We spent about 45 nights in our campervan with the kids so far. That’s a lot of nights in a tiny little space with two energetic children, but we’re getting better at it with practice. Obviously, the older the kids are, the more they enjoy it which makes it more pleasurable for everyone involved. This is a post about how we survive.
Traveling with a baby
Benny was just three months old when we slept in the van for the first time last year. Travelling with a baby is mostly easy since babies just need to:
- be cuddled
- get fed
I co-slept with Benny so he got sleep and cuddles in one. He also got constant cuddles during the day because I always had him attached to me in a baby carrier. The worst part was making bottles in the middle of the night. If you breastfeed, you’re pretty much ready to go right away. If you don’t breastfeed, I have a few suggestions on how to survive the night(s).
a) forget about sterilising.
If it’s your first baby, it’s pretty much impossible to forget about sterilising, I understand. Luckily, Benny’s my second so sterilising wasn’t at all on my mind after the first three months (or maybe sooner – I either forgot or I’m pretending to have forgotten because I’m afraid you’ll judge me). I have no idea how one could even sterilise the bottles in the campervan. If you really needed to do it, you could probably dip the bottles in a pot of boiling water?
Or pack 25 already sterilised bottles?
b) use a flask.
I bought a steel vacuum flask in IKEA (mine was Kullar and I was very happy with it but any would do). Before sleep, I’d boil some water and mix it with some cold water so that the temperature in the flask was just slightly hotter than what Benny liked to drink. I’d fill the whole flask up even though I just needed a few ml so that the water didn’t cool down quickly. I’d put however many scoops of formula I needed into a baby formula container (which is, btw, the most useful thing ever) and prepare an empty
sterilised bottle on which I marked with a black pen how much water I needed to put in. Then I’d take all those incredibly useful items “upstairs” to bed and go to sleep at 8 pm (on a crazy late evening). When Benny woke up in the middle of the night, I’d turn the low light on my phone on, fill the water from the flask up to the black line, plop in the baby formula, shake the bottle like a polaroid picture and feed the baby. I did the same during the day. Pack the flask, a bottle and some baby formula in the containers and we were ready for the whole day out!
c) I have no more suggestions.
Traveling with a crawling baby
This is the worse. Those crawling babies want to do a lot but they can’t do anything. Ours also couldn’t crawl properly, he just bum-shuffled. Obviously, crawling in the campervan is not a lot of fun so when we travelled with Benny at that stage, he spent a lot of time in the carrier, in the pram or in the car seat. Not ideal, but you need to keep the baby out of the way. There’s barely room for two adults and a (slightly) bigger sister to move around, having to jump over a baby causes a lot of stress. If the weather’s nice and you’re at a campsite, your baby will like you more. If it’s rainy and cold and you’re parked in a city centre, he’ll have to be bribed by food not to complain about being pretty much constantly strapped in. Also, Benny didn’t start walking until he was 17 months old. Luckily for him, we didn’t travel that much in winter.
Travelling with toddlers
This is the most fun. Sure, it’s exhausting, but having kids generally is, so I’ll skip the part in which I whine. Travelling with toddlers is fun because they’re easy to entertain and they can entertain themselves more easily. We have a few rules we always follow to keep things simple:
a) don’t expect the kids to walk a lot.
When we travel, we want to see a lot which means we have to walk a lot. We also have a dog which means we have to walk a lot. Also, we like walking. Molly likes walking but she gets too easily distracted. Benny likes walking but he’s not very good at it. Last year we had Benny in a pram and Molly on a step attached to it and we pushed them both around. It wasn’t ideal because Molly, understandably, got tired of standing. We also had a bike trailer with two seats which we used when on our bikes. This year we finally realised we could actually use the bike trailer as a pushchair. We kind of knew it already, but we stupidly never thought of doing it until about two weeks ago. This was a perfect solution. The kids were happy in the trailer, holding hands, chatting, singing, pulling each other’s hair and poking each other’s eyes out. And when we pulled the rain cover down, we could barely hear their screams.
b) always plan at least one activity for the kids.
Molly enjoys everything more if she knows what we’ll be doing and where we’re going in advance, so we always research about the town we’re going to beforehand to come up with an activity that’s fun for the kids. That way we wake up already knowing how we’re going to spend at least a part of the day. Of course, sometimes we’re creative and spontaneous so we change the plans depending on the mood, but some days we’re really exhausted and have no mental energy for proactive thinking. On some days we just go to a playground, on other days we go swimming, we visit a zoo, a museum or whatever else the town has to offer. The kids seem to enjoy all those things with pretty much same enthusiasm. The rest of the day we spend walking or cycling, eating (mostly ice-cream) and rushing back to the van for Benny nap.
c) pack clever toys.
I learned from experience only to pack toys that the kids can be creative with. This time we only had a box of Lego, a lot of paper and crayons, a pair of scissors and some glue, as well as a bag with about 10 “characters” (either Lego figures or small plastic figures we got at different places). All of the characters were animals and both kids loved creating stories with them. Whenever we sat down in a restaurant, I took out the bag of characters, they divided them between themselves (on good days) and played independently for ages (meaning about 10 minutes for Benny and up to half an hour for Molly). No one wanted to play with a small wooden elephant we got in the Augsburg Zoo. Just a warning. Don’t pack that guy again.
We also had tablets and books with us for some “quiet” time. I packed a few sticker books because Molly used to love those, but neither kids were interested. Fine. More fun for mama.
d) pack some washing powder.
Our kids get incredibly dirty incredibly quickly. I packed a lot of clothes and we went through all of them in a week. Using a launderette can be a lot of fun for the kids as well and while the clothes are washing/drying you can grab some breakfast and hang out with the locals. I guess I should say: pack light, but if your kids are like our kids, don’t pack light because you’ll be washing clothes every three days.
e) stick with the sleeping routine.
Or the kids will destroy you when you get back home. I’m in the process of learning that the hard way.