Luxurious living in the VW Westfalia Camper

The camping interior

The VW Vanagon (called Transporter/Caravelle in Europe) is just about a foot longer than the compact car VW golf. Yet the interior is roomier than any so called "mini-van" I've seen. In the Westfalia Camper conversion it is equipped for comfortable living for up to four people. Two sleep on top in the popped canvas "tent" top (left) and two sleep in the back of the van. The main advantages of the pop top over a tent are that popping the top only takes seconds, and being high above the ground you are less likely to get wet in a downpour. It is a good idea to park with the rigid roof facing the wind in a rain storm. "Un-popping" is equally fast. When pulling down the top open a window or door to let the air out, and press the tent cloth diagonally out in the two front corners. This keeps the cloth tight so it all ends up under the pop top instead of flapping outside when you drive around.
The rear bench seat folds into a bed with room for two people. In this configuration there is still some room for people to move around in front of the folded out bed, and access the kitchen and cabinets. Feel tired while driving at night? Just pull into a rest stop. Fold down the rear seat and take a nap. Sure beats trying to find a camping spot in the middle of the night, set up a tent in the dark and move your sleeping gear into the tent. (Although when in Australia I often saw people setting up their tent right under the street light in highway rest stops, an if it was raining even under the small roof at the entrance to the restrooms! Imagine what the cops would say if you did that in the US!)


Luxury restaurant with a view! Always window table! No reservations necessary! Real budget prices on the menu! Imagine stopping by the fish market in a small seaside town, picking up some really fresh fish; then just drive to the best view available; park; boil some new crop creamer potatoes (put some dill stalks in the water) and fry the fish. Eat inside or outside while enjoying the view.

The kitchen is one of the features I enjoy the most in the westy. Having it with me all the time means less planning, and a hot meal can be made in a matter of minutes. Beats restaurants in terms of economy and availability, and "backpacker stoves" in terms of convenience.

The westy kitchen has a two burner stove, water tap and sink, and a small refrigerator switchable between LPG (when camping) and electric (when driving or camped in a park with "hook-ups"). Despite its compactness I find the kitchen very pleasant to use. Sitting on a small folding chair, I can reach everything I need, and while eating, sitting on the bench seat it is easy to reach a pot, which is keeping warm on the stove. My only small complaint is that Westfalia could have placed the burners slightly wider apart, so it would fit two standard size pots or frying pans simultaneously. Now I use slightly smaller ones, which is fine for two people, but a problem if cooking for a family or guests.

The propane tank for the stove and fridge is mounted under the drivers side. When camping in remote areas I have found that one fill up lasts about three weeks in the summer (using the stove and fridge) and about one week in the winter (using only the stove). Most of the winter usage is for melting ice and snow to get water. A pleasant side effect is that after melting water for breakfast the temperature inside also rise some 10 degrees Celsius. Too keep fresh food from freezing I put it in the fridge with two 1 liter containers of warm water.

Storage cabinets

When the Westfalia campers were sold new in the US VW made a big deal about advertising how the "German engineers" had managed to squeeze a storage space into every hole and corner in the bus. This is true, and it is for both good and bad. On the good side it allows one to live in a relatively clutter free house -- important when living in such a small space. The two cons are that it tends to make me "overpack" and bring unnecessary things, and although there is a lot of storage space, it is divided into small compartments. I use my bus as a base camp for overnight hiking, skiing and canoeing. There is nowhere (other than the floor) to put a packed 70 liter backpack. The problem is that either I end up living out of my bags in my usual cluttered way, or I have to transfer things between the backpack or canoeing drybags and the Westy cabinets each time I go on an overnight adventure.
I keep food and kitchen things in the cabinets around the stove and fridge (above), and clothes in the rear closets (right). There is also a large storage locker under the rear seat, where I keep various tools, a few spares, and sometimes an awning. Extra oil, filters (fuel and oil) goes into a small locker under the passenger seat. Some of the storage is most easily reached from the rear, with the rear hatch open (i.e. the part of the closet that has shelves), and some take a while before one figures them out. There is an unused space behind the folding part of the "upstairs bed". Fits two empty backpacks (otherwise hard to store, except on the floor) or just leave the down sleeping bags there in the morning. When popping down they will be compressed and stored away until next evening.

Still need more storage? There is a luggage rack in front of the pop-top on the westy. Some people put a big Rubbermaid or similar tote-box up there to store stuff in. I suspect this creates a lot of drag. For clothes and stuff that can be compressed without being damaged consider canoeing style "drybags" instead of a box. They seal completely waterproof, and are eary to hoist up and strap down. I also expect less extra wind drag than from a box. Drybags comes in sizes up to about 70l (70l is about the volume of a large suitcase or backpack). I think one could fir up to 4 large bags on the rack. I've had three drybags and one 5 gal jerry can up there.

Martin Jägersand                 Comments?