Campervan Travel with Toddlers - What to Expect
If you are looking to rent a campervan for your next trip, here are a few things to consider to kickstart the planning.
Where to Go
New Zealand is a fantastic place to camp, with great camping infrastructure and multiple types of camping options that cater to everyone. Other camping-friendly places include Australia, Italy, Austria, and on the very top of my wish list, Iceland. Once you've decided on a destination, it is worthwhile to pre-book campsites especially in the summer. Look for those with amenities - you'll be thankful for that warm shower, especially for the kids. Leave the freedom/wild camping option (despite how romantic and spontaneous it is), for when the kids are slightly older or when you're camping without them.
Planning your Itinerary
One of my favourite moments of campervan travel is the feeling of spontaneity and freedom - waking up each morning not knowing where you would end up sleeping that night, and deciding where to go on the fly. But, with kids, I would suggest staying at least 3 nights at each campground (assuming you've chosen an interesting location). This allows you to really settle into the routine and enjoy the stay, as well as minimise logistics for setting up the camp base. That said, nothing’s stopping you from doing otherwise if you’re feeling more adventurous. When on the go between destinations, travel around your baby’s nap time if possible and schedule in a break every 3 hours or so.
Booking your Campervan
In New Zealand, I'd not hesitate to recommend Wilderness as we had a really good experience with them. For other countries, regardless of which company you rent from, it's worth checking on the following:
- Size: The top photo is ideal for 2 (great for couples but not with kids), and the second photo is good for up to 6. Personally one that is in between might work the best, as it does feel like more effort to commute around with the bigger one.
- Car seat(s): Enquire if they provide car seats for your kids and that the van is designed such that all passengers can be secured safely with proper car seats and seat belts (not just a lap belt).
- Retractable awning: Some camper vans come with these, and can be super useful during scorching hot summer days and when you just want to chill by the van.
- Outdoor camping chairs and folding tables. Deck chairs will be a bonus.
- GPS, maps, and any other interesting (off-the-beaten path) guides. Otherwise BYO.
- Bedding, pillows and blankets.
Packing Essentials (for Toddlers)
In general, pack light, and bring along soft, foldable luggage bags for easy storage.
- Season-appropriate clothing. Anything that is multi-purpose, easy to wash and dry will make your life easier. Lightweight long-sleeve tops and pants are essential if the place you are visiting is prone to mosquitoes and sandflies. Big muslin cloths are great too and can serve many purposes.
- Basic baby supplies: Diapers, milk powder, bars, fruit pouches, snacks, wet wipes, sunscreen. Bring enough to last for the first few days and stock up the rest (along with other groceries and fresh produce) at the nearest supermarket after picking up your camper.
- Comfort objects and toys: Something familiar and special from home for your little ones. Toys that are easy to clean and dry are a bonus.
- First-aid kit and essential medicine. And don’t forget a thermometer.
- Stroller/baby carrier: Especially useful during nap times if they can’t fall asleep in the van.
- A long rope: Great for hanging laundry - just find two spots (trees) to anchor it.
- A big picnic mat.
- Details of nearest hospitals in case of emergency .
High chairs and a bucket (for bathing) can be really useful but unfortunately pretty impossible to pack along unless you live in the same city as the campervan pick-up.
The Camping Life - What to Expect
A camping holiday requires a fair bit of work, and that is compounded when you camp with young toddlers. There’ll be lots of stressful moments, but equally memorable ones too. I loved the fact that camping in summer means that after the kids go to bed (around 8pm+), we were still able to sit outside and enjoy a quiet moment just before the sun sets.
Actual amenities on campsites depend on the type of campsites you book. For example In New Zealand, there are campsites that only have toilets, probably not the most ideal when you’re travelling with kids. Then there are those like the ones we booked in Italy which is like a holiday park - that come with swimming pools, play areas for kids, a mini-supermarket (I love how they serve freshly baked rolls every morning), laundry and dryer room, common dishwashing room, as well as common toilets and shower areas. Each campervan should have a spacious allocated spot. Set up the big picnic mat next to the van and it'll serve well as a play area for the kids.
This varies depending on your location and your personal interests. The day can be spent going to the beach, cycling to a neighbouring town for a day trip, going for a small hike, or just soaking in what the campsite has to offer. Kids generally love the beach!
This is the best part. If you enjoy cooking, you might surprise yourself by how much you’ll enjoy cooking in the van (and in the wild), and sampling the fresh local produce. For the kids, make sure there’s always staples such as yogurt, fruits, pasta, cheese, eggs, bread and butter so that there’s always something available to make a quick meal if need to. Plus fruit pouches are quick and easy when you're on the go.
For a campervan that sleeps 4 - 6 people, there’ll usually be a bed right above the driver seat area, and one at the back of the van. This will differ from campervan to campervan but just make sure that if your baby has to sleep on the upper part of the campervan, always ensure that the netting is in place to prevent them from falling over.
The kids will probably not end up being very clean for long so it helps to embrace dirt. While some camper vans sometimes come with attached shower and toilet, we preferred to use the public ones at the campgrounds so as to eliminate the logistics of frequently emptying the grey/black water tank. Also, for babies who have not learnt how to walk, it’s so much more fun (and easier) to bathe them in a makeshift tub/bucket instead of doing so in the common showers.
Finally, expect the unexpected. We had a few hiccups along the way - a minor break-in, an aircon malfunction in the heat of Italian summer which made the drives almost unbearable for the babies, and they caught a bug along the way. All 6 of us (including their grandparents) returned from the trip exhausted and it was probably one of the most difficult trips we've had to date. Would we do it again? Probably yes...couldn't resist a good challenge but maybe when they are a little older :)
However the trip ends up for you, it'll probably be one packed with stories to tell in time to come. Happy planning and good luck.