+ Free Campervan/RV Packing List for Traveling with Kids ✔️
Thinking about trying a mini-vacation with a campervan for the first time with the kids?
Flooded with questions like what and how much do you need to pack, how will the kids sleep? Will they sleep? Is this whole campervan thing a good idea to begin with?
Ok, I can see the slight anxiety and your stress levels going up.
Buut, it’s pretty standard stuff to think about, if you ask me. We recently went on a campervan trip with the kids for the first time too and there is a lot we prepared for and a whole lot we did not even consider.
We´ve been thinking about renting a campervan for a long time, but we felt the girls were too small and we were still slightly cautious about traveling. After the quarantine period was over, we thought traveling with the kids would now be perfect in a camper van.
That is why we rented an RV for 7 days in August and tried the whole experience for the first time. We traveled to Peppa Pig Lang, and to the northern and eastern beaches of Germany, with our 2 girls – a 1 and a half-year-old and an almost 3-year-old.
Good news! It totally works and you can make this run smoothly too!
So if you are interested in what we found worked and didn’t work for us, please give the post a read and download our campervan essential list for traveling with small children. But first…
Step 1 – Checking for lists on Pinterest
I too checked Pinterest for campervan packing lists in the beginning and checked a bunch of items I figured I would need for camping a week with a rented campervan.
While some tips were useful, I still ended up packing way too much. We probably used less than half of what we had. I would have super loved a little bit of minimalism for a weeks’ time. Ok, it was a ridiculous amount of luggage and we had to tidy up alllll the time. I’ll have that never again, please.
So here are our takes:
- check your campervan essentials
These are really important. But first, check with the company or people providing you with the van, they most likely have all of this already and you don’t need to order any of these for a first trip.
Fire extinguisher. Safety vest – Family set. Hose to refill the potable water tank. Extending cable for electricity, since the pole is not always directly in front of your camping space. Emergency triangle. Small kit for repairs.
Make sure you leave room to observe and learn from what other experienced campers are using and consider a purchase according to what you find important for you and your family.
- check baby car seat compatibility
It turns out most campervans don’t have Isofix, so do make sure to check this ahead of time. We couldn’t use our GB Vaya Platinum I-size chairs, and we ended up ordering some super simple seatbelt options from Safety 1st, that we will reuse and give to my parents, so they can mount them in their cars.
While there are clear advantages to the rotate function and the overall comfort of the GB Vaya, these standard seatbelt chairs were more than fine for a week and the girls found them comfortable.
- drive safely
Yeah, I am very serious about driving. I think it is crucial to understand that you need to practice driving for a bunch of years before you go on a van trip. The van is cool, but it pretty big and hard to maneuver for a complete beginner, so I would recommend at least making small trips at first and paying extra attention.
- read your rental agreement carefully
Unless stipulated otherwise by your insurance, once you sign the protocol for taking over the van, you are fully responsible for it, including any scratches on the car. And believe me when I say van scratches are expensive AF.
Most rental companies ask you for a guarantee in cash at the beginning, so everything you scratch, stain or break will most likely be charged from that money.
Carefully check the car for scratches when you rent it, anything that might already be there can potentially be paid by you. Ideally, don’t let your toddler eat in the van without supervision.
You don´t want them staining the car. And this is not just to make sure you get your cash back, I am just saying this because I know what my toddlers are capable of doing and I am seriously sorry for the car.
- get outdoor chairs & tables
A solution that works well is to eat outside whenever the weather allows it.
So bring your own chairs and tables and pack them in the van. We just grabbed a few old camping chairs and the kids’ garden plastic tables. Now I am looking to get some quality ones once I find a good offer. I prefer no rush on these kind of purchases.
Whatever you choose, enjoy sharing your crumbles with your fellow insects and living creatures. Just, no toddlers inside. I mean it, moms. But in case you are really brave and want to eat in…
- bring a portable vacuum cleaner
Good for crumbs and corners, I think a portable vacuum cleaner is a must for traveling with small kids anywhere. You can work on your squats while cleaning the crumbs from the bretzels that your toddlers just ate all over the place, while also get a sense of control over your environment, which will lower your anxiety levels. If this isn`t the ultimate mom device, I don`t know what is.
Anyways, these things are 20€ in Germany and the batteries last for hours, so it will not consume much, which will also allow your energy-aware husband to breathe easier.
- brush to swipe sand and dirt away
But if your husband is really hyperventilating that you are going to run out of electricity in the van, you can always grab a brush and spare him of his own anxiety. Also, if you plan to go to the beach, take into consideration that sand gets pretty hard to clean, so a brush is really effective.
