Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

Welcome, Westy! – The New Development

The past weeks I have been insinuating a new development in our lives. It is time to reveal what we have been up to! Let me introduce our newest “family member”, Zesty. He is a 2005 Sprinter Airstream Westfalia camper, endearingly called a Westy. Ingeniously built in Germany and known as a Westfalia James Cook in Europe, only 250 of these campers were imported into the US. Airstream did those honors and “Americanized” them by adding an air conditioner and a generator, and swapping the cassette toilet for one with a holding tank. The Mercedes engine was re-branded as a Dodge for the American market. Confusing? The main thing is that Mark and I now own one of these unique, compact and decked-out camper vans! Indirectly, this plan has been brewing for a couple of years.

Second night, in Oklahoma

“I think our next adventure should be in a camper again.” I share with Mark something that has been on my mind for a while. It is March 2015 and we are anchored in beautiful Huahine, French Polynesia. These eight years of sailing on Irie have been exciting and interesting, but very challenging as well. In my opinion, and contrary to the general consensus (of people who have never sailed long-term), traveling by camper offers more freedom than by sailboat. You drive in the direction you prefer and if a storm approaches, you just close the windows and huddle inside, without worries.

“Let’s just get off this boat first and see what happens,” Mark mutters. He is done with our cruising journey and no paradisiacal view or spouse request to continue on to Fiji is going to change that. He needs some creature comforts and amenities on land somewhere.

“Would you like a truck camper again, or something different?” I press on. We liked our camper set-up from our year in Mexico and Central America, but it did have some flaws.

Exploring Mexico by truck camper

“I think I prefer a van,” he offers up. His curiosity is sparked now. On the first internet-compatible occasion, we both lay in bed and scour the web on his iPad. We come across the site of Sportsmobile, a company that builds custom camper vans. For the next few hours, we have fun creating our perfect van. Then, we realize it would cost over US$100,000 and move on.

First night, in Arkansas

Fast forward to the fall of 2016, when we are house and pet sitting in an uninspiring area of California and go on an uninspiring hour-long walk with Herk each day. The perfect subject to talk about is campers. We have been on land for exactly one year. We love this new lifestyle, but our feet are already starting to itch. Plus, dreaming about life in a camper van and researching options is an enjoyable pastime. The problem is that we don’t find anything suitable. We know we want a Mercedes Sprinter van conversion, but… the existing ones in the US are either too big, too wasteful with space, or require a conversion from dinette area to bed, which means you either have a table to eat at or a bed to sleep in. We play with the idea to convert one ourselves (really – despite all our past frustrations with never-ending boat projects and not having any spare time), but that intention is short-lived… the older model vans are not tall enough for Mark to stand up in, and the newer ones only take ultra-low-sulfur diesel, which means we can’t take it to Mexico or further south, where only regular diesel is available. We move on.

Third night, in New Mexico

Then, one day in winter, during all his research and reading, Mark stumbles across the Westy. He is sold, but there are none for sale. “This is what we need!” he proclaims. He shows me photos and overwhelms me with all the advantages of this funny-looking, compact camper. It has everything we require in a small package on wheels. Westy owners rave about their vehicles and have a hard time parting with them. They are well-sought after, keep their value and therefore are quite pricey. Mark keeps an eye out for Westy listings every day and has email alerts in place. He is dedicated. Luckily, we have time. Some commitments in the US prevent us from full-time RV living for another year or two.

Fourth night, in the desert of Arizona

This past spring, while in Sebastopol, California, we made a couple of offers on available camper vans and Mark flew to Washington state to check one out. We passed twice. During those months, he also communicated with a Westy owner in Arkansas. His persistence and patience paid off. While we were super-busy in Massachusetts visiting friends, family and doctors for three weeks in May, we bought Zesty “sight unseen” after a Skype video call. Other obligations had us wrapped up until July 14th, when we took alternative transportation to reach Harrison, Arkansas and pick up our new camper. I still had never been in one.

