If you have kids, you recognize how essential it is to maintain a firm-but-flexible routine that contains both predictable structure and room for the occasional hiccup. You have to plan for everything to go right but expect everything to go wrong thanks to a diaper blowout, a sudden tantrum, an unexpected illness, or a burst of energy.
That makes traveling with little ones seem like an impossible feat.
There were nearly 130,000 flight cancelations in 2022, and that number is holding steady. If you’re ready to take the kids and get away, you need to reclaim some control. That’s why smart families rent a camper van for their annual trip.
When you take a campervan road trip, you control every arrival, departure, stop, and detour. Still, it takes some finesse to keep young children occupied while you’re en route. We’ve created this guide to help savvy parents like you plan ahead for a successful, memorable, and manageable trip.
Read on to learn our five top camping tips for traveling with children.
1. Embrace Novelty With Kids’ Travel Bags
You may think you’re being clever by encouraging kids to pack their own activities for the drive. After all, they will definitely pack all their favorites, leaving the grownups to bask in the front seat and gaze at the scenery…right?
The trouble with that is that the kids will know exactly what to expect in advance. They’ll get bored of their old, familiar toys and games before they’ve buckled their seatbelts!
If you want to keep kids from whining during the road trip, consider packing the travel bags yourself—that way, they won’t be able to predict what’s coming next.
Travel Bag Tips
One fun way to keep novelty at the forefront is to fill each bag with travel gifts for kids.
The gifts don’t need to be anything spectacular. Go to your local dollar shop and stock up on fidgets, coloring books, travel games, and more. When you wrap them, however, they gain a mythical status that instantly makes them objects of fascination.
You could label each gift with a number to dictate the order kids should open them or leave them to choose a random surprise. Try to roughly predict how long the drive will take and include enough trinkets to last the length of the journey. Create a ritual in which the kids can open a new surprise every thirty minutes, hour, or two hours, depending on the scope of your family adventure.
Travel Bags for Young Kids
Little kids have shorter attention spans, and they may need a lot of novel toys and games to keep them busy. Use their interests as you curate a selection of items they’ll love. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box—if your toddler absolutely loves ripping paper, include a few sheets and bring along a dust buster!
You might include some of the following:
- Lacing cards
- Magic water paint
- Sensory pouches
- Magnets and a mini cookie sheet
Predicting which activity will hold a little one’s attention is hard. Mix old favorites with new things to explore. You might learn something new about your child while making your campervan travel experience more enjoyable!
Travel Bags for Older Kids
Older kids have longer attention spans. The trick to keeping them busy is choosing something engaging to hold their attention for a long time.
Here are a few things that capture older children’s attention:
- A new book on the topic of their current obsession
- Choose your own adventure books
- A tablet with pre-downloaded games, audiobooks, etc
- Art or trendy craft sets with quality materials
- Popular travel games for kids (Bananagrams, Spot It, etc.)
Begin with their interests, and aim for the element of surprise. If you do allow screentime, be sure to pack a good pair of headphones. Don’t forget the chargers!
2. Plan Your Stops
Your first inclination might be to keep the young kids busy, keep your eyes on the prize, and drive. While you can get pretty far in a day if you switch off drivers and bring along a travel potty for kids, consider embracing the journey. Everyone will have a better time if the drive itself isn’t a miserable, vaguely carsick-feeling blur.
Plan your route around more than campsites. Try to choose at least one exciting stop per travel day to allow everyone to get out of the van, stretch their legs, and experience something new. Even a visit to a new playground can be enough to give everyone a breather and create some positive memories on your family vacation.
Consider making time for the following attractions on your journey:
- National Parks
- Factories with tours
- World-record sites
- Unique playgrounds
- Botanical gardens
- Farms, zoos, and aquariums
- Historical homes
- State parks
- Rec centers
- Indoor pools
Don’t be afraid to stop for something simple, like a few hours at a movie theater in the dark. Sometimes the silliest stops become the unexpected highlights of the journey!
3. Fill Your Evenings
Well, you’ve arrived at your camping spot! The small kids can run around and release some energy, while Mom and Dad can get out camping chairs, have a little downtime, and finally breathe in the fresh air. Maybe you’ll have something to eat—then what?
