This #vanlife is not all it is cracked up to be

Oh, the joys of #vanlife!

I was checking up on my Vanagon yesterday and noticed the coolant was low. Missing coolant is very bad in a Vanagon for many, many reasons.

I looked for a leak.

I could not find a leak. It was possible the car had just burped an air bubble and swallowed a cup or two of coolant from the reserve. I was not in a panic.

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Via my sister

A post shared by Jason Weisberger (@jlw) on Jul 25, 2017 at 4:09pm PDT

I also knew my power steering belt was looking really ragged. I decided to call the local shop I've been working with and see if they could swap the belt and pressure test the system today.

They said bring the bus in at 7am.

I drove the 10-15 miles to my mechanic with no problems at all. I had given myself an extra hour in the event something terrible went wrong with the cooling system, or the v-belt decided to trash my day on the way to being replaced.

It is a Vanagon, these things happen.

I got to the shop uneventfully. I love my bus. I take good care of it.

See, things work out!

I decided to park about 3 blocks away and get a cup of pretty terrible coffee from a Starbucks.

Starbucks had terrible coffee.

I, and Pretzel my faithful Cavalier King Charles companion, returned to the van. I turned the key in the ignition. Read the rest

I am replacing my VW's cigarette lighter with a permanent USB port

This permanent USB port has everything I want: QC 3.0 charging, 2 USB ports, and a voltmeter.

My little USB 2 port plug in has kept me going in the Vanagon for years. It does tend to fall out when I go over a lot of bumps, or a daughter or dog bumps it. The only thing I ever swap into that lighter port is a voltmeter.

Voilla. Adding QC 3.0 is a big bonus cause I love this battery.

I no longer smoke cigarettes and can light joints with a lighter.

Quick Charge 3.0 USB Charger Socket, ADSDIA 12V/24V 36W Aluminum Waterproof Dual QC3.0 Car Charger Power Adapter Outlet with LED Display via Amazon Read the rest

My first attempt at smoking meat on a compact bullet smoker

Smoking my dinner is the latest in slow 'n low cooking for me.

My brother, the actual bonafide chef in the family, got me addicted to smoking meat. While I've long been an enthusiast of sous-vide cooking, Brother Ben swears by his offset smoker. After visiting with his family for a bit, and eating a lot of barbeque, I was sold.

Smoking uses the same principles as sous-vide and also imparts a smokey flavor to your food. Thick, tangy and overpowering smoke, or just very delicate -- the choice is yours, sort of. Rather than immersing your food in a temperature monitored water bath, ala sous vide, smoking surrounds the food in warm smoke. You can find temperate controlled systems to make it a lot easier but that removes the fun of playing with fire for hours and hours.

Sous vide is easy, however, you plug in a circulator, put your meat in a plastic bag and away you go. Can smoking meat be as easy? After eating a few delicious meals of smoked salmon, turkey, pork and beef at my brother's, I wanted to spend my long days hanging around a campsite, living la vida Vanagon, smoking meat.

Offset, upright, pellet, gas, electric? What kind of smoker was the right one for me? My brother and I started watching lots of YouTube videos and it looked like a 'bullet smoker' also known as a 'water smoker' was the right way to go, for me. Bullet smokers have a fire right at the bottom, a water bath in the middle and a smoke/cooking chamber up top. Read the rest

#Vanlife: Camping California's coast -- Gaviota State Beach

This is post is part of a series of reviews of Federal, State, and County provided campsites along California's amazing coastline.

I mistakenly thought Gaviota State Beach was Refugio State Beach. It is not.

Another parking lot style campsite adjacent to a fairly lovely California beach! Gaviota features a lot of bunnies, all of whom appear to have massive ticks in their ears, cold showers, and an all-night party. This is my least favorite style CA campsite, but my daughter really loved it.

Located 33 miles north of Santa Barbara, Gaviota is very popular with RV campers. The site I was in had no RV hookups and was your typical CA picnic table and shitty fire ring. There was no shade to be found and somewhat, unfortunately, a large group of RV campers had decided to leave open spots between their family of trailers when they booked in. This had several folks, not in their party, trapped inside of their large group free for all.

Aside from toddlers wandering around a field of open fire pits, and the occasional off-leash pitbull, we had a lovely overnight stop. I was glad I did not book a second night and we simply continued down the coast. I had thought this site was Refugio, which similarly is right on a beach with a very mild break, perfect for kids to boogie board or body surf.

There are a few really great beachside camping spots in the Santa Barbara area. I am looking forward to El Capitan and Jalama. Read the rest

#Vanlife: Camping California's coast -- the Pismo Beach Oceano Campground

This is post is part of a series of reviews of Federal, State, and County provided campsites along California's amazing coastline.