Picking the van up in Harrison, Arkansas

There were more issues than expected (some of them due to the previous owner’s ignorance), Mark and I were utterly exhausted from our arduous journey there, and it was 100+ degrees Fahrenheit (40°C). Within half an hour of seeing our new vehicle in person for the first time, we hit the road. First stop: Walmart #2. We rarely set foot in these stores, but we needed to equip our new home with sheets, towels and cookware. Walmart originates in this state, so buying the basics here was quite appropriate. We did, however, not spend our first night here!

From the moment we took possession of our camper, we were on the clock. We only had four days to cover 2000 miles, in order to drop Zesty off at a mechanic, specialized in Mercedes Sprinter vans. Our destination for Saturday: Sunnyvale, California, after picking up our other car en route. Our next house sit would start the day after. It was Tuesday. Not wanting to exceed 60 miles an hour in this new-to-us van resulted in 8+ hours on the road, every day. We needed to find food, water, fuel, dump stations, RV parts and free camping spots along the way. We dealt with fridge, water pump, fan and AC issues, and with using everything for the first time. The temperature kept exceeding 100 degrees, day and sometimes night! We had a business to run, which required decent internet and 4-6 hours of Mark’s undivided attention every day. It was madness.

As always, we made it and are now comfortably settled with Lola in Sebastopol again for three weeks. Our camper is back and we have two weeks left to meticulously clean the van and its contents, fix a few more things (generator, AC knob in the cab, water heater…), move all our stuff aboard, sell our Prius and prepare for a three-day trip back the way we came, on I-5 and I-40, to house sit in Santa Fe, New Mexico for one month. We like to stay busy…

While we don’t plan any extended travels yet, it is nice to have a guaranteed roof above our heads in between house sits. At 19ft long and 11ft tall, our new home is small, but it provides creature comforts and offers basic amenities. And, no worries when the wind shifts! We have a bathroom with shower, sink and toilet, a kitchen with sink, dish rack, two-burner stove, microwave (= extra storage for us) and fridge, a spacious dinette area, an easy to assemble bed above the cab and dinette, and enough room for all our belongings. We think. The van fits in a normal parking spot and drives effortlessly. I continue to be impressed with the nifty use of space and the quality of non-American materials in this camper. We can’t wait to get on the road full-time again, with Zesty, the Westy!

Do you own an RV? Which kind? Have you ever traveled in a camper? Rented one? Lived in it full-time? What is your preferred mode of transportation when traveling?

62 Comments

  1. How exciting! Good luck on the next leg of your adventure with Westy!

    • Thank you, Becca! while it would make grocery shopping a bit more challenging, driving in between house sits will be more enjoyable. Especially if we manage to fit in some of the sights this country has to offer. 🙂

  2. Hi, Liesbet /I am TOTALLY jealous! A westfalia camper van has been my ‘dream car’ for quite some time. Congratulations!! I can’t wait to follow your adventures…whenever you take them!

    • I thought you might like this new development, Donna. Zesty is a bit bigger than the “usual” Westfalia campers and we are happy about that. 🙂

  3. Congratulations … so excited for you. This way, you’ll always have a place to stay in between sits. Santa Fe will be fun. The farmers market is awesome and you must hike at Kasha-Katuwe National Monument (no dogs allowed). Enjoy your new adventure! Email me and let me know where you’ll be in September. We’ll be meandering around Arizona.

    • Thanks for the tip, Ingrid and I will be in touch. It would be so great to meet, especially now that we are fellow campers again. 🙂 We are in the Santa Fe region (in the community of Eldorado if that means anything) until September 15th.

  4. Zesty the Westy – what a great name for a great looking camper for a couple of adventuresome, fun-loving people. A life less ordinary indeed, Liesbet. I echo Donna in feeling completely jealous. In my case it has nothing to do with the Westfalia – I knew nothing about them before your post – but with the freedom of making your own way. Oh and I’m also jealous about the upcoming house sit in Santa Fe. I LOVE New Mexico.

    I travelled by RV when I was a kid, but hated it. I think it’s got to be different when your driving in your home rather than hauling it around behind you, and when you’re an adult and can make the decisions. The biggest thing I remember about our multi-week RV trip to the east coast of Canada was that I read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin on that trip. Both are big books. I got excited only when we pulled into a town where there was a bookstore. What can I say? The method of travel did nothing for me at that time in my life.

    Congratulations to you, Mark, and to Zesty. He/she doesn’t know that he/she has won the Westfalia camper lottery. Oh the adventures he/she will have. I’m thinking ‘she’ – Zesty sounds feminine to me.

    • You make me smile with your kind words, Karen! I decided on a “he” since cars are in general quite masculine and to do something different since our boat was a “she”. But, I hesitated for a long while. Feel free to keep calling him/her a her. 🙂 The main reason I went with “he” is because in Dutch cars are masculine (and boats feminine), which is opposite to the French articles by the way, so this felt the most natural to me.

      That is so interesting, and also wonderful, that all you cared about was books as a child. I’m sure it has become a massive advantage to you, especially in adulthood, being a writer and a blogger. And the wisdom you gathered. Now, that makes me envious – I don’t know much about North American literature and the big classics…

      We are looking forward to our stay in New Mexico. I have never been there, except for our quick drive by in the train and in Zesty recently. That house sit does not have pets, so we are even more flexible to get out for the weekends! 🙂

  5. Congratulations Liesbet, Zesty looks wonderful and we wish you many happy miles and adventures together! ☺💜

  6. Now I understand the frantic schedule you’ve been having! Mind you, when I saw your title I thought you’d bought a dog (west highland terrier). A camper van is nearly as good 😉

    • That is funny Anabel, as I thought the same for a moment or two!

    • Got you, Anabel! 🙂 I figured some readers – especially the ones who know we adore dogs – might guess we’d be off to Arkansas to rescue a dog, so the title was on purpose. That being said, to adopt a dog, one needs a home (on wheels). 🙂 It is in the future, whenever it fits better in our plans and lifestyle. And, you are so correct: a camper van is nearly as good (for now).

  7. Last fall as a recovering sailor I found a little Camp-Inn teardrop trailer to be my little sailboat on wheels. Check out the Allstays app (not affiliated). Good info there.
    Enjoy!

    • Those teardrop trailers are so compact, effective and lightweight! Think about the easier and cheaper upkeep than a boat and, the freedom to move no matter what the weather is! 🙂 Thanks for the app recommendation – my husband has this one on his list to look into – and have fun sailing on land with your Camp-Inn.

  8. I’m so happy for you guys, your patience paid off! This suits you and will give you endless choices for freedom and adventure. Congratulations!

    • Thanks, Terri. We knew a camper van was in our future, just not when exactly. 🙂 It will be hard to not head out full-time in it again…

  9. Nice work, you two! I have been eyeing these for the future, if we ever tire of far flung places. Following your adventures is always fun.

    • Where there is a will, there is a way, as they say. 🙂 Our ideas for the future have been a toss-up between house sitting outside North America or going on an overland adventure again. Maybe they are combineable (how do you spell this one?)… we will see. I agree with your plan to get one as well, once there is not much flying involved anymore.

  10. Aha! (I did guess it, but not the details!) I am SOOOO excited for you, and I think your new home is a beaut. It looks so clean and crisp, and the layout seems great. I have many fantasies about doing this, but I think mine may have to be part-time and (at least at first) a rental of some sort. I’m sorry your trip to get Zesty was so arduous – you are real troopers! Congratulations on your news – I can’t wait to read more!

    • You ARE good at reading between the lines, Lexie. 🙂 As I am looking at her now, I am still amazed at how small she is, yet, how much punch she packs… The Prius just left us, so now it is all Zesty to go grocery shopping, dog hiking and traveling. We will see how it goes. You should turn those fantasies into reality by renting one for an upcoming vacation. Just in Texas, there is so much beauty and so many parks worth a visit.

