How to Maximize Space in Your VW Bus

Photo by: Buslifers Ambassadors Kombi Pal Norte

Measuring around 4.5 meters in length (including the cab), 1.7 meters in width, and 1.9 meters in height (including the wheels), the VW Bus is one of the smallest campervans on the road. Of course, that’s kind of the point of them. They force us to minimize our lives whilst allowing us to fit snuggly into tight spaces and squeeze around tight corners for more extraordinary adventures.

In a home such as this, maximizing space and using every square inch to your benefit will make all the difference to your quality of life on the road. Whether you are currently converting your VW Bus for living purposes, or you want to make your converted camper roomier, these tips on how to maximize space in your VW Bus will go a long way.

Plan your conversion with care

Considering the space and functionality of your VW Bus properly when beginning your conversion is not a task that should be rushed. Sometimes, converting a VW Bus can be tough and time-consuming and we just want to get on with it so that we can finally hit the road. It’s tempting, but rarely worth it in the long run. No matter how long it takes, whether it be days, weeks, or months, take the time to play with different layout designs until you find the one that feels right for you. If you want to get creative, why not even make a miniature model to give you a real-life 3D visual of your design? 

Get inspired by this reel of VW Bus layouts over on YouTube.

Photo by: Buslifers Ambassador Nadia Koch

List your living space requirements

To decide what kind of layout you’d find most efficient, you need to consider what it is you are looking for in a living space. After all, you wouldn’t go out with someone who doesn’t meet your dating criteria, right? To make this easier, write a list of all your campervan requirements before you start designing. Deciding exactly what you want to prioritize in your VW Bus design can really help make your space more efficient. Here are some of the most important questions you should ask yourself to help determine your bus layout priorities: 

  • What is my height? (This is important for designing your bed) 
  • Can I live without a toilet or shower?  
  • Would I prefer to have access to the cab from inside the bus? 
  • What belongings am I planning to bring? 
  • How much storage space do I need? 
  • Do I need a sitting area? 
  • Do I want an indoor or outdoor cooking space?  
  • Would I prefer a large counter or a small one? 
  • If you have pets, what would help make Buslife comfortable for them? 
  • Is my layout both practical and comfortable? 

Utilize your garage space wisely

Garage space, meaning the space beneath your bed/bench at the back of your VW Bus, is often the most important space in your van. How well you utilize it determines how easy and efficient your Buslife will be. Since the beds/benches at the back of VW Buses tend to be raised between 40 and 60 cm above the floor, and the bus is 1.7 meters wide, there is a considerable amount of space to play with. Simply shoving things on the floor of the garage is basically a buslife crime. The best VW Buses feature well-organized shelving or drawer units that roll out the back of the van on heavy-duty runners. If you plan to spend a lot of time outside during your travels, consider fitting a pullout table/worktop and a pullout stove in your garage for some scenic outdoor cooking!

Look out for dead space

When designing your layout, it’s useful to look out for areas of ‘dead space’. Often, there are clever ways to make these spaces functional — with the right inspiration. Fortunately, YouTube has a never-ending digital catalog of van conversion videos that offer all kinds of unusual and clever ways of utilizing the limited space in your home on wheels. Many VW Bus conversions feature a pullout kitchen that slides in and out from beneath your bed via the back doors. Another idea is to raise the floor by 10 cm or so and fit removable floor panels creating easily accessible floor storage. These are just two of dozens of design ideas found on YouTube that maximize space in your VW Bus. We recommend spending a few hours browsing these videos to gain inspiration for your own build. Be warned, though, it can get addicting!

Photo by: Odyssées D’architectures

Critically assess your cupboards

Rather than simply maximizing space, moving into a home on wheels is a great motivation to minimize your life. To critically evaluate all of your belongings and decide what you really, truly need to live comfortably. This is a concept that has been popularized in recent years by Marie Kondo, a professional organizing consultant that encourages people to remove any belonging that doesn’t bring joy to their life from their homes. So, we encourage you to consider what brings you joy and see just how many unnecessary items you have brought along with you on the road.

Alternatively, base your judgment on how frequently you use each of the items in your van. If you rarely use it, maybe it’s time to say goodbye. Whether you manage to remove a lot or just a little, it can go a long way in allowing us to maximize space when our space is as small as a VW Bus! While it can be hard to part with our belongings, it is simultaneously freeing. Especially if it allows us to live more comfortably on the road. 