- pack loads of protein
It can be anything you like, canned sardines in tomato sauce, preboiled eggs and cheeses in dried form, little dried salamis, almonds, macadamia nuts, pistachios etc. Depending on where you are going, maybe fresh mozzarella too because it is just so good with local fresh tomatoes.
- bring your baby’s favorite food
You will most likely not have a microwave with you and using a whole pot to heat up just a baby size portion of food can get messy. You probably also want to make sure that if you have your own little picky eater and he doesn’t do well with the food changes, he will not go to bed hungry.
I don’t know about you guys, but I always have spinach and fish jars with us. I gave my older girl all kinds of food options over and over again, freshly cooked, raw, canned, jarred and she chose every single time a baby food jar of creamy spinach, fish, carrots and pasta. She just loves this over and over again. But it is no wonder, she is also the same girl who chews on big Omega3 capsules and calls them gummy bears.
TIP: If you choose to cook it from scratch, make sure to portion the food in small containers that are heat resistant and bring them along. Because you can super easily heat them up by just boiling water and diving in the container.
- bring also healthy snacks, loads of them
Our babies snack on bread varieties, little coconut biscuits, coconut chips, Pufuleti, cucumbers, bell peppers, nuts, seeds, fruit, fruit pouches and the like. Or Omega 3 capsules.
Or normal gummi bears and candy from strangers, friends and family, since literally everybody we know thinks giving kids endless sweets is a great idea. I let them enjoy ice-cream and chocolate too. Truth is, we can all learn to snack better.
On this note, I seriously wonder if there are other parents out there who get invaded by candy from family and basically everybody they know. And if so, how do you deal with that?
- get a lot of water with you
Jesus Christ, water is freeaking expensive in popular tourist destinations! It of course makes sense since most businesses pay higher rents here so you see this in the price of the product.
But if you too want to avoid this particular extra cost, consider getting at least 3 L per adult a day with you everywhere on a sunny day.
Keep it cool in your daily walks during the summer by keeping it a cooling bag. Enjoy the years where it is socially acceptable to have a shopping cart aka bed stroller for your little kids and luggage. But always have water handy, in some areas 0.5 L of water can be super-pricey.
Remember that being frugal is not the same as being cheap, but it is about prioritizing what is important to you. For us, it was important to have experiences that we will remember and that make us feel like we are on vacation.
Paying 10 times more for water is not bringing any value to us, so changing this habit is not that much of a sacrifice overall, and it is really worth it in the long run.
- Invest in a good power bank
The Anker power bank is my ultimate favorite charging device. It is totally worth the investment because it charges with the speed of light and I can have my phone fully recharged up to 6 times. It seems even faster than connecting it to the socket. This is good for any kind of vacation, especially because taking pictures and videos kills your battery pretty fast.
- get a double car charger
With this, both you and your partner get to charge your phones at the same time while driving, which is pretty convenient. For best results, you can go for and Anker Quick Car Charger and Anker Charging cables here too, these are sooo much faster than any average charging device out there.
- bring your good mobile internet connection
I am stressing all these devices because I do believe it is very helpful to have internet. You need internet for everything. We used it to research for gas stations, supermarkets, google maps and of course, camping places.
We know some campings are a rather expensive option, but we consider next time looking also for privately-owned parking places or just researching big shopping centers and parking there if it is allowed. Mainly, the internet is your friend.
- hairbrush & hairdryer
Most camping places don’t have hairdryers, but they do have electricity sockets where you can use them.
- big beach towel
You can totally have a mix of light, swimming beach towels, but I found that bringing a bigger one helps, because the small ones are not as effective. For toddlers, towel beach ponchos are super sweet and practical, especially in the late afternoon when the sun is not so strong anymore.
The ones that you can use in the van or wear outside in the evening. I don’t know how your region is like in the summer, but Germany is pretty coldish in the evening, no matter the time of the year.
- laundry basket for dirty dishes
One less item you need to buy since you probably have at least one at home already. Definitely a good-to-have-item that we personally did not get and we had to figure out a way to get the dirty dishes into the designated dishwashing room inside the camping. I did however use a nice beach bag for that, and it wasn`t bad, since it was made of this super thick plasticky material that I can`t name.
Next time we will grab a simple laundry basket along for sure, as we observed many campers already do.
- bring a bag for recyclable plastic
Remember to recycle on the road too. Bring your good habits everywhere, behaving like the places you visit are not your responsibility is not cool.