After sitting in the camper van all day, kids aren’t always ready to go to sleep right after supper. This goes double if they nap on the trip. While we recommend bringing blackout curtains and nightlights to simplify the bedtime routine, you’ll need to tire everyone out first.
Try to plan a fun, simple family activity for each night you spend camping on the road. Consider some of the following campground classics:
- Campfire with s’mores
- Evening flashlight walk
- Hide and seek in the dark
- Evening swim
- Chalk and bubbles
- Family board game night
- Snuggle up and watch a movie
- Scavenger hunts
- Bikes and scooters
- Camp crafts
Even if your trip isn’t strictly a “camping trip,” there’s no reason why you shouldn’t embrace your overnights on the road and enjoy the highlights. Remember, there can never be too much structure when traveling with kids, especially if it’s the first time. Keep a few classic camping activities in your pocket, and you’ll never hear, “I’m bored!”
4. Snacks, Snacks, Snacks
Whether you plan to stop for local fare or cook at the campground, don’t forget that the kids need to eat in-between meals. In fact, snacktime can sometimes double as an activity. A structured snack break can break up the drive and keep a long day on the road from feeling too tedious.
The first rule of packing snacks is, “always bring more than you need.” The second rule of packing snacks is to include a variety so the whole family gets what they like. Bring along favorites, but the rule of novelty applies here, too.
Your Hi5 Camper Van from Travellers Autobarn comes with a microwave. Popping some microwave popcorn before putting on a movie is sometimes enough to break up the monotony. The sound of crunching is always preferable to the sound of complaining!
You aren’t limited to shelf-stable snacking, either. Your Hi5 van also comes with a fridge, so pack that string cheese, fresh fruit, or veggie tray.
Consider snacks that double as activities, such as:
- Build your own yogurt parfait
- Kiddie charcuterie / DIY Lunchables
- Cookie or cupcake decorating
- Ants on a log
- Gas cooker s’mores
- Build rainbow fruit kabobs
- Make your own trail mix
Keeping your kids busy and fed is half the battle during the transit portion of your family adventure. If you add a little magic to snacktime, you’ll always be one step ahead.
5. Address the Bathroom Conundrum
As mentioned, you can solve nearly every bathroom-related problem by bringing along a travel potty for unavoidable emergencies, but we understand that might not be everyone’s favorite solution. The truth is that toilets aren’t challenging to find on the road. If this is your biggest travel concern, you may be overthinking it.
If you’re traveling via major highways, there’s nearly always a well-placed rest stop or visitor’s center. Plus, almost every store, local library, restaurant, or campground has a bathroom they’ll let you use, especially if you have kids with you. Make sure to go every time you stop at an attraction.
Some parents feel better bringing a few WAG bags along. We agree that it’s better to have them and never use them than to need them and not have them!
With that in mind, it’s always a good idea to pack the following hygiene products:
- Hand sanitizer
- Baby wipes
- Bottled water
- Odor proof bags
- Toilet paper
- First aid kit
- Paper soap
- Dry shampoo
Kids are messy creatures, whether at home or on the open road. Luckily, they’re also 100% washable!
Nothing Goes Together Like Kids and a Camper Van
Is the expression “vacation with kids” an oxymoron, or is a bit of serenity really possible with little ones on board? With a few thoughtful preparations, the grownups can enjoy their getaway while the tiny people have their own adventure. All the road trip travel tips above will set you up for a fantastic voyage, whether you’re camping or driving cross country to Grandma’s house.
The best camper van for your big family adventure is the Hi5 from Travellers Autobarn. These brand-new vehicles can comfortably sleep two adults and up to three children, with plenty of standing room (or wiggle room). Request a quote for your campervan rental today, then start planning your next family journey!
Here are a few more articles you may like!
7 Unforgettable Family Camping Spots in California
Campervan Tips for Road Trips in the USA
6 Reasons Renting a Campervan is the Best Way to Travel the USA
About the Author
Bastian is the Sales & Marketing Manager here at Travellers Autobarn. He holds a Master of Commerce in Marketing and International Business Management, and 20+ years experience in campervan hire, road trips and travel.