resist asking me if I was a ‘real hippie’. I reached out the open window, peeled one of the many magnetic flower decals off the van and waggled it in the air. “Nah,” I replied, “I’m only a hippie on the weekends.”

Get ’em here!

“Out West: A Journey through Lewis and Clark’s America”

One hundred and eighty years after Lewis and Clark’s “Voyage of Discovery” (1804–1806), Dayton Duncan set out in a VW Camper to retrace their steps.

Out West is an account of three separate journeys: Lewis and Clark’s epic adventure through uncharted wilderness; Duncan’s retracing of the historic trail, now in various ways tamed, paved, and settled; and the journey of the American West in the years in between.

Get it here!

GSI Outdoors – Bugaboo Backpacker, Nesting Cook Set

This compact nesting cookset is perfect for preparing meals in a crowded camper van, and is the perfect companion to the GSI Bugaboo folding fry pan!

  • DURABLE AND LONG LASTING: The Bugaboo Backpacker is coated with Teflon Classic for good non-stick performance. Features a crushproof, heat-resistant nylon strainer lid and an easily removable folding pot handle.
  • EASY STORING AND CLEAN UP: Waterproof stuff sack holds set together and doubles as a sink or washbasin.
  • COOK WITH CONFIDENCE: Folding pot handle locks onto exterior brackets on pot and fry pan to provide a secure handle while cooking.

Get it here!

2021 GoWesty Calendar

The 2021 Westy Life calendar features inspiring VW camper images sure to pique your wanderlust! Their 13th annual calendar contest drew over 400 entries from around the world—and the caliber of the entries was incredible.

Get it here!

Vanagon Workshop Manuals

“The Bentley” Official Factory Repair Manual

Volkswagen Vanagon Repair Manual: 1980-1991

This Official Factory Repair Manual, published by Robert Bentley, is rightfully considered “the bible” for Vanagon repair.

This was the manual used by the wrenchers at your local VW dealership, but now that most VW technicians have lain neither eyes nor hands on a Vanagon, the Bentley is used only by the occasional independent shop and by shade-tree diehards like you and me. It remains the final authority in accuracy and precision, providing the proper sequences, torque values, and tolerances for most repairs. Repairs are well organized by topic and sub-topic.

Get it here!

VW T1 Bus BBQ Utensil Set with Carrying Case

Campervans are perfect for chillin’ and grillin’.

And this set of barbecue tools combines the best of both. Stainless steel utensils embossed with classic split-windshield Busses, and featuring bamboo handles, these cool tools come packed in a nylon carry case.

Get it here!

Vintage Cars, Scooters & Camper Vans  Holiday Gift Wrapping Paper

Whatever gift you decide on for your favorite camping companion, apply the final classy touch and wrap it in this limited edition decorative Camper Van design!

Get it here!


From the Camp Westfalia crew, here’s wishing you and yours a happy holiday season, and a Happy (Camper) New Year of adventures!

Using the Westfalia Stove

The Vanagon Westfalia stove makes camp cooking easy and efficient.

The stove in our Westfalia Camper has enabled us to start countless days of roadtripping with a belly-filling breakfast, whip up a quick lunch or a hearty dinner, or to enjoy a cup of hot cocoa while watching snow flurries descend from the icy peaks surrounding Crater Lake.

The Westfalia galley kitchenette is one of the distinguishing features which truly makes a Vanagon a Campmobile!

Full operating instructions excerpted from the “Supplement to Volkswagen Vanagon Owner’s Manual” for the 1983 Camper can be found here >>

Introduction

The Westy stove is fueled by the same external LP (Liquid Propane) tank as the Dometic refrigerator. Just after the main shutoff valve and two-stage LP regulator attached to the tank, the supply splits into two copper lines: one feeds the fridge, and the other the stove.

Inside, prop the kitchen cabinet lid open to reveal the stove, right next to the sink. A large oval grate covers the two gas burners, and beneath that the large stainless steel base catches the inevitable spills.

