Pre-covid, vanlife with kids was a pariahs’ practice. Today, many families are selling what they own and moving into all kinds of vans, choosing to live as nomads instead. Today the #vanlife hashtag has had over 10 million hashtags, while it was simply plodding along before the pandemic. What has changed?
Tons of conventional wisdom in parenting and work has flown in the face of the ongoing global pandemic. As an illustration, before 2020, offices were central to the work culture. They were vital to the war for talent and productivity. As a result, businesses went out of their way to net prime office spaces.
Today, at least two in five or 41% of Australian employees work from home, once a week as a minimum. Data shows that 52% of UK office employees experienced a superior work-life balance due to stay in place measures. However, the increase in family time has drawn attention to the escalating loss of children’s free play spaces and time.
Why more parents are choosing the travel in van with baby lifestyle
Most parents were overwhelmed by their children’s need for attention. With schools closed, parks and swimming pools, libraries closed, most kids did not know what to do with themselves besides getting in trouble or on their parent’s nerves. Worse is that families are caught up in debt as living costs escalate, turning family life upside down.
For this reason, more parents are joining the living in a van with a child culture, leaving the daily grind and the restrictive yard behind. This bohemian lifestyle has been around for decades. #vanlife is a way of life that embodies freedom, simplicity and minimalism.
Vanlifers can work remotely as they roam or take temporary gigs in the places that they visit. Most of them park their vans in private campgrounds, public lands or free campsites. They could park in a recreation centre’s parking lot or in front of a friend’s house in cities.
Some of the benefits of vandwelling are its freedom and the ability to walk away from the hurried life. This independence creates a fresh perspective on life and allows people to experience new sights, cultures and relationships. Every new day is a day for amazing stories, adventure and unforgettable memories.
That said, the vanlife lifestyle is also a life of bumping elbows. There is little space for organization and finding water is quite often a chore. In addition, Vandwelling with kids can turn into a mess should you fail to factor in challenges such as hot summers, freezing winters, and the use of public restrooms.
For this reason, preparation is key if you are leaping into the living on the road with a baby lifestyle. Choosing the right van for your family will ease the discomforts of van living. Below are some factors that you should consider when selecting the right vandwelling with kids vehicle.
Van considerations when living on the road with a baby
First, you need to understand what your family’s campervan needs are. Features that work for one family might not work for yours. As an illustration, if stealth camping is your preference, you should go for an incognito design.tr
A different family might prefer the slick van platform instead. Your choice of a van, its conversion process and layout will determine the success and comfort of your travel in van with baby lifestyle. Below are some factors that you should consider when choosing your vehicle platform. Check out our top 20 vanlife families for some inspiration on van conversions and lifestyles.
Type of van and budget
What type of van would you like, and what will be its conversion costs? Unfortunately, there is no one simple answer to this question. There were van life families before pre its popular hashtag days, and some of them enjoyed it without a decked-out $150,000 Sprinter van. Van life should free you from financial stress by helping you live within your means, so do not miss the forest for the trees. The perfect van fits your budget.
Long term van life with kids travel implies that your van will require an extensive build for comfort and safety. Therefore, you will need a van that can accommodate your family, have adequate sleeping and living space, and perhaps a bathroom and shower. There is a wide range of vans that can convert to campervans.
The most popular mid-sized campervans are the Mercedes Sprinter, Volkswagen Crafter, Fiat Ducato, Ford Transit, Renault Master and the Volkswagen Transporter. The Ford Transit and Volkswagen Transporter, for instance, can comfortably host a family of four. Need help deciding? Check out our Transit VS Sprinter comparison guide.
Both panel vans have adequate standing room and can easily convert to a self-contained home, complete with pop-up roofs. The Volkswagen Transporter camper van is nostalgic and iconic with a powerful diesel engine, classy looks and solid build. It is a reliable campervan.
For instance, Katy and Paul of @otisandus are a UK family who bought Otis, their Volkswagen Transporter T5, eight years ago. They travel in it with their beautiful 9, 5 and 3-year-old kids who love sleeping on its pop-top roof.
Vanlife with kids @Global Wizards family of four, parents Jurgen and Heleen, and Yuna and Hanne on the other live their best days in an old Westfalia VW T3. Their children homeschool in their van, while the couple works online and journal their adventure on their site.
On the other hand, the Ford Transit is easy to steer but may not have all the in-cab comforts that the VW has. The Ford Transit Custom Nugget, however, has twin sliding doors and a rear three-seat bench. The Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo is another popular vanlife with kids campervan.
Its three-pointed star indicates travel luxury, so it is a higher-class option to the Ford and VW. However, if you are not looking for a high-end Mercedes Benz glamper van, you can opt for a third-party Mercedes Benz sprinter conversion camper van instead.
