In 2017 we spent five months traveling full time 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 kilometers and loved the unique experience of travel by campervan.
We learned a lot on that trip – not only about motorhome travel in Europe but also about traveling with kids in a campervan.
If you are planning your European road trip, wondering if travel 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 travel tips for you.
Not planning a family trip to Europe? Don’t leave just yet! We think these tips for motorhome travel with kids are just as relevant for families planning a campervan trip to the USA or Australia. So read on and feel free to share your best tips in the comments below.
- 1 1. Why Travel By Campervan With Kids
- 2 2. Choose the Best Bed Configuration
- 3 3. Carry Sporting Equipment
- 4 4. Find The Best Technology for a Campervan Road Trip
- 5 5. Be Prepared for Travel Days
- 6 6. Choose Accommodation With The Kids In Mind
- 7 7. Tailor Activities and Destinations
- 8 8. Make Time for Free Time
- 9 9. Tips for Living in Close Quarters
- 10 10. Ideas for Home Schooling
- 11 More Campervan Around Europe Tips
1. Why Travel By Campervan With Kids
In our opinion, traveling in a motorhome is a great to travel around Europe with a family, particularly if you have more time.
What we loved about this mode of travel was we could unpack our backpacks, once, and travel when and where we wanted.
There was 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.
When travelling around Europe in a motorhome 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 always have food on hand.
- Plus you get to stop wherever and whenever you like.
A road trip around Europe also makes it 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?!
If you are wondering what it costs to rent a motorhome in Europe, use this online tool to provide an estimate.
So here are some things to consider when planning to tour in an RV with kids.
2. Choose the Best Bed Configuration
In Europe there are advantages to having a smaller vehicle, as many roads are narrow and it can be difficult to drive a large campervan into many towns and cities.
However, choosing the right bed configuration is important when rving with kids. It is worth doing some research on the size and configuration options to find the best campervan for your family.
In terms of bed configuration, there are many different options.
- Some vans will have two double beds
- Others will have one permanent double bed and you convert a table to another double bed each night
- Larger vans sometimes have bunks and a double bed permanently set up with the option of converting a table to another bed.
Remember young kids will most likely go to bed earlier than you each evening. So the best family motorhome set up needs to be flexible enough to allow you to put them to bed and remain up without disturbing them.
We didn’t like the idea of converting the dining table into a bed each night long term. But if you are traveling for a shorter time, converting your bed each day wouldn’t be such an issue and means you can choose a smaller van.
We chose a 7 metre (23 ft) family motorhome with a double bed at the front over the cabin and a set of bunks at the back. This probably seems small to US readers but it was large compared to most in Europe! But it did have one of the best camper configurations for a family of 4 or 5.
While the van was big, it meant we all had plenty of space plus the kids had their own beds. A curtain separated the bunks from the rest of the cabin. After we put the kids to bed at night we could still be up with lights on and not disturb the kids.
3. Carry Sporting Equipment
One of the other great benefits of exploring Europe by motorhome is you have space to take some extra equipment and activities for the kids.
Rent or Purchase Bikes
We recommend buying or renting bikes for your Europe road trip. The bikes gave us freedom to explore the local area more without the need to drive the campervan everywhere.
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 favorite things to do on arrival at a new campground was to grab their bikes and set off to explore.
If you don’t have room for bikes, scooters are another great option for the kids – especially for getting around large cities. My kids will quickly tire of walking, but will last much longer whizzing around on a scooter.
We also recommend you purchase some sports equipment, toys and craft activities. They are useful for rainy days, down time and afternoons back at camp. They also make good gifts for traveling kids.
Equipment we like on a road trip are:
- Beach lilos
- Frisbees like these ones
- A soccer ball for active kids
- Paint sets like these ones
- The game of Finska (also known as Molkky)
Finska is a great game that the kids could play with others at the campgrounds. and we would often play as a family.
It was great to take a good range of toys and sporting equipment to keep the kids entertained and happy.
4. Find The Best Technology for a Campervan Road Trip
Whilst we generally try to limit the use of technology, when it comes to travel days it really helps to use devices to cover long distances with kids.
When traveling in a motorhome with kids, we recommend a basic mobile phone for each child. Why a mobile phone? Because it is the smallest device and cheapest way for them to have easy access to music, audio books and a small number of games.
Music and Audio Books
A great option for music when traveling is the Spotify app. Purchase a family membership so you can share music across devices.
Another option is Amazon Music. They also offer a family membership and access to millions of songs. Click here to sign up for an unlimited 30 day free trial.
Our other tip is to find out if your local library is part of an online library to borrow free audio books and e-books.
We were able to use the BorrowBox app for our library. On driving days the kids would settle in and listen to their favorite book or album.
Laptop or IPAD for movies
If you plan to drive long distances, another tip for a motorhome road trip is to take a laptop. Lightweight, thin and able to be used as a tablet as well as a laptop, we love our Microsoft Surface Pro.
Not only was the Surface Pro perfect for researching our trip and writing blog posts along the way, it was great for watching movies too
Load a few of the kids’ favorite movies and run them when you have a really long travel day or a rainy day. Movies are the perfect way to pass large chunks of time.
Overall we found it much easier to manage long driving days with the kids with the use of devices. We occasionally let the kids play games on the phone too. But the audio books and music provide plenty of entertainment and diversion for them when traveling in the van.
For more general information on equipment for the campervan around Europe, check out the Electronic Equipment section in our Definitive Guide to Europe by Campervan.
5. Be Prepared for Travel Days
One of our best travel tips in a campervan kids is be prepared for travel days.
The reality of travelling Europe in a campervan, or on any road trip with kids, is that there is a lot of time spent driving. Pre-kids this was never a problem. With kids (ours anyway) it can quickly become a nightmare.
For a start we suggest giving older kids time to mentally prepare 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 starting the drive make sure:
- the kids have plenty of snacks on hand.
- they have audio books and music downloaded to fully charged devices.
- let them know there is a reward at the end – perhaps a swim or an ice cream.
During the drive we would:
- try to drive a couple of hours at a time before taking a break.
- change the seating around during the drive to mix it up.
- one of us would sit in the back with them to play a game of cards or read a story.
- take turns to play our music playlists.
For more advice on activities and games the kids can play while on the road check out our 10 best road trip activities for kids.
6. Choose Accommodation With The Kids In Mind
It takes a little time to find your way with campgrounds and free camping in Europe. There are thousands of campsites in Europe for motorhomes and we talk about how to find them in our Guide to Europe by Campervan.
Our best tip is to experiment and find what type of campground works for your family and style of travel.
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 expensive, loud and busy, with small and uninspiring sites.
Most of our favorite 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.
Initially we planned to free camp a lot to save money. But, we found it wasn’t much fun for the kids if we stopped in a car park or on the street.
Plus often we would arrive late in the day with hungry and tired kids and didn’t have the energy to go searching for a free camp.
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.
So our tip is to be flexible and see how you go. And adjust your plans for accommodation, if required, once you are on the road.
7. Tailor Activities and Destinations
This point may seem obvious, but we started out with a very different itinerary planned or our road trip through Europe than we ended up taking.
As we traveled we had to adjust our expectations and plans to account for everyone’s personality, interests and age.
Choose destinations that work for everyone
For travel to Europe with kids to be fun for everyone, you really need to tailor your activities and destinations to the types of places that work for each individual.
Which can be really difficult to achieve depending on the age and interests of your kids!
For example, we found once we started in our campervan around Europe with kids that major cities didn’t work for us. Why?
- They were more expensive.
- We were based in campsites a long way out of the city.
- Our kids just don’t enjoy wandering through museums and galleries (most of the time).
- 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 like Slovenia and Montenegro. The kids had more space, we spent less money and we had more time for hiking, swimming and cycling in spectacular surroundings.