Above, mounted to the kitchen cabinet lid, is a stainless steel heat shield to protect the underside of the cabinet lid. On Canadian models, this deflector is permanently affixed; on US models, this heat shield can be unsnapped and hinged downward to lay flat, to serve as a drain board when washing & drying dishes (note the angled surface and small drain slot over the sink).


NOTE: Many new Westfalia owners mistakenly assume this heat shield/drain board is a griddle or hot plate, and commence to fryin’ bacon or flippin’ flapjacks on it. This will quickly discolor and buckle the heat shield, and food will stick and burn. DO NOT USE IT AS A COOKING SURFACE.

If your Vanagon’s previous owner neglected to remove the blue plastic protective film from your heat shield, do it now.

Lighting

The burner controls for the stove are located on the front kitchen panel. Look for the three flame symbols on the edge of the control knobs, indicating OFF, HIGH, and SIMMER.

To light the stove, first make sure the main valve is opened on the external LP tank. Depress and turn the stove burner knob to HIGH, and listen for the quiet hiss of gas from the burner. Use a butane lighter or a stove ignitor to ignite the flame, and adjust for cooking. Just as with your home barbecue grill, if it’s been awhile since your stove was used, or you ran completely out of LP before refilling the tank, you may need to run both burners for awhile to prime the supply line before it will light.

Once lit, simply adjust the flame for whatever type of cooking you’re doing. A larger pan or pot on the stove can block your view of the flame, but the flame can be seen reflected in the stainless steel base beneath the burners.

Cooking

On some Westfalia stoves, the SIMMER setting may allow the flame to go out, so set the control knob just a little higher.


Note that the burner grate stands on ten short ‘legs’; two of these legs engage in a couple of holes in the lower stove base. To remove the grate for cleaning, grasp the leg nearest you when standing in front of the stove, and firmly pull toward you to disengage the leg from the base, and lift the entire grate free.

Propane generally provides very even heating, but hot spots and scorching can be further prevented by using pots and frypans with fine heat-dispersing grooves engraved on the bottoms. We typically use lightweight nesting backpacking pots and frying pans with folding or detachable handles to save space. Be careful when using very small pots on the stove though, as these may tip or topple through the rather large central gaps in the grate. You can add versatility to your stove by adding a double-wide griddle for large-volume frying.

We also use a vintage teakettle for heating water for tea, instant soups, dishwashing, etc.. When not being used, it rests inside the sink, wrapped in a dish towel to prevent rattles.

Always allow the stove to cool after using and before stowing away for travel. To prevent annoying metallic rattles of the grate and the heat shield while underway, lay a couple of hot pads or dish towels over the grate before closing the lid.

Finally …

The stock stove is a crucial feature that adds great utility to the Westfalia Camper. We use ours on a daily basis when traveling, for everything from simple hot water to full-on multi-course meals. With adequate ventilation and tidy cooking habits, you can avoid lingering food odors unless you enjoy a lot of bacon or fried fish.

A comparable Coleman two-burner camping stove requires frequent refills of a highly flammable fuel which must be handled and carried somewhere on board. By contrast, the Westy stove-and-fridge combo will run on LP cleanly, safely, and economically for at least 30 days and nights before requiring a $7 refill.

I will never forget the taste of a pair of fresh pan-fried brook trout, resting on warm beds of wild rice, accompanied by cold bottles of beer, enjoyed with a longtime friend on the grassy banks of the very stream in which he’d caught them only minutes before.

Few things bring together family and friends like good food, and the Westfalia stove often makes it possible …

Have any questions or comments about the Westfalia stove? Post ’em below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Vanagon Westfalia Water System Instructions

NOTE: the following text and photos are excerpted from the 1983 Camper “Supplement to Volkswagen Vanagon Owner’s Manual.” For more info on operating the water system and sink see, “Using the Westfalia Kitchen Sink.”

