Camp Westfalia

Archive for Travelling

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!

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?

Product Review: TOPDC 100PSI Double-Cylinder Portable Air Compressor

A lightweight, compact 12-volt air compressor for refilling tires and other inflatable equipment

Camp Westfalia was provided with a product sample at no cost in return for an authentic review of this product. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of Camp Westfalia, and are not otherwise influenced by the manufacturer or its affiliates.

Integrated 0-150 PSI Gauge


  • Operating Voltage: DC 12V
  • Max Power: 250W-300W
  • Air Flow: 60L/min
  • Maximum Pressure: 100 PSI
  • Size: Approx. 9.6 x 3.75 x 6.25″ (24.5 x 9.5 x 16cm)
  • Weight: 6.4 lbs, 2.8kg-3kg

Vanagon and other van-travellers tend to wander off the beaten path, often finding themselves far from major highways, and perhaps beyond reliable phone reception. A flat or leaking tire on the interstate is a big inconvenience, but the same flat tire on a remote byway can be downright dangerous for you and your family. Self-reliance is crucial, and a portable compressor like this can be a real trip saver.

This portable automotive air compressor is lightweight and surprisingly compact. But can it get the job done?

First Impressions

When I first unboxed the TOPDC Double-Cylinder Air Compressor, I was a bit surprised by it’s small size and light weight. It seemed solid enough, but I wondered if such a diminutive device could properly inflate the larger, light-truck tires used on most Vanagons.

Still, its cast alloy cylinder heads, main motor housing, and reinforced case all seemed to make for a pretty durable little unit.

A folding top handle makes it easy to carry, and to lift in and out of the Vanagon bench seat. There’s an LED work light integrated into one end of the case, controlled by a dedicated switch, to shed some light on nighttime flats or other breakdowns.

Unlike most other compressors of this size and price, this TOPDC Air Compressor model features twin cylinders, which evidently makes for higher pressures, faster inflation times, lower noise, and less vibration.

The primary power cord plugs into a cigarette-lighter socket. Also included is an adaptor to run the compressor directly off your main starting or auxiliary battery, a 10-foot coiled extension air hose, and three nozzle adaptors for inflating air mattresses, soccer balls, pool toys, etc..

Everything tucks neatly away inside the included zipper bag, to keep all the loose bits clean, undamaged, and organized.

Get the TOPDC Double-Cylinder Air Compressor here

On The Road or In Camp

To simulate a flat tire, I pounded a 2-inch roofing nail through the sidewall of a low-miles Hankook. Just kidding. Actually, I just unthreaded the valve stem of my Vanagon spare and allowed it to completely deflate while I ate lunch.

For maximum power during my test, I connected the TOPDC Double-Cylinder Air Compressor directly to my starting battery using the included clips. Both the primary air hose and the coiled extension use screw-on connections, so you don’t need to hold the hose onto the tire’s valve stem; just flip the switch and stand by.

Small compressors like this are generally able to provide high pressure but at low volume, so they tend to be slow. While the little unit chugged away, I wondered how long it would take to completely fill the rather large Vanagon tire:

  • At 2 minutes, it had inflated the tire to 25 PSI.
  • At 4 minutes, it had inflated the tire to 35 PSI.
  • At 6 minutes, it had inflated the tire to 48 PSI

All in all, pretty speedy.

NOTE: flat tires should always be inflated while bearing NO VEHICLE WEIGHT, to ensure the tire bead is securely seated on the rim, and so that the compressor is not over-working to lift the vehicle. Either jack the vehicle up so that the wheel is clear of the ground, or remove the wheel from the van entirely. Tires that are only a bit underinflated can be topped up while mounted.

Built-in LED Work Light

Using the 8-foot power cord and extension hose, all four Vanagon wheels are easily reached from the dashboard power socket.

The included instructions warn users to allow the compressor to cool off after 10-15 minute’s use, but after completely filling my tire, I found the cylinder heads and motor casing only very warm to the touch. If inflating something larger like an air mattress, do it in 10-minute intervals to prevent overheating.

When compared to my shop-grade handheld pressure gauge, the compressor’s built-in gauge was accurate to within 1 PSI.

