VanLife 101: The Beginner’s Guide To Living On The Road With Kids

We might all enjoy a road trip now and then and probably spend a few weeks on the road but the idea of spending a lifetime traveling (especially with kids) presents a whole new set of challenges.

Living fulltime in a van with kids requires dedication and a unique level of preparation and perspective. It can be one of the most rewarding experiences you can ever have.

If you are exploring the possibility of living on the road with kids, there are a few things you should take into consideration.

Van life with kids tips

Picking the Right Van

You will need to buy a van that is suited for your family. Rentals are cheap for a short trip but if you are going to live in a van, you need to own one. There are many different features to consider when deciding on the van to buy.

There are three categories of vehicles most folks choose for “van life”.

  • Conversion vans and cargo vans
  • Euro style Vans – Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, Ram ProMaster, Nissan NV.
  • Classic vans – Volkswagen Bus/Vanagon, 70’s 80’s vans.
  • Class B RVs
  • Skoolies

Used or New

If you plan on doing a lot of driving, get a new van. Old vans tend to break down frequently and getting repairs or tows in the middle of nowhere can be frustrating. Make sure your van is regularly serviced and maintained as well.

High Top Van or Low Top

High top vans are usually large and big and you may have issues fitting in a camping ground parking lot. However, they allow enough room to stand up and move about unobstructed. Low top vans do not have enough room for a grown-up to stand up.

However, they are more flexible and can fit into tight parking spaces. Read more about high top vans and conversion here

How To Prepare For Life On The Road With Kids

Once you have your van ready, you need to figure out what to pack for your life on the road.


Carry enough clothing for different kinds of weather. You will be driving into different places and the weather might vary now and then. Do not plan on purchasing clothing in these areas as that might eat too much into your allocated budget.

Pack light

Only carry what you will need for your life on the road. For instance, every person in the van can bring one single piece of cookware and utensils. You can have 1 plate, 1 cup, 1 fork, 1 spoon, and so on. After every meal, wash the utensils and pack them away.

Food storage containers are a must for Van Life, like these – they’re collapsible and save tons of space (YES!), air-tight, BPA free, microwave and freezer safe.


When fixing a bed inside the van, the best way would be to have a foldout one. This is because you can easily push it back to create space for other uses when the bed is not in use such as fit bikes, surf boards or anything else you could ever want to travel with!

custom murphy bed design in a diy campervan conversion build

custom built murphy bed design in a camper van conversion for van life

If you are a handyman, this murphy bed by @cruxandbeta might be the right choice for you! This is a clean and organized build. It leaves a crazy amount of space including a seat/bench area!

Large rigs usually come equipped with fixed bedrooms for extra comfort.

Emergency Kit

Always have a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher in the van.

The last thing you want to do is to be miles from the nearest gas station without any sort of bandaging or antiseptic.

Some states you will be crossing will demand that you have these two basic items with you in the car at all times.

Basic Tools

Your van may get a puncture in the middle of nowhere. How will you cope? Will you wait for rescue?

You need to have tools that can easily get your out of a rut when something happens. Have powerful flashlights as well. A car jump starter with an air inflator might also come in handy.

Portable car jump starters are a particularly useful tool if you’re travelling in remote locations and so you’ll need to be prepared for extreme situations. The best Van/RV/Camper portable jump starter is NOCO Boost GB150.

NOCO Boost Pro GB150 3000A UltraSafe Car Battery Jump Starter, 12V Battery Pack, Battery Booster, Jump Box, Portable Charger and Jumper Cables for 9.0L Gasoline and 7.0L Diesel Engines

It is a 4000-amp portable lithium car battery jump starter, offers up to 40 jump starts on a single charge and is rated for gasoline and diesel engines up to 10 liters. It comes attached to a pair of jumper cables and to use it you’ll simply connect the red clamp to the red terminals of your battery and connect the black clamp to the black battery terminal, turn the jump starter on, turn the ignition switch and start your van.

See the NOCO Boost GB150 on Amazon

If you are going camping in a dispersed location, your van’s battery may not hold out for so many days. Carry other tools to help you fix minor issues in and around the van. They might save you money and a lot of problems on the road.

Hookup other accessories

You can hook up a stove or a fridge in your van. If your van does not have a lot of space, just buy a portable propane camping stove that you can set up easily and cook your meals outdoors.

Cooking outdoors with a propane portable stove
Image via Instagram

If possible, install a fan as well to get rid of the stuffy air inside the van.

Hygiene and organisation

You need to stay clean while living in a van. This is your home and you have to maintain some level of hygiene.

Laundry and shower

Do not wait for RV laundry to pile up. This can easily get out of control.

Make it a habit to clean your clothes every time you take a shower. Carry water in your van to take a shower at the end of the day.

You can improvise or purchase a shower bag.

Advanced Elements 5 Gallon Summer Shower / Solar Shower,Silver/Black

Advanced Elements makes a 5-gallon solar camping shower that packs down small and produces warm water on the go. The shower bag even has side pockets for your shampoo/conditioner. If you’re looking for something small and inexpensive that works for short camping trips – this it.

Check out the Advanced Elements 5 Gallon Solar Shower on Amazon

Check our post on RV laundry solutions if you’re looking for simple ways to clean your clothes on extended trips.

Organizing your supplies

Have storage bins inside the van to keep your supplies organized at all times. Items you do not use frequently should be stored away so that they are not in the way.

You can assign a bin for every person in the family to avoid confusion. Each person stores their items in personalized bins.

Take advantage of every space you can find in the van to keep yourself organized.

Finding places to park at night

The major challenge you will face when you decide to live in a van will be where to set camp at night. If you choose to park in a campground, check in advance to find out about their rules and regulations as well as fees they charge per night.

You can also try looking for free camping spots. Sleeping in a parking spot for a large store might not be very exciting but you do not get charged if you purchase something from the store.

Other places include boondocking sites, some gas stations, and rest stops along your route. Wherever you decide to spend the night, make sure that your safety and that of your kids is a priority.

Entertainment options

Other than visiting beautiful places and creating amazing memories, you might need to invest a little into other forms of entertainment to keep your kids preoccupied.

You can download movies, games, audiobooks, and other electronic forms of entertainment. If you do not want your kids to play with electronics for long, get board games, toys, go for walks, or engage in other fun outdoor activities.

Best van to live in for a diy campervan conversion
Image via Instagram

Rules and regulations

You need to set clear rules and regulations to govern your van life.

For instance, you should create a routine where everyone makes their bed every morning after waking up. Sleeping times should also be respected. Your kids should go to bed at a specific time every day.

If you enjoyed this post also check out Best Car Camping Mattress!

Happy Travels!

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