Downloads
1980-1985 Vanagon Westfalia Campers: “Supplement to Volkswagen Vanagon Owner’s Manual”
1986-1990 Vanagon Westfalia Campers: “Supplement to Volkswagen Vanagon Owner’s Manual”


Sink Cabinet Cover

Before opening the lid cover, slide the driver’s seat forward to make room.

The left underside of the lid cover has a stainless steel heat shield/drain board. The heat shield can be unsnapped to cover the gas burners. While leaving the sink open for dish washing, the heat shield provides convenient drain board space.

In the Canadian version the heat shield cannot be unsnapped and used as a drainage board.

CAUTION

Do not put the heat shield over and open flame or a hot burner. Never attempt to use the heat shield as a hot plate or grille.

Water Supply

City Water connection

To provide you with the convenience of an ample water supply at campsite, a hose fitting B has been installed in the left side panel of the vehicle.

When city water is not available, you can carry your own supply in the built-in water tank, located in the storage chest between sink cabinet and clothes closet. The water tank can be filled from outside through the lockable filler cap A installed in the left side panel of the vehicle.

Tank capacity is 13.2 US gal. or 50 liters.

Remember that any weight carried affects fuel economy. Consider filling your water tank shortly before you reach the campsite and not at home.

Water pump switch

The electric water pump is immersed inside the water tank. After filling the water tank, and the green indicator light in the control panel comes on, activate the water pump by turning th switch knob on top of the faucet to the left; in direction T (Tank). Turn the knob several times in 10-second intervals to bleed the hose until water runs into the sink.

NOTE: When the city water hose connection has been made, turn the water pump switch knob on top of the faucet in direction C (City).

The water pump and all lights in the control panel can be turned on or off with switch G. The left column indicates how much water is left in the tank. The right light column indicates the condition of the battery explained on page 12.

(C) Green: 13.2-10.5 US gallons (50-40 liters)
(D) Yellow: 10.5-4.0 US gallons (40-15 liters)
(E) Red: 4.0-0.8 US gallons (15-3 liters)

Water Tank Filling

To unlock the filler hose stopper, turn the key clockwise on quarter of a turn and pull stopper out.
To lock the filler hose opening, insert stopper, turn key counter-clockwise one quarter of a turn and remove key.

The water tank vent pipe opening is located above the filler hose stopper.

The protective cover should not be removed, nor must the vent pipe opening be closed off.

Water Drainage

The sink pipe drain extends through the underbody of the vehicle to an opening aft of the left front wheel. The drain pipe opening has a screw-on plastic cap. Remember to remove the cap before using the sink, and always replace the cap securely when the sink is not in use.

Water from the sink drains onto the ground. Therefore, be mindful where you drain the sink water.

The drain plug for the water tank is located under the vehicle in front of the left rear wheel. Always replace the screw-on cap securely after cleaning the water tank.

When danger of frost exists, make sure water is not left in the city water connection. Press screwdriver into the valve opening until water is drained.

Water tank

We recommend you drain the water tank after every trip.

Tilt up storage chest lid.

Unscrew the cover shield and remove the plastic stopper A.

Unscrew the drain plug to empty the tank. Close the drain plug but leave the stopper open to allow the tank to air out. Should there be an odor, flush the tank with a solution of baking soda and water. Rinse the tank thoroughly with clear water and allow it to dry.

Vanagon Westfalia Stove Instructions

NOTE: the following text and photos are excerpted from the 1983 Camper “Supplement to Volkswagen Vanagon Owner’s Manual.” For more info on operating the stove see, “Using the Westfalia Stove.”

Downloads
1980-1985 Vanagon Westfalia Campers: “Supplement to Volkswagen Vanagon Owner’s Manual”
1986-1990 Vanagon Westfalia Campers: “Supplement to Volkswagen Vanagon Owner’s Manual”


Gas Stove

PRACTICE SAFETY AT ALL TIMES!