Finally …

Considering 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. The TOPDC Double-Cylinder Air Compressor fits neatly in the storage space beneath the Vanagon bench seat, and gives us the assurance and peace of mind when travelling in the backcountry

Hits: quality construction, compact & lightweight design, fast inflation, long cord and hose for extended reach, included carrying bag & accessories
Misses: slightly more spendy than lesser portable automotive compressors

Get the TOPDC Double-Cylinder Air Compressor here

What do you think? Leave a question or comment 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!

Your Emergency On-Board Vanagon Tool Kit

How to put together a complete emergency tool kit for your Vanagon, Transporter, or Bus

Every tool is a hammer, except for a screwdriver, which is a chisel.
Perales, Samba member

You’ve spent the better part of the spring (and no small amount of cash) repairing, maintaining, and restoring your Vanagon or Bus, preparing it for The Big Summer Road Trip.

Now, here you sit on the gravel shoulder or in a remote campsite, with a squealing V-belt. Or a water pump that’s no longer pumping water. Or an alternator that’s no longer pumping electrons …

Ultimately, preventative maintenance is really the best tool. So, ideally you will never need to turn a wrench while traveling. But, as we all know, things happen.

So, it’s good to have some tools at hand to perform such emergency repairs, adjustments, or other tweaks your Vanagon may need while on the road. Or to fix other camping gear while traveling.

How many tools, and what kinds?

Some carefree souls venture forth with only a cell phone, a AAA card, and groovy vibes. Other Nervous Nellies pack their vans with a complete workshop of tools and spare parts, like an overloaded covered wagon on the Oregon Trail, to prepare for every possible contingency.

Much of your decision will be determined by your situation, of course. If your Vanagon is used primarily as a daily driver around town, you’re probably seldom more than 5-10 miles from home, so you can carry little more than a spare tire and a lug wrench. If, on the other hand, you’re driving to the ends of the earth, you’ll probably pack your van to bursting with parts and tools, with little room left for a spare pair of socks.

If you find yourself somewhere in between, mainly driving thousand-mile road trips in adjacent states, this will inform your choice of onboard supplies. You’ll need to decide for yourself how much risk you can comfortably bear.

Generally, my main objective is to have 90% of the tools needed for 90% of the repairs I’m likely to encounter while traveling.

Many of these tools you may already have at home, so you’ll need to decide whether to move them to your van for each big trip, or buy duplicates.

Below is my personal list, based on many years of road tripping in a succession of old vehicles, and a certain Teutonic penchant for thoroughness. Some may wonder, “Where do you put all that stuff?” while others will chide, “I can’t believe you forgot the  < insert one more thing here > !”

The Whole Package

I carry these tools in a variety of packs. The socket set is neatly contained in the included compact plastic carry case. A tool roll conveniently keeps all my wrenches in order; and a heavy duty fabric tool bag holds almost everything else and expands & contracts as needed. Only a few large and heavy tools ride loosely under the bench seat: the factory jack, RV levelers, jumper cables, and breaker bars.

Except as noted, all tools are metric, of course.

The Tools

The Bentley Manual

It should go without saying that you should never wander too far from home without this Holy Book of Vanagon repair and maintenance. Even if you’ve already memorized all 724 pages, this mighty tome also functions as a wheel chock.

For good measure, I also carry a tattered copy of the classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” to remind me of the more metaphysical aspects of mechanicking, and as a mild sleep aid when loafing in the hammock.

Sockets & Ratchets







Miscellaneous Small Tools

  • Latex work gloves
  • GoJo hand cleaner wipes, small packet
  • LED headlamp
  • Magnetic work light
  • Sharpie marker
  • Utility knife
  • Small inspection mirror
  • Butane lighter
  • Small tape measure
  • Leatherman-type multi-tool
  • Hacksaw
  • Ball-peen hammer
  • Assorted sandpaper & emery cloth

Vanagon-Specific Tools

If you are not capable of performing a particular emergency repair and have to take your van to an independent mechanic’s garage, a freeway truck stop, or Ye Olde Tyme Blacksmith’s Shoppe, they may not have some of these unusual tools. But if you can provide them, they can get you on the road sooner.