It was not our first time traveling to touristic areas of Germany and seeing people straight not giving a shit about the place because hey, it’s not their place. This makes the most interesting places to visit also the most endangered ones.
Germany is such a clean place most of the time, and I would say it is partly because people in small cities and even larger ones feel like they are part of a community and that the way the place looks is their responsibility. So they diligently clean after themselves.
Of course, I have to specify what I mean by larger cities. Germany is not the big metropolis country, in fact, there are only 4 cities with populations over 1 million, the vast majority ranges around 100 000 inhabitants and most people live in smaller towns around the big cities with populations in the thousands.
So I think keeping the place clean and recycling is truly successful here also partly because it is embarrassing to litter in smaller communities, where everybody knows each other. Also, you will have a small dictatorship, where you will be openly told to clean up your damn litter. And this is not a bad thing.
- disposable gloves
For cleaning the toilet cassette. It makes the whole process feel better, I assure you.
- umbrella or UV Sun Shade Pop-up Tent for the beach
A smart move if you have small babies, because they do tend to fall asleep on the beach and you want to make sure that they are protected from the sun. The pop-up tents are super useful especially if you plan for a longer vacation on the beach. After 2-3 days, you probably want to limit your exposure to the sun, in order to avoid sunburn.
- campervan Shade Kit
They are most likely provided if you rent the camper. But just in case, ask or check if there there is a kit for the front shield and side windows included. And some sort of mesh side shade, depending on how the van is equipped.
These two must be taken into consideration because you really want to avoid making the van an oven in the hot summer days.
- toilet paper for campervan
If you are wondering if there is a special toilet paper for the camper toilets, yes, there is, and it is much more expensive than the usual one. But it turns out that you could buy just plain 2-layer toilet paper, as it dissolves easier.
Or if you are in a camping place a lot and you plan on cleaning the toilet cassette often, you can just go for normal toilet paper and save the extra trouble.
- consider getting minimal kitchen gear
Remember, keeping it simple is key to less clutter. Cutlery, a few plates, a little grill, cups, 1 good knife, 1 cutting board, 1 pan, 2 small pots, bibs for babies, dish detergent, a sponge. That’s basically it.
- pack sleeping stuff
You know, pajamas, pillows, bedsheets, waterproof sheets for babies, their favorite sleeping stuffed toys. Potentially earplugs if you know you wake up easily because you can have party people around, hungry seagulls or even sheep. Bah! Bah!
- beach stuff
Sun hats, beach bag, cooling bag for drinks, sunscreen. We found that a normal 50+ Sunscreen that is also water-resistant works great for the babies, but there is just so much choice out there.
- winter stuff
If you travel in the winter, well, you got to get those combi suits out and boots and all the winter clothing that you need to wear in layers. You know them.
- a lot of wipes
Basically to constantly clean up. Small babies are messy, so spills are not optional. The stress however is optional.
- prepare music in the right format
I am happy we asked before, because the Ford we were driving only had a USB and no CDs. Also, I made 2 different USB´s with music and only one worked, so over-preparing this time felt pretty good.
- take games with you
Board games, card games, any kind of games you and your kids enjoy playing. If the weather is not that nice, they can really make a difference.
- be ok with arguments with your partner on details about the trip
You are most likely going to fight over where to go, what to do, how to do and when. You will each have your own bag of weird packed up in the van too. But here I come as well to say that fighting about these things is normal and it doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed.
What does matter is that you learn to repair conflict and keep the respect and affection for your partner. And that is no easy thing. However, a healthy relationship leaves place for disagreements.
Our own main disagreement is that I worry a lot about mapping the road beforehand, while my husband wants us to explore and see how the route unfolds. The truth is neither of our approaches would be fun if we were to take them to the extreme. Neither would it be if we would insist on having just our way.
I was reading a great book before and during the trip – John Gottman’s “The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work. I find this to be a must-read for anyone, married or not. Here is a quote I extracted from the book:
- consider pre-booking if it`s high season or the weekend
Speaking of conflict, we only pre-booked the first camping place and we “agreed” to go and see what happens without booking. What I mean by this is that my husband insisted we can manage and explore and stop where we like even without all the previous, meticulous planning.
And I agreed half-convinced because I am half-aware that being a mom has changed my otherwise adventure-driven self to a more plan-driven, need-to-know-and-control-all-the-details self. But I am giving my best to do the work.
It turns out my husband was right, it was possible to get places during the week even without prebooking, right in the middle of August, which is high season here.