  • DO NOT USE THE GAS RANGE WHILE DRIVING!
  • Keep combustible materials clear of the lighted burners.
  • The burner orifices have been set by the factory for safe operation. DO NOT CHANGE THEIR SIZE!
  • Keep a lighted match ready when turning on the burners.
  • Keep windows or door open when cooking. Gas flames consume oxygen.
  • Never light the burners to heat the interior of your Camper.
  • Make sure the propane tank is securely fastened in place.
  • Check tank and lines from time to time to be sure they are tight. When testing for leaks, use soapy water. DO NOT USE MATCHES!
  • Do not put the sink cabinet cover over an open flame. Wait til the burners and the cooking rack are cold.
  • After cleaning the stove, make sure to anchor the cooking rack securely in the slots provided.

IN CASE OF FIRE!

The dry chemical fire extinguisher is located behind the passenger seat.

  • Release fire extinguisher from holding bracket.
  • Remove the tape over the white discharge button.
  • Hold the fire extinguisher upright and press the button all the way down.

Aim the spray at the base of the flame. Do not test the fire extinguisher. Partial discharge may cause the contents to leak.

Planning a Road Trip, Part 2: On the Road

“There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it.”
Charles Dudley Warner

In “Planning a Road Trip, Part 1” we explored how to choose your routes, balance your budget, get your ride ready, and other ways to plan your epic trip before you’ve even left the driveway. Here, in Part 2, it’s time to hit the road for your own van-camping road trip adventures!

Get Off the Freeway … and Find the Blue Highways

Travel writer William Least Heat-Moon coined this term in his seminal road-trip novel, “Blue Highways,” to denote those smaller secondary roads and byways which offer so much more than the larger national freeways.

While freeways and Interstate highways are often faster, they also offer seemingly endless monotony and the boring sameness of truck stops, strip malls, and fast food places.

If the whole point of a road trip is to get away from all that, then steer off the beaten path to find the best scenery and small-town charm. Look for scenic routes and byways, often indicated on printed maps by an orange dashed or dotted line (another reason to carry paper maps and road atlases to augment smartphone navigation apps).

Besides, modern freeways are designed for high volume and high speeds, while the Vanagon was made for a slower pace and simpler times. Like life, you’re passing through here only once, so enjoy it!

… But Have an Escape Plan

Back roads can be the spice of any road trip, but sometimes you just need to get somewhere. Fast.

Whenever wandering the back roads, always know roughly where the nearest Interstate highway or freeway is, and keep it in mind like a handrail. If your backcountry route gets rough or the family cranky, use the larger faster motorway to make up for lost time.

Divide Your Labors

Packing for the Road

Like keeping everything in its place (see “Packing for the Road” and “The Routine,”) trips go more smoothly when everyone—including kids—has a few ways of contributing to the cause. Especially in the confined space of a VW camper van, it’s easy to step on the toes of others, so divide your assigned duties between front and rear, or inside and outside.

For example, each morning after breakfast, by the time I’ve stowed the camp chairs, hammock, gray-water bag, and extension cord in the rooftop luggage rack, I find that my partner has put away the dishes and food, packed the sleeping bags and converted the bed to a seat, and is already working out the day’s driving route.

A good road trip is built on good teamwork.

Anticipate Problems, but Keep a Positive Attitude

I don’t know if Lewis & Clark’s expedition boat had a “Sh*t Happens” bumper sticker on it, but they knew enough to hope for the best and expect the occasional trouble. Captain Lewis wrote in his journal: “As I have always held it a crime to anticipate evils, I will believe it a good comfortable road untill I am compelled to beleive differently.”

Delays, bad weather, boredom, discomfort, breakdowns either mechanical and emotional, all can put a damper on an otherwise great trip.

Like keeping the nearest freeway as a mental handrail, always have a Plan B. If a thunderstorm opens up just as you’re heading out on a hike, go to the visitors center or museum instead. If you find Old Faithful crowded with tourists, get ice cream while you wait for front row seats for the next eruption.

