We’ve had a couple of different campers over the years, each which suited the different times in our lives. When we lived near the mountains before we had our son, we had a converted Fiat Ducato low roof van which was brilliant for chucking everything in to for last minute, spontaneous trips away. Then we moved and mountains were 5 hours away so we got a Mitsubishi Delica which was basically a big bed on wheels and didn’t leave much room for anything else, but was good for commuting. Both of these were low roof, so standing was hard.
Now we’re back near the mountains with our son and we’ve got an Iveco Daily camper, which started its life as a minibus back in 2001. This van works really well for us for many reasons. We’ve had it for over a year now and while it’s not the fanciest (rust patches aren’t for everybody) it suited our budget really well, and has been easy to make some changes to as we’ve gone along to make it work for us and our busy, fidgety 4yr old. We’ve didn’t rush in to making changes to the van, instead taking our time to find out the most useful features that work for us as an active outdoors family and all the accompanying gear that we bring along on our adventures when we hit the road.
Here’s what we’ve found have been the most useful features that we’ve used in our year-round family adventures.
The feeling of space: The van is a high top converted minibus, which even for us hobbits is lovely! We couldn’t stand up in the vans we’ve had before, so having a bit of extra space to be able to stand up is great! It means we can cook standing up and our son can jump about on the bed and not worry about hitting his head. It has all round windows, a couple of which we have blacked out and covered with insulation. These add to the sense of space, which, when you’re away for a longer time it can start to feel a bit cramped and closed-in especially if the weather’s a bit rubbish.
Plenty of storage: We’ve put in plenty of storage which helps keep food & water/ clothing / equipment separate. The underbed storage is split in to 3 compartments for this. This gives us huge amounts of storage for pretty much any stuff we can imagine bringing. We’ve also got a separate kitchen cupboard for our food stuff as well as elasticated storage baskets along the wall for bits and bobs we want to hand. Bedding is stored above the bed on a shelf as doing it this way raises it up off the floor and keeps it warm and dry. Our sons bed and mattress is kept above the cab but is a bedframe that fits across the back benchseat and can be put up and taken down relatively quickly.
Make it comfy: We changed the interior of the van so that our double bed is always set up in the back and yep, you’ve guessed it, as soon as we’re back in the van from our time spent outdoors, our son kicks off his boots and crashes out on the bed, chilling and rolling about while we get stuff ready. The pillows off this can be moved to make seats, and we have a table that slots in over this for food/art time.
Plan for inevitable quiet time: Life in the campervan can be go, go, GO! Even if you don’t mean for it to be, no matter how relaxing you plan the weekend away to be, you’re still being active in the camper, doing new and exciting things in new and exciting places. You drive to wherever, jump out and do a bunch of exploring before clambering back in and driving off to the next stop. So we take books, colouring books and some toys and, for when it gets too much, a couple of trusty dvds so our son can have a bit of quiet time, just to stop.
Not everyone likes the dark: We have a stash of glow sticks and it’s now the fun part of our sons bedtime ritual. As soon as he’s had a couple of stories read to him after dinner, he knows it’s time to break out the glow sticks and pop a couple up around the place. We’ve got a few hanging hooks in the ceiling which does the trick nicely and the glow sticks provide enough light that he doesn’t wake up in complete darkness and get freaked out! We’ve also put strips of multicolour adjustable LED lighting around his bed that we have on before he settles down for the night and strips of dimmable white LED lighting around the back bed which also doubles as light for over our table, as well as lighting that can be controlled in the kitchen cupboard.
Warmth: Campervans are great for year round adventures, even when you have kids! You can spend all day outdoors and come back to the carpark and get warm and dry before devouring a big plate of warm food without rushing to get back home first. That’s not to say we take a relaxed view of spending the day outdoors in wilder weather; we still take a change of clothes for our son when we go out, and pack enough food and drink as we normally would. We take the van with us when it’s snowing and we fancy a day sledging. It’s great to get there and have the space in the back to change in to all our layers, go out and tire ourselves out and then back to the van for a bit of warm lunch before heading back out to the slopes again! It’s great! We also used the camper when our son wanted to sleep in a cave last year. We got to the carpark, had some warm dinner, packed up and walked to the cave just before the sun set. We spent the night listening the deers rut, watching the northern lights creep out and the stars do their magic and then as the sun came up we headed back down to the van for some warm breakfast, knowing that we’d also be able to have a more relaxed morning and catch up on sleep as well after that big adventure! Our van has a diesel heater (like lorry cabs have) which we use for when it gets really cold which is really helpful, as well as the usual window insulation which helps keep the cold at bay a bit and doesn’t let you feel like you’re in a big icy tincan!
One of the great things about getting a slightly older van, is that while we haven’t gone out of our way to make it all pretty and quaint inside (no matching curtains and bunting here!) it is practical! We can use it and not worry about the mud and rain that inevitably gets traipsed in. It is a means for us to get away and focus on the important bits in life; having fun with our family and it definitely lets us do that!
Do you have a campervan and get away with your family? What do you have and how have you found it? Share your experiences with us below!