Camp Westfalia

Archive for Planning

Essential Apps for Van-Travel

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

Here are some of the Camp Westfalia crew’s favorites …



Among all the other great features of VanAlert is a directory of user-submitted favorite camping spots to help you find a place to call home for the night. You can even find other VW Vanagon/Bus owners who have volunteered the temporary use of their driveway for short stays while traveling.


Kampnik is built on the venerable database of more than 13,000 campgrounds in the United States and Canada with a focus on public car-accessible campgrounds whose existence and location has been verified by a human. With Kampnik, you can find public campgrounds in National Parks, National Forests, Provincial Parks, State Parks, City and County Parks, and more on federal, state, provincial, and local lands. From beaches to mountains and rivers to deserts, Kampnik will help you find campgrounds for the places you want to go.


iOverlander is a free site (and phone apps) created to help overlanders on the road find their next destination. Please help us make this site great by updating our information and adding places you have been.


The number one camping app for iPhone, iPads and iPods. From resorts to hike-in spots. Amenities, maps, truck stops, rest areas, Wal-mart and casino parking, RV dealers, sporting goods stores and much more. Two modes: one uses GPS and maps that you can filter. One is an offline manual lookup mode for when you don’t have service.


Plan your next adventure using the WikiCamps Trip Planner. Create unlimited trips, add multiple locations, notes, and custom map pins. The ultimate camping companion for your smart phone, tablet and Windows 10 PC. USA’s largest database of campgrounds, RV parks, backpacker hostels, points of interest, dump stations, visitor information centers, water taps, toilets, showers, and more.

KOA (Kampgrounds of America)

Search KOA’s huge selection of campgrounds to find your perfect fit. Search by city, state or attractions. Or find a nearby KOA campground based on your current location. Get detailed campground descriptions, hot deals, driving directions, as well as descriptions of local attractions and local and campground activities.


Enter where you want to start and finish your road trip, and then discover the coolest “off the beaten path” places along the way. Our database includes millions of the world’s most fascinating places, making planning the unexpected easier than you thought. Road trip planning can be tedious… and what do you get from it? Most of what you find online will funnel you into the same places, filled with other travelers. It can feel like you need a local guide to get an authentic experience on your trip, but Roadtrippers helps you escape the tourist bubble and find the coolest stops.

Ultimate Campgrounds

Thousands and thousands of public camping sites across the US and Canada – free, dispersed and formal campsites

Freecampsites is the primary source for information on free campgrounds and boondocking locations. We believe that free camping sites are often the most beautiful and peaceful camp sites. There are many free camp sites, but they can be difficult to locate. Here, we provide a simple, map-based search engine for free and cheap camping locations. It is also a platform for sharing locations you have discovered with others.


Book unique camping experiences on over 300,000 campsites, cabins, RV parks, public parks and more. Hipcamp is everywhere you want to camp. Search, discover and book ranches, farms, vineyards, nature preserves & public sites for camping across the U.S.
From public parks to private land, we’re the most comprehensive guide to camping in the nation.


Perhaps the most wide ranging of all the camping apps, Park4Night helps you find camping and parking spots from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Search user-submitted parking & camping spots on your smartphone or car GPS unit, enjoy your camp, then leave your new comments or updates for future travelers.

One intrepid Camp Westfalia reader reports having wild camped all over Europe using this app.



Waze helps riders and drivers get where they’re going—faster, smoother, safer, and happier—while working to beat traffic. Traffic starts with us, but it can end with us, too. Waze develops practical solutions that empower people to make better choices, from taking the fastest route, to leaving at the right time, to sharing daily commutes.


Over the last 15 years, GasBuddy has saved users over $2.9 billion dollars. Download our easy-to-use app to start saving at the pump, complete fun challenges and win free gas today


Chimani is the leading national park mobile app. Our intuitive app draws on the power of GPS-enabled interactive mapping technology to guide your national park adventures. Chimani’s national park guides include descriptions of points of interest, trails, amenities, and more. “No service” when you’re out in the wilderness? No problem. Chimani’s app works with or without WiFi or data signal. Chimani’s app is free to download from the Apple Appstore and Google Play.