If the hot monotony of a long drive across the Great Plains puts the kids (or you) on the verge of a mental collapse, stop early for a nice air-conditioned motel room with a pool and mini-golf.

Your best tool is always flexibility.

Don’t Let the Kids Drive … You Crazy

Kids are perhaps even more reliant on their digital devices than grownups, so if you’re inclined, provide them with games, music and movies (See “Load Your Phone …” in Part 1).

Assign each child his/her own pack to help organize their ‘travel kit’ and personal items.

Photo: BlueGrasser, Samba Member

Dole out periodic snacks, treats, and other rewards for good behavior and to help break up the long hours.

Teach kids to help navigate while en route: “If we’re 200 miles from Glacier National Park, and we’re driving 60 MPH, what time will we arrive? Please provide half-hourly updates.”

The whole point of a road trip is to see new and interesting things, especially valuable for young and growing minds. Encourage the kiddos to put away the phone games and look out the window and tell a story to explain the odd and interesting place names they see along the way.

See “Best Car Games for Kids” for more ideas to banish backseat boredom.

Know When to Pull the Plug

Even with the best laid plans, a good crew, and a flexible schedule, some trips simply cannot be saved. If you’ve had just about enough Wisconsin cheese, the Land of Enchantment is less than enchanting, or the Show Me state hasn’t shown you a darn thing, maybe it’s time to find greener pastures.

Always have some alternative destinations (Plan C) in your back pocket to help salvage a trip gone south.

Worst case, you can always just go home and paint the garage …

Prepare For the Return Trip

If getting to and from your Big Destination involves a couple of days of driving there and back, plan for your return voyage almost as well as your departure.

Restock the snacks and beverages, tidy the van, organize your maps and other travel info, plan some stops, and break the return trip into shorter sections.

Following these few basics of camper-van travel will ensure that you and your crew enjoy a great road trip, and many more for years to come.

Got any Westy road trip advice or tips? Leave a suggestion or question below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Berry-licious Yogurt Parfaits

You can make these easy breakfast parfaits ahead of time at home, then take them on the road in your campervan’s fridge or cooler, or make them in camp!

Ingredients:
(makes two individual servings)

  • Greek yogurt, 1 cup
  • honey, 1/4 cup
  • fresh fruit or berries, 1 cup
  • granola, 1/2 cup

Directions:

In two 16-ounce glass Mason jars or similar sealable serving containers, add 1/2 cup Greek yogurt to each jar, followed by a drizzle of honey, and a layer of your favorite fresh fruit or berries. Top with a handful of granola (the fruit will help keep the granola high and dry so it doesn’t get soggy). Be sure to leave a bit of headroom in the jars, so whenever you decide to enjoy your parfait, you have space to mix it all up first!


Planning a Road Trip, Part 1: Before You Go

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money”.
Susan Heller

The Epic Road Trip holds a special place in our collective psyche, combining the exploration of new places with a desire for the sights and sounds of bygone eras, and an eagerness to broaden our minds with expansive scenic vistas unfolding before our eyes.

There are many ways to embark upon such a journey of discovery, but traveling by Westfalia Camper is in our opinion the best mode of transport, with the great visibility offered by its sweeping windshield, excellent fuel economy, compact footprint in city or forest, and full-featured kitchenette and sleeping facilities.

When uninitiated road trippers ask why we don’t just fly someplace and rent a car, we smile at one another and recall all the desert sunrises, sweeping mountain views, seaside lunches while a passing rainstorm patters on the roof, campfires serenaded by coyotes, and countless other vivid immersive experiences we’ve enjoyed over the years while travelling in our Vanagon Westfalia.

But it can also be daunting, especially the first time.

So, here’s Part 1, a quick guide to planning your own van-camping road trip adventures! In Part 2 we explore some ways to manage your trip once you hit the open road for your own Westfalia adventures!

