I love road trips. There is something about the slow pace of travel that just resonates with me. Instead of being lifted up in a flying metal tube and plunked down at your Point B, you get to experience all the little places and moments in between. I like air travel too (well I don’t really but I do like going to places that you have to get to by flying) but road trips are my favorite. My husband and I have driven many miles together going west, east, and south. We haven’t driven north yet but that is on the list!
After having a baby, people told me that road trips wouldn’t be fun anymore. That we should take the quickest route from home to destination. That there would be lots of crying and tantrums and it would be miserable so why choose to put ourselves through that. Our road-tripping days were temporarily over!
We were determined not to prove them wrong because we would have to accept our reality, but to see for ourselves how it would work with our particular child. And yes crying and tantrums definitely happen but they do at home too. We might as well enjoy somewhere different while a meltdown is happening!
I have found that not only are road trips with Squish tolerable and doable, I find them even more fun than pre-Squish.
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Top 5 Tips for Van Camping Road Trips with a Toddler
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TIP #1: Sleep in your van/camper/trailer
Having a camper van sure beats tent camping with an active toddler. I’d say it even beats staying in hotels and motels. All your stuff is right there with you. No hauling everything in for one night in a hotel and hauling it all out again the next day. When you stop your driving for the day you don’t have to set up a tent while your kids are hungry or wanting to go explore. If it’s raining you are not stuck in a tent. Your kid can crawl or walk around the inside of the camper. For Squish it’s like staying in a big play house.
Tip #2: Babyproof your van as you would your home
This maybe goes without saying but baby-proof or child-proof the heck out of your van. You want all the cleaning supplies, any sharp cutlery or tools well packed away, just like you would have at home. I wanted Squish to be able to move around the van and explore pretty freely (with supervision) without hearing a lot of “no” and “you can’t touch that”. Most things we keep in our van cupboards.
Tip #3: Share a bed
Bed sharing is awesome. Yes it is more cramped but the close quarters are part of what your toddler will love. If it’s cold at night, you are right there to adjust for your little one. Last night we were van camping and it dipped down to 37 degrees (+3 celcius). We were all dressed well overnight and had a warm down-filled blanket. In the middle of the night Squish started shuffling around trying to get more comfortable. I just brought her in closer for a cuddle in case she was a little cool (or just needing comfort in a new place) and she settled right back to sleep. I find she actually sleeps more soundly in the van than she does at home. She has had tons of fresh air, and she’s smooshed between the two people she likes most in the world.
Tip #4: Meal plan ahead of time
We bring a lot of food with us so we don’t have to rely on fast-food stops. That means we can eat healthier and save some money. We have a fridge in our van but we often just bring a good quality cooler and some ice instead. We have a large tupperware tote with a lid where we store all the non-perishables. I usually pack enough food for about four days of meals for the three of us without having to reload at a grocery store. We eat the most perishable things in the first couple of days and then eat a bit more dried and canned goods until we replenish our supply. I will probably do a post on what foods I pack for our road trips another time if people are interested.
Tip #5: Try to chill
Things are not always going to go smoothly. There will be nights of little sleep. Your kid will drop their toothbrush in the dirt. They will eat too many crackers and not enough fruits and veggies. You will leave for the day much later than you wanted and arrive at your next stop after dark (but at least see #1 – you have no tent to set up!). These things all happened to us and we more than survived. Try to take these hiccups in stride. Kids pick up on your energy. The more my husband and I relax about these things, the better for Squish. Which means it’s better for all of us.
No matter how much more complicated and gear-intensive it is to travel with Squish (and it is more of both of those things), it’s also a total blast. She often wakes up between us in the morning singing. We go for slow hikes around our campsite and she picks up tiny treasures of leaves and pine cones. She’s absolutely thrilled to have her parents in such close quarters with her, away from the usual distractions of home. I wouldn’t trade these days for anything.
I would totally recommend trying road trips and trying camping with your kids. If you set your expectations low, or better yet try not to have any expectations you will probably be pleasantly surprised. Kids are usually more adaptable than we think they are. Squish is a high energy, spirited little human and has been from day one. We do not have a naturally mellow or easy-going kid. I honestly wasn’t sure if this type of trip would work with her. Maybe other babies but not mine. I’m glad I didn’t listen to the discouragers or my own doubts. She has done so well and in some ways is an easier toddler on the road.
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I would love to hear your tips and tricks for road tripping and camping with a toddler or young kids. What would you add?