For most people, the thought of van life conjures up themes of self-reliance, solitary living, and spontaneous travel. When you bring kids into the equation, these themes seem to become muddied. At first thought van life and kids don’t seem to meld. Despite this, bringing kids along for adventures on the road is completely possible and has a plethora of benefits; your van life dreams don’t have to wait for the kid’s graduation.
In a world where screens and routines often dominate quality family time, hitting the road as a team can be an excellent way for parents to foster connection and create core memories with their children. Read on to dive into van life for families, and explore challenges, rewards, and practical tips for nomadic living with kids.
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What’s the Allure?
Imagine waking up to the sun hitting your window with birds chirping outside of your van and eating breakfast on the bank of a river before continuing on to an equally impressive landscape. You don’t have to put off waiting to have kids or waiting for kids to graduate in order to live this dream– there are numerous benefits that come with doing it together.
Van life eliminates the monotony of daily routine and technology and allows families to focus on having genuine interactions. With shared tasks like setting up camp, cooking, and exploring new areas, families can strengthen their relationships and learn to rely on each other. Adventures will be shared and go on to be formative memories for the kids as they grow up.
While attending a private or public school has its benefits, it is arguable that there is no better way for a child to learn than directly from the real world. Homeschooling certainly takes more work and planning, but imagine being able to teach an ecology lesson in the Redwood Forests of California or a history class on Boston Harbor. Visiting national parks, historical sites, and different regions offers experiences that can’t be found in the classroom. Committing to homeschooling will certainly take some additional research but there are tons of resources and online programs out there to assist you on the journey.
Living Close to Nature
Growing up in close proximity to nature has a variety of perks for the well-being of children. Research has suggested that providing kids with access to nature and green space provides children with a myriad of physical, psychological, and cognitive health benefits like increased concentration abilities and reduced stress. (Source) By pursuing van life with children, kids can easily spend the bulk of their time outdoors exploring the country’s natural wonders. Growing up in a suburban area this is much more challenging and kids often spend a good portion of their time on screens. Living in a van your backyard changes day to day from mountain vistas to sandy beaches and sweeping desert landscapes.
By traveling around and exploring different cultures, children can learn to be more open-minded, accepting, and understanding of people from different backgrounds. These interactions go on to help the kids be more culturally responsible and globally aware later in life. This is something that is not easily taught in a classroom. Taking advantage of an opportunity to travel full-time can allow parents to expose their kids to parts of the world they wouldn’t normally see and all the lessons that come alongside this.
Setting up a Family Friendly Van
When building out a van for the entire family there are additional considerations to keep in mind compared to a solo traveler’s rig.
Planning around one person or two people’s belongings in a van is hard enough. Bringing kids into the equation certainly complexifies things. Strict organization is an absolute necessity when living in a van with kids. When building out your home on wheels, make sure to compile a list of everything you will need and where it will live inside the van.
If traveling with small children make sure to consider the same safety concerns you would in a house. Install childproof locks where needed, avoid sharp corners, and ensure everything is securely stowed while driving. Emergencies can be harder to address when traveling on the road. On this note, check in with your health insurance company and make sure you have nationwide coverage so that you are protected wherever you may be.
While personal hygiene can be sacrificed a bit for one person living in a van, adding additional adults or children can be a recipe for disaster. Make sure to have a portable toilet and shower setup to keep everyone happy and healthy while traveling. Taking care of your and your children’s hygiene while traveling in a van will certainly demand an adjustment period, but it is completely possible!
Comfort and van life don’t seem to go hand in hand at first glance, however, you can design your setup in a way that is as cozy and comfortable as a small cabin. This starts with well-thought-out sleeping arrangements. This domain depends partially on the size of your children. Will you be sharing a bed? Will you have multiple bunks? Consider installing a smaller fold-out bed next to the main sleeping area to maintain your personal space. Take your personal preferences into consideration and create a setup that works for you!
Downsides to Van Lifing with Kids
If you are now sold on the idea, it may be in your favor to stop reading now; however, we would be remiss not to mention some of the obvious challenges that accompany pursuing this lifestyle with your kids at your side.
No matter how well your van is organized and set up it will still feel a bit cramped with one or more kids crammed inside. It will exacerbate temper tantrums and cases of the zoomies. Luckily you will normally be set up in places with plentiful space outdoors to offset this.
Routine and Stability
While leaving routine in the rearview mirror brings its perks, it also has its downsides. Kids can have a hard time adapting to spontaneous and sometimes chaotic lifestyles. There will be an adjustment period that will bring challenges. Luckily, kids are highly adaptable and quick to learn “new normals”. Figure out ways to keep a semblance of routine and stability in your schedule with mealtimes, chore times, school times, and play times.
Community and Socialization
Maintaining social connections is a challenge for adults on the road. Kids also need healthy relationships with their peers and finding these can be hard while traveling. Connecting with other traveling families and finding a nomadic community is critical to make sure your kids have healthy social lives while traveling.
Summing it Up
Van life with kids is an adventure that comes with its pros and cons. Carefully examine your motivations and desires for life on the road. If these outweigh the challenges it will bring, then go for it! Also, keep in mind this isn’t an all-or-nothing commitment. You can still maintain a consistent home base for part of the year and travel for another portion. If you don’t want to follow this lifestyle full-time consider making it a tradition for summer break and holiday vacations.
The memories you make traveling with your kids will stay with you and your children forever. It has the potential to be a life-changing and formative experience for everyone involved. Pack up the van and enjoy the ride!