      • Good idea! I’m eager to go to Big Bend National Park, and it’s a solid 11-hour drive (all in one huge state!). Have fun with Zesty!

        • Big Bend is awesome! We visited it on our way back into the US from Mexico in 2006. All the rules did make us miss Mexico temporarily, though. 🙂 Enjoy!!!

  11. Wow! So bold to buy it sight unseen…. it looks fabulous and I’m super excited for you. It must be great to know you have a home in between house sits and possibilities for so many adventures!

    • We were a tad nervous about the purchase, Lucy. Luckily, Mark had seen one in person before and our gut feeling about the seller was positive. Yes to the home in between sits. Not that we were every overly worried before (we have been pretty lucky with the line-up of the assignments and having friends in California), but our minds are at ease now, especially if we don’t find a longer term sit we like. So, we will see whether it will be a house sit or a camper trip this winter. 🙂

  12. Zesty the Westy is a brilliant name. I hope you have good adventures with her!!

  13. That is so exciting! Good for you for following your dreams. I have never really RV’d (except in Hawaii on a family vacation back when I was in high school), but I’ve always been intrigued with the concept. Zesty looks perfect size-wise… do you have to be careful of low bridges?

    On to your new adventure!

    • It is so exciting, isn’t it? It will be hard to “just” use Zesty as a car now. Seeing it in the driveway is reason for itchy feet. 🙂

      At 11ft high, the bridges – so far – don’t seem to be a problem. We cannot use parking garages, but never really did in the past anyway. On the last part of the drive to Sebastopol, we had to be careful of low hanging branches. We have to park down the driveway a little bit, since we assume the owners of this house would not appreciate us cutting down some of their tree branches.

      Cheers, Janis! House sitting and camping in between. Can it be any better? 🙂

  14. Congratulations on Westy! What a wonderful addition. I can see that having the security of always having a roof over your heads will take the pressure off of the house sitting scheduling. Now the trip to Arkansas makes perfect sense!

    • Haha, Sue. In and out of Arkansas in a jiffy! We did wish we had more time during that trip to explore some of the sights along the way. One day… We do have the means now anyway. You are totally right about that pressure…

  15. What can I say, I never saw that coming 🙂 Great idea to have somewhere to stay in between housesits. Look forward to reading all about the adventures of Zesty the Westy and her friends!

    • I figure people would either guess another house sit, a dog adoption or a vehicle as a reason for our Arkansas trip. I should have done a poll. 🙂

      Thank you for your ongoing interest and support in our lifestyle, Suzanne. Flying in between sits sounds exciting as well, but for now, we will stick to ground transportation (with four wheels). 🙂

  16. I wish you the Besty experiences with Zesty the Westy!

  17. OMG am delighted by this news …certainly an odyssey to get here but oh the places you will go…and really, just to have a place to live in between house sits is awesome. Can’t wait to see where Zesty Westy takes you both in the future ❤️

    • I’m glad you think this is a great idea as well, Lisa. Flexibility is the way to freedom, right? As long as it is over the weekends, we will fully enjoy traveling in Zesty. But, our next long trip (to New Mexico) is during the week again, so we will see how that clashes with work. Thank you for following along, while having your own incredible adventures in Asia!

  18. proficiat met jullie aankoop het ziet er perfect uit oerdegelijk, en cosy , knus en toch veel comfort.

    Heel veel geluk gewenst!!

    Pierre en Marie-thérèse XXX

  19. I love that the bed is separate from the dinette. We have a Scamp travel trailer and the dinette turns into the bed at night which, while it doesn’t take long to do, can be a bit of a pain at times. Congrats on Westy and the exciting adventures you’ll have in her (him?) in the future!

    • Thank you, Ellen. I”m glad you like the camper. Not having to convert from bed to dinette was one of our requirements and it is quite amazing to fit it all in this small of a van. We do have to pull part of the bed out and fold the mattress back, but the bed can remain made-up and the whole procedure takes less than a minute. Amazing. 🙂 The dinette also converts to a full-size bed, so this tiny thing actually sleeps four. Not sure whether we will ever give that a try, but the possibility is there.

