What are our family van life travel essentials? This is what someone asked us on our Instagram account, and when I started thinking about it, there felt like enough to dedicate a whole post to it. So here they are, 6 weeks into our van life adventure – our current family van life travel essentials:
Our Family Van Life Travel Essentials
Back in our old life we always used reusable cloths with our little ones. We had white ones for nappy changes, and colourful ones for wiping hands and faces after meal times. We decided to bring them with us with the hope that we’d continue using them on the road, but it turns out they have many more uses for van life.
Primarily they have been excellent for washing our feet at the end of the day (we’ve discovered your feet are nearly always dirty living this van life), or having a “flannel wash”. We run a bowl of water, add some rose or orange blossom water (not essential, these came with us as items I’d had hanging around for years), and wash. Ours are from Cheeky Wipes.
Pegs – lots of them! They have been great for so many uses, not just hanging out washing. They are just one of those versatile items that can pin up a sheet to make a kids den, close up a bag of open crisps, or peg open curtains at varying amounts. A big bag of them has been one of our essentials. I like the wooden ones, I find the plastic ones eventually snap and can’t be fixed.
Friends of ours who own a motorhome named Bertie, gifted us a roll of Gorilla tape as a going away present. It truly has been invaluable for patching up all manner of things. So far, our Gorilla tape has helped with mending: a broken fan USB, a faulty nappy, broken stools (see below), a fly swat. It’s even taped a stick back together (yes a stick, anyone with children will probably understand this)!
Now the plastic folding stools we bought have pros and cons. They have been ace for getting in and out of the Baby Bus, using as stools to sit on outside, tables for our children, and toys to them. Another positive is how neatly they fold up and stash away. However, we haven’t found them very durable.
I bought ours from Dunelm Mill in the UK, but both stools have both been taped back together in various places with Gorilla tape. As they are plastic I’m determined that we keep repairing them as best as possible because I don’t just want to chuck them. If anyone else comes across a decent metal folding stool I’d love to hear about it.
We’ve talked about fans a bit before in 10 Things We’ve Learnt About Family Van Life. At the time of writing we have two small USB fans that have been invaluable during this European heat wave. As mentioned in the previous post, I just wish we had more of them. We are on the hunt for extras abroad.
This is definitely one of those items that could have ended up on the “we really didn’t need to bring…” list, but I was confident in my vintage tin bath, and it’s paid off. With two small children (1 and 4 years old at the time of writing) in a hot country, the tin bath has been invaluable. They play in it, we wash them in it, even us adults stand in it whilst we shower ourselves. It’s big and bulky and clutters up the van when we’re driving. It makes us shout loudly when we stub our toe on it. But I wouldn’t want to be without it.
Random bits of wood
We didn’t purposefully bring ‘random bits of wood’ because we thought they would have a multitude of uses. We brought random bits of wood with us because the Baby Bus is still a work in progress. However, these bits and pieces of wood have found a number of helpful uses. So far, we’ve used them to make a sign for the Tour de France, used a piece under the tyre of a stuck fellow motorhome to free it, and a bed side to stop the baby rolling out of bed in the night.
Berkey water filter
In our old house we’d been using a Berkey water filter for our drinking water for a couple of years, and were so pleased with the quality of water it produced. So we started to consider whether we could take it on the road with us. It turns out quite a few American van lifers travel with a Berkey (like createwondr), which only cemented our decision to take ours.
The ace thing about the Berkey is you can put ditch water through it and it will filter it to drinking water. This sounded like a pretty great attribute when you’re wild camping and travelling around. We built a specific ‘home’ for our Berkey in our motorhome, and were inspired by createwondr’s use of velcro for securing it in place.
Now the toolkit isn’t my area of expertise, but I think it’s a pretty obvious van essential. I can’t imagine many people doing this kind of journey in a motorhome or van without a toolkit, unless they really didn’t intend to fix anything that broke.
Many people swear by microfibre towels for travelling, but I really don’t like how they feel on my skin and they’re made from plastics. As an alternative I’d heard that Turkish or Hammam towels were ideal for travelling – quick drying, super compact, really absorbent. I came across Luf Towels, which are all handwoven and 100% cotton, and ordered 4 in different colours, one for each of us.
They have been brilliant, they are true to their reputation and are fantastic for life on the road. Also so beautiful! And I don’t know if this is just my imagination, but I swear when I wrap myself up in my Luf Towel after swimming or bathing, it feels like the towel warms up, like a great big hug.
Folding travel pushchair
The hot weather in the UK before we left was what made us decide to take a pushchair with us. Nick was walking our littlest to sleep every night in the carrier, and it was just getting too hot. Thanks to a post I saw in the Worldschoolers Facebook group, we checked out the gb Pockit pushchair and bought one. It packs up so small (folded dimensions are 30 x 18 x 35 cm!) and it’s just been ace. I’ve been surprised at how invaluable we’ve found it.
France Passion membership
For €29 France Passion membership for the year we’ve had access to a huge selection of farms across France where we can stop for a night. Some places have been ordinary (like the spot in a farmyard) but most have been pretty idyllic with beautiful views. We’ve also enjoyed farm-made jams and freshly laid eggs brought from some of our hosts. The only downside is we’ve often wished we could stay longer than 24 hours.
When we haven’t been able to find a France Passion stop near to where we’re headed, then we dig out the huge Camper Contact book we were gifted before we left. It covers the whole of Europe and has provided us with some really lovely spots to stay. Our favourite for its location was a privately owned aire in the Dordogne.
This is my (Charlie) choice because I love reading. I haven’t had a whole lot of time to read the books I’ve brought, but I’m pleased I decided to bring them. Our eldest daughter also loves looking at books, so I think she’d agree with me. I’m currently reading Belonging by Toko-pa Turner. Our eldest daughter loves the My First Little House (on the Prairie) series, and is also enjoying Enid Blyton’s Adventures of Pip.
A few other essentials that need a mention
A knowledgeable van friend “on call”
For Nick, it’s been a knowledgeable and reliable van friend “on call” (thanks Michael!) for those moments when things break or stop working.
A friend who’s expert at just listening “on call”
For Charlie, it’s been a friend on WhatsApp who’s an excellent listener. Someone who you can tell – I’ve been crying for two days / I miss my old life / the baby fell off XYZ / we all screamed at each and threatened to go home / and just WTF have we done??! – and they just say “I hear you. What you’re doing is really tough. I’m here for you.”