Have a Rough Plan … But Keep It Loose

Unless you’re playing a game of “Spin the Bottle on the Road Atlas,” you probably already have some idea where you want to go, and how much time you have. Sketch that out in more detail by making a list of highlights you simply must see (natural wonders, museums, historical sites, etc.), and how much time to devote to each one.

Further refine your plan by adding any secondary places you’d like to visit, and how long to get there and back.

Then, be prepared to adapt as needed. You never know when an intriguing road sign or a chance encounter in a small-town diner will lead you on a detour to something amazing. So save a seat for serendipity.

Plan Your Route and Stops Before You Leave

Working from your rough plan above, mark out each location or site on a big map. You may prefer old-school paper maps, GoogleMaps custom routes, or specialized navigation apps. Either way, quickly plotting your trip’s highlights like this will help you connect the dots and plan the perfect driving route.

Everyone has a different tolerance or preference for how many miles or hours to spend on the road, so break your route into manageable driving days. For each intended nightly stop, keep a short list of suitable campgrounds or motels so that you don’t have to look for them in the dark when you arrive. In fact, I do this for each half-day, so that if we decide to push on for an extra few hours of driving or we find ourselves delayed for some reason, we have a couple of easy alternatives.

While we like to plan ahead as much as possible, we generally feel cramped by making reservations. Taking campsites or lodging as we discover it, or “freestyling,” allows us the ultimate in flexibility, and we can linger or jump ahead as we wish. Of course, this can be a tricky thing in popular places or during peak vacation season (a good reason to travel in the early spring or late autumn).

So freestyle wisely.

Have a Firm Budget … but Keep It Flexible

Like your destination and schedule, you likely have a good ballpark figure of how much money you’re prepared to spend on this trip. Confirm your numbers by adding up each day’s estimated costs for fuel, food, lodging or camping, and admission fees. Do these numbers jive with your budget, or will you need to make some adjustments?

As with most things in life, you should leave some room in your budget for unexpected expenses, and set aside a cash cushion in case things cost more than you estimated. As always, it’s especially smart now to have your credit card balances paid down so that you can use them for any large unforeseen trip costs.

At the same time, you should also look for ways to streamline your spending. This will help cover those sudden costs should they arise, or keep extra cash in your pocket if they don’t. Maybe you’ll decide to scrimp on one part of your spending in order to splurge on another: on a recent road trip to Nova Scotia, I boiled oodles of ramen noodles and dehydrated flavored rice along the way, then indulged in lots of fresh Atlantic seafood once we arrived on the coast.

Make Sure Your Ride is Ready

Mechanical dependability is important whether your family vehicle is five years old or thirty-five. And it’s especially crucial when your ride is also your home.

Proper ongoing maintenance should help avoid most problems, but use the months and weeks leading up to your trip to attend to any other larger mechanical work. Inspect all the major vehicle systems, especially safety parts like brakes, tires, engine and drivetrain, cooling system, etc.. But avoid the common mistake of performing major repairs immediately before leaving on your trip; instead, make these repairs far enough in advance to allow a couple weeks of ‘shakedown’ driving around town to work out any bugs.

Whether you typically take your van to a trusted mechanic or do all repairs yourself, the more you know about your vehicle the more independent you can be if problems arise on the road far from home. Learn as much as you can about your van, carry a couple of good workshop manuals, and an assortment of tools and hard-to-find parts for emergencies.

Join a Roadside Assistance Program

Even with the best of preventative maintenance and MacGyver-like repair skills, sometimes you just need a gallon of fuel. Or a jump start. Or a constant-velocity drive axle …

American Auto Association (AAA), Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), or other roadside assistance benefits typically include coverage for lost keys, emergency travel and medical assistance, towing up to 200 miles, and more. Plans are usually very affordable and can really save your vacation in case of mechanical troubles while traveling.