  20. Wow! Congrats on the new “family member”… How exciting! You won’t have to live out of suitcases and you won’t need to look for accommodation anywhere anymore. Very cool and it looks like a terrific design.

    I went on an RV trip as a kid, with my brother and parents to South West Africa, to Etosha Pan game park and a lion park, where we got stuck and my dad had to walk through the lion game park to get help. I really loved being in an RV. It was a lot of fun to drive off in our little home every day.

    I imagine you have to be pretty organized to make the most of the compact space. Happy adventures both of you!!!

    Peta

    • Thanks for the well wishes, Peta. The German design is pretty mind-blowing. We are so happy and excited with it. They are hard to come by in the US.

      That trip you did as a kid sounds pretty adventurous! Especially for your dad. It must have left a deep impression. You are right, traveling with your own house is so nice. We have gotten used to that over the years and it is hard to pass up. After I clean the van, I am looking forward to organizing it with all our stuff. We will see whether it all finds a perfect spot! 🙂

  21. I don’t get remotely excited by anything on wheels, Liesbet, but I do love the concept, and it will certainly solve a few of your problems. Congratulations! 🙂 🙂

    • Thanks. The concept is perfect (for us) in theory and in practice. How do you get to all of your excursions and walks, Jo? 🙂

      • Tee Hee! I’m chauffeur driven, of course. 🙂 🙂 All I meant, Liesbet, is that I’m not interested in cars and performance details. Never have been. But I’d love a little camper if my chauffeur was willing (he isn’t 🙁 ) so it’s more likely to be a gypsy caravan and a horse. 🙂

  22. How exciting Liesbet! Congrats on the latest addition to your family! And I’m sooooooooooo jealous you’ll be spending a month in NM. That’s somewhere I’ve always longed to visit so looking forward to hearing about the journey. 🙂 xx

    • Thanks! Everybody I mention our stay in New Mexico to seems very excited about the location. I have never been there (other than train and drive through), so I will happily share our journey, Debby! Hopefully, I’ll get some writing done. 🙂

  23. “..We like to stay busy…” Ha haa. You can say that again Liesbet and Mark.

  24. Westy’s are pretty neat, huh? We’ve had ours for 8 years now, and I still don’t really see how it could be improved, other than to get rid of the Airstream touches…

    We just completed a month-long road trip of the 4-corners area, and had a blast, although there some headaches along the way. Much like a boat in that regard.

    I see you found the Westy forum at Sprinter Source; good stuff there.

    Good luck! -Pat

    • Thanks Pat, and nice to meet my first fellow Westy owner! They are neat indeed, and I agree with the “flaws” you mention. Before we bought ours, we played with the idea to get rid of the AC and the generator and to move the propane tank into the generator area to get more clearance. Since everything still works OK, amazingly (the generator only has ten hours on it or so), we’ll just keep it all for now and see how it goes. Before we head to South America, we will make some drastic changes, but right now, we are working on the more important kinks. 🙂

      I had to look up what the 4-corners area is – my favorite part of the US! Very cool! We hope to explore a bit around there as well, but as long as we have our business, we only have to weekends, so in-depth traveling will have to wait a while longer.

      My husband has been poking around the Sprinter forum for many months, but now that we have our own, I happily joined as well! He’ll deal with the projects and I with the fun stuff, like blogs and photos. 🙂

      • I recently met another Westy that did exactly those mods, as well as many others. He got me thinking of doing it myself…

        • Good idea. These days, the internet is a wealth of information for DIY projects! Plus, your experience owning a boat makes RV projects much easier, cheaper and more straightforward. 🙂

  25. I read your blog post with a great excitement and enjoyment… It was a challenge but it worth it…

  26. I would love to explore Mexico by truck camper! Any tips I should consider before doing so?

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