That is why travelling in a campervan around Europe is so perfect for families. You have ultimate flexibility to tailor your trip as you go. You are not locked in to a plan.
How to make cities fun for kids
You can’t motorhome in Europe and not visit cities though! When planning your city stops we suggest you find a good balance of activities and tours that suit everyone.
If you have school aged kids ask them for suggestions. Let them take turns choosing the activities for the day. You might be able to sneak in a few visits to galleries and museums this way too!
Some examples of fun activities we did with the kids in European cities were:
- Seeing a Broadway show in London.
- A fun free walking tour in Lisbon with Chill Out Lisbon.
- Dressing up at the Schonbrunn Children’s Museum in Vienna. If you would like a guided tour of the palace we recommend you purchase these skip the line tickets to avoid long queues.
- Watching a flamenco show in Seville. See the very reasonable prices and rave reviews here.
Tailoring your itinerary as you go is perhaps one of our top tips for travelling to Europe with kids. Don’t lock everything in. See what works and modify your plans to make it the best trip for everyone.
For activities in Europe we think Get Your Guide is the best online resource. They have a wide range of skip the line tickets, discounts on attraction entry tickets, highly rated tours and more.
8. Make Time for Free Time
One of our top tips for traveling to Europe with kids is not to fill every day with sightseeing or activities. The kids need time to relax, play and even be bored. That time is often the precursor to creativity!
For example, our kids saw painted rocks for sale in the tourist stores in Montenegro. They decided to try and earn some pocket money painting their own rocks.
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 were able to chat with people about their experience touring Europe in a motorhome. Plus they were successful in making many sales!
It isn’t possible to see and do everything, especially when you travel with kids.
Plan for time at the playground, time to write a journal, have fun at the swimming pool and downtime watching TV or reading a book. Encourage them to pick up a camera and document their trip through photos. The kids will have much more energy for the busy days when they have time to play and be kids.
9. Tips for Living in Close Quarters
We loved touring Europe by campervan. But, living in a motorhome 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 perfect solution to this issue. It is a daily challenge and requires a lot of patience and flexibility.
Some ideas to help maintain a happy family dynamic while travelling Europe with kids:
- Split up and do things in pairs instead of always together
- Make sure everyone has their own space and time to do their favorite activities
- Try and get the kids to bed at a reasonable hour so they are well rested (although this was tough in Spain!)
- Plan for downtime. Traveling can be exhausting and sometimes a day or two by the beach, in the pool or at the playground can help revive grouchy kids.
- Encourage the kids to introduce themselves to other kids in the campgrounds. This was harder than expected, but when it worked it was a great circuit breaker.
When all else fails, buy noise cancelling headphones. Seriously!
When you can’t get away and you have had enough of listening to the whining, pop on a pair of good headphones and listen to music.
10. Ideas for Home Schooling
We found home schooling to be one of the most challenging aspects of travelling around Europe with a family. Our kids missed 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.
What was hard about home schooling
We found it very difficult to get into a consistent routine when rving in Europe. 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 doing a structured lesson together. 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 minimal school activities
- We bought English and Math workbooks for each of the kids. The kids worked through them perhaps once a week. Talk to your teachers to find the most appropriate workbooks for your kids.
- Both kids kept a diary. This meant they were practicing their writing skills each day. This one is great for older kids. For my younger son, this one is great to help prompt ideas.
- 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.
Our Worldschooling Approach
What we did instead of trying to replicate school work was focus on incorporating learning into our every day activities. In supermarkets, museums, whilst driving. On walking tours and during ranger programs. It is a style of teaching we found natural and much easier for the kids to engage in.
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.
More Campervan Around Europe Tips
With a little planning, travelling Europe in a van with kids is a rewarding adventure.
For more camper van tips, our Definitive Guide to Europe by Campervan covers all the basics for touring Europe in a motorhome.
We cover whether to buy or rent a campervan, toll roads, free camping and more.
What is your best tip for traveling by camper with kids?
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