Van Life with kids- essential things to know before you start

vanlife with kids
vanlife with kids

Thinking about packing up and living in a motorhome or camper van with your kids? Or maybe just spending an extended time away with them- perhaps for a 3-month tour of Europe? We spent a year touring and living in our van with our daughter- and it was a STEEP learning curve. Here’s everything we discovered about living van life with kids (without losing your mind…!)

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Is it possible to do Van Life with Kids?

We never meant to do ‘van life with kids’. After all, I never meant to quit my job, get rid of the house, sell most of our stuff and take off for Europe either.

It just… sort of… happened.

Still, despite the lack of planning, research or any clue what we were doing, we spent just over a year living and touring in a small space with a teenager. It was… enlightening. In many, many ways.

There were pros. There were cons. I’m pretty certain it changed all of our lives (I like to hope for the better.) Along the way, we met several other families also travelling by camper and living van life with their kids in tow. They came from all walks of life, different budgets, different ages and different things they wanted to achieve.

So yes, I think it’s perfectly possible to experience and (dare I say it) even enjoy van life with kids. It just takes a little planning and preparation (something we DIDN’T do- and regretted.

Van life with kids- our story

Here’s a video I recorded with our daughter Jade about 2 years after we returned from our adventures. Just click the image to play:

Van life with Kids- Wandering Bird

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Our Van life with kid story

Our daughter Jade was 15 when we started travelling full-time. She’d already spent about 5 years living on a boat with us, and a few months travelling Europe in the motorhome during school holidays.

We decided to home-school her for her last year of high school as she was struggling in school and on track to fail all of her GCSEs. We hoped that by giving her extra time and attention, she’d be able to improve her grades and pass her exams enough to get into college.

Which (spoiler alert) she did- she went from E’s and F’s on her mocks to getting A*, A, a B and two Cs and sailed into her preferred college. (She’s now at University studying law)

Our goal for the year was to show her a little more of the world (or at least Europe), expose her to different cultures and ideas and help her gain some confidence, which she was sorely lacking.

So we pulled her out of school (literally, we just wrote a letter to her school saying we were taking responsibility for her education) and that was that. It was terrifyingly easy; I expected the school or local education officer to turn up to check on her welfare, but nope- nothing.

Once we figured out exactly what she needed to learn and how she sat her GCSE exams (using a local home schooling exam centre), we were free to explore. So off we went.

Can you legally live in a van with a child?

Er, yes. As long as they’re your child/ you have parental responsibility, then yes. You can. If it’s a newborn, you might run into difficulties with the health nurse, but as long as the kid(s) are clean, healthy and safe, there’s no problem living in a van, RV or motorhome with them.

How to plan vanlife with a child

Before you set off for any long trip, there’s a lot to organise. Heck, before you set off for a weekend trip with kids there’s a lot to organise, but going for a long time is its own special sort of crazy.

To help, here are some questions to ask yourself before you go.

  • How old is your kid(s) going to be on the trip? (Newborns are going to require less personal space than a teenager.)
  • Where will they sleep?
  • Where will they spend time on a rainy day? Where can they go to relax?
  • What are they going to do for fun?
  • Are they going to be doing school work? Who’s in charge of that?
  • How do THEY feel about the trip? (Excited kids are easier to deal with than sad teenagers who just want to see their friends)

van life with kids- everything you need to know about travelling in a motorhome or camper van with a child
van life with kids- Jade by our motorhome in winter

Tips from us to survive van life with kids

  • Find things that they can do whilst driving. Some of these children’s car games were a life saver!
  • Also, have some quiet time activities for kids that they can focus on- it can be over stimulating to travel a lot and they may need help winding down.
  • Allow them to listen to music/ audio books- take spare wired headphones which don’t require charging as a backup (Jade uses Airpods and lived in fear of them running out)
  • Remind them (and you!) to charge every electronic device thoroughly while you’re at a campsite/ plugged into mains. Travelling with a child who’s upset because their phone has died is not fun. A backup charger is a really good idea.
  • Also get them to download podcasts/ music before you leave so they don’t use up all their data.
  • Tell them where you’re going next. Show them on a map, get them excited about what to see, involve them in the journey.
  • Get them to fill out a road trip logbook. We designed this one with our daughter in mind- she loved filling it in.
road trip journal logbook

Some of the biggest problems we had living in a motorhome with a child

  • Water management! She took such looooooong showers. And yes, she lived on a boat for years before this. You’d think she’d have learnt better but apparently not. That caused a lot of friction- especially when we were motorhome wild camping and trying to stay away from campsites for a while.
  • Ban any body sprays/ perfume from being used inside the van. Teenagers/ young adults have a problem with knowing when to stop!
  • Packing clothes can be a challenge. It requires careful thought- especially if they’re fashion conscious like Jade so they feel good about themselves. Also pack for all eventualities. In the summer, we still ended up going up mountains like Mont Blanc (which was entirely Jade’s fault in fairness- watch the video to see why) but she didn’t have a proper coat on and she was freezing!
  • Encourage them to do things outside their comfort zone. Jade insists she’s scared of heights, but we dragged her up all sorts of places, including Zugspitze- the highest mountain in Germany.
  • Take a spare pair of glasses/ sunglasses/ hat for your kid- they will leave them somewhere.
  • Having a picky eater onboard was tough. Sometimes she just refused to eat what we wanted her to eat- so we tried to compromise and find things she would recognise so she’d eat it.

The worst thing about van life with kids

The lack of privacy. At all. In any way. Especially at night when you want ‘adult’ time with your husband or partner. Even during the day, we weren’t happy kicking our daughter out on her own and asking her to go for a very long walk- this might be easier if you have two older kids who can go off and play together.

But yeah… your sex life is going to suffer. Badly.

Thoughts from our kid who’s lived van life!

  • Space to ‘chill’ is important- being able to get away from your parents
  • So is space to sit up (She has a cubby above the front cab, but it wasn’t tall enough for her to sit up in, so she struggled drawing or writing)
  • It’s quite intense being all together, all the time
  • Travelling in a van is awesome, but long drives can be tiring. Also, if they get car sick, try putting a fan in the back to blow cool air
  • Dry shampoo is magical for girls if they’re worried about greasy hair
  • Expect a lot of ‘chill’ time. Sometimes she was sat around half the day whilst we worked and she got a bit bored- which is again why quiet games are so useful.
  • Be nice to each other- and be patient. It’s not easy living in a small space continuously.

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