During the weekend, however, a different story. We found one place for one evening on Friday and had to leave on Saturday. But this also turned out pretty good as well because we spent the whole Saturday on the beach and having a lot of fun and in the evening we drove back towards a campaign place closer to our home and slept in the camper in front of the campaign place. Which was fun and leads me to my next tip.
- save on camping nights
We discovered through experience that most camping places close at 22:00, but they have places outside of the camping where you can park if you arrive late and you can just sleep through the night. This will save you the extra night you would spend sleeping anyways and you can pay and use the campaign facilities starting with the next day.
- leave reviews of camping places only after you left the place
Sleep on it, really. Think about including some positive things as well, even if you had a lousy experience. First of all, so we don’t destroy people’s business out of momentary frustration. Secondly, how do we even measure a successful stay?
It happened that we were disappointed with some stuff too and wanted to write a review. While scrolling through what others said, I realized how terribly subjective most of these reviews are. So we decided to wait until we could see things in a less emotional light.
I would say be more specific about whatever things you liked or disliked because people who go there try to understand what they can expect on-site.
- eat what you like and move on
It is not hard at all to eat healthy in a camper, on the contrary. You can prepare a lot of fresh things. But unless you have autoimmune conditions or food conditions, traveling to new places can be a culinary delight.
So my take on this is to eat some of the stuff you like or crave and just move on. You can continue to plan your meals in the camper and still enjoy the spoils as well. We found marvelous fried sweet potatoes on the road and ice cream and we just enjoyed it.
- journal somehow on the day
Take small notes on your phone, write a brief summary on Insta for your family and friends who want to know how the experience is going, or use plain paper to journal daily for 5 minutes. It helps so much to remember the day and how you felt and it is simply a great practice.
- hug a lot
I mean every day, multiple times. There is endless research on the benefits of hugs, but specifically on the road, in new and unknows circumstances, hugs help you keep connected, safe and they are even said to boost your immune system and reduce stress.
- learn how to turn on the electricity, set up the lights, and use the gas
If you get a video or a tutorial link about the RV, make sure you understand exactly how to operate the electricity and gas. Some things aren’t even in the videos.
Did you know, for instance, that in Fords, there is a handle under the chair that can deactivate the electricity and that kids can potentially play with and leave you in the dark? True story.
- put kids in bed early and enjoy the stars with your partner
I mean, enjoy these hours and this great time in your life. I know having kids can be exhausting, but keep in mind that you are young now and you only live once. So this moment, now, enjoy the beauty of it all.
Else put, there is never going to be a better time to relax, you are still going to have problems to solve, just different ones, and you are still going to die.
So just hug it out under the stars and enjoy the present moment. You are doing a great job at this!
- dream about the future
Ah, the planning of the future. Dreaming up how you can travel as a family in the future, work from your travels, write that book, get to do (at least a part of) those things you always dreamt about. Soo important, really.
I´ve seen so far that there is no way to get to a future that you did not work towards. The imagined future includes uncomfortable self inquiries and drafting the desired direction to get to.
So talking about the good things that you already do and other things you can do to get to where you want to get is a great way to spend some vacation time.
John Gottman’s “The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work has so many easy exercises that you can do with your partner to discover more about your dreams and your plans.
- overdo it
There is a lot of excitement and you might want to go far and fast and see everything. I recommend taking things slowly and stopping to smell the roses as much as possible. This way you will avoid a lot of unnecessary stress.
Basically don’t plan too many things so you don’t have to squeeze everything at once in a day or a week and get stressed. Have hours where you don’t go anywhere and do anything, just hang around the camper.
- pack the spice rack
Aka make it a vacation away from the daily homemade 3 meals as much as possible. I keep saying, if you stir it, it’s homemade!
So really, eat out, pack easy to make sandwiches, fresh fruit and veggies and snacks and just enjoy. Of course, the more you plan on staying, the more you will cook. But, see above. Give yourself some slack.
- walk around without water & snacks
Be prepared for thirst, hunger and boredom in kids and save up big time. A bottle of water in Peppa Pig Land? Not the same as a bottle on an Aldi shelf.
- pack extra cosmetics
Like perfumes, jewelry, 5 cremes etc. Traveling lightly is a great practice in minimalism. You will probably soon realize how little you actually need.
- get extra clothes
We used less than half of what we packed and I managed to pack in one medium-sized suitcase clothes for me, my husband and 2 babies under 3. And we changed clothes even twice a day.
Sure, summer clothes are not big in volume, but even if its not that warm, minimalism works wonders. Each camping place has washing machines, so in case you stay more, you can clean up your laundry at any moment.