Third-party conversion allows for specialist design needs, such as wheelchair accessibility or extra seats. Margaux, Ash, Luke and Marti, of SoWeWent, live in a Master Upfitter4×42017 Mercedes Sprinter crew van. @The Morrises’ Sprinter, on the other hand, has a double platform that sleeps their family of seven.
If you are going to use your campervan in cold destinations, then you will need a van that is four seasons ready. There are 4 seasons ready to buy winterized vans, but you can outfit yours for the winter months.
Winter is a great living in a van with a child opportunity for winter sports. You can go snowboarding or skiing at leisure. Having said that, there will be less daylight and cold when the sun goes down. For this reason, you will need a camper van that has adequate insulation.
Insulation will keep out the cold, heat and mould. Materials that dampen sound will also lower road noise and vibrations. Additionally, they will keep the interior of the campervan free of outside sounds and keep your family’s sounds in the van.
Your camper van’s AC and heat can keep its interior toasty when the engine is running. However, if you do not want to go to a cold or super-hot bed every night, you will need a van heating and cooling system. A heater will make your van a refuge in frosty weather. It will also keep your water pipes safe in subzero temperatures.
Propane heaters, for instance, are inexpensive and will run on your kitchen’s propane tank or refill canisters. To prevent condensation in the cabin or carbon monoxide poisoning if there is a gas leak, ensure that the camper van’s interior has excellent airflow.
If your budget allows it, have an inbuilt propane heater that vents externally. Diesel heaters are expensive but efficient. They only burn minute fuel from your diesel tank and are compact and efficient. That said, a stealth camper will need a muffler because diesel heaters are noisy.
On top of this, a van with a 360 external view is a vanlife with kids’ heaven, but it also will adversely affect your campervan’s insulation. Rear windows also could lose heat just where the head is and will be uncomfortable in freezing weather.
One other consideration under location is your terrain. If you are going up mountains and hills, then a 4×4 is your only option. Mali Mish, for instance, a family of five, has been on the van life with kids lifestyle since 2008. They have travelled across the continent to Morocco and France in their 2017 Sprinter 4×4, which has BF Goodrich all-terrain tires for ruggedness and quietness in rocky dirt roads.
Number of passengers
Vanlife families all have one trait in common; they are very careful in the design of the camper van build. The main factor that will determine your campervan build is the number of people in it. Its beds should be adequate for all travellers.
Your children can only take so much of constantly cramming in one communal bed. Older children will also need more privacy than toddlers will. The Moon family of @Rebornbyadventure can get by with a fixed bed and fabric enclosure convertible bed for their toddler.
@Jubel_explorer 4×4 Sprinter van, on the other hand, has two adorable bunk beds for their children and an extra fixed bed for the grownups. The off-grid 4×4 Sprinter 170 conversion van can host a three-panel bed layout for large families or a bunk bed system that accommodates the sleeping needs of a family of four.
Age of your children
Your children’s age determines the kind of bed design and build layout and the type of safety mechanism that you need in place to keep them safe. When planning for a campervan conversion, safety should come first. You will need safety-approved seating.
As an illustration, Ash and Margaux of SoWeWent say that a safety car seat for their then tiny baby Mar was the main driver of their Sprinter van build. It was their first consideration, and they preserved the van’s tested and safety certified Mercedes car seats, anchors and tethers.
Vanlife with toddler parents will need to stand upright in the camper van. For this reason, the campervan’s roof height is crucial for parents that need to bounce or rock their babies to sleep in their arms. Crouching in the van while tending to a fussy baby can drive you up the wall.
You do not want to leave a cozy van’s interior every time you want to comfort your child. Along with this, campervans with young children and pets will require stain resistant, easy to clean seat fabrics. You should easily remove them for a wash, too, when they need it.
On top of this, have your switches out of reach of toddlers and keep an induction cooktop as well. Induction burners do not burn as hot as propane, or electric cooktop do. They also cool down faster and will therefore not be a hazard around kids.
Ash and Margaux advice to vanlife with toddler parents is to install running boards that will make it easy for all to get in and out of the campervan. Running boards will ease the process of lifting the car seat or baby into the van and prevent nasty falls.
One of living on the road with a baby lifestyle greatest advantages is the frequent exposure to a wide range of outdoor activities. Parents that have gone over the priorities that rule their children’s lives will use campervan life to introduce their children to nature.
Through surfing, kayaking, hiking, yoga, climbing, backpacking and taking photographs, children will be free from the cookie cutter’s life competing needs for athletic and academic success. For this reason, gear storage space is a crucial vanlife with kids’ consideration.
Most van life families are outdoorsy, so plan around the efficient schlepping of adequate gear to meet all your outdoor sporting needs.
Storage of items
Travelling with toddlers means lugging lots of games, diapers and clothing. Use your campervan creatively, and you will find that you have adequate storage space for all your items. As an illustration, use IKEA containers to store small items under passenger row bench seats.
