10 Tips for Camper Van Camping with Kids
We know some people think of their four-legged furry friends as their kids, and certainly we love our dogs to death. But let’s face it, there’s something very real and different about human kids, and getting them outdoors and out van camping can be a lot trickier, and require a lot more stuff.
That said, everyone I know says they camp a lot more with their van than they ever did when it was just a tent and cooler in the trunk of the car. The comfort, warmth, convenience, fun, and safety of van camping simply blows tent camping out of the water. Heck, even playing in the van in the driveway is fun. Imagine actually getting out on an adventure, even a mini-adventure, and what that could do for your family psyche.
One of the reasons you had kids in the first place is to get them outside to bask in and appreciate everything you love about the outdoors and life on the road, so don’t be afraid. Follow our simple tips for family camping and get out there.
It’s not just the adults who need their snacks. And for the adults with a VanDOit, you’ve got access to a Dometic fridge and plenty of power to run your coffee pot or espresso machine, so you’ve got no excuses. Really though, having all of the snacks, treats and meal items your kids love is the number-one rule. Take the time to pack thoroughly and load up on snacks, especially non-perishable or longer-lasting items that can stay in the van for weeks and months at a time, so they’re there when you need them. Just like food and cooking is one of the best parts of camping for adults, it’s even more so for kids. Don't forget to pack fun foods like s'mores, hot chocolate, or popcorn to help make the experience even more special and exciting for the kiddos.
That said, be sure your VanDOit is stocked with all of the dishes you need for your adventure. One of my usual vanlife tips is to have designated dishes and cook wear that lives in and stays in your van. Be able to do dishes on the road so that stuff doesn’t even come in the house. Callander, check. Cork screw, check. Kids plates, check. Coffee press, check. It’s all there when you need it and everyone is a lot happier and better off.
Don’t forget the kids’ toys. It’s part of the process. That’s why you have a van, right, to carry all your toys? Well, unfortunately we’re not talking fly rods and motorbikes here, but Elmo, puzzles, building blocks, harmonicas, GI Joe's, and dollies. Bring it all. Sure you can limit it to three toys per kid or whatever works for your family, but don’t tell them they can’t bring something. There are plenty of creative ways to store items such as toys in your van. VanDOit offers thermal window curtains with pockets, overhead hanging cabinets and rear storage cabinets just to name a few.
Even if it's just a day trip, always bring warm clothes, a change of clothes, and a designated laundry bag. For longer trips, be sure and pack all their favorite clothing items in addition to the toys. Bring multiple pairs of pants for each child because accidents happen. I like to use a designated medium-sized dry bag for dirty laundry, so when something is truly soiled, it goes in the bag and doesn’t get mixed in with clean (or wearable) clothing items. We also use stuff sacks to crunch down T-shirts and underwear so we know we aren’t skimping. We also keep an extra puffy jacket and rain jacket in the car for everyone, all year round.
5. Take Your Time
Don’t be afraid to pull over and smell the roses. Nobody likes to be pressured to do long distances and long trips without breaks, especially young kids. Don’t be that dad who won’t let your kids (or wife) stop to pee. Keep a yoga mat handy, scroll mindlessly through Instagram, do push ups in the parking lot, but let the family out frequently for breaks. Yes, you might make “worse time” on the road, but you pretty much knew that would happen when you had kids, didn’t you?
6. Screen Time
That’s right, screen time. We all battle with it, we know it’s probably wrong, but at times it can help bring peace to time on the road. Sometimes having screens available to kids, no matter the age, helps get you through the hard times and the long road hours. We have an iPad that only comes out in the van. It’s the perfect incentive to get them to love and look forward to the van, but also to buy some mommy and daddy time just when it’s needed most. And with screens, come apps and educational games. Take advantage of technology to study the constellations or teach your kids something new. The amount of educational content available now on mobile devices is astonishing.
7. Movie Nights
While we're on the topic of technology, I recommend bringing movies for nighttime. It's so fun to watch a movie in the van at night when everyone is winding down before bed. It helps create a fun, safe and cozy atmosphere before the kids go to sleep.
8. Make it Cozy
Comfy is king when it comes to camping with kids. Bring extra pillows, sleeping bags, blankets and cozies. Give them the space they need to build a fort, and either spread out or cuddle up or both, depending on the situation. Warm and cozy = happy kids. An extra tip- Diono car seats work great with the Ford Transit factory seating in VanDOit's
9. Don't Overdo It
Keep it short. Sometimes two or three nights out with the kids is all it takes. Don’t create added stress by trying to do too much or going too far. Start right down the street at your local state park or campground. Maybe even a nearby KOA with a swimming pool is the perfect destination.
10. Stay Organized
Another one of my top vanlife tips you may have heard before: stay anal retentive on the road. It will pay dividends, especially come Day 3 when things are starting to get messy. Everything has its place, so encourage your kids to pick up after themselves and put stuff back where it belongs. It’s a good practice anyway and especially important when space is limited. Be sure you have plenty of bins and sacks to facilitate this process. I recommend always keeping a trash bag in the van. We loop a grocery sack around one of the front seat armrests for easy access while going down the road.
Note About the Author-
VanDOit Ambassador Aaron H. Bible is an internationally acclaimed travel writer and outdoor industry journalist. Contact him for any gear related questions, to inquire about a new van, or to find out more about how he maximizes his VanDOit time on the road! Follow his adventures with his wife Jasmine and daughters Lavender and Marigold @team_bible_travels & @ahbible
Photo: Aaron with his daughter Lavender