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Living in a VW Vanagon

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By Barb Cotton

My Story:
When I was in my 20s I had lived in a 24′ travel trailer, pulling it with a pick-up truck. I wandered around the country picking up waitress jobs as I found them. Later, I got a job with the government and was sucked in by its good pay and benefits and left the open road. The benefits were great, but I wasn’t happy anymore. After 22 years of working at the Post Office, I was tired of not being happy with my job or my life and knew I had to do something. I remembered those happy days traveling in the travel trailer and was sure I could be happy again. I already owned my 1983 VW Westphalia, so it was the obvious choice when I decided to downsize. I wasn’t sure exactly how I would do it, or how long I could stand living in a van, but I knew it had to be better than the life I was living. I am delighted to say it has been 2 years now and I have no desire to go back to a more conventional life.

Working On The Road:
My first winter out I ended up in Arizona; I just happened to see a help-wanted sign, and ended up working there. There was a Forest Service campground across the road, so I didn’t even have to break camp and take the van top down to go to work. The next summer, I got a job in Colorado as a campground host in a Forest Service campground, so I lived where I worked. The second winter, I returned to the same job in Arizona, and the owners let me park behind the building and hook into their electric for $100 a month. Pretty cheap rent. This past summer I worked in Alaska, also parking on the premises, with water and electric included. I am on my way back to Arizona for the winter with the same set-up as before. I plan on getting a job in Maine for next summer. I’m getting to see some beautiful country, meeting lots of great people, and I don’t even have to pack! If you would like to find places to host at campgrounds click on this link:

The VW Vanagon:
The VW has been the perfect set-up for me. I have the built- in sink, stove, and fridge. The back seat folds down to become my bed (I added a foam pad from WalMart for extra comfort). The top pops up so I can stand up in it, a huge plus when you are 6′ tall! I have all the comforts of home!

One thing I love about a VW van is that it also comes with a “community” of fellow VW van owners. We all wave at each other on the road and there are VW gatherings all across the country where I can hang-out with other like-minded people, exchanging stories and ideas. When I tell people what I’m doing, most of them say “That is so cool!!”.

One of the things I had to work on was storage- what to do with the shoes? I had seen a shoe bag meant to hook to the side of the bed in an RV, so I bought a cheap hanging shoe bag, cut it into sections, and bolted it to the front panel of the under-seat storage of the back seat. Works great. I got a hanging wall-pocket with 8 small pockets (Camping World) and attached it to the wall of the closet by the head of my bed for my glasses, flashlight, and other little stuff I didn’t know what to do with. I took out the top bunk, got a soft-sided underbed storage container and put my clothes in it, stuck it up there, put eye-bolts on either side of the upper bunk area, strung a bungee cord to keep things from falling down (also a great place to keep my paper towels.) I bought a back-of-the-seat organizer to keep my lap-top and dvds in, as well as important papers. The one I got also has a pocket on either side–perfect for the thermos.

I wanted to be able to boondock without running out of power, so I installed an extra Optima gel battery, a 300 watt converter, and a solar panel. That provides me with all the power I need.

The Bathroom:
I use a plastic utility bucket with a tall kitchen trash bag and kitty litter for my portapotty. I got a seat with a lid made just for it from Cabelas. The litter absorbs the waste, I tie a knot in it, and dispose of it in a dumpster or other trash can. I have a battery powered shower pump (also from Cabelas).  First, I heat water on the stove and pour it in a bucket, then I drop in the shower pump, voila. I can hang a shower curtain from my back hatch, stand outside and shower when I need to. In between, I use face cleansing cloths to keep clean. I have also gotten over my shyness about asking people I know if I can use their shower when I visit! A woman I worked with last winter invited me to her house for Thanksgiving dinner, and I said “Great! Can I use your shower?” I ended up going to her house about once a week to hang out and shower.

At this point, I can’t imagine living any other way. I am comfortable in my van. It’s home.


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