Campervan life isn't for everyone. If you prefer fully inclusive holidays with kids clubs, a spa and lots of beach time, then you probably aren't going to thrive in a campervan. But if hiking boots, a wet suit and waterproofs form part of your wardrobe, this could be your ideal family holiday.
I've always lusted after a vintage VW Campervan. It inspires a huge sense of nostalgia amongst its fans. An emblem of simpler times and sunny days. We got our van (still unnamed) 2.5 years ago and have spent many happy days and nights with her since. The kids love her. Only Disneyland could compete for their attention.
Our very first trip was to the banks of Loch Morlich for the night. With it being our first time, we had no idea how to organise and pack/ unpack efficiently. It was a late night by the time we got all the beds made up and everything tidied away. Our return journey descended into disaster when we snapped our clutch cable coming over the Lecht (the highest road in Britain) and were stuck at the top in a howling gale for 7 hours. But much as that sounds miserable (and in a car it would have been), we actually had a great time. We could make ourselves a cup of tea or a snack whenever we wanted, the kids had space to move around, we had plenty of warm blankets and even an IPAD for watching films. We've had a couple of breakdowns since, one self-inflicted and one due to issues relating to the age of the van. With each one we gain more mechanical knowledge and skills and whilst not ideal, it's part and parcel of owning a vintage vehicle and a risk that we are willing to take for the joy we get travelling and camping in it. Many modern camper vans don't have this to contend with but if you are thinking of buying an old van, be prepared to gain some new mechanical skills.
Having spent a great deal of time as a family of four in ours, we have a good idea about what makes for a successful road trip. Here's our recommendations (with a number of weather related items due to the fact that we have no control over the Scottish weather).
1. An awning. Particularly for trips of 3 or more days. Not sure this would be strictly necessary in warmer climes but in Scotland we can sometimes see days of unrelenting rain. It's great to have the extra space to dry off in, play in and store belongings. We have one similar to this: http://www.justkampers.com/camper-van-motorhome-and-camping-accessories/awnings-sun-canopies/motorhome-awnings/vango-airaway-kela-iii-2017-low-cloud-grey-driveaway-awning.html It takes hardly any time to put up and even less time to put away.
2. Leveller ramps. If you are parking on an uneven ground, this helps make the camper level ensuring a better night sleep for everyone.
3. Waterproofs. I've mentioned the weather already. Sometimes we have glorious days. Ones that take your breath away and there is no better place to be in the world. Crystal clear, sparkling waters, the freshest seafood, the best viewpoints and scenery. Summer utopia. More often than not, we have quite average days. Overcast, lukewarm temperatures, nothing too offensive either way. But sometimes we have drookit days. The rain is never-ending, the skies dark and grey and a dampness permeates everything. You are going to get cabin fever pretty quickly in a small camper van. Better to have the right gear on you and make an adventure of it. Kids love nothing better than being given free reign in a large puddle.
4. A small activity bag. l make up a bag for each of them with travel activities and games that l have usually sourced from pinterest. They also select a few toys to take and we always carry a ball and a bucket and spade for the beach.
5. Similar bedtimes. Give up any notion of getting a couple of hours to yourself in the evening. It just doesn't happen. Instead accept that the kids will be going to bed a bit later and you a bit earlier. A bit more sleep is required to handle the rigours of 24/7 van life with children anyway.
6. Route planning around kids activities. If the kids are unhappy, you are unhappy. To have a successful campervan holiday you need to plan around kid hotspots such as parks, swimming pools, the dreaded play barns (emergency rain back ups only) etc. We usually try and build a big, kid friendly activity in every two days. Sweetie shops and ice creams are a hit any day.
7. Get creative. Our kids are 6 and 3 and have climbed several big hills with us. If you say you are going for a walk, be prepared to hear several hours of complaints. Instead sell it as a kid friendly adventure. A gruffalo hunt, a fairy adventure, a search for giants. Incorporate elements of the landscape into the adventure, make a treasure map, bring lots of little snacks and stop frequently. Look for the most adventurous (but safe) way to get to the top. Our kids despise a nice, safe mud free path. Stick in lots of uneven steps, some bouldering and a few muddy bogs and they are in their element.
8. A heater. We have a little heater in the van and it makes those occasional frosty or just cold and damp mornings infinitely better. We snuggle up and get toasty whilst a pot of tea brews. Perfection.
9. IPAD - A lifesaver for longer road trips or particularly sustained rainy periods. We load ours up with films, make a snug and snack up.
One last thing: Responsibility. It's never too early to install a sense of responsibility for the environment in your children. We've witnessed plenty of questionable tourist behaviour from littering to unsafe driving. Life lessons for our kids include picking up other people's litter and an education in why we do that. We want them to be environmentally conscious campers who "take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints".