Packing Up The Van

November 1, 2012

This post is brought to you by Volkswagen. It’s not the miles, it’s how you live them. Read our stories or share your own at whyvw.com.

By Gabrielle.

As I’ve mentioned, I grew up driving Volkswagens and the family car was a VW Bus. This was back before the invention of the mini-van, and if you had a big family then your options were pretty much a VW Van or a Suburban. My family was definitely the VW type. We drove a green one for many years and an orange one after that.

I have so many memories in those vans! We went on dozens of road trips — most often to Los Angeles and San Francisco — the cities where my parents grew up. I can specifically recall the process of loading up before a trip. This is how it went:

Since we were such a big family, we had a huge open-air luggage rack (it looked a bit like this) on top of our bus. My dad, who liked to do the driving, preferred we get on the road as early as possible in the morning. 6 AM would be the goal. 7:00 or 8:00 would be reality. : )

The night before, we would pack up the van. My brother Josh would climb on top and sit in the luggage rack. Then, the siblings would throw up sleeping bags one-at-a-time, and he’d line them up in two rows. Next came the duffle bags and suitcases. And when everything was up top, Josh would secure it all, weaving bungee cords through handles and ties and hooking them on the metal rack. Any thing that didn’t make it up top, like jackets, pillows, and last-minute wardrobe choices, would go into the “way-back” which was what we called the elevated trunk of the Van. (There was the front, the middle, the back, and the way back.)

While the packing was going on, my mom would spray out the black rubber floor so it was clean for the trip. A good thing! Because since this was pre-seatbelt-laws, we ended up moving around a lot, using all available space, including those rubber floors.

Early the next morning, sleepy-eyed and somewhere between grumpy and happy, we’d all pile in. Everyone had their favorite spot (of course!). We’d take I-15 and point the car west. Next thing I knew, we’d be surrounded by desert, singing California Here I Come as we crossed the state line into the golden state.

Tell me, friends? Do you have memories like mine? Did you grow up in a road-tripping family? And did you have a favorite spot in your car?

VW + Giant Sequoia via Jay Mug.

P.S. — We made a video of the kids washing a vintage VW bus. It will make you smile! I promise.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mary November 1, 2012 at 10:13 am

As a child/teen, my family had two green VW campers: one in Germany (camped all over Europe along with our big French tent) and another one when we moved back to US (as a college student I drove it to Ft Lauderdale for Spring Break one year with three friends). Then when I had four children of my own, I drove a red and white VW van for many years…as you say, the pre-minivan days.

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2 Grace@ Sense and Simplicity November 1, 2012 at 10:18 am

We had several green VW vans as well (the first one was shipped over from Nigeria where we lived when I was young). Since my father was a teacher we spent most summers on long roadtrips. My father was from BC so every other year or so we would drive from Ontario to BC to visit his mother and other relatives as well as see the sights along the way. I still love travelling to this day. I’m always planning my next road trip.

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3 Rachel Winer November 1, 2012 at 10:27 am

So fun! I too have fond memories of road trips with my family. We never travelled in anything as stylish as a VW bus though. Lucky!

P.S. I think Florida is “the sunshine state” :)

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4 Design Mom November 1, 2012 at 10:32 am

Oh dear. You’re right of course! That’s what I get for writing late at night. : ) I’ve updated the post above.

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5 julia g blair November 1, 2012 at 10:33 am

I keep marveling how we all survived without seat belts or freeways etc! Stopping at the one and only hamburger stand in Brigham City and the luscious Dairy Queen in
Preston and the best water in McAmon as well as marvelous root beer in Ogden were incomprehensible joys. I think they all appeared after WWar 11. We’d get
to stop three times going to and from Idaho Falls and Provo, Utah. Only had one
sibling fall out of the car (David) and he survived just fine!!! Happy Memories!

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6 agneslamexicaine November 1, 2012 at 10:47 am

these vw vans were amazing! they represent freedom, travels, and adventure!! they made me dream so much that I did a one year trip in the more modern version of these… a dream come true!

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7 becki November 1, 2012 at 10:57 am

We had a blue and white bus when I was small, then my parents sold it (to someone in St. George, I saw it there every time we visited Southern Utah) and bought a 1984 Vanagon with navy on the bottom, blue on top, and amazing yellow and orange stripes between. The best parts were the giant sunroof and great sound system my dad had installed. The worst was the scary way it got us up the canyon on Saturdays for skiing. For road trips, my dad would carefully pack the “way back” so it was flat and soft and my sister and I would play and sleep on top. Great memories!

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8 Azra November 1, 2012 at 11:03 am

It sounds like fun times. VW is common in Bosnia, something like FORD in the US … and I remember these vans everywhere. We had VW golf (only my brother and myself) and we had an open rack on the top. I remember going to the Adriatic cost every summer, early morning, somewhere half-way on our trip we would start singing… and then the excitement of seeing a sparkling blue sea. Of course there were not car seats and seat belts. Sometimes my brother and I would start smacking each other, driving our parents crazy.
When I hear my own children arguing in a car, I often think what would happen if there were no car seats. So, I am so grateful for them, keeping my children caged and of course safe. :)

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9 Sara November 1, 2012 at 11:30 am

VW buses are so adorable! We had no such cute vehicle, but one of my favorite road trip memories is of my 2 younger brothers and I packed into the backseat of our little car with our pillows, leaning on each other like dominoes so we could all sleep comfortably. My parents dubbed us “3 bugs in a rug,” and from that point on, we always used that term :).

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10 Mary-- The Yellow Door Paperie November 1, 2012 at 11:36 am

Growing up my family had a VW just like the one pictured above. We almost always had some sort of VW van. From 70-90s. Five kids in our family so there was always room for everyone. Lots of beach camping, Yosemite camping, quick trips and Drive-in theater nights.

Oh wow. What beautiful memories you’ve given me today!

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11 Therea November 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Our family had a green VW van too! My mom outfitted it with lime green lace curtains. So 70′s. So perfect. I loved our family road trips in that van, even when it broke down and we kids entertained ourselves while my dad toiled with the engine. Somehow he always got it going again. I wonder if his memories of those break downs are as good as mine are.

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12 Elizabeth T. November 1, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I am one of 4 kids. When I was in high school (late ’80s) the family car was a sort of yellow-beige VW Vanagon. My baby sister called it “the peanut butter car” because of the color.

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13 Robin k November 1, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Love reading about you guys packing up. And you were probably on your way to visit us some of those times!

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14 rebekah November 1, 2012 at 1:12 pm

With five kids in our family, we traveled every summer to a lake in Oklahoma in a big, brown Dodge van … with no air conditioning. A lot of the trip prep that you described sounds similar to my experience, especially my dad’s desire for an early departure time! My favorite memory is when my sister and I would wear our swimsuits the entire trip and, because it was so hot in the van, we would burst out as soon as we arrived and run into the lake.

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15 Grania November 1, 2012 at 1:36 pm

We had a VW Variant (my fathers) and a beetle (mums). When the variant first came on the market in the sixties my parents used a green one to transport huge posters for exhibitions between Germany and England with me in a carrycot perched on top of the posters – a wonder I survived. The customs officers at the ferry were so irritated the first time they saw it they slotted the variant into the lorry lane. Later we had a bright orange one with a black roof with three kids in the back and luggage on top, iin the back and the front, no air conditionig or seat belts, but plastic seatsbut made comfortable with extra cushions etc by dad. My space was always behind the passenger seat, so I could keep an eye on the clock whilst travelling through England and Germany

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16 Jennifer O. November 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm

When I was little, we always had VWs. After the third kid was born my mom said the Bug and the Rabbit we’re going to cut it, and the Bug was replaced with a yellow/tan, aka banana split Van. I clearly remember on road trips, when we often left in the wee hours, my baby sister’s travel crib strapped into the two seat bench seat with the seat belts, the middle sister got to sleep on the back seat, and I, the oldest, was in the way back with luggage falling on me. Oh, the memories! The van had a tendency toward disastrous car problems including the engine catching on fire more than once, and we were early adopters of the Suburban, aka the Sherman Tank or Moby Dick the great grey whale. My mom has since downsized (since she only has kid #5 at home now) first to a Yukon and now a Pilot and Envoy which she feels is too small, you never know when you need to haul something. We are very much not a minivan family. My sisters, both with 3 or 4 kids, drive a Navigator and an Explorer.

