A cheery winter hello from the Upper Left! We’ve been taking advantage of these less-balmy months to work on Dave, our 1982 Westfalia camper. We recently took our first sojourn since completing some upgrades and found (not surprisingly) that even the smallest tweaks improve vanlife immensely. And while our set-up has changed considerably since the days of work camping in a leaky tent, we’ve loved every bit of the journey…


Tor bested even his own bad self on this one. With a hand from our landlord Joe, he brought magic back into Dave’s time-worn walls and ceiling—cleaning, cutting, sanding, staining and re-installing refurbished (and new) Baltic Birch panels by hand. Dave’s interior now glows with a bright, woody warmth that cannot (in our opinion) be out-cozied. 


Now, for two words: Container Store. We found a surprising amount of ingenious items in this vast emporium devoted to storage solutions. It was here that we sourced (among many things) a bamboo-finish, multi-use magnetic board with a dry-erase marker. We also nabbed some “Mighty Magnets” which, (as their name implies) have the curious staying power of kryptonite barnacles.


Evening is one of our favorite times when we camp…the snug, golden hour when we fold down the bed, close the curtains and settle in. Oddly, we have found that not having nightstands is more of a bummer than we anticipated—nowhere to easily store books, glasses or phones when sleep encroaches. Since our bed folds down, anything bulky (like a shelf) is out of the question. At the Container Store, we came across a magazine organizer (essentially just a long, vertical panel of cloth pockets) and thought, “Hey, we could cut them up and put one pocket on each side of the bed.” And with scissors and a snap kit from the hardware store, this literal “hack” became a reality. Added bonus: if we need access to the engine bay, the pockets unsnap quickly. We even found use for the three extra pockets: a vertical map holder for the back of the driver’s seat. Voila! Two small-space hacks for the price of one.


Who doesn’t want a map on their ceiling at least once in their life? The spray-mounting was tricky but we accomplished this fun feat on a rainy Saturday in our cabin where, we measured, cut and adhered a world map to the underside of the storage cabinet above Dave’s bed. To us, there is no better “vision board”. It greets us when we wake and fills our dreams with a jumble of far-off places.


More Container Store goodness: plastic, magnetic “see-and-store” containers. Perfect for the tiny van goodies that so often lack a home: elastic bands, screws, batteries, safety pins, loose change. Their magnetic strength has been road-tested and approved. We drove for over six hours and they didn’t budge.


Affectionately referred to as our “dresser”, we found this collapsible organizer at Goodwill for five bucks. It folds flats, expands wide and is the perfect, portable box for our bath kits and clothes which, we pack in our “drawers” (ie. Eagle Creek Pack-It Compression Cubes). When the bed is down, our “dresser” stows neatly on the floor beneath its overhang. When we want it up and out of the way, it sits snugly in the driver’s seat. It’s by far the easiest, most streamlined system we’ve come across for storing, picking, pulling and re-packing clothes while on the road.


It is the magical Grid-It by Cocoon to which we owe the ability to workcamp “off the grid”, should we choose to.  This clever tool is a sturdy-backed board with criss-crossing straps, between which you can cram all manner of things. It’s a compact, secure way to store and transport useful necessities and (huge win)–it keeps random items from rattling around in the storage rail when we drive.

9. TECH BAG / $2.50

Being equal parts grateful for and irritated by technology, we welcome the opportunity to simplify whenever possible. Our favorite solution? One small, designated bag for all the bits. It forces us to travel light (we always need less than we think) and a mesh bag is a great way to keep cords and plugs corralled, yet easily accessible, especially if it zips diagonally. The One Bag (yes, my precioussss) stows compactly, can be transferred easily between van and backpack and aside from our laptops—it’s the full extent of our tech set-up.


There’s nothing niftier than easy access when you are spatially-challenged. For well over a year, we have kicked our power strip in and out of the floor-level socket and fumbled to connect plugs. Finally, we bolted the dern thing to the wall, right above our swing-out table. It connects to the van’s main power outlet through a hidden channel behind the kitchen equipment and makes powering and charging our devices fast and effortless. (Sorry, no photo at present. Will update with one later.)

View more photos of recent Dave upgrades, below: