In 2017 we spent five months travelling through Europe in a campervan with kids. At the time our two children were 10 and 8 years old. We traveled through 12 countries, covered thousands of kilometres and loved the unique experience of travel by campervan.
Based on our experience we have collected some of our top travel tips for traveling with kids in a campervan. If you are planning your European road trip, wondering if Europe in a campervan with kids is a good idea or simply looking for advice on how to travel Europe with kids, read on – we have some great advice for you.
|Related: Our Definitive Guide to Europe by Campervan covers all the essentials including how to find a van, selecting a route, accommodation, equipment and getting around.|
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In our opinion, travel by campervan with kids is an ideal way to explore Europe, particularly if you have more time.
What we loved about this mode of travel was that we could unpack our backpacks once and travel when and where we wanted.
No need to carry, pack and unpack bags, no booking and waiting for trains, planes or buses. There was not even a need to find and book appropriate family accommodation in advance. And the best thing: no need to sit in restaurants every day with tired children at the end of a big day.
In a campervan with kids you have a great deal more flexibility and control over the where, when and how far each day. Larger campervans come equipped with toilets (and sometimes showers) to make those urgent toilet stops a breeze. They have kitchens so you can always have food on hand. Plus you get to stop wherever and whenever you like.
Also, it is much easier to explore smaller, off the beaten path places and rural areas that are far less crowded and expensive than cities. Have I convinced you yet?!
It is worth doing some research on the size and configuration of the campervan you think will work for your family. We talk more about van configuration in general in our Definitive Guide to Europe by Campervan.
In terms of bed configuration in a campervan with kids, there are many different options. Some vans will have two double beds, some will have one double bed and then need you to convert a table to a bed each night. Some vans have bunks and a double bed.
When you are living in a campervan for months on end, finding the right bed configuration is an important decision.
We decided not to sacrifice space. While there are many small vans, the idea of converting the dining table into a bed each night for 5 months sounded pretty painful. Perhaps if we were traveling for a shorter time a smaller van would have been okay.
We chose an older 7 metre long van with a double bed at the front over the cabin and a set of bunks at the back.
While it meant we had a much bigger van, it meant we all had plenty of space and the kids had their own beds. A curtain separated the bunks from the rest of the cabin, so after we put the kids to bed at night we could still be up with lights on and not disturb the kids.
One of the other great benefits of a campervan through Europe is you have the space to take some extras for the kids. Things like sports equipment, toys and craft activities are useful for rainy days, downtime days and afternoons back at camp.
|Expert Tip: Take or purchase bicycles. We bought second hand bikes on eBay and used them most days. The bikes gave us freedom to explore the local area without the need to drive the campervan everywhere.|
Having bikes made it possible to explore more with the kids. In many European cities bike paths connected the outer areas to the centre. We would ride into town from our campground instead of catching a bus or train.
The bikes also gave the kids some much needed independence. One of their favourite things to do on arrival at a new campground was to grab their bikes and set off to explore.
Other equipment we frequently used included beach lilos, a frisbee, a soccer ball, painting set and the game of Finska (also known as Molkky).
Finska is a great game the kids could play with others at the campgrounds and we would often play as a family. It was great to be able to take a good range of toys and sporting equipment to keep the kids entertained and happy. To check the latest prices on our favourite games click on the images below.
We don’t travel with ipads but we do use technology for the kids, especially on driving days. In terms of electronic equipment for the kids, we purchased a basic mobile phone for each child. We talk in more detail about the technology we travel with in our article on the 10 best road trip activities for kids.
In summary, we provided the kids with a mobile device and headphones because it was the cheapest way for them to have access to music and audio books. Some of our favourite options available now are listed below:
We use the Spotify app for music and the BorrowBox app for audio books and ebooks from our local library. On driving days they could settle in to listen to their favourite book or album.
We also traveled with a laptop which we used primarily for travel planning and managing the blog. We had a few of the kids’ favourite movies stored on the laptop. When we had a really long travel day or a rainy day they would often watch a movie.
We found it much easier to manage long driving days with these devices. While we occasionally let them play games on the phone, the audio books and music provided plenty of entertainment and diversion for them in the van.
For more information on other equipment see our Electronic Equipment section in our Definitive Guide to Europe by Campervan.
One if the most important Europe travel tips when in a campervan with kids is be prepared for travel days.
The reality of traveling in a campervan or on any road trip with kids is that there is a lot of time spent on the road. Pre-kids this was never a problem. With kids (ours anyway) it can quickly become a nightmare.
In addition to our top tips on road trip activities for kids our other piece of advice is to give the kids time to prepare, mentally, for each travel day. We would always let the kids know in advance how far and how long the next leg of the trip would be.
Before we started out we made sure:
Sometimes we would change the seating around to mix it up along the way. One of us would sit in the back with them, play a game of cards, read a story.