Dark Sky

Dark Sky is the most accurate source of hyperlocal weather information. With down-to-the-minute forecasts, you’ll know exactly when the rain will start or stop, right where you’re standing. It’s almost like magic.
Powered by our own homegrown weather service, Dark Sky is the best source of accurate weather forecasts to help you plan your life.

Star Walk

Star Walk 2 is an exquisite stargazing tool that combines astronomical data with premium technology to deliver an effortless journey through thousands of stars, comets, and constellations. All you have to do is point your phone or tablet at the sky.

What’s Your Van Plan for This Year?

The New Year is a great time for a fresh start.

Never mind the resolutions to spend more time at the gym and less time watching cat videos (we both know that’s not gonna happen). The real question is, what are your plans to get your campervan in tip top shape, and enjoy some great traveling this year?

Most vans (and van owners) are inactive this time of year, so now’s your chance to set some goals, make some plans, and resolve to make this year even better than last.


Some aspects of traveling and camping in a decades-old camper van are necessarily mechanical, and require ongoing maintenance. Reliability is of the utmost importance, especially if you want to avoid breakdowns while far from home. Regardless whether you hire out your van’s mechanical work, or turn the wrenches yourself, here are some items to ensure are in top form.

Fuel Lines

The VW Bus and Vanagon Transporters certainly have their quirks, but the fuel system is perhaps the most potentially dangerous and deadly. Too many vans have been lost to fire due to neglected fuel systems. Old and brittle plastic connectors, rusty clamps, and rubber hoses deteriorated by modern ethanol-laced gasoline can all cause leaks. Gasoline injected into a hot engine compartment is a recipe for disaster for you and your family.

So, if you don’t know when these parts were last replaced, inspect and replace them before embarking on summer road trips. Use fuel line rated for use with ethanol fuels, and the correct pressure rating for your electronic fuel injection system, with quality fuel injection clamps. Here’s a good write-up >

The Big List

Most Vanagon owners keep a running to-do list of needed mechanical repairs, fixes, and other maintenance. These often get lost in the heady days of summer when the highway and the forest call, so start working on those procrastinated loose ends now when you have no impending trips.

If you have not been religious in your maintenance, or the van is new to you and of unknown provenance, a good place to start is the 15k, 30k, and 90k-mile maintenance items on the lists found in the back pages of the Bentley manual. Just start at the top and begin working your way down. You won’t get it all done in one day, of course, but in pretty short order you’ll be able to inspect, adjust, or replace everything needed to get your ride ready.

These will include the following, and a whole lot more:

  • Fluids: oil, coolant, brake and clutch, windshield washer
  • Filters: oil, fuel, air
  • Belts & hoses
  • Lights: all interior & exterior
  • Wires: battery, starter, alternator, grounds, etc.
  • Battery: clean, inspect, charge, and test
  • Tires: inspect for wear and cracks, rotate, treat with UV protectant
  • Jack: factory jack or aftermarket, plywood support plate for use on rough ground

Record everything you do in a simple logbook, with date, mileage, and any notes, so that you can look back later for reference. Once you’ve got caught up on all this delayed maintenance, it will be a simple matter to keep up on the recommended intervals.

Outfit for Travel

If you’ll be spending a lot of time driving and living in your campervan, you’ll want to make it as comfortable as possible for you and your companions. Organize the cab, kitchen, and other living areas so you’re always ready to roll!

  • Charging jacks & cords: USB, phone, cameras, etc.
  • Maps, gazetteers, guidebooks
  • Logbook to track fuel & oil usage
  • Beverage bottles & travel mugs
  • Kitchen kit: all pots & pans, plates, utensils, containers
  • Food staples: your favorite non- or semi-perishable pastas, rice, spices, canned goods. Store in hard plastic containers to prevent spoilage and pests.
  • Bedding: sleeping bags, blankets, pillows
  • Heaters (electric or LP), cooling fans
  • Emergency tools & parts, fire extinguisher
  • Vehicle Recovery & Extraction: folding shovel, 12-volt air compressor, traction boards or tire chains, recovery & tow straps

Check & Test all Camping Equipment:

Other Activities

Sometimes the campervan is the means to another end—biking, hiking, paddling, skiing, fishing, etc.. Make sure your other equipment is ready for the season:

  • Roof or trunk racks, cargo boxes
  • Trekking poles
  • Binoculars
  • Gear bags or boxes

Travel Plans

The entire purpose of all this preparation is going places! Now, in the doldrums of winter, is a great time to start thinking about sunnier days and destinations close and far. In fact, poring over maps and planning a getaway is often the only thing that gets me through a dreary winter.

