Tips and advice for keeping yourself, your children, pets, and other companions cool while travelling
The summer travelling season is upon us, and we’ll all be putting on some miles in our camper vans. For many of us, road-tripping is the best part of owning a VW Westfalia!
Every VW Vanagon or Bus owner knows how cool it is; you can tell by all the waves, thumbs-up, and friendly honks you get! But the simple challenge of travelling and living in a confined space for a week or two at peak heat season, combined with a few inherent design characteristics of the Vanagon, can get you hot under the collar.
The Vanagon’s large untinted windows offer panoramic scenic views, but can also collect a lot of solar energy, and these campers come from a bygone era before automotive air conditioning was ubiquitous. The engine’s in the back, with the radiator just a few inches ahead of your Birkenstocks, which can lead to a condition known as Vanagon Hot Foot Syndrome. Not as bad as Athlete’s Foot, perhaps, but almost as uncomfortable … So, we’ll offer some suggestions specific to the Vanagon.
These recommendations for staying comfortable while driving or camped are grouped into easy, basic habits you can adopt, affordable products you can purchase, and helpful modifications you can make to your Vanagon, listed in order of ease, practicality, and cost.
Behavior — Things you can change about you
- Beat the heat. Start driving earlier in the day to take advantage of cooler temperatures, and pull off when the day begins to heat up. Rack up some bonus miles by resuming your drive in the late afternoon or evening when things cool off a bit.
- Take a break. Occasionally get off the hot highway and step into a restaurant, retail store, museum, or other air-conditioned refuge to cool off and stretch your legs. Such breaks are especially important for the comfort and health of children and pets.
- Laugh it up. In the summer heat, as passengers become fatigued, uncomfortable, and irritated, things can heat up in the Vanagon too. Keep your sense of humor and maintain a positive attitude, especially in regards to your travelling companions.
- Catch a breeze. Choose a campsite in an open clearing or near a lake to take advantage of cooler breezes.
- Get some shade. Find a spot in the shadow of trees, and park your Vanagon with the rear oriented toward the afternoon sun to benefit from the protective shade of the popup roof.
Van & Accessories — Features & products to help you stay cool
- Dress appropriately. Lighter summer wear like shorts and T-shirts are obvious choices, but wicking synthetics made for sports and fitness will help shed the heat. A “Cooling Towel” worn around your neck will help cool your shoulders and upper torso. Or for a classic hippie vibe, wear a wetted bandanna to chill out, man.
- Wing windows, the original air-conditioner. Along with full-size spare tires, manual transmissions, and ashtrays, most modern cars no longer offer wing windows, those small triangular moveable sections of glass near the side mirrors. Thankfully, your Vanagon still has these hot-weather lifesavers, and they can really help keep a breeze going while travelling.
- During one of the above-mentioned restaurant breaks, get a large insulated cup of ice water or other cold beverage for the road. This will not only help lower your body temperature but also keep you properly hydrated (avoid caffeinated drinks, which can dehydrate you).
- Spritz yourself (or your travelling mates!) with cool water from a spray bottle to aid in evaporative cooling.
- Toss a Coolmax or microfiber towel over your seats to help wick moisture and perspiration away
- Circulate air in the cab or passenger area of your Vanagon using 12-volt DC fans, ranging from the simple dashboard variety to more permanent versions.
- Your Uber driver may enjoy his swanky wooden-beaded seat cover, but you can do better than that; consider a ventilated seat cover with integrated 12-volt DC fan which forces air from near the floor through internal channels to keep your bum and back cool.
- Children or pets will appreciate a little extra ventilation, too; use The Noggle to extend fresh air to the rear passenger area or anywhere else you need it.
The Van — Things you can change about your van
- Wind deflectors. These accessories are easily installed and besides allowing more fresh air (even in the rain or when parked), also reduce wind noise.
- Combat Vanagon Hot Foot Syndrome. Keep hot air from the radiator out of the cab by replacing your old and faulty heater control valve and/or adding an auxiliary shutoff valve in the heater hose circuit. Reseal the small exterior accelerator-pedal housing, and install foil-faced insulation on the firewall behind the radiator.
- Rear window vents. Vanagons built after 1988 featured additional vents in the rearmost side windows, to aid in drawing stuffy air from the interior. Though no small task, these windows and vents can be installed in your early-model Vanagon for better flow-through ventilation.
- Once you’ve reached your campsite for the afternoon, draw the curtains on the sunny side of the van to prevent solar gain, or install reflective foil automotive sun shades.
- Purchase or make your own front window screens to allow a cross-breeze while keeping bugs out.
- Build your own portable camping evaporative air conditioner. Sometimes known as a ‘swamp cooler,’ these work best when camped in hot, dry environments.
- Install a 12-volt thermostat-controlled ceiling vent fan in your Westfalia popup roof to help draw warm air out.
- Some inventive Westfalia owners even carry compact 120-volt home air conditioner units for use in campsites offering electrical hookups. This will require a custom panel to mount the unit in your front window, or a shroud attached with Velcro to your Westfalia tent.