For more advice on activities the kids can play while on the road check out our 10 best road trip activities for kids.
It takes a little time to find your way with campgrounds and free camping. You need to experiment and find what works for your family.
Initially we thought the big campgrounds with a kids club would be great for the kids. In reality we often found these campgrounds to be loud and busy, with small uninspiring sites. Plus, the kids rarely participated in organised activities any way. Most of our favourite sites were in smaller campgrounds in beautiful locations.
It is possible to do a lot of free camping in Europe. We talk about this more in our Definitive Guide to Europe by Campervan. We planned to free camp a lot to save money.
But, we found that stopping over in a car park or on a street wasn’t much fun for the kids when they wanted to play. Often we would arrive late in the day and we didn’t have the energy to go searching for a free camp. It was easier to head straight to the campground and set up.
Every family will be different, but for us it often wasn’t a great choice and we ended up in camp grounds about 5-6 days a week.
This may seem obvious, but we started out with a very different itinerary to the one we ended up taking. You need to tailor your activities and destinations to the types of places that work for your family.
We soon realised that cities and big towns didn’t really work for us. They were more expensive. You were often camped a long way out of the city. The kids didn’t really enjoy wandering through museums and galleries. Plus as adults we weren’t doing the things we would typically do in a city visit either.
So we adjusted our itinerary and focused more on outdoor destinations. We did more hiking, paddled on lakes and sought out small villages to explore. It meant the kids had more space, we spent less money and we could hike, swim and ride in spectacular surroundings.
When we did stop in cities we focused on a small number of fun activities. In London we went to see a Broadway show. We did a fun walking tour in Lisbon and enjoyed dressing up at the Schonbrunn Children’s Museum in Vienna. In Seville they were excited to see a flamenco show.
We suggest you choose activities in cities that are engaging for the kids and you might then be able to sneak in a few other galleries and museums in too! Click below for current prices and availability of the activities our kids enjoyed.
We spent far more time in the outdoors than we expected and many of our fondest memories are from those places. Our advice is to see what works and adjust your itinerary as you go. That is one of the best benefits of travel in a campervan – you are not locked in to a plan.
Don’t feel obliged to fill every day with sightseeing or activities. The kids need time to relax, play and even be bored as it is often the precursor to creativity!
Our kids saw painted rocks for sale in the tourist stores in Montenegro and decided they would try to earn some pocket money painting their own. For many weeks they collected rocks, painted them and set up shop in the camp grounds to sell their rocks.
Not only did they enjoy painting, they got to chat with people about their trip. Plus they were successful in making many sales!
Living in close quarters with kids over a long period of time can be VERY challenging and exhausting at times. It all looks perfect on Instagram! But when the kids are wrestling/bickering/whining/sick of each other, you have a couple of rainy days confined in the van together or you just want some peace and quiet, it can be tough.
We can’t say we have the solution to this issue! It is a daily challenge and requires a lot of patience and flexibility.
Things we did to help maintain a happy family dynamic include:
We found home schooling to be one of the most challenging aspects of our Europe road trip. Our kids were missing grade 4 and 2 at home in Australia. The school did not have any mandatory education requirements for our 12 months away. Every country has different requirements so check with your local school.
In some ways the lack of any formal lesson structure made it more challenging to motivate the kids to do any thing resembling school work.
To help cover the gap we bought English and Maths workbooks and worked through them perhaps once a week. We also encouraged them to keep a diary so they were writing each day.
The one thing we did insist on is they read every day. Both our kids actually came home much better readers, which was a great outcome. Some of their favourite books were Harry Potter, Alice Miranda and anything by Andy Griffiths. Click below to find books your kids will love.
But there is no doubt that home schooling is hard! I take my hat off to all the parents out there home schooling their kids. We really struggled.
What did we find hard?
We found it very difficult to get into any consistent routine. Every day was different and it was impossible to set a fixed time for school work each day.
The kids were also very resistant to sitting down and going through the workbooks. It often became a battle which was no fun either.
To compound the issue, we only had one laptop and internet connections were often slow. This meant we couldn’t make regular use of all the great online schooling tools such as Reading Eggs, StudyLadder, Scratch and Khan Academy.
Our Approach: What we did was focus on incorporating learning into our every day activities. In supermarkets, museums, whilst driving. On walking tours and during ranger programs.
The kids came home with a huge bank of new knowledge. It isn’t on topics they would have learned in class, but their understanding of different cultures, geography, budgeting and currency has grown immensely.
|Top Tip: Don’t stress about the formal stuff too much. Travel is an incredible teacher and they are learning every day.|
Traveling in Europe by camperan with kids is a rewarding and totally achievable adventure. We were surprised how quickly our time went and only wished we could have seen more of Europe. With a little planning it is an easy experience to take on.
For more information our Definitive Guide to Europe by Campervan covers all the basics including whether to buy or rent a campervan, toll roads, free camping and more. Click here to read more.
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