Have you always dreamed of living van life but fear it may be “too late” because you have kids? Guess what? It’s not! You can totally do van life with kids, and there are plenty of people out there doing it!
It’s not always easy, but let’s face it: having kids is never easy. But it is fulfilling, exciting, and a way to make once-in-a-lifetime memories that you’ll never forget.
In this article, I’ll talk about some of the amazing perks of van life with kids, as well as some things to watch out for when you live in a camper van with your family. I’ve compiled a list of kids tips about full time van life with kids from expert van life families.
Let’s dive in!
The Perks and Pit Falls of Van Life With Kids
I’m not going to pretend that van life with kids is all rainbows and sunshine. Living in a small space with your whole family is tough! There is little privacy, van storage is tricky, and no one has their own bathroom. There will be days when you just need a break from your kids and there is nowhere to go.
Even without kids, van life is not always an epic adventure. As with life anywhere, some days are amazing, some are mundane, and some are downright terrible. Set reasonable expectations and don’t go into van life (with or without kids) thinking every day will be a fairytale.
That being said, the freedom of van life offers a unique chance to spend quality time with your family. You won’t be leaving the house for work every morning and not seeing your kids until you come home for dinner that night. You’ll get to spend time outdoors, and you can enjoy hanging out at your own pace, without the pressure of a highly scheduled life full of soccer practices and parent teacher meetings.
8 Tips for Making Van Life With Kids a Joy
The are a few things you can do to get the most out of van life with kids. These tips will help you navigate the pitfalls so you can spend more time enjoying the perks.
#1 - Don't Wait
At the end of the day, there’s no ‘right time’ to start van life. The best time to go is now.
This can be especially true for van life with kids: it’s often easier for kids to adapt to van life when they are younger, before they are tied to commitments like school, friends, sports teams and other activities. Pulling a teenager out of school and away from their friends might be difficult.
That being said, the logistics of traveling with older kids are certainly less complicated. No diapers, no potty training, and you’ll probably be able to take a lot less stuff.
Bottom line: there’s never going be a ‘perfect time to go.’ Go when you want to go.
#2 - Build or Buy Your Van With Kids in Mind
Getting two adults, two kids, and all your stuff into a camper van is no easy feat! You may need to look at many different camper vans and sprinter van options before you decide which one is right for your family.
If you can, try to rent a van for a while to get a feel for the size and what you will need. Check out lots of different models and start making a list of what you like and don’t like.
When it comes time to buy or build your van, keep in mind that a younger child will need safety approved seating that takes up more space. You’ll also need to consider a play area, sleeping arrangements, and storage solutions for toys, clothes, and gear.
If possible, try to plan for the future when designing or buying your camper van. Do you expect to have more kids down the road (no pun intended)? With some planning and forethought, most vans can be adapted to accommodate at least one more person, so keep these things in mind when planning your build.
#3 - Downsize and Consolidate
Your kids might have a lot of toys at home, but you’ll be surprised how little a toddler actually needs when you’re on a road trip somewhere like Grand Teton National Park or Hood River. The world becomes their playground, and you can get away with just bringing a few favorite toys for days when you’re stuck inside.
One of major attractions for most van life families is that van life forces you to downsize and live with only what you need. Take the opportunity to get rid of things that aren’t absolutely necessary, and use it as a moment to teach your kids how to live with less.
#4 - Take It Slow
Everything takes longer in a van. Everything. Be prepared for things to derail your plans, and leave room for error. You might set out with a strict schedule in mind (one year to see the whole United States, for example) and quickly find yourself falling behind that schedule. That’s okay!
Even without kids, this happens all the time in van life. Part of the joy of this lifestyle is that you’re free to take your time and let things unfold as they will. Don’t put pressure on yourself to stick to an impossible timeline. Be flexible. Take it slow.
#5 - Let the Kids Lead
One of the greatest joys of van life with kids is getting to watch your kids explore the world and spend time outdoors. So let them take the lead sometimes – both in terms of where you go, and in terms of how long it takes to get there.
There are a wealth of national parks, public lands, beaches, rivers, mountains, deserts, and more to explore. Try kid-led hikes or bike rides with your younger child, or get your older kids involved in finding your next parking spots.
Know also that you probably won’t be able to make as many miles with your kids in the camper van as you would solo or with just your partner. You may only be able to drive 4 hours a day as opposed to 8. Make conservative estimates when planning your travel days.
#6 - Pack Snacks!
All parents know the value of snacks, but when you’re living van life, snacks take on a whole new meaning. If you head to a remote off-grid spot, you’ll need to plan ahead and stock up. Worst case, you can opt for some healthy gas station snacks to grab on the way. Use Google Maps to look ahead at the grocery stores available in the areas near your camping spots.
If you have a long day in the camper van on the road, you may need to prepare food ahead of time (especially if you get car sick and can’t make food while the vehicle is in motion.) If your rig doesn’t have a van fridge, consider packing these non-perishable food items to maximize shelf life.
Keep in mind also that snacks are a great time-killer on a road trip. You may find yourself going through them more quickly than usual, so be prepared to buy more than you think you’ll need.
#7 - Use Apps
There are a ton of great apps out there that make van life with kids easier. Everything from finding camping spots and gas stations, to knowing where you’ll have cell service, to discovering hiking trails, and more.
Some of the best apps for van life include iOverlander, GasBuddy, Recreation.gov, and OpenSignal. Get these apps on your phone and you will find that van life becomes a thousand times easier.
There are also a ton of great books about van life out there. These can be super useful for planning, especially if you plan to work remotely or need help budgeting.
#8 - Don't Be Afraid to Stop and Re-Evaluate
Van life with kids is not for everyone. Family life on the road is challenging, and spending time together 24/7 in a camper van is a double-edged sword. You may find that rather than soaking in the family time, you long for more space and some time away from your child.
That’s okay! There is no shame in changing or even abandoning your plan. In fact, I recommend everybody do a test run before committing to full time van life – with kids or without.
Can you rent a sprinter van or camper van for a month and take a couple long road trips to visit family? Can you spend a week fully off-grid so you know what it’s actually like to live without running water and electricity?
Van life with kids takes work and planning. It’s certainly not easy, and honestly, it’s not always fun. If you find it isn’t for you, great! You can move on to the next chapter of your life knowing you learned something about yourself and your family.
Van Life With Kids Is an Unforgettable Journey
Whether you decide to pursue van life with kids full time, or just enjoy some road trips, there’s no doubt that you will make memories that last a lifetime. It’s a challenge, but with the right attitude, some planning and hard work, you can enjoy a lifestyle that allows you to spend quality hours with your kids. And isn’t that what we’re all trying to have more of in the end?