Whether you realize it or not, simply traveling by VW van also makes you a member of a large and supportive ‘family’ of other enthusiasts who understand the joys and challenges of this unique mode of transport. Many of these devotees can be found on the new VanAlert roadside assistance directory. Based on your location, the app provides the contact info of the nearest VW repair shop or owner-volunteers, who may be able to fix your sticky air flow meter, bring you a spare electronic control unit, or otherwise help put you back on the road.

Keep Your Documents Handy

When something does happen—a speeding ticket, a breakdown, or worse—you’ll probably be a little rattled. Like I was last fall when a ten-pound turkey suddenly flew up and shattered our Vanagon’s new windshield and showered me with tiny glass shards at highway speed.

In such situations, it’s good to have all your important papers (or in my case, two rolls of duct tape) in one easy-to-find place:

  • Photocopies of your Driver’s Licenses
  • Vehicle Registration
  • Insurance cards from your agent
  • AAA or CAA membership cards
  • Any special medical notes, etc.

NOTE: Car thieves have been known to obtain your home address from these papers and use the information to ransack your house while you’re away, so hide them well. We keep ours in a bright orange envelope hidden away someplace easy to retrieve.

Load Your Phone with Navigation and Entertainment Apps

I love a good road atlas, gazetteer, or foldout map, but increasingly we rely on modern travel aids.

Navigation and travel apps help you find destinations and the routes to get there, or even to make reservations while you’re still en route. Fuel-finder apps point to the nearest or cheapest fuel stations, and apps like Kampnik help you choose recommended campgrounds.

Here are more navigation and travel apps for your mobile device to help you find campsites, points of interest, and the routes to get there, or even to make reservations while you’re still en route.

Music from your personal collections or from mobile streaming services like Sirius, Spotify or Pandora, or games and other entertainment apps all help pass the time.

And don’t forget the above mentioned VanAlert app, which in addition to volunteer roadside assistance also offers member-recommended camping spots, repair shops, and more.

Pack Your Van Like a Road Warrior

Living in a confined space like a VW van for any period of time can be maddening without some organization and self discipline.

As a simple rule, pack lean and mean, set aside a place for everything and keep everything in its place. This prevents feelings of disorganization and chaos, and helps you quickly find what you’re looking for when you need it.

Everyone has their own style, but you’ll find that the longer you’re on the road and the more you use your van, the stronger your routine becomes.

Clean Your Van Before and During Your Trip

Hopefully, you cleaned your van well after your last trip, but perhaps it has gotten a bit untidy since then, so start this trip fresh. Beginning with a clean van will inspire you and your fellow travelers to help keep it clean and organized.

Remove all unnecessary stuff, repack and organize your camping gear, vacuum the interior, and wash and wax the exterior. Clean the glass to improve safety and to offer the best scenic views.

It’s a good idea to periodically reorganize and clean the interior while traveling, too. A small whisk broom is usually enough to clean out the usual campground pine needles or beach sand. For really big messes or for extended trips, find a local coin-op vacuum at a gas station or self-service car wash.

A tidy home on wheels can inspire freshness while on a long, hot trip. A dirty van is a sad van.

Following these few simple principles of planning will prepare you and your van for a great road trip.

In “Planning a Road Trip, Part 2” we explore some ways to manage your trip once you hit the open road for your own Westfalia adventures!

Also, check out “Packing for the Road” and “The Routine”.

Got any Westy road trip advice or tips? Leave a suggestion or question below, and use the social links to share with friends!

Winter Van Camping

Tips and advice for staying warm while van-camping

Photo: highsierra, Samba member

Photo: highsierra, Samba member

Most camper vans are put away during the colder months. But we’ve found winter to be a great time for a weekend getaway, with none of the crowds, bugs, or excessive heat of summer.

Off-season camping means you usually have your choice of campsites, too. In fact, we often find ourselves the only residents of the campground!

And winter can be a spectacularly beautiful time to see the great outdoors in a whole new light.

Here are some tips and advice for staying toasty during your own winter van-camping ventures.