I've visited the Oceano Campgrounds at Pismo State Beach several times this summer. Conveniently located right off the 101 highway along the central coast of California, Pismo is a great place to take a break.

There are other State-run campsites at Pismo, Oceano is not 'Oceano Dunes,' nor is it 'the Pismo North Campground.' Oceano sits on a lovely, bird-filled lagoon about 2 short blocks from the State beach. The sites are very typical of Cal State camping, picnic tables and fire rings. I've stayed in both sites with RV hookups and tent camping sites. I felt situated a little closer to other campers than I'd have liked for a several-day visit, but as a convenient overnight place to stop, cook and shower? Oceano kicks ass.

The hosts and rangers are also very nice people here and are super helpful.

There is a Mexican restaurant right outside the very modern and nice Visitor Center, however I have not tried it. The hamburger shack about 1 block towards the beach, Adam's Burgers, is fantastic. Enjoyed by both my daughter and I. There is also a small market, and a coffee shack that'll sell you t-shirts and stickers as well.

There were a lot of RVs set up for lengthier stays. Most folks had dune buggy type cars, but nothing as cool as Wonderbuggy. Oceano Dunes is one of the last places folks can hoon around in the sand. Read the rest

#Vanlife: Camping California's coast -- Morro Strand

This is the first in a series of reviews of Federal, State and County provided campsites along California's amazing coastline.

I started my summer of #vanlife at the Californa State Park campsite of Morro Strand. It was pretty depressing to sit there, but you can leave and see wonderful things.

Morro Strand is a cement parking lot next to the beach along California's beautiful central coast. You can see Morro Rock, and easily drive to San Simeon, Cambria, Los Osos or Montaña de Oro. Hearst Castle is also close by.

The campsite has solid support by rangers, the camp host is very nice. There is no shade at most of the campsite. State-provided wifi is sufficient and will allow you to run a VPN. The site is so nestled into a residential area along the coast that it appears pizza and other forms of local food delivery are available to campers.

There is drinking water available and there are restrooms, however no showers! If you'd like to shower however, you are allowed to take your camping pass and drive to Morro Bay State Park and use theirs. The showers at the Morro Bay Campground have long been amongst the best in the Californa system.

Morro Bay was so crowded in late June, however, it looked like a refugee camp.

Morro Strand was mostly RV campers, and mostly groups of 2-3 campers who situated next to one another who were throwing multi-day beach parties. The camphost and rangers kept things well under control and life was always family friendly, clean and relatively quiet. Read the rest

Recycled polypropylene rug helps my dog look GOOD

This Mad Mats rug keeps sticks, dirt, burrs and other garbage out of my dog's fur and out of my camper!

6'x9' and awfully stylish, I've had this rug since 2013 and it looks as good as new. Excellent for throwing down just outside the door of my VW Vanagon, under our pop-up shade, or right next to the picnic table where I am cooking and working.

When you spend a lot of time with your dogs in the outdoors, anything that helps keep them a little cleaner, and make life seem a little more luxuriant, is welcome. Like getting nice furniture in your prison cell!

There are other styles, pick the one you love!

Mad Mats Oriental Turkish Indoor/Outdoor Floor Mat, 6 by 9-Feet, Rust via Amazon Read the rest

The LEGO 'Surfer Van' is gnarly

This LEGO Camper Van is far more accessible than the VW branded one.

Growing up in Southern California instilled a love of all things camper van in me. My daughter loves our VW Westy so much that she cried when I suggested selling the ol' bus last year.

There were peals of joy when she saw this kit!

LEGO Creator Sunshine Surfer Van 31079 Building Kit (379 Piece) via Amazon Read the rest

#VanLife is not what Instagram makes it out to be

A reader sent us a link to an awesome VW microbus poster, so I bought it for my mechanic. In response to this nice gesture all the coolant dumped out of my engine. Read the rest

A collapsible kettle for camping

I love space saving gadgetry when camping. I fell for this collapsible silicone kettle.

This silicon kettle folds down for easy storage. I can boil water in a pot, but this adds just the missing touch to morning tea while camping.

LevelOne Collapsible Silicone Outdoor Camping Kettle via Amazon Read the rest

Rapidly remove old automotive decals and bumper stickers

This eraser wheel is wonderful. It removes old, weathered decals in seconds.

I attached this eraser to my cordless drill and effortlessly rubbed some very old and bad looking decals off my VW Van. I replaced them with something closer to my heart.

I cleaned up with rubbing alcohol after removing the decal.

ABN Decal Eraser Wheel Pinstripe Removal Kit via Amazon Read the rest