You and your travel mates no doubt already have some destination ideas, what season to go, and what sights and other activities to take in. How long will it take you to get there and back? How long to stay in each place?

One you’ve discussed and have a rough idea, start collecting info to make your goal a reality:

  • Travel guide websites
  • Maps, gazetteers, guidebooks
  • Relevant apps for navigation, finding attractions and sites, camping, etc.

Shakedown Cruises

Once you’ve attended to most of the points above, start taking your campervan on short trips close to home, then progressively longer and longer trips. This will give you opportunities to inspect your work, and to ensure your van is up to all those big miles and long days you have planned.

Traveling and camping in a vintage campervan, whether close to home or far afield, should bring plenty of adventures. But not mechanical misadventures. Once you’re reasonably confident in the reliability and comfort of your ride, hit the road!

Making the Most of Stay-at-Home Orders, for Van-Campers

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have chosen to self-quarantine in our homes for the next several weeks. Cancelled trip plans, indefinite isolation, travel restrictions, Spring fever, and information overload can all be a recipe for anxiety and boredom.

We are van-campers, damn it! We are not homebodies, and we crave the hills, forests, seashores, and deserts!

Still, few are perhaps as well suited to such home confinement as those of us who travel and live for weeks on end in a rectangular steel box barely larger than the Eagle lunar lander. We can do this!

Here are a few ideas to help you maintain and improve yourself, your home, and your Vanagon!

First, Protect Yourself

Just as the airline flight attendants explain, in case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, first don your OWN oxygen mask, before attempting to assist others with theirs. Making sure you’ve got oxygen first is crucial if you want to be alert enough to help others.

The same is true while living under the COVID-19 health crisis; keep yourself healthy and sane so you can assist those around you.

Care for Family & Neighbors

Current health protocols suggest that, unless a member of your household is exhibiting early symptoms, or you have reason to believe someone has recently introduced the virus into your home, you can live your life as usual while under Stay-at-Home orders. So, you don’t need to practice ‘safe-distancing’ with healthy household members.

Feed and clothe your kids, enjoy meals with your partner, watch movies and play games with the whole fam together.

But beyond that, check in with neighbors or relatives near and far, especially the elderly or those who live alone (from a safe distance, of course). Ask if they need anything: food, medications, their dog walked, the trash bins taken out to the street, etc..

Use phone, email, or neighbor-to-neighbor online communities to communicate and coordinate with others to ensure that everyone in your area is getting the support they need.

Care for Your Home

A lot of people are using time confined at home to … take care of the home!

Clean the basement or garage, rake the lawn, weed the garden, clean the gutters (well, maybe that one can be procrastinated a little longer). But do be extra careful when doing these neglected household projects: an urgent-care physician friend recently reminded me that slicing your foot open with the lawn mower is always bad; but doing so now, when ER staff are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, is an especially dumb idea. They don’t want you now, and you don’t want to be there!

You might also consider preparing a room in your home in case someone does get sick. Ideally, plan to set aside a separate room with a bed or couch, preferably with it’s own attached bathroom, where a household member could rest and recuperate in isolation from other family.

In advance, collect some supplies to help care for any ill family members:

  • Extra bedsheets & blankets
  • Gatorade, juices, or other fluids for proper hydration
  • Acetaminophen fever reducers
  • Over-the-counter medicines may help with other symptoms
  • Digital thermometer to monitor fever
  • Room humidifier to help ease a sore throat and cough

More information on caring for a sick household member:

Use the Internet

Unlike previous epidemics requiring social isolation, we now have far more ways to keep in contact.

Phone calling & text messaging, social media, email, video chat, and a plethora of apps now allow us to easily communicate with friends and strangers around the globe. Please use them, to take care of loved ones near and far, to educate and entertain yourself, and to share your thoughts and plans.

