VW campervan in a field

Taking a toddler in a campervan – Everything you need to know

Now I’m not going to beat around the bush with this, taking a toddler in a campervan does have some challenges. Mainly that you have a tiny strong-willed person, with zero safety concerns in a small confined space! I would actually say taking a baby in a campervan is easier. Plus, once they hit the dream age of four, it’s a walk in the park. However, on the flip side, the unbridled joy and curiosity of toddlers makes campervan holidays so much fun. So my main advice for taking a toddler in a campervan would be this: be prepared for the highs and lows. Oh, and take lots of snacks.

Our second little adventurer is now two-and-a-half and we have been travelling with him in our campervan since he was nine months old. Obviously over time some things have got easier, while others have become more challenging.

Before buying a campervan we spent a lot of time researching different models and van conversions. We eventually opted for a VW California. One of the main reasons we made this decision was that we feel it works well for a family with young children. 

There’s a lot to think about buying or hiring a campervan when you have a toddler. Hopefully this post will help to answer some of the questions you may have.

Can you take a toddler in a campervan?

The short answer is, of course, yes you can take a toddler in a campervan. The slightly longer answer is that like anything with toddlers, you may need to be a bit more prepared than when taking older kids. We’ve been travelling in our campervan with our toddler since he was nine months old. And while taking a baby in a campervan requires some adaptations, I would say that a toddler is slightly more tricky simply because they have so much energy!

The most important thing to consider is the safety aspect. If you have cooking facilities in your campervan, make sure they are never left unattended when your toddler is around. Plus, keep an eye out for drops, such as from the bed and the van door. 

When planning a trip make sure you have a good selection of small toys and games to keep kids entertained in a campervan if you have to stay inside. Although I’d recommend trying to spend as much time outside as possible.

The best thing about campervan life with a toddler is that they tend to sleep really well. The combination of fresh air and excitement tends to wear them out each day! 

Purbeck Valley Farm

Can you put a carseat in a campervan?

It is easy to put a carseat in a campervan. Some campervans and conversions come with Isofix points, which carseats can be easily attached to. However if, like ours, they don’t, you can secure them in with seatbelts. We use Cybex Solution carseats seats for both of our little adventurers. These are ideal for campervans as they don’t require Isofix points. Aside from the most important safety aspect, I also like this seat as the front safety cushion provides a kind of table for the toddler to get busy with his sticker books and toy cars. Now that the five-year-old is bigger we’ve been able to remove the safety cushion and she will be able to use this seat until she’s 12.

Something to consider if you are thinking about buying or renting a campervan with children is whether it has a floor rail. This allows the back seats to be moved forwards, closer to the front seats, while driving. Many van conversions do not have this feature. However, this was something we decided we wanted as the children are still quite small and we knew they would probably need to be close to us on long journeys.

It is a bit more difficult to find these vans, particularly if you are buying a previously owned one. But we’re so pleased we waited to find a van with the rail. It means that we’re easily able to pass things back to our little adventurers on journeys and chat to them. If we didn’t have this feature I can see that we would have ended up having to either stop a lot or I would have had to sit in the back with the toddler. 

Where does a toddler sleep in a campervan?

There are a couple of options for where your toddler can sleep in a campervan and it does kind of depend on your child. Our five-year-old has been sleeping in the pop-up roof of the campervan since she was three. But our two-year-old currently still sleeps on the foldout bed with me. This is because, shall we say, he’s slightly more “adventurous” than his sister.

Some pop-up roofs come with a safety net that fastens over the entrance. So if you’re confident that your toddler is a good sleeper and is likely to stay put and call you if they do wake, then they can sleep up there. However, if your toddler is likely to go exploring, then it is probably safer that they sleep in the lower part of the van with an adult.

When we first started camping with a baby we used to use a small pop-up travel cot to ensure that he didn’t wriggle off the bed. However, now that he’s a bit bigger, he just sleeps on the bed in a Snuz Pouch Sleeping Bag. (Where he usually ends up pushing me off the edge!)

Where does a toddler eat in a campervan?

Toddlers are usually fine to sit at the table in a campervan. Although if you have a wriggler you can also use a foldable chair like the Chicco Pocket Snack Booster Seat. We found this was really useful, especially when cooking inside as it meant we could ensure that he was nowhere near the stove. It’s also great if you eat outside, as it comes with its only little detachable tray.

We now have a small foldable table and camping chairs for them, which they both love eating at. My top tip is to get chairs with drink holders if you can, to avoid spills! They also really like having their own plate, bowl and cup, which live in the van.

Is a campervan safe for a toddler?

A campervan is no more dangerous than your house. But just like at home you have to remember to keep your eyes on your toddler. One of the things we found is that it’s easy to get distracted, especially first thing in the morning when everyone is hungry or at the end of the day when everyone is tired. So if possible try to ensure one adult or older sibling is watching the toddler while you try to get organised.

The most important thing to watch out for is the gas hob if you have one, or similar cooking facilities such as a BBQ or grill. We mostly try to make sure our toddler is outside when we are cooking. But if this isn’t possible we put his chair as far away as possible from the hob. We also have a strict “no touching the hob” rule for both children. 

The other dangers to be aware of are the drop from the bed and the big step down onto the ground when the door is open. We have a little foldable stool which makes it so much easier for the toddler to climb in and out by himself and saves us constantly having to lift him in and out! 

Also take care when closing the door of your campervan. Our sliding door is actually electric, which is good as it stops automatically if someone is in the way. But if you have a manual sliding door or barn doors at the back, make sure little fingers are well out of the way before closing.

If your toddler is able to open the drawers and cupboards in your van, think carefully about where you put objects such as sharp knives and cleaning products. If you’re worried, it might be worth investing in some baby safety locks

Finally, don’t forget that an essential item for van life is a well-equipped first aid kit.

Is there space for toddlers to play in a campervan?

The amount of space for toddlers to play in your campervan will depend on its layout. Usually converted vans tend to have more space, as they’re often bigger. However, for a relatively small van I think the VW California has a decent amount of indoor space when you have small children. When the seats are pushed back there is a good amount of floor space and you can also turn the front seats around so that its easy to play games around the pull out table. 

If we are going on a short trip, or we know that the weather is going to be good, we usually travel with just the van. However, if we’re going on a longer trip or there’s rain forecast, we tend to take our Vango awning. This connects to the van and provides us with some extra space for our little adventurers to play and eat meals in if the weather is bad. Also, it makes it really easy to store extra stuff like our pram and carseats.

My biggest challenge is keeping the toddler entertained in the mornings, as he tends to be the first to wake. I usually take a small selection of books and games and he has a bag of little toys to dip into.

If you want some ideas of of toys and games to keep your little one entertained, check out my post with the best campervan gifts for the whole family.

What to pack when taking a toddler in a campervan

The good thing about taking toddlers in a campervan is that they need less stuff than babies. When thinking about what to pack, try to keep things simple. We sometimes choose to take a baby carrier rather than a pram now that our little adventurer is able to walk further. I also recommend packing cubes for clothes, separated into daywear and sleepwear. Choose a different coloured cube for each family member and it makes life so much easier.  

Also, don’t worry about taking too many clothes, as otherwise you’ll find that you end up bringing most of them home clean with you. 

If you want to know where to start, here’s a basic list of what we pack when taking a toddler in a campervan:

  • An outfit for each day, plus a couple of spares
  • A sleepsuit and growbag
  • The Chicco Pocket Snack Booster Seat
  • A bowl, cup and plate
  • A baby carrier
  • Changing bag, with nappies and wipes
  • Warm hat and coat (even in summer, as the evenings can sometimes get chilly)
  • A small towel and toothbrush
  • A small first aid kit (including Calpol for teething)
  • Pram and car seat
  • Small bag of toys and books