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17 Simona- Positivelybeaming November 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm

What a great story! Thank you for sharing and sparking the interesting comments on childhood’s past. We didn’t have a VW nor the need of one with only two kids but we did go on plenty of road trips in a mini-van. I had a favourite spot and because of me I guess my brother took the remaining chair. We fought a lot, especially when we took a car with a bench seat! Imagine how horrible to have your little brother over the line? The end of the world in those days. We played a ton of games, sang, read and talked, there were no headphones or video games or movies. We asked “are we there yet?” a million times and drove our parents crazy. But through all that, I only have great memories of those trips and the things we saw. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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18 Martha November 1, 2012 at 4:20 pm

One of my favorite things about my growing up years is all the amazing places that my parents took up! When I think about it now, traveling all over the US and Canada with 6 girls was no small feat, but oh how I appreiciate the memories and education that we got because of their sacrifice! I always wanted a VW bus! We always drove a Chevy Astro van. One day.

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19 Janet Meyer November 2, 2012 at 7:03 am

Oh my, the memories your article conjured up again. Growing up, we didn’t have a VW bus for our family of 8 but my south african husband did for his family of 9! He often tells us about their holiday adventures in and around Cape Town in their red VW bus. Growing up in Maryland, my family would pile into our olive green paneled station wagon and take a 4 week summer vacation across the country to visit our family members in California and Idaho. We’d all pile in for the adventure; kids, dog, pillows, books, food, toys, mom, dad and the tinkle jar (i’ll let this story item stay in the family!). Hook up the pop up camping trailer and we were good to go!

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20 candice stringham November 2, 2012 at 9:12 am

We had an orange bus like in the photo above but it had a tent top that extended up. It was a total piece of junk but I have the best memories from it.

We would drive from Utah to Northern California crossing through Tahoe every Christmas in that thing and the heater didn’t work. My parents would lay the backseats down and pile on the blankets. And my dad would have to open the window and scrape the frost off the windshield as we were driving. I remember being freezing but we always though it was fun.

It’s kind of amazing what was acceptable as far as safety goes when we were kids but we all survived! My Dad said it gave us character and creativity.

Thanks for the memories!

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21 the emily November 2, 2012 at 9:53 am

We had a way back too! But we had a big 15 passenger van. The oldest kids always got the furthest bench seat (there were 3 benches behind the driver) and would hang up a blanket so we couldn’t see them. Then the next two siblings got the middle of the bench seats, and I always had to sit with grandma on the front bench seat. I HATED it. I loved my grandma, but I wanted to be with the big kids in the way back. But I did like “washing my hair” in the air conditioner vents while we drove.

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22 Summer November 2, 2012 at 9:54 am

aw, my dad’s afraid of flying, so we drove everywhere too. Texas to Cape Cod was the most memorable trip (we got lost an entire day in DC). I was an only kid, so we did get the early start (5-6am) and I had the whooooole back seat to sprawl out in and listen to my walkman or read (apparently getting car sick is something i started later in life).

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23 Sophie November 2, 2012 at 10:11 am

When I was growing up my dad was a London taxi driver, so the taxi was our only family transport most of the time. Before the compulsory seatbelt laws came in, me and my brother would take our sleeping bags with us on long journeys and sleep on the big floor. So cosy.

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24 Amy Hackworth November 2, 2012 at 12:11 pm

We are forever intending to leave for road trips at a certain time, and always leaving an hour…or two…or three…late. Glad to know the same thing happened in your family! :)

These images of your family all piled in the car and singing together are so sweet!

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25 Jamie November 2, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Ha! I love that image… my husband and I drove through that tree while road tripping down the west coast when we were first married. I loved that trip! And, I’d give anything for that VW bus!! My mom drove an orange VW rabbit when I was little… we then graduated to a minivan, and our roadtrips were mainly just boring I-95 drives from Florida to Maryland. I am so ready to start a road tripping tradition with my own family. I think once our 18-month-old is a couple of years older we’ll hit the road!

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26 Jodi November 2, 2012 at 9:31 pm

It was way more fun back then when we could just take out all the seats in the van (except for the “way back” row, that was reserved for the oldest!) and throw down some foam pads. Good memories. I am the youngest of 9.

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27 Kelly November 4, 2012 at 8:58 pm

That is a van sized hole! I have such fond memories of family road trips. When my brother and I would play the license plate game, or count cows. This was before the days of vans with DVD players. And, as connected as I am and as much as I love television, I will never have a van with a DVD player. I want my kids to see whats outside the windows, or in a good book, or in each other.

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28 Ellen Patton November 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Yes! We also had an orange VW van in the mid 70′s. It was a 9-passenger and there were 4 kids so 2 of us go to lay down on seats and 2 got to lay on the floor (I was the only girl and I think I always got a seat). We drove all over the west growing up. I love family road trips.

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