- bring too many toys
Lately, I have been embracing the idea of toy minimalism and I have seen great results with our girls.
So I recommend you test this out – just pack something like a good toy for the beach, a big book full of images, 2 little action figures or dolls so kids can role-play if they are at that age.
Kids need to get also bored in order to become creative or pay attention deeply to one thing. I have seen this extra exploration happens out of boredom with our kids.
They might whine and make noises in the car, but music and snacks will keep them calm during the driving time and they will eventually start playing individually or together. Or just sleep.
- use gas stations on the highway, go to the first town around
The difference in price is huge. I don´t know if this applies worldwide, but in Europe, it can be 40% more expensive to tank on the highway, and the detour to a normal gas station here is minimal. Basically, with your Google maps, you can find a place 5 to 7 km away from the highway and save up a lot, while also enjoying the local scenery.
- trust reviews 100%
We visited 4 campaign places and the reviews were useful for some orientation but completely inaccurate. So don’t rely on this exclusively when visiting a place, in order to avoid creating expectations and being disappointed.
- let small faults destroy your experience
No place is perfect, there is always something that could be better. But accepting this is key to having a pleasurable experience.
Here is an interesting concept. Ironically, having the expectation to feel great all the time is going to make you focus on the fact that you don’t feel that great all the time, basically pushing you to focus on what you lack and end up feeling miserable.
Social media portraits of people having fun and our FOMO exacerbate the idea that there is some better place we could be in.
There most likely is a better place. It can also basically be any other place if the place you are staying at is so loud that nobody in your family can sleep. But then, you should just move out and look for a more sleep-friendly place.
But being upset about it is a choice, you can always find ways to enjoy the new road that lies ahead. Also, these kinds of things can be extremely funny, if you truly experience them and rise above the situation.
- forget to count your blessings
Just how lucky are we to be with your loved ones, safe, healthy, driving a van and living in this day and age? There is so much to be grateful for each day, and expressing gratitude on a daily basis has been now even scientifically shown to improve not just your relationships but your mental and physical health.
Although great philosophers, writers and spiritual leaders have been basically preaching the same thing forever.
Instead of focusing on what goes wrong, gratitude helps us focus on what is already going well.
I have found that rather than focusing on the energy of the problem, practicing gratitude eventually trains the mind to learn to focus on the energy of the solution. And that is beautiful.
- forget to just be a tourist
Yes, life is short and these times with the kids will never come back. So don’t miss out on sightseeing, swimming, tour guides, playing with your kids, away from the phone (1000 pictures impulses must be contained at all cost). And bring some local stories home for your friends, neighbors and blog.
- be afraid to ignore lists and advice and do whatever the hell you want
Just because you can! Have fun!
I’ve put together a list that I found to be realistic for a week of traveling with the kids for the first time. What did you find essential to pack when traveling with a campervan and kids?
Campervan Essential list
- Campervan Shade Kit
- Fire Extinguisher
- Safety Vest – Family Set
- Hose to Refill Water
- First Aid Kit
- Extending Electricity Cable
- Emergency Triangle
- Small Kit for Repairs
- Glue /Double-Sided tape
- Phone with Internet
- Good Power Bank
- Double Car Charger
- Tablet /Kindle
- Bluetooth Speaker
- Portable Vacuum Cleaner
- Baby’s Favorite Food
- Coffee & Tea
- Bag for Recyclable Plastic
- Basket for Dirty Dishes
- Plates & Bowls & Cups
- 1 Good knife
- Cutting Board
- 1 Pan
- 2 Small Pots
- Bottle & Can Opener
- Baby Bibs
- Dish Detergent
- Kitchen Towels
- Paper Towel
- Bed Sheets
- Waterproof Mattress Protector
- Favorite Sleeping Toys
- Chairs & Tables
- Beach Bag
- Cooling Bag
- Picnic /Beach Blanket
- Small BBQ
- Swimming ring
- Umbrella or UV Sun Shade
- Pop-up Beach Tent
- Dental Floss
- Diapers & Diaper Bags
- Shampoo & Shower Gel
- Shaving Kit
- Disposable Gloves
- Toilet Paper for Van
- Medicine – Paracetamol, Nose drops, Ibuprofen, Band-Aids, Sanitiser, Bug Spray, Allergy Medicine
- 1 Top per Day of Travel
- 2 – 3 Bottom Parts
- 2 Pairs of Shoes per Person
- 1 Outfit per Day per Kid
- Sun Hats
- Big Beach Towel
- ADAC Card
- Baby Car Seats
- Insurance Cards
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