Prepare your Van

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  • Before embarking on winter camping forays, make sure your Vanagon’s heating and ventilation system is in good working order. Check that the front and rear heater cores are flowing correctly, and are not plugged with mineral deposits, etc.. Ensure that the heater-control valves are functioning well, and the front forced-air flaps are sealing properly to prevent the entry of cold air.
  • Use a winter-grade motor oil as specified in your Owners Manual for the temperature range you plan to drive in: 10W-40 for -5 to 50F (-20 to 10C)
  • Make sure that your coolant mixture offers the correct freeze protection for ambient temperatures. Use a simple tester to ensure you have the correct blend of water and anti-freeze.
Photo: vanis13, Samba member

Photo: vanis13, Samba member

  • Check that your tires are in good condition, with adequate tread. For better traction in snow and ice, you can also deflate your tires to the lower end of your safe load range.
  • Use an antifreeze fuel additive suitable for your specific type of fuel (gasoline or diesel) to prevent fuel gelling or freezing.
  • A winter road kit can help get you out of a snowy jam: jumper cables, tire cables or chains, a small snow shovel, extra fuel, a blanket and additional winter clothing, etc..


While Driving

  • A set of cushy seat covers can help keep your bum warm on long cold drives.
  • Take occasional breaks to warm up; pause during fuel stops at convenience stores to warm up with a cuppa coffee or hot cocoa for the road.
  • When driving in especially cold weather, wear additional comfortable winter clothing if necessary: gloves, hats, heavier socks. These are easy to add or remove as needed.
  • Breakdowns are always an inconvenience, but can be especially dangerous in cold or snowy winter weather. Always keep good winter clothing close at hand, as well as some food, water, any crucial medications, etc..

While Camped

  • Photo: mpabegg, Samba Member

    Photo: mpabegg, Samba Member

    Choose a campsite that offers good protection from winter winds. Pine forests generally offer more wind protection than leafless deciduous trees.

  • A site with eastern exposure will allow the morning sun to help warm your van. If at all possible, avoid raising your Westfalia popup roof, to conserve heat, but if you must, orient the rear of your Vanagon into the prevailing wind to reduce your heat loss.
  • Perhaps the single best way to stay warm while camped is some sort of a space heater. Of course, there are several types available: electric (110-volt), small portable LP (liquid propane) heaters intended for camping, and permanently installed RV furnaces fueled by LP or diesel.
  • Be sure to utilize a small battery-operated household carbon-monoxide detector whenever using a fueled space heater, to prevent CO poisoning.
  • If 110-volt AC campsite shore power is available, an electric blanket can be a great way to stay toasty while sleeping or lounging in your camper.
  • If you have one installed, use an engine block heater to help with starting on especially cold mornings; be sure you carry an extension cord and choose a campsite with a power source.
  • As when driving, warm winter clothing can help take the chill off when camped. Common synthetic outdoors gear (pullovers, caps, gloves, socks, etc.) is all you’ll need.
  • Add a thermal-fleece liner to your three-season sleeping bag for additional winter warmth.

camper-van-window-insulation-set

  • Put some hot water in an uninsulated camping water bottle and stow it at the bottom your sleeping bag, to keep your feet warm through the cold night.
  • The shorter daylight hours of winter mean more time spent lounging in your van, so bring plenty of games, books, and digital entertainment.
  • In the morning, bring your daytime clothing inside your sleeping bag with you to warm it up for several minutes, to avoid putting on icy clothes.
  • Add a set of thermal covers to your van’s windows to help retain heat. This series of infrared photos provides some valuable insights into areas of heat loss in a Vanagon Westfalia, and offers some tips on insulating your own camper.
  • If you ever need to remove your van’s interior panels or cabinets for other work, take the opportunity to add more insulation wherever you can.


Following these tips will keep Jack Frost from nipping at your nose while winter camping in your van, and help you enjoy a safe and unique camping experience.

Have any tips for your fellow winter van-campers? Leave a suggestion or question below, and use the social links to share with friends!