Two common questions among new and prospective VW California owners are “what’s the storage like ?” and ” what do you put where ?”. In fact, I was asked these questions directly by e-mail (thanks Susanne !) and will try to provide some information here on the options as well as common approaches to storage.
The first point to make is that the VW California (or any other camper van for that matter) isn’t a huge vehicle. Once you pack in up to four passengers, a dog or two, some clothes, food and bedding …. there’s not much room left over. My advice ? Go fast and light, and be ultra-organised.
I’ve written previous posts on options and accessories for the Cali, our packing list as well as my overall review after two years of ownership. Hopefully these will also provide some useful information for new owners. I have three general points to make about storage:
- Think carefully about what you actually need, what you can safely leave at home and also what items can serve multiple uses. It will take many trips for you to develop a ‘system’ that works for you – and of course you’ll pack differently for a two-week summer holiday compared with a Autumn weekend – and so it may take a little time to get things right.
- It pays to be organised. Knowing ‘what goes where’ will of course lower the stress levels when you’re desperately searching for your passports at the Eurotunnel check-in. But it also saves time since if you have a single box for all your cups and tea bags, or a single place where each family member stores their clothes. We don’t all get it right, of course; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been doubled up raking around in the bottom cupboard for some item of cutlery that I should have got out in the first place.
- Finally, there isn’t a ‘right’ way to pack a Cali. Everyone seems to have a slightly different system depending on their own circumstances. So, think about what would work best for you, try it out and then go from there.
The cupboards, wardrobe and other nooks and crannies
The Cali is a fantastically well-designed vehicle, clearly designed by people who camp themselves and building on VW’s six decades of experience. Materials are thin, durable yet lightweight, maximising the space available.
There are two cupboards under the sink and cooker, with sliding doors, and each having a shelf that has three height adjustments. Each cupboard is 38.5cm wide (ie a box this wide will fit through the opening) by 36cm deep. If you position the shelf at mid-height then the bottom cupboards are 25cm high and the top cupboards 18.5cm high. However, if you raise or lower the shelves then this makes a 3cm difference up or down.
Most people seem to either love or hate the wardrobe. We like it since it’s a great place to stuff away gear that you don’t need frequent access to such as bags of clothes, bedding, pillows and coats. There’s a hanging rail at the top but no shelving (some people fit their own). Note that if you have the optional safe, that is fitted at the bottom.
At the rear are three shelves above the gas canister, on the left hand side of the van. Since the shape of the van curves, each shelf is a different size and not completely rectangular. The measurements are as follows:
- Bottom: 37 x 26 x 23cm high
- Middle: 34 x 26 x 23.5cm high (note that it’s narrower than the bottom shelf since the cupboard handle is internal)
- Top: 30 x 20 x 13cm high.
There’s a top cupboard at the rear (above the rear parcel shelf) which includes the two rear speakers so it’s a slightly odd shape inside. It’s handy for games, wash kits, books etc, the kinds of things you need quick access to, particularly at night time.
Underneath the rear bench seat is a sliding drawer (which also contains the awning handle). This is a good sized drawer which we use for shoes or clothes (when the whole family’s away together) or which I’ll use for most of my things (clothes, walking boots, camera, wash kit etc) when I’m away by myself.
Apart from the obvious boot storage, above and below the rear shelf (which can be fitted at two different heights):
- there’s a space just between the front passenger seat and the kitchen cupboards which is a handy place for a bin (see the picture below);
- you can fit a medium sized bag sideways on the floor between the two front seats (just beside the handbrake);
- a large pocket in the back of each of the two front seats is useful for maps and books. Even better, buy seat-back pockets to give really useful space. Those with big wallets (and prepared to pay for a tidier look) will buy Brandrup and cheapskates like me will buy from Asda (£5 each) !
- you can fit a tablecloth in the narrow space behind the table which is stored in the door;
- the two folding picnic chairs are stored in the rear tailgate (see picture below – genius !) and you may be able to squeeze one or two thin items into this space.
Storage containers – Useful hints and tips
There are a range of hints and tips shared among Cali owners. While everyone has their own system, and therefore what works for one family won’t work for another, there are nevertheless a few suggestions adopted by many owners.
Ikea and the Really Useful Box company are undoubtedly the ‘(un)official suppliers’ to the Cali community in the UK. We use a 60 litre Really Useful Box in the boot to store our camping-related gear, including hook-up cables, BBQ tongs, spare tent, solar lights and so on. We just have one but some people go the whole hog to find stacking boxes to neatly stow all their gear in the boot.
Ikea current sell the ‘Rationell’ bin (in a three-pack), which handily just fits the space between the front passenger seat and the kitchen units (see picture above). It’s an ideal size and you can also reach it from the driver’s seat. (Why do manufacturers not make modern vehicles with bins any more, by the way ?).
The ‘Boholmen’ washing up bowl by Ikea fits in a range of locations including between the front seats (x1), in the kitchen cupboards (x2) and in the bench drawer (x3).
Ikea’s ‘Dimpa’ storage bags (soft, zippable bags) are useful to help compress bedding (duvets, pillows).
Finally, it’s worth saying what NOT to do, which is to attempt to store some gear in your roof when it’s lowered. The space underneath the mattress is really only suitable for the safety net, window blinds and/or thermal screen if you have one – ie very thin, and flat items – and certainly not any bedding. A buckled roof isn’t very clever !
Any suggestions to share ?
I know that everyone packs their Cali slightly differently … so if anyone else has any good hints and tips please pass them on !