Wondering about doing van life with kids? Even though campervans make cramped quarters, it is possible to do the van life with a family, especially if you plan on spending most of your time outdoors.
One inspirational family who’s been living van life with kids are the folks behind Wanderly, an online magazine that covers alternative living and travel.
Nathan Swartz and his family of five have been traveling full-time since 2008 – amazing, right? They started by living in a campervan, then moved to an Airstream trailer, and are now back in a van again.
Now, as van life becomes more mainstream, more and more people are considering van life with kids.
Fitting kids into a campervan
The Wanderly family didn’t start out by living the van life with kids. When they first embarked on their life of travel, they lived in an Airstream travel trailer.
But their son – Tristan – who was blossoming into a young man, didn’t want to sleep in the trailer with his family anymore, opting instead for a tent right outside.
“After that happened, we realized we could fit the four of us into our camper van, and Tristan could stay sleeping outside,” said Nathan “We didn’t want to lug around a big, always breaking Airstream around, it just made sense to get back into living in a van.”
Fortunately, these days, there are lots of campervans that are great for kids. You can either buy one from a company or do a DIY campervan conversion.
The main thing is to keep seatbelts on the bench or bucket seats – if buying a van someone else converted, be sure to ask about those back seats.
Should you get a van or an RV for van life with kids?
There are endless possibilities for your life on the road. If you need a lot of space, watching TV and having your own bathroom, you may prefer an RV.
“Pushing through living in a van with kids can be tough,” said Nathan. “Sometimes you just want to kick back on a couch and take it easy, or when the whole family gets sick and projectile vomits all over, those aren’t exactly the best times to be living out of a van.”
But if you’re outside a lot of the time – hiking, biking, climbing trees and exploring – a van might be the ticket for van life with kids. A van is typically a lot cheaper than an RV, gets better gas mileage, and fits into parking spots.
“You’ll never worry about a van being too big for a campsite or other issues that come along with an RV,” said Nathan. “I don’t think the van or RV makes the adventure, they’re just tools that allow people like us to get out and explore in a more meaningful way than most people can afford.”
The Swartz family does van life on the cheap – usually paying nothing for camping in national forests, also known as boondocking. When they explore state and national parks or the occasional RV park, sometimes their “rent” ends up being about $600 per month.
“So our money can go much further as far as eating at restaurants, going to museums and parks and other things that cost money,” said Swartz.
The Challenges and Joys of Van Life with Kids
Van life with kids isn’t always easy, and you have to be prepared for mishaps during life on the road. The Swartz family has spent a lot of time fixing every vehicle they’ve used for full-time travel, and their patience is tested on a regular basis.
“You’ve got to be willing to be crawled all over when you’re all stuck inside the campervan with kids in the rain, and your kids should be the types who want to spend most of their time outdoors, as it gets quite claustrophobic otherwise,” said Nathan. “It’s really less about living in a van and more about sleeping there, and making the commitment to otherwise live outside.”
He said the family doesn’t really think about living in a house, since van life with kids is their preferred way of life.
“Really, the biggest challenge all around has been watching our oldest get older and want something different than the rest of us,” said Nathan. “It’s important for us to make this a life that everyone can enjoy, and that was a hard thing to picture over the years.”
He said the joys really mitigate the challenges, though. With van life with kids, he and Renee have been able to actively watch their kids grow up instead of sending them to daycare.
“I’ve been able to watch all of my kids learn to walk, teaching them all how to read, ride a bike, seeing them swim for the first time. I don’t miss many, if any, moments because I’m not off at the office or they’re not off at a daycare,” said Nathan.
Van Life with Kids is Becoming more Popular
So far, Nathan and Renee love raising their kids on the road. They like the freedom and flexibility to move around.
“The benefits are getting to see the world, dodging bad weather, and being able to visit friends scattered all over the country,” said Nathan. “As their teachers, we also get to spend our entire lives with our boys instead of sending them off to school and only getting a couple of hours at the end of the day.”
Wherever you look on social media, it seems like somebody else is living in a van. While it used to be known as a hobby for surfers or hippies, van life is becoming mainstream. Part of this is due to the rising cost of rent and the social acceptance of living a non-traditional life.
“Tristan and I first hit the road in 2008, and we didn’t meet many other full-time RVers back then, at least not anyone who wasn’t a retiree,” said Nathan. “Instagram shows how much that’s changed. America boasts a lot about freedom, and nothing is more freeing than living in a vehicle you can pack up and take to the next beautiful spot at any moment’s notice.”
He said there will always be people who look down on families who live in vans.
“But, really, no matter what your life choice, someone is going to be looking down their nose at you, so why not do what you want and drown out the noise?” said Nathan.
You can follow along with the Swartz family adventures on their Instagram page.
A few vans for van life with kids
One big thing you’ll have to consider when living van life with kids is which camper van you get. Of course, this also depends on how many kids you’re towing around.
These days, more campervan conversion companies are jumping to the task of building vans usable by families.
Here are a few cool ones we’ve found. Remember, you can use any of these concepts in your own DIY campervan, too!
If you have a younger child in a carseat, make sure you check the back seats, especially when buying a used campervan for sale.
Storyteller Overland Mercedes Benz 4×4
This 4×4 camper van for sale offers a “Groove Lounge”, where you can fit two kids during the day or a car seat. The seat folds down into a bed for nighttime mode.
This is the perfect campervan for boondocking or extended off-grid adventures. It’s features might be a little much if you’re just planning on going to campgrounds or staying on paved roads.
Off Highway Vans – Doc Holiday Sprinter Van
The Doc Holiday campervan model by Off Highway Vans both sits and sleeps five. This is great for van life with kids if you have several in tow.
We love how the bench seat folds down into a comfortable bed at night while leaving a separate large bed above for adults.
You’ll enjoy a full kitchen, off-grid solar options and front swivel seats in this van as well.
Ford Econoline Class B Van
You don’t have to buy a super expensive, luxury Sprinter van to live the van life with kids.
This Class B campervan has two beds, a comfortable couch, kitchen and bathroom. You can find all sorts of affordable campervans like this on sites like Craigslist, Ebay or Class B campervans for sale Facebook groups.
If you wan to learn lots about van life with kids, Bionca shares tons of info on her website about road schooling, traveling, and van life challenges and joys.
We hope this article has given you some inspiration about living van life with kids. It is possible, and there are plenty of families out there to give advice and a helping hand.
More van life posts!
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- The 13 best vans for van life
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Kristin Hanes is a journalist who founded The Wayward Home as a place to learn about alternative living. She currently lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van, and has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire and SF Gate. Read more about Kristin here.