We’re all stronger when we stick together, even when we’re apart.

Preserve Our Economy

The other crucial front on which we must fight this threat is the broader economy.

For better or worse, most every citizen of the world is an active participant in some way of the wider financial world, and this pandemic has thrown it right off the rails. To put it back on track will require the efforts of everyone doing what they can.

To the extent that you can, support local small businesses, especially those most impacted by this pandemic:

  • restaurants, bars & pubs
  • brick-and-mortar retailers
  • providers of goods or services with elastic demand that are not seen as necessities

Consider ‘buying it forward’ by purchasing online gift cards from those businesses that you care about and want to help preserve. Think of it as an investment in a vibrant and thriving future economy, populated by the kind of businesses you believe benefit your community.

Of particular interest to those of us who love old Vanagons & Transporters, please consider ordering parts and supplies from your favorite Vanagon vendors, local or distant. Most of these are surprisingly small businesses, serving a narrow specialty niche that can be especially hard hit by larger economic contractions. Help keep them afloat by ordering Vanagon parts for your next big project, or just stock up on consumables you know you’ll be needing in the future anyway: filters, belts, brake shoes & pads, etc.. Your support now may help determine whether they are still able to serve you tomorrow.

Organize Your Stuff

A bit of down time at home is a good opportunity to clean and organize your camping gear, tools and parts, workshop area, etc.

But don’t stop there; if you continue cleaning out the garage of all that old scrap wood, leaky garden hoses, and that treadmill you never use anymore, you just might be able to fit the car or van in there again!

Start Planning Your Road Trips

Eventually, we’ll be able to ‘flatten the curve,’ travel restrictions will be eased, and we’ll all head screaming for the wide open spaces. Start working out some possible destinations and time frames, camping spots, and sights to see along the way.

Planning a Road Trip

Or, get inspired, get educated, and get handy with a good travel or Vanagon book:

Your Van Plan

As the weather improves, take the time to start working out any big mechanical repairs or upgrades you’ve been putting off. Organize your work space, collect the tools and parts, and start getting your van ready to go!

What’s Your Van Plan?

Get Cooking

Now, while you’re stuck at home all day and eating in, is a great time to try out some new camping recipes.

Experimentation is always best done on familiar ground, like your home kitchen, where you have a pantry full of backup options. So, find some new recipes (or create your own) that might be easily made in the campervan and practice them at home.

Get Out

If conditions and local health officials allow, get outside.

Rake the lawn, trim the hedge, walk the dog, ride the bike, work on the van, but go outside. The sunshine, the fresh air, the wave from your neighbor, all contribute to a healthier and happier you.

We Can Do This

Together, we can “flatten the curve” and begin to resume our lives.

Remember to reach out to friends and family for help and support when needed, and make the most of your time at home.

Watch for an upcoming article on proper and safe hygiene while traveling and camping. And stay in touch with Camp Westfalia on Facebook, or get Crosswinds, the free newsletter!


World Health Organization, Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Government of Canada, Public Health, Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Camp Westfalia Book Shelf

Travel Aids

Vanagon travellers tend to wander off the beaten path, and these old-school travel guides will help you find your way, enjoy the scenic drive, and discover a sweet campsite, even when you’re off the grid.


If a good map or atlas helps you with the ‘how and where’ of a road trip, these epic travelogues will inspire you to find your own ‘why.’

Workshop Manuals

Though few modern cars are as easy to work on as the Vanagon / Transporter, these workshop manuals will not only help you be a better partner to your Vanagon, but also to reclaim the lost art of self-reliance and independence.

Tips for a Successful Camper Van Adventure with Your Dog

From New York to Australia, from the United Kingdom to the Lower Lake Michigan Basin, our planet offers a plethora of opportunities for sightseeing, hiking, biking, camping, and seeing the world from a camper van. If your adventure will last more than an afternoon, you may be thinking about bringing along your trusty sidekick; your dog is sure to love the fresh air and new smells galore.

