Parental-leave campervan adventures

A summer in Sweden, three months through Europe, or wintering on the Costa Brava – use your parental leave to travel by campervan with your children to destinations you would never have time to visit otherwise. Today’s new moms and dads have this almost as standard on their bucket list – because it’s simply a great idea!

© Nicole Blessing
Sun, sea and plenty of time: Parental leave in Sardinia.  | © Nicole Blessing
Sun, sea and plenty of time: Parental leave in Sardinia. © Nicole Blessing

Tips for an enjoyable family adventure

Although things may not always live up to social media’s 24/7 sun-drenched Insta-glam #experiences, a few months in a campervan can still be a wonderful family break. You just need a little camping experience, good planning, and the essentials for taking care of a small child. Then the family time you’ve been dreaming of really will be relaxed. Here we offer practical tips and advice – from parents who’ve already done it. 

Sun protection is an absolute must when traveling with a child. | © Nicole Blessing
Sun protection is an absolute must when traveling with a child. © Nicole Blessing

Vans and panel vans – the travel vehicles for young families

Nearly 80 percent of parents with babies or toddlers travel in vans or panel vans during their family time off, and across all regions – from warm southern Europe to the far north. The motivations range from “a lot of distance in a little time” to “we don’t need much” to the financial aspects of renting or buying a suitable vehicle.

On the other hand, you have less storage space, and you need to be cleverer about packing than when travelling in a motorhome or caravan, for example. 

Travel tips from couples on parental leave

Our two families of campervan experts also spent their parental leave in a panel van. Nicole and Klaus as well as Ina and her husband Sebastian tell us what made their parental leave in a campervan so unforgettable, how important good planning is, and what (baby) equipment they wouldn’t have wanted to do without.

Nicole and Klaus were traveling with their daughter Lotta in a Fiat Ducato. Their first trip was to Sardinia when Lotta was six months old – and many more trips followed over the years, as they split their parental leave over several years of travel. “Our goals and wishes were to spend time together as a family, enjoy our freedom, feel the sun on our skin, and plunge into crystal-clear waters. There’s always something to do at home, appointments and commitments waiting, so family time often falls by the wayside. Our campervan meant we always had our home with us and could stay flexible on the road,” says Nicole on her reasons for spending her parental leave in a campervan.

Ina and Sebastian also went travelling with their then three-month-old son in several stages, with the two biggest tours taking them to the Netherlands and England. A Fiat Ducato was their home at the time. “We didn’t stay exclusively in the campervan on our trips; sometimes we stayed in vacation homes. The campervan was a great way for us to stay flexible and make enough stops on the days when we were driving. This way of traveling made our parental leave on the road much easier,” reports Ina.

A bit of camping experience is always helpful

Both parents already had years of camping experience before taking their parental leave, the benefits of which should not be underestimated. Experience and knowledge always help in unplanned situations or when new challenges arise.

And as all campers know, something unpredictable always happens when you’re traveling. “In my view, it’s important to be aware of the limited space in a campervan, and of course even more so with a baby. It’s best if you’ve been camping a few times before, because packing a campervan takes a lot of practice as well,” reports Ina.

Traveling to the most beautiful places, with the stroller right where you need it. | © Ina Hergeth
Traveling to the most beautiful places, with the stroller right where you need it. © Ina Hergeth

Plan a sensible destination and route

Especially with a small child on board, both the destination and route have a huge impact on how relaxing and fun your parental leave is. Even experienced campers will ask themselves at some point, while on a trip to the North Cape or driving thousands of kilometers in just a few days, if the parents’ wishes have taken precedence over the much-vaunted family time!

Nicole and her family chose their destination deliberately: “We opted for Sardinia for our first trip with our then six-month-old daughter because we had been to the island twice before and we were familiar with the pitch and campsite system. We also knew a few places where we could spend the night for free. Generally, I always read up on new travel destinations, research key information in advance, and select which destinations we want to see. However, the planning is always adjusted and changed along the way, depending on new ideas and discoveries as well as tips from locals or fellow voyagers, because that’s what campervan holidays are all about.”

Ina and her husband went for Holland as their destination. “We chose the Netherlands because it’s a wonderful camping country, we’ve been there a few times before, and we knew it would work well with a baby.”

Selecting sensible security measures on the move

With or without a child, security measures are always sensible when traveling. When traveling by campervan, it’s important to consider the available technical security features and protection against theft and break-ins.

We recommend choosing appropriate measures for your route and destination countries as well as your own personal sense of safety.

Pack sensibly and bring the essentials

Young families traveling in a van or panel van require less technical equipment or special features. The main points are plenty of storage space and clever packing techniques. You can achieve this with DIY shelves, storage space miracles, or organizers. If you want to bring your bicycles, pivoting carrier systems are particularly recommended to give you free access to the rear doors at all times, making it easier to get to the all-important storage space under the bed. Would you like to carry out further conversions or get some inspiration? You can find all sorts of useful items in the AL-KO Caravan Accessories online store.

SAWIKO presents the new TRIGO-VAN: a comfortable rear carrier system for vans. © AL-KO Vehicle Technology Group

The top 3 travel essentials to pack

Our experienced campers consider the following items to be the most important when traveling with a small child: “Favorite toys, pasta and ibuprofen are a must,” says Nicole. Ina found the following equipment indispensable: “An awning, an extra compartment for diaper-changing items, and wet wipes. The awning proved to be very practical, as it meant we could stay outside even in light rain or hot sun.” And Ina has another packing tip: “We set up a compartment in the campervan just for changing items such as diapers, wet wipes, creams, etc. This meant we had all the things we often need at short notice in one place and didn’t have to hunt around for them.” 

The following baby equipment is also a must-have during parental leave in the campervan: 

  • Stroller
  • Baby carrier or sling
  • Baby bathtub or mini paddling pool
  • Travel cot
  • Changing bag and mat
  • Travel highchair
  • Playmat
  • Toys and stuffed animals
  • Sunscreen and mosquito repellent for children
  • Individual equipment

Note: Travel documents, vaccination passports, and health cards should always be to hand and up to date when traveling with a small child so that things can be done quickly in an emergency. Appropriate travel or international health insurance is also essential for any traveler.

What’s special about parental leave in a campervan – a personal summary

Now for the personal conclusions of our parental-leave travelers: What were the best moments of your trip, and why was family time in a campervan the right decision?

“Our campervan allowed us to go on unforgettable trips in the first year of our child’s life that we would probably never have reached in a normal car.” (Ina)

The simple act of waking up remains a special memory for Ina of her time in the Netherlands and England: “We would all wake up together in the morning, look out of the window at beautiful countryside, and ease into the day with a coffee – that was my personal favorite travel moment almost every day!”

“Because we were able to enjoy freedom together in special places.” (Nicole)

Nicole’s trips included some very special moments: “Lotta learned to sit up in the sand on the beach when she was six months old – there couldn’t be a more beautiful environment. We also made some great vacation buddies along the way, one of whom is still one of our best friends today.”

We wish all parental-leave travelers unforgettable tours!

Packing in plenty of time for playing together in the sand. | © Nicole Blessing
Packing in plenty of time for playing together in the sand. © Nicole Blessing