A Few Homemade Custom Tools

Over the years I’ve fabricated a few small tools which have come in handy for routine maintenance or emergencies.

Mini Jumper-Cables

Before discarding that next old, frayed six-foot extension cord, snip the plugs off both ends and add two pairs of Red and Black alligator clips (be sure to keep the correct polarity on both ends).

No, these are not suitable for jumping your Vanagon’s dead starting battery. But they’re great for testing & bypassing various automotive circuits, rigging up test lights, and any number of other electrical tasks. A common use is simple hands-free connection of your voltmeter to the circuit you’re testing.

I was once caught in a torrential rainstorm, and found my windshield wipers suddenly inoperative. I parked under the shelter of a gas station awning and used these mini jumpers to bypass the faulty stalk switch and instead operate my wipers using the steering wheel’s horn button.

CV Joint Alignment Tool

Whether at home or abroad, if you’ve ever replaced a CV joint or axle, you know how difficult it can be to hold the axle in place while you install the first bolt. Get an M8x48 bolt from the hardware store (or just use an old CV bolt) and cut the head off, then cut a slot into the same end of the bolt so you can insert a flat screwdriver. Thread this ‘alignment tool’ into the uppermost hole in the drive flange of the transaxle or wheel hub, then slip the axle’s CV joint over the protruding tool. The axle will hang in position while you install the proper bolts; use a screwdriver to remove the tool, then install the final bolt.

The same tool also works in similar fashion for installing Vanagon diesel V-belt pulley sheaves.

Brake Spoon

Vanagon rear brakes rely on an internal ‘star wheel’ ratchet mechanism for proper adjustment, but this adjustor can be difficult to reach using common brake spoon tools. But, you can fashion one from an old paint can opener.

First, use a large pliers to bend the tip of the opener’s blade flat, like a screwdriver. Then clamp the tool in a vise or a large pair of channel-lock pliers and use another pliers to bend an angle of about 80 degrees in the tool, just above the blade portion.

To use the tool, simply grasp the handle in the palm of your hand and reach in behind the rear wheel. Insert the tip of the tool in the access hole in the brake backing plate and find the teeth on the ratchet ‘star’ wheel. Pressing firmly, use the tool to dial the star wheel up or down as needed.

With practice (ask me how I know), you can pull over and easily make this adjustment within seconds, then hit the road for further brake testing until you get it right. Oh, what an enjoyable way to spend one’s first day of cross-country vacation after a recent brake job …

Bonus: many such paint can openers feature an integrated bottle opener in the handle, so you can enjoy an adult beverage while admiring your work.

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With a good onboard tool kit, and a little know-how, you’ll be ready for just about anything the Road to Adventure can throw at you!

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

10 Great Van Camping Accessories

Any day spent on the road is better than a day spent at work, and a good piece of travel gear can make it even better.

gazetteerDeLorme Atlas & Gazetteers

Vanagon campers tend to take the road less traveled, beyond the borderlands of Wi-Fi, cell service, and flush toilets. The DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteers will help you find your way there and back again.

These large-format topographic atlases offer comprehensive details: back roads, backwater lakes and streams, boat ramps, forests, wetlands, trailheads, campgrounds, public lands, prime hunting and fishing spots, and countless landmarks and points of interest. Available for all 50 U.S. states.

Get the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteers here.

outdoor-products-mammoth-duffel-bag Outdoor Products Deluxe Duffle, Mammoth Size

This large-capacity duffle bag fits perfectly in the Westfalia’s overhead luggage rack, and carries loads of outdoor camping gear. The round barrel shape (18 x 18 x 41 inches) organizes your camp furniture, tarps or flies for rain or shade, small coolers, and other camp gear, freeing up space inside your Vanagon. The water-resistant oxford nylon fabric will protect your gear, and the 2″ web handles make for easy carrying.bungee-net

Get the Outdoor Products Deluxe Duffle here.

Keep the duffle bag and other gear securely in place with this elastic bungee net.


gsi-salt-pepper-shakerGSI Outdoors Salt & Pepper Shaker

This compact, lightweight, dual-compartment shaker holds your salt and pepper, or any other spices you use in your camp kitchen. The waterproof screw caps keep spices dry, and the dispensing screens and caps are easily removed for cleaning and refilling.

This shaker neatly fits in the small Westfalia silverware drawer, so it’s always ready to lend some seasoning to your campsite meals.

Get the GSI Outdoors Salt & Pepper Shaker here.

kampnikKampnik Campground-Finder app

This smartphone app helps you quickly and easily find a great campground while on the road.

Built on the venerable database of more than 13,000 campgrounds in the United States and Canada, Kampnik allows you to 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. Find campgrounds by browsing a map, or search by name, park, or forest name.

Kampnik should be in the pocket of every Vanagon traveler!

Get the Kampnik Campground-Finder app here

Stack the interlocking blocks to create a solid 'ramp' on which to park.Tri-Lynx RV Levelers

RV leveling blocks keep your Westy interior more comfortably ‘on the level’, and help prevent permanent damage to your Dometic fridge.  The Tri-Lynx “Lynx Levelers” include ten sturdy interlocking blocks, packed in their own zipper pouch. The whole pack fits nicely under the Vanagon rear bench seat, and are a smart solution to a common problem.

Get the Tri-Lynx RV Levelers here.

GearWrench 12-piece Metric Ratcheting Combination Wrench Set

The wise traveler will always carry at least a few tools when rolling in a vintage van, but storage space is always at a premium. These combination wrenches include standard open-end jaws plus ratcheting box ends, all in one slim tool great for fitting into confined spaces.
Includes 12 metric sizes: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19 mm.

Get the GearWrench Metric Ratcheting Wrench Set here.

tool-rollTool Roll Pouch

Keep your wrenches, sockets, and other important fix-it stuff organized and ready. This compact tool roll includes a variety of pocket sizes for all kinds of tools. The adjustable quick-release buckle fastens the pouch when not in use, and the carrying handle makes for easy transport.

Get the Tool Roll Pouch here.

jiffy-popJiffy Pop Butter-Flavored Popcorn

Imagine my recent gustatorial elation when I spied a pack of Jiffy-Pop popcorn on a grocer’s shelf while on a road trip far from home. That night back in our campsite, this classic blast from the past tasted every bit as good as my childhood memories …

The Jiffy-Pop self-contained easy-pop foil baskets include all the popcorn and oil you’ll need, so just heat it up on the Westy stovetop or campfire (shake vigorously), and you’ll have a quick and easy snack in just minutes. The magical self-rising foil dome provides a bit of much-needed entertainment value for the bored kiddies, making it almost as much fun to watch as it is to eat!

Available in regular and butter-flavored.

Get Jiffy Pop Butter-Flavored Popcorn here.

gasbuddyGasBuddy Mobile Fuel-Finder app

GasBuddy is the world’s largest community-based fuel app, with over 60 million downloads worldwide. Using information provided by users, you can easily find nearby fuel stops, and save money and time.

Get the GasBuddy Mobile Fuel-Finder app here.

GSI Outdoors Bugaboo folding fry panGSI Outdoors Bugaboo Folding Camp Fry Pan

A lightweight, compact non-stick frying pan with folding handle for van-camping and travel. Featuring quality construction, a durable non-stick coating, easy cleaning, even heating, and compact folding design.

The 10-inch Bugaboo pan fits nicely on the Westfalia stove top without crowding out other pots on the adjacent burners, and easily folds up and is stowed with the other pots and pans in the lower kitchen cabinet.

Read the full review here.
Get the GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Frypan here.

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Staying Cool On Summer Road Trips in Your Camper Van

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

While Driving:

  • 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.

vanagon-lakeside-campsiteWhile Camped:

  • 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

While Driving:

  • Chong-bandannaDress 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

While Driving:

  • gowesty-wind-deflectorsWind 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.

While Camped:

  • 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.

With a bit of planning, a slight attitude adjustment, and maybe a few dollars, you and your family can keep your cool this summer!

What do you think? How do you keep cool in your camper van? Leave a question or comment below, and use the buttons to share with your friends!