Get a pop-top

As well as finding clever ways to make use of the space you’ve got, why not also extend your VW Bus with a pop-top? Although they can cost between $7,000 to $15,000 to buy and install, the benefits far exceed the price if you have the budget. With the top popped, your bus will boast two meters of height at its tallest point. This is a true game-changer for us Buslifers because it allows us to stand up straight in our buses. A luxury not afforded to those with a tin top.

The extra headroom makes all the difference to the quality of our Buslife experience, not to mention the additional ventilation and light they will provide. Plus, many pop-tops include a convertible bed space the size of a two-man tent. This is an ideal option for families with children. Alternatively, you can use to pop-top as your primary sleeping quarters, allowing you to use the floor space for a bigger kitchen and living area. 

Add a roof rack 

Roof racks are possibly the simplest and most efficient way of creating space in (or on, should we say) your VW Bus. They don’t require any clever design ideas, renovations, or de-cluttering; they provide extra storage without compromise. It’s a win-win. The only possible downside of roof racks is their accessibility. Being strapped to your roof, you need to climb and stretch a little to reach them. Therefore, they’re most useful for Buslifers storing a lot of necessary but not necessary-for-everyday-use type of items like tools, surfboards, and bikes. While it’s possible to get roof racks in many sizes, the VW Bus roof racks tend to extend almost the complete length and width of the vehicle. A roof rack of this size provides so many storage possibilities, you might just find yourself buying more to fill your newfound space!

Photo by: Buslifers Ambassador Nikki Cole

Use clever storage hacks

Cargo netting

Stretchy and secure, cargo netting is one of the most useful fittings you can add to your bus. It can be fitted on your walls, doors, seats, ceiling, or wherever you have an unused surface. Since the storage pockets don’t require the same effort as opening and closing drawers, they are perfect for keeping those items that you most want to keep within easy reach.

Backseat organizers

These organizers, which can be hooked around the headrest and hung down the back of your seat, are packed with useful pockets. Just like cargo netting, this makes them a handy place to put all of your most frequently used items. They’re also ideal for keeping tape, pens, lighters, and other small, annoying items that would otherwise roll around in drawers.

Stuff your cushion covers

While cushions tend to make our bus look cuter, they sometimes disrupt the functionality of our space. That’s why the sneakiest and smartest Buslife storage hack is stuffing your cushion covers with soft clothing rather than cushions. This gives them a practical purpose as well as an aesthetic one meaning they are less of an inconvenience. Of course, the trick works better with more rigid cushion covers than with thin malleable ones.

Packing cubes

Travel bloggers swear by packing cubes and we will do the same. Not only do they make your cupboards neater, but they also pack your clothing down creating more storage space. The best thing about packing cubes, however, is their organizational capabilities. They allow you to categorize your belongings and stack them more easily, maximizing your cupboard space. So satisfying. 

Cabinet shelving

Taller cabinets without any shelving create a lot of dead space since they can only store items on their bottom surface. By adding shelves you can utilize the dead space and stack your items properly, allowing for a greater storage capacity. Always add a lip to the front of shelves to stop items from flying out when you take sharp corners. 

Photo by: Buslifers Ambassadors JL Travel

Make a windowsill trough

For those who have a windowsill or a frame around their windows, adding a simple lip to the base to create a trough will be a game-changer. It is an easy and accessible place to store mason jars, spices, and even fruits and veggies. Alternatively, use it to bring a bit of extra aesthetic joy to your bus by putting plants or decorative objects inside.

Recessed shelving

This one is for Buslifers who are converting or renovating their van. If you have any blank wall space in your layout design, consider recessing part of it. Remove a section of insulation, board it up, and add shelves. The recessed space will be narrow, but deep enough to fit plenty of useful items like books, toiletries, snacks, or even some cute art!

Pullout and hang-down surfaces

Install a pullout table in your cupboards or beneath your bed/bench for extra surface space to prepare food, cook, eat, or play an overly competitive game of cards on. Why not also double already existing surfaces like walls and cupboard doors as hang-down or pull-up tables?

Get creative!

One of the most fun aspects of owning a VW Bus is the challenge it presents to maximize and utilize space as wisely as possible. There are so many fun, inventive, and clever ways to do so, many of which we have covered here. However, there are always new ways to be discovered. How will you maximize space in your VW Bus? See how our Buslifers crew has done this on our ambassadors page!

Emily Draper
Author: Emily Draper

Having visited over 70 countries across all seven continents, it's safe to say Emily has the voice of a true traveler. She has lived with the Hare Krishnas in Chile, an Amazonian tribe in Peru, and a retiree named Jerry in a Wisconsin trailer park. Now, Emily has embarked on the coolest adventure yet: across Europe in her self-converted bus.


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