A cockpit shelf can hold your bulky beddings while a roof rack holds your larger items. Keep your bouncers and strollers on the rooftop carrier to free up the van’s interior for everyday use items. Place seat back organizers on your bench and captain chairs to make use of dead space.
Children will use the restroom more often than adults and may not hold until you have found the next exit. A potty is, therefore, an excellent amenity when you have kids on board. It will also help with potty training.
A toilet or portaloo will also ease vandwelling for your family. In its absence, you will have to head off into the woods at night, letting in rain, wind or bears as you do your business. During the day, you might need to go when you are nowhere near a service station loo. Top-notch portaloo designs are easy to empty and lock up all odours in their bottom sealed chambers. Unsure of how to choose a portable toilet for your van? We’ve detailed everything you need to know in our vanlife portable toilet guide here.
There are a lot of exquisite experiences to immerse yourself in the travel in van with baby lifestyle. That said, you will need other forms of entertainment to keep your children preoccupied during those long drives. So, bring along your indoor board games, movies, audiobooks and electronics games if you choose to incorporate them into your new lifestyle.
Living in a van with a child benefits
In the 80s, children played in their yards with their friends, without much adult supervision. They climbed trees, ran around barefoot, and all parents had to do was to keep a general eye out for any trouble. Today, children hardly have the space to seek, tag, or playhouse or jump rope.
The hassle of life, unsafe spaces and ever-increasing adult control over their activities has resulted in minimal free play. There is no time to play in imaginary places with their dolls or build forts. Free play is a life’s testing ground. The declining opportunities for unstructured play and free time is a massive loss to children. It is partly responsible for the rising cases of depression and anxiety among children. Living in a van with a child lifestyle can turn this grave situation around for your children. Below are vandwelling benefits for children and families.
Taking away the freedom that children need to play and grow lowers their happiness levels, increasing fear and anger. By engaging in individual outdoor interests, parents can take a step back and hover less over their children, freeing the young ones to engage in imaginative, free and kid directed play. Such freedom will make children happier.
Dusty and Sparky of vancognito say that vanlife with kids could be a better way to raise your children than the cookie-cutter way. It makes children more affordable by lowering your costs of living. Vanlife with kids has become an excellent financial decision for parents, freeing them from rent and other household bills. Jake and Gianna of @ourvanquest say that they have paid off most of their debt, living the vanlife with kids lifestyle.
More time as a family
Quarantine measures positively changed family interactions renewing focus on family dinners and family time. Parents now take their kids on bike rides, while others have devised elaborate backyard play.
Families have rediscovered the joy of hands-on projects, such as tending to flower or veggie beds. Unfortunately, it took a global pandemic for most parents to realize that they were out of touch with their children’s needs. Living in a campervan brings families closer as it requires tons of communication between all parties to make it work.
Children that grow in competitive and restrictive environments also lose out on the opportunity to discover their self-guided and identified interests. Learning by experience makes children smarter, open-minded and adaptable.
In essence, van life with kids gives you more time with your children. Also, it frees them from what Esther Entin, M.D. Brown University’s professor of Family Medicine, refers to as restricted, adult supervision of children’s free time. It is a healthier choice than a childhood spent in uniform and competitive play under the watchful eyes of coaches and parents.
Vanlife with kids cons
Having new experiences every day is exciting and loads of fun, but older kids might find it difficult to let go of places or new friends that they meet or like.
Stampedes will be a common occurrence when seven people have to share one bathroom. You will get into each other’s personal space, and because there is little space for junk, it is easy to create a mess.
Travelling can bore kids to death, so you might need to up your entertainment game. Therefore, you might not have enough time to work when you have to read that new book to them.
Loss of privacy
Sometimes, you will only have your alone time, outside your campervan. All evenings will also assume a sameness since there is little separation between living spaces and sleeping quarters.
Van life with kids tips for travel
- Vanlife with kids is not as glamorous as social media portrays it to be. You will not have full control of your environment or your security. Your family will need to be creative and adaptable as there will be breakdowns, delays and environmental discomforts.
- Robin Schannep of @contentednomads says that vanlife with kids can be stressful. It is liberating but frustrating, so parents need to learn how to manage their stress fast before their tension sours the adventure.
- Create a homeschool curriculum. There are lots of online curriculum to guide vandwelling homeschoolers.
- Join a nomad community for a support system.
- Have enough fun activities in the campervan and let every person take on an activity choice responsibility.
Vanlife with kids lifestyle is an incredible adventure. However, new vandwelling parents need to change their mindset from planning their travels around their kids to please them to simply living in the campervan with their kids.
This mindset will be less stressful and sustainable to #vanlife with kids living. Be prepared for magnificent and, at times, terrible days of breakdowns and tears. However, these low moments will fade away when you see the joy that you have helped plant in your children’s lives on life on the trail.