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How to Travel in a Campervan with Kids and Stay Sane

  • June 7, 2018
  • By Rachel
  • 4 Comments

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 advice 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.

Related: For motorhome travel in Europe tips, our Definitive Guide to Europe by Campervan covers all the essentials.  How to find a van, selecting a route, finding accommodation, equipment and getting around.

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WHY TRAVEL BY CAMPERVAN WITH KIDS

In our opinion, traveling in a motorhome is the best way to travel around Europe with a family, particularly if you have more time to spare.

What we loved about this mode of travel was that 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 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?!

CONSIDER THE BEST BED CONFIGURATION

It is worth doing some research on the size and configuration options to find the best campervan for your family. We talk more about general van configuration in our Definitive Guide to Europe by Campervan.

In terms of bed configuration, there are many different options. Some vans will have two double beds, some will have one permanent double bed and you to convert a table to another double bed each night. Some vans have bunks and a double bed permanently set up.

With kids campervan bed configuration is an important decision.

They will most likely be going 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.

While there are many small vans available, the idea of converting the dining table into a bed each night for 5 months sounded pretty painful.  Perhaps if you are traveling for a shorter time converting your bed each day wouldn’t be such an issue.

We chose an older 7 metre long family motorhome with a double bed at the front over the cabin and a set of bunks at the back.  We think this is 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.

BUY SPORTING EQUIPMENT AND TOYS

One of the other great benefits of exploring Europe by motorhome is you have the space to take some extras for the kids. We recommend you purchase some sports equipment, toys and craft activities. They are useful for rainy days, down time and afternoons back at camp.

Tips for Motorhome Travel: Take or purchase bicycles in a camper van with kids. 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 favorite 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 favorite games click on the images below.


Europe-campervan-bikes

THE BEST TECHNOLOGY FOR A CAMPERVAN ROAD TRIP

We don’t travel with ipads but we do use technology for the kids, especially on driving days. We talk in more detail about the technology we travel with in our article on the 10 best road trip activities for kids.

When traveling in a motorhome, we have a basic mobile phone for each child. Why a mobile phone? Because it is the cheapest way for them to have easy access to music and audio books. Some of our favorite options available now are listed below:


We use the Spotify app for music and the BorrowBox app for free audio books and ebooks from our local library.  On driving days the kids can settle in and listen to their favorite book or album.

Download Spotify for free. Click for:
Apple Store free download (iOS)
Google Store free download (Android)

Download BorrowBox for free. Click for
Apple Store free download (iOS)
Google Store free download (Android)

When on a motorhome road trip we also travel with a laptop. This is primarily for us to use for travel planning. But we also load a few of the kids’ favorite movies onto the laptop. When we have 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. It is possibly our best campervan travel tips. 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 we take in the campervan around Europe check out the Electronic Equipment section in ourDefinitive Guide to Europe by Campervan.

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.

In addition to our top tips on road trip activities for kids our other piece of advice is to give the 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 we started out we made sure:

  • the kids had plenty of snacks on hand
  • they both had audio books and music downloaded to fully charged devices
  • they knew there was a reward at the end – perhaps a swim or an ice cream.

Sometimes we would 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.

For more advice on activities the kids can play while on the road check out our 10 best road trip activities for kids.

CHOOSE ACCOMMODATION WITH THE KIDS IN MIND

It takes a little time to find your way with campgrounds and free camping. There are thousands of campsites in Europe for motorhomes. You need 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 loud and busy, with small uninspiring sites.

Plus, the kids rarely participated in organised activities any way. Most of our favorite sites were in smaller campgrounds in beautiful locations.

Free Camping

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 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 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.

Europe in a campervan - Site by the river in Montenegro

TAILOR ACTIVITIES AND DESTINATIONS

This point may seem obvious, but we started out with a very different itinerary for our road trip through Europe than we ended up taking.  For travel to Europe with kids you need to tailor your activities and destinations to the types of places that work for each individual.

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 often in campsites 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. 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.

So we did more hiking, paddled on lakes and sought out small villages to explore. The kids had more space, we spent less money and we could hike, swim and ride in spectacular surroundings.

How to make cities fun for kids

When we did stop in cities we stayed a short time and focused on a small number of fun activities such as:

  • In London we went to see a Broadway show
  • We did a fun walking tour in Lisbon
  • The kids enjoyed dressing up at the Schonbrunn Children’s Museum in Vienna
  • In Seville the kids were excited to watch a flamenco show

We suggest you choose activities and tours in cities that are especially engaging for the kids. Then you might also be able to sneak in a few visits to galleries and museums too!

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.

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.

Europe-campervan-outdoors

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!

Europe-campervan-shop

GETTING ALONG

Living in close quarters 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 solution to this issue! It is a daily challenge and requires a lot of patience and flexibility.

To help maintain a happy family dynamic while travelling Europe with kids we would:

  • Split up and do things in pairs instead of always together
  • Make sure everyone had their own space and time to do their favorite activities
  • Try and get the kids to bed at a reasonable hour so they were 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.

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.

Our minimal formal school activities:

  • We bought English and Maths workbooks. The kids worked through them perhaps once a week.
  • Both kids kept a diary. This meant they were practicing their writing skills 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 PotterAlice Miranda and anything by Andy Griffiths. Click below to find books your kids will love.


Europe-campervan-school

What did we find hard about homeschooling?

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 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 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.

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.

MORE CAMPERVAN AROUND EUROPE TIPS

We were surprised how quickly our time went and only wished we could have seen more on our family trip to Europe. 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.


Want to know more about Europe with Kids? You might like:

4 day family cycling trip on the Danube River

Hiking in Picos de Europa with kids

Exploring the lakes and rivers in Slovenia

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Best travel tips for traveling Europe in a campervan with kids including the best van configuration, equipment to take, how to manage long travel days and much more! #campervan #traveltips #europewithkids #rveurope

4 Comments
  • bstevenf
    April 20, 2018

    This is so helpful! Would any of you have any recommendation on where to rent a larger Motorhome in Europe. We were planning to start/end in Berlin, but are very flexible and can really do anywhere if needed…however have 6 kids, so we need space for 7-8. (We have a few younger kids that can share sleeping space). Having a hard time finding a large enough Motorhome. Planning a 3-4 week trip.

    • Rachel
      April 20, 2018

      Glad to hear you found the article useful. Motorhomes are such a great way to travel with family. Motorhomes do come in 8 berth configurations so you should be able to find a company with options. The other option would be to carry a small tent if you have older children who would be happy to camp separately next to the camper? When we were in Europe we met a large family in a smaller motorhome and they dealt with the lack of beds by stringing up hammocks inside for two of their kids! A novel solution to the problem.

  • Jane Barnes
    February 22, 2018

    What a great article, Rachel. Chock full of vital information for travelling in Europe with a camper van… or caravan. We spent 5 months with a little caravan and it was a pain that many cheap overnight stops did not include caravans and were for vans only. We were fully self-contained too. Anyway, we still did tonnes of free camping.

    • Rachel
      February 23, 2018

      Hi Jane, Thanks so much for your comment! It was interesting in Europe how few caravans there were. The campervan is definitely the vehicle of choice there. Very different to Australia.

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