Activities like camper van travel, camping, and hiking allow you to enjoy some quality time together in the great outdoors. As an added bonus, you won’t have to worry about your pup being lonesome at home or whether the pet sitter remembered his nightly belly scratches. Before you pack up your gear, check out this infographic for helpful preparation tips.

Spending some time together in nature is a great way for you to bond with your dog. And activities like camper van travel with your pet can be quite rewarding. According to blogger Kait Russo, who loves RVing with her dog so much that she now does it full-time, the first and possibly most important consideration is making sure you have the right camper van or RV. If you’re purchasing, make sure you invest in one that’s big and comfortable enough to sleep yourself, your four-legged friend, and anyone else tagging along. Do yourself a favor and look for a used camper van to help save money (and even ensure your camper van has a a little character). If you decide to rent or hire a vehicle, make sure it’s dog-friendly. Speaking of dog-friendly, you should also contact any potential RV parks or campgrounds to make sure you’re allowed to bring Fido with you – and double-check whether there are any pet fees.

Although traveling with a dog requires a little more planning and logistics, it’s well worth it in the end. Now that you’ve got an idea of what you need in order to be prepared, you can leash up and head out into the great outdoors. In addition to breaking up the monotony of your daily routine, you’ll make memories that you’ll cherish for a lifetime.

What are you waiting for? Your outdoor adventure awaits!

Aurora James, editor of

Additional Resources:

Health & Preparation

What do I need to know about taking my dog camping?
What if my dog sustains an injury on our trip?
How do I check for ticks on my pet?
Heatstroke and my pup: what do I need to know?
How do I locate dog-friendly campsites?
What are the potential camping-related dangers for my dog?

Travel Gear & Equipment:

What should I pack for my dog?
What should I put in my dog’s first aid kit?
Is a collar or harness best for my dog during our camping trip?

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!

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!

The Routine

One of the greatest attributes of the Westfalia Camper is just how quickly and easily it is readied for a camping trip, and how adeptly it makes and breaks camp.

We generally keep our permanent camping equipment (pots & pans, kitchenware, extension cord, water hose, etc.) packed in the Westy, so an impromptu weekend jaunt often requires little more than chucking in our duffel bags of clothes, stowing a bagful of groceries in the kitchenette cabinets, and picking up a couple of cold six-packs on the way out of town.

Here’s a simple routine for hitting the road and getting home.

Vanagon-Westfalia-water-tank-fillerPre-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
  • Fill onboard water supply tank (13.2 US gals)
  • Pre-chill refrigerator overnight on 120V AC shore power; add cold beverages to provide thermal mass
  • Load any unrefrigerated foods, luggage, and other camping equipment

Hitting the Road, the day of departure

  • Load any last-minute items
  • Load any remaining cold food into pre-chilled refrigerator
  • Disconnect refrigerator from 120V AC shore power, switch to 12V DC or LP for driving

Arrive in camp:

  • Park van using parking brake and, if necessary, RV levelers
  • Extend popup roof if desired
  • Open main shutoff valve on LP tank to use refrigerator and/or stove. To use LP to operate refrigerator, 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; connect any electrical accessories to camper’s internal power outlet
  • To use City water, connect campsite water supply to camper hookup using supply hose; alternatively, use onboard water supply tank
  • Connect a portable gray-water container to external sink drain outlet to collect kitchenette waste water
  • For mealtimes, swivel front seats and deploy dining table
  • Before bedtime, stow dining table and convert upper and/or lower bunks for sleeping

Breaking camp

  • Fold upper and/or lower bunks for driving
  • Empty portable gray-water container into campground gray-water dump station or toilet if allowed
  • Disconnect 120V AC shore power and water hookups
  • Close main shutoff valve on LP tank, switch refrigerator to 12V DC or LP for driving
  • Retract popup roof
  • Remove RV levelers and hit the road

Post-Trip Cleanup

  • Drain onboard water supply tank
  • Turn refrigerator off, remove remaining food and wipe clean; to prevent stale odors during long-term storage, prop door open, or slide door upwards from hinges to remove entirely between trips.
  • Unload any other foods, luggage, and camping equipment
  • Extend popup roof for a day or so to allow canvas and upholstery to thoroughly dry

What do you think? Leave a question or comment below, and use the social links to share with friends!