The bonding, memories, and laughs that come with family van life don’t compare to any other form of travel. Van life with your kids is not only an excellent way to bond, but it’ll teach them many valuable life skills and inspire curiosity about the world around them.
Of course, family van travel comes with its challenges and complications. However, with adequate planning, preparation, and patience, you can have a blast on the road with your family.
In this article, we’ll share tips and tricks to make your family van adventure go as smoothly as possible.
Family Van Life Tips
1. Make sure everyone has their own seat and sleeping spot
Your van must be able to safely transport and sleep the whole family. Therefore, sleeping and seating arrangements should be considered when designing your van; its build should be comfortable and safe.
2. Plan just the right amount
Van life with kids requires more planning than solo or adult-only trips. Kids get bored! They need an itinerary. Plan your trip, including your destination, a couple of activities for each day, and meals (see tip #5). Involve your kids in the planning process; it’ll get them excited about the adventure ahead.
Another thing to keep in mind is driving time to your destination. Plan your road trips so you leave early enough to get to your destination when there’s still daylight, and if you’re headed to a campsite, arrive early or reserve in advance to ensure you get a camping or parking spot. If you have smaller children, maybe consider closer sites before venturing into long, cross-country trips.
Lastly, don’t over-plan. Leave time for a spontaneous excursion, a relaxing afternoon nap, or an unplanned stop at an attraction you stumble upon on the way. That’s the spirit of van life!
3. Try to avoid rain and cold weather
Family van life works well when you can spend most of your day outdoors, like in the summer and shoulder seasons. Plan your trips on weekends with clear skies and warmer weather. It’s manageable to hang out in the van with the whole family for a day or two, but longer than that might cause cabin fever, and no one likes a rain delay.
Check the forecast prior to your trip and often. Consider an alternative or backup destination if bad weather is approaching.
4. Make lists
Lists are your best friend. Write down everything you need to pack, from clothes, toys, and kitchen items to tools and van repair supplies. Take only what’s on the list; overpacking for van travel is not ideal.
We also recommend creating another list that you keep in your van for items you need to restock before the next adventure.
5. Plan meals ahead of time
One of the best parts about van life is being able to cook wherever you go and not spending money eating out all the time. Having an idea of what you will eat for each meal (and snacks!) is incredibly useful. You’ll be able to bring all the necessary kitchen equipment and ingredients to make each recipe.
This way, you can avoid over-buying or under-buying food or preparing something no one will eat, which leads us to the next tip.
6. Stick to recipes that you know work
We all love discovering new, delicious recipes; however, in the middle of the mountains, boondocking, with hungry children may not be the right time to get creative in the kitchen.
Try new meals ahead of time at home, or to make it easier, repeat a few meals on each trip. Pick dishes the whole family enjoys and stick to those. That way, meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking will be much easier and quicker with guaranteed satisfaction!
Some easy family favorites are hot dogs, hamburgers, tacos, chili, spaghetti, baked potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. For lunch, you can try different types of sandwiches, wraps, or leftovers from dinner the night before.
7. Get organized
More people means more organization. Make your time on the road less stressful and get organized for your trip with packing cubes and duffels. Designate a different colored packing cube for each child.
Everyone can get two cubes- one for clothes and one for personal items. Put communal things, like beach supplies, family games, and shower supplies, in a different colored cube.
8. Make sure everyone has space
In addition to designating a packing cube for each kid, you can give everyone a spot in the van to claim as their own. It can be a drawer or cubby, for example, where they can keep their games, books, toys, and other personal items.
9. Don’t forget to pack emergency items
While hopefully the trip goes smoothly, it’s always better to be prepared. A few items that are very useful for van life with kids include:
Nightlights - especially if your kids use nightlights at home.
Individual Headlamps - your kids will love having their own headlamps, and they’ll make nighttime bathroom trips a breeze.
First aid kit - pack tweezers for ticks or splinters, medications, and soap for poison oak or ivy.
Bug spray and sunscreen - make sure they’re kid-friendly.
Extra food and water - just in case you have to stay an unexpected night or two somewhere.
10. Choose kid-friendly locations
Traveling in a van allows you to park in different types of places like tent-only sites, RV resorts, off-road spots, and others. The most important aspect to consider when finding a place to set up camp is if it’s safe for children to play freely without constant supervision or nearby danger.
Try to choose spots that have integrated activities. Some entertaining options include an RV resort with a pool, a lake-side campground with a water trampoline, or state or national parks with ranger programs.
Lastly, choose locations that have lots of space so your kids can run around and play.
11. Let some “home” rules slide
Van life will look a lot different than life at home, so instead of stressing over maintaining the same routines and rules, choose your battles wisely and let some things slide. It’ll be more fun for everyone that way–including yourself. For example, let them have extra snacks or roam more than usual. Also, they might not be as clean as usual, and that’s totally okay.
12. Set screen time rules
Make sure your kids understand the screen-time rules in your family before setting off on your journey. Many van life destinations won’t have cell service or Wi-Fi, so download maps, movies, and e-books in advance. Plus, that’s what van life is all about.
13. Pack extra activities
Van life teaches your kids how to use their imagination and play freely in the outdoors. Bring some activities like sports gear, arts and crafts supplies, books, and games that they can operate independently to keep them entertained. This way, you can sit back and relax.
Also, be sure to throw in one or two indoor activities in case the weather takes a turn for the south.
14. Have them help set up camp
If your kids are old enough to participate in the camp setup, encourage them to help. You can assign them each a basic task or put them in charge of setting up their things like taking out their campfire chairs and filling up their water bottles.
15. Make van travel a regular occurrence
You don’t have to live in your camper van full-time to be a van family, nor does van travel always have to be a weekend or an extended trip. Take your van to soccer games, day trips, beach days, skiing, hiking, and other outings.
The more time you spend in your van with your family, the more used to it everyone will get. It’ll feel like a true second home in no time. Plus, you’ll always have your van semi-stocked, so you’re ready for spontaneous adventures.
Van life with kids may seem stressful and complicated at first. However, with some patience and these 15 tips, you’re sure to create unforgettable memories on van excursions with the family.
Thinking about van travel with kids? Talk to the Esplori team! We can give you advice about a van conversion, seating options, and other features to accommodate van life with kids.