What are the essential items for van life? Those items that make travelling and camping with kids easier!
I have lost count of the times that people have asked how all five of us fit in our T5 camper van. The truth is, space is tight and I have to think about what we take with us and how we store everything. Last year we spent a lot of time in the camper van, so I thought I would put together a post packed with essential items for van life with kids.
*This post contains affiliate links.
From clothing, camping equipment, hacks, books, kids activities to our seasonal must have items…. Here are my essential items for van life with kids.
Sleeping bags/ bedding
Our earlier camper van trips involved packing an abundance of pillows, duvet and blankets but when our third member of the Otis and Us tribe was born, we knew we needed to think of items that took up a lot less space in the camper and to make room for our third mini me.
We decided to use sleeping bags for the children, as they could be packed into small bags and we also found that the sleeping bags were thin enough to stay in the pop top roof even when it is closed.
The girls love the Mountain Warehouse patterned sleeping bags – pink flamingos. They are gorgeous, and perfect for Spring and Summer use.
Cutlery and crockery
Even if you decide to eat out quite a lot during your travels, you will still need to pack cutlery and crockery for meals and snacks. Ask my husband what is an essential item for our camper van trips he would say a mug…he is a serious coffee addict. We love the enamel mugs from Mountain warehouse with the phrase “not all who wander are lost” They are lightweight, easy to clean and perfect for camping adventures.
Drive way awning
We purchased an awning when we first had our camper van and unfortunately it quickly succumbed to the Scottish weather during an Easter camping trip a couple of years ago. We finally replaced it with the Vango Cruz II drive away awning this year, and I have forgotten how much living space it adds to your camper. It provides storage for the big items that we need to store such as a stroller, carriers and car seats and it provides an additional living space during our stop overs. I love that this awning can provide an additional bedroom as it gives us an extra option for sleeping arrangements.
Vango AirBeam® means that it is quick to pitch and it also creates a strong and rigid structure. The awning comes with a double action pump that allows us to rapidly inflate the awning and we love the front canopy that provides a little added shade when the sun or rain comes out.
Camping chairs for van life
Folding chairs are great for outdoor life and we take our chairs everywhere. We also purchased this baby folding camping chair only last year, and I wish I had found it sooner. It is a small, compact camping chair that is easy to put up and down. It has a three-point harness and comes with a compact carry bag. The camping chair is recommended for up to 3 years.
Books and activity books
Whenever we head off on a road trip I always ensure that the kids each have a small bag packed with a few travel toys and activity and stickers books. Recently we purchased the Lonely Planet travel journal and found that it’s a lovely journal for my 7 year old to record all of our adventures. Currently we are also loving the Lisa Stickley books.
I try to remember to pack a couple of tablets and have recently been navigating my way around the Readly magazine app online. Readly has a huge range of titles including OK!, Women’s Health, Vogue, Heat, Red, Ideal Home, Autocar, Men’s Health and Time magazine. There are also a few kids’ titles including National Geographic Kids, Horrible Histories and Beano. We really don’t take many toys, – I love that kids enjoy the simple things on our travels such as collecting sticks, making daisy chains and running wild.
Finally, I try to take a good book. I’m currently reading Paula Hawkins ‘Into the Water’ and what a fab book. I am about half way through and so far I am loving it. Have you read this one yet ?
Camping stove and gas
We actually decided not to have a hob in the camper whilst the children were young (although we are looking to add one this year!), so over the last few years we have always cooked on the camping stove whilst we are on our travels. We have a saucepan set and utensils (and we do try to cook most days to save money).
We have tried both internal blinds, and wrap around blinds for the camper. We find the wrap around blinds really quick when setting up the van for the evening, although the internal ones are great for the bad weather. They are definitely necessary for hiding the sun at 5am!
I am a huge fan of packing pods. Storage is tight in the van and I pack a pod for each of us. I also pack a pod with all the swimwear in and a pod for all the night wear – easy to find if we arrive at a campsite late, or if the kids are bursting to hit the swimming pool! I also take a flexi bucket that we store outdoor toys in (we have also used this as a baby bath!) and we use stacking boxes to store shoes and other items. We have also recently purchased a back seat organiser to store tablets, books and toys that come on our travels.
We don’t have a bike rack although we are really hoping to purchase one this year as we would love to take the bikes with us. We often take the micro scooters for the kids as they don’t take up a lot of room and they keep the little ones entertained in the fresh air for hours!
An essential item for travel. We have a small medical kit that we adapt as needed and keep it in the door of the camper so it is easy to find. We include things like plasters, mosquito spray, antiseptic cream, children’s paracetamol, small scissors etc.
We take two or three blankets that we always keep in the camper van. Perfect for the cooler evenings and they double up as picnic blanket
We never go anywhere without swimwear. There are so many campsites with wonderful indoor and outdoor pools, not forgetting nearby beaches. We are huge fans of Zoggs swimwear, in particular the sun suits and float suits…practical, fun and safe.
Coats, fleeces, hiking boots or wellies are always packed in the camper van, particularly if we are camping in the UK. What is the old saying…there is no such thing as bad weather, just a bad choice of clothing?!
We keep a torch in our toiletry bag as it is always useful for the midnight trek to the toilet block or trying to set up camp in the dark if we arrive later than planned.
We purchased a small hanging toiletry bag that hooks on the back of the driver seat. It holds all of our shower gels, tooth brushes, shampoo and suncream. Baby wipes are also an essential item for van life with kids!
The baby carrier is wonderful for van life as it doesn’t take up as much space as a stroller and allows us to walk, explore and visit places off the beaten track with the kids in tow.
So …. Is living in a camper van possible with three kids?
The answer is yes. With a little planning, clever packing and the idea that van life is all about simplicity.. don’t over pack, the less clutter the better!
This post will be updated regularly to add more of our essential items for van life with kids
Please do let me know if you have any items to add!
Pin for later
Images copyright – Otis and Us
Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. All this means is that any purchases you may make are unaffected but I may get a few pennies in return. Some products included have been sent for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.