Before we moved into our Compass Avantgarde 196 motorhome, we’d never spent a single night in one, but thought it would be the best gateway to start a brand-new lifestyle. And we were right! We did so much research beforehand, to see what others had found from travelling this way with their children, but couldn’t always find the answers. So, for those that are considering a similar lifestyle change, here’s a list of 10 things you should know before moving into a van with kids.
1) It’s an adjustment.
Even if you’re an experienced motorhomer, moving into one full-time is different. It’s intense, it’s a learning curve and you get in each other’s way a lot. But only for a short time. For us, after the first month, we were almost pro, with only a couple of meltdowns up to that point, and only one since then. We class that as a win!
2) Bedtime can get complicated.
If, like us, you had an ace bedtime ‘routine’ going, be prepared for this to change. It’s so new and exciting that things will get messed up for a while. We’ve settled back to a good routine now but some nights were mayhem! If you’re planning to spend every day outside, hopefully that’ll tire them out nicely for a smoother bedtime in the early days!
3) Things will get messy!
I’m not talking about family life, although we all know that gets messy from time-to-time. But living in such a small space with children (especially on days where you stay mostly inside) things can get pretty messy. Toys spread out really quickly, and you’ll be tidying a lot!
Speaking of messy, the mess brought in from outside – wow! We thought that wet and rainy weather would be the worst for this, but nope, it turns out that all types of weather have their own type of muck to bring in when the little ones are in and out all day. We don’t mind this so much but it’s still something to be aware of. I can’t tell you how often we sweep up so the mess isn’t taken into bed with the kids!
We clean so regularly, but luckily, it’s a really quick process.
4) Road-schooling isn’t as scary as it might seem.
When we first told people we of our plans, a common question was about schooling. Most of the comments came from the perception that you have to be educating in the same fashion as you would if they attended school – 9-3 routine, sitting down and learning for most of the day. This really isn’t the case, and so many people will have seen this now that COVID-19 has forced many households to do the same.
Home educating for us is really led by our children. We do sit down and complete workbooks and learn together with a ‘lesson-format’, and we practice our writing and keep up to date with Maths, English and Science but a lot of what we do is project-based, and learning by experience and documenting it. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved together so far.
5) They’ll make plenty of friends along the way.
One thing we worried about was taking Rufus away from his friends, at 6 years old, he had a couple of groups of great friends. Was it the wrong thing to do? Now we’ve experienced it – absolutely not.
Everywhere we go, the kids have found new friends to play with and language hasn’t yet been a barrier. Kids always find a way to communicate and have the best time without the ability to fully-converse, it’s amazing to watch. And he still video calls his friends back home.
Top tip – We always try to learn Ru’s top 10 phrases in the language of each country we visit.
6) They really don’t need many toys.
We’ve never had a huge number of toys in our house, but we have a LOT less now. But you realise that you really don’t need that many toys to keep them entertained, especially if you’re out adventuring! A lot of this lifestyle is about enlightening your children and teaching them how to occupy themselves, really taking in the experiences (not always successful).
Our children like to read a lot, so books are essential for us and, luckily, they’re nice and light…(we have to consider our weight restrictions). Other than books, our must-have items are our craft box, Pokemon cards, Lego, a tea set, wooden animals, Scrabble, Monopoly, and a pack of cards!
7) You don’t have to give up the cosy, family stuff.
It’s a misconception that living in a van is not as homely as living in a house, for several reasons. But actually, there are elements of vanlife that make those moments even more cosy and special.
We particularly love our movie nights. We make the back benches of our van into a big double bed and all snuggle together with snacks for the ultimate cosy, movie night!
8) Some things may irritate you more than others.
Obvious right? Small living can really heighten the senses… If something usually irritates you, someone tapping on the table, making silly, continuous noises, constant moaning, breathing… it’ll annoy you more when you’re not in the mood for it and can’t escape.
However, you could argue, and there’s definitely some truth in it, that, perhaps small living makes you more tolerant of these things.
We're enjoying spending every day together.
9) You’ll bond with your family like you never thought possible.
When you swap hardly seeing your family for being with them constantly it’s intense at first, but you learn absolutely everything about them. You can adapt differently to various moods and enjoy each other in a way that never seemed possible before.
And it’s not just them, you’ll learn so much about yourself too and that’s something that really surprised us.
10) New experiences will be better than you ever imagined
You know you’ll be on the road to try new things and visit new places, but words can’t express how it feels when that actually happens. It’s unreal. The freedom you experience from so many aspects of life, combined with this feeling, makes it so completely worth it
Overall, you have pretty much the same problems you’d have living in a house, it’s really not that different. It can be more intense at times but the rewards are so great that it’s entirely worth it.
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