Thinking of vanlife with kids? Vanlife with children can be absolutely incredible, but don’t get me wrong – it can also be challenging. Here is why we love vanlife as a family of five, and our tips and tricks for maximising the fun and minimising the stress, to help you to enjoy your family campervan adventures.
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Vanlife with kids – about our vanlife family
We purchased our VWT5 campervan back in 2012. Now let’s be honest, we hadn’t really experienced camping with kids, and had only tried a few glamping holidays. We had best friends who had a camper van and we had always had this pipe dream, but we hadn’t ever researched into campervans, or camper van conversion ideas or anything really.
We had a list of what we wanted (air con, low mileage, etc)…. and before long we had purchased a panel van with a plan to convert it into a family camper and the rest is history.
But then our family grew!
Fast forward to 2023, and we have three children and have added in a HUGE golden retriever dog into the mix!! We have experienced vanlife with a baby…. vanlife with a toddler…. vanlife with a (nearly) teenager. So here are all of our thoughts, tips and hacks, for a successful adventure in a VW campervan with kids.
Is it possible to do vanlife with three kids?
This is probably the question I get asked the most.
And yes it is absolutely possible!!!
Don’t get me wrong, it is not always easy, and there have most certainly been challenges. We have had to make adjustments along the way. Working out how to sleep 5 in a VW campervan comfortably (particularly as the children got older) has been a challenge, but one that we achieved – adding a pop top roof definitely helped.
Then we added in the HUGE golden retriever!!
Vanlife with a dog also has its challenges, the main challenge was finding the room for all the extra things we needed to pack for Wilf. But we wouldn’t change it for the world and our golden retriever loves vanlife just as much as we do.
Vanlife brings us irreplaceable adventures and memories. Something that money just can’t buy. It allows us to spend quality time together as a family and the opportunity to visit places that we may not have even dreamt of to make the most incredible memories.
van life with kids – things to consider before you start
You probably already know that heading off for a day trip or any road trip with kids requires so much stuff!!! So heading off in the camper van with kids takes a little bit of planning and organisation.
There are a few things to consider before you hit the road
- Where will you all sleep? Do you need an additional awning or living space?
- What is your van layout and how does it work for you and the kids?
- How old are your children?
- What car seats do you need?
- Where will you eat? Do you need additional chairs/high chairs etc? What are the best camping chairs for kids (that don’t take up ALL the space!)
- What options do you have for a rainy day?
- What activities do you have planned? Do you need bikes? scooters? beach toys?
- What’s the weather like? What clothing will you need? (coats, wellies and jumpers take up more room than sandals and swimwear!)
- How long is the journey before your first stop?
- Vanlife with a dog? Where will the dog sleep?
- Do you need a toilet or a portable shower for life on the road?
Here is everything we have discovered about van life with kids including some of our tried and tested strategies to help you to get the most out of life on the road!
Plan for vanlife – organisation tips
Plan..plan….plan!! Something I never used to do. I was forever winging it at life, throwing stuff in the campervan and hitting the road. But to ensure that all five of us happily live in a small camper, I now realise that planning is better…. organisation is key….. and lists are life.
Think about where you are heading and how long you will be living in a van. Create a campervan packing list for all your essential items so that you don’t forget anything.
What do you pack for living on the road?
Read on for our vanlife packing list with a checklist for all the wardrobe essentials!
Kids vanlife clothing list
- warm socks
- trainers/walking shoes /sandals/ beach shoes
- dry robe for kids/ towel
Kids Travel Gear
- Travel games
- Colouring and sticker books
- Travel journals
- collapsible buckets and spades
- Chargeable fan
- Snacks and drinks
- Swimwear safety armbands/lifejackets
- Beach games
Vanlife storage ideas
What do you do with all your stuff?
The answer is we don’t really pack lots of stuff. We don’t need LOADS of clothes. I wash clothes along the way. I find that a good washing line and a small collapsible bucket works wonders for washing whilst on the road.
We have found so many clever storage ideas for small campers along the way. One thing that we really couldn’t do without is a packing cube! Packing cubes allow us to organise our clothes in the camper van.
We make use of all the campervan space saving ideas. Storage nets, hanging storage and collapsible items all help to save space. We try to keep all of our outdoor gear together; swimming gear is stored in one packing cube, hiking gear in another. Footwear we use a waterproof storage container with a lid that can be stored outside.
What about all the kids travel toys? What do you have space for, and what do you REALLY need. We don’t pack a huge amount of travel toys with us. We used to take the lot, bikes, scooters, bat and balls, skipping ropes! We purchased a car tidy organiser and this holds all the travel toys including games, colouring, and rainy day toys. We leave these in the camper van all year round. We also purchased collapsible buckets and spades to save space.
Plan easy vanlife meals
Planning meals and cooking, rather than eating out, really helps us to budget on our van trips. Often I batch cook before our adventures and freeze the meals. I find the labelled foil trays store well in our small fridge and freezer compartment and also make for super easy vanlife food when we are on our travelling days and arrive late or have to set up.
We opt for cooking on a camping stove rather than cooking in a van and we love easy vanlife meals (and vegetarian meals for camping too) that are one pot recipes. They are relatively simple, and don’t require loads of prep or ingredients.
The ridgemonkey is also wonderful for quick meals on the go. Ridgemonkey cooking makes for really easy campervan meals.
Easy camping meals for Kids
- Macaroni cheese
- Three bean chilli
- Chicken korma
- Pasta bolognese
- Meat free cheese burgers and salad
- Hot dogs
- Chilli con carni
Ridgemonkey recipes and meal ideas
- Toasted pitta pockets
- Vegetarian cheese nachos
- Staffordshire oatcakes
- Toasted filled sandwiches.
Packing for a road trip with kids – take Activites and snacks!
Take all the snacks, and pack a little bag of travel activities that will keep kids entertained on a long journey! I mean…these are the essential items for a road trip with kids right?
Things we tend to pack are colouring and sticker books, travel journals, bullet journals, card games, travel games, and books. We don’t particularly limit screen time on the journey and for us we pack an iPad/kindle. We also download a couple of movies before we go, and a playlist on Spotify. The kids love their screen free audio player. Bluetooth headphones are also great for car journeys and also for aeroplane travel with kids, too.
Another thing to consider is slow down and enjoy a gentler pace of life. The same goes for a road trip. If we need to stop, we stop, and if the journey is long, we plan stops into our journey. We take breaks, embrace flexibility and if we need to change our plans last minute then we do. Anything we can do to limit the stress!
choose family friendly Campsites, and factor in regular stops on the journey!
We often holiday in the UK and have stayed in many UK campsites over the years.
We are always on the look out for great family friendly campsites in the UK and now have to consider dog friendly campsites too. We love to stay in North Wales as it is a fairly short drive and there are some great campsite options.
We love to find campsites that have activities and attractions nearby, meaning we don’t have to move the campervan every day to explore the local area. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of packing up and moving on whenever you like is what vanlife is all about, but equally, packing up the campervan every day to go out can be EXHAUSTING. So we really try to think about where we are staying, how far the destination is from our home, and if we need to consider breaking up the journey along the way.
Prepare for emergencies
I love nothing more than heading off and staying in the middle of nowhere, but it is also important to be prepared for emergencies.
Make sure your converted vehicle is insured. Breakdown Europe that covers you wherever you are. First aid kids… medication… sun cream….. tick kit and emergency food and water are all important. Travelling with a dog? Don’t forget a pet first aid kit, too. You really never know when you may need it!
Is vanlife with kids worth it?
Absolutely 100% worth it.
For us, vanlife isn’t about being a full time vanlife lifer. We live in a house and work full time. But we still believe we are a van family. We have embraced vanlife and all it brings. We use our VW campervan as a daily drive. We take it on days out, dog walks, hikes, and we use it as a solo hotel. I have even had a couple of girls’ van weekends in it too. It is always fully stocked, with the kids coats, wellies, dog paraphernalia, camping chairs and sporting gear, so we have everything ready for a spontaneous day out.
Vanlife has given us the BEST memories. It gives us a much needed break from routine (and screens) and has provided us with endless holidays that, in all honesty, we would have not been able to afford if we had to pay for family holidays and hotels.
Our campervan is part of the family, it is our way of life, and I can’t imagine life without the endless opportunities to pack up, hit the road and spend quality time together in the great outdoors.
You may also enjoy Vanlife Festivals, meet-ups and events for 2023
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