Guest List: What I’ve Learned from Travelling in a Van Without a Plan

Guest List: What I’ve Learned from Travelling in a Van Without a Plan

When she is not helping people have empowered births Siobhan Miller AKA @thepositivebirthmama likes to go adventuring with the her husband and 3 boys. They are particularly fond of hitting the open road in a camper van, with not much of a plan!

Sounds mainly wonderful to me. And something I’d love to do one day. It’d certainly be a summer holiday to remember. Here she tells us everything she’s learned whilst road-tripping:


What I’ve learnt from travelling in a van without a plan (for 2.5 weeks with 2 kids under 2.5yrs)

  • Whatever the definition of ‘holiday’ is, camping or travelling with young kids is not it. 

  • That’s not to say I’m ungrateful for the experience; it’s been amazing!! But experiences can be amazing without being relaxing, like climbing Everest for example. 

  • Having no plan when you set out can be brilliant – for example we ‘discovered’ Lago Lugano – one of the less well known lakes and not on our hit list but an absolute gem and the most picturesque of the Italian lakes.  

  • When the heatwave hit (so hot it was given a name – Lucifer – and killed 4 people in Italy) we were able to change direction and head somewhere where the heat was more bearable. Had we had places booked we would have had to solider on. 

  • We considered heading to the swiss alps but the forecast was rain so we were able to avoid that. Not having a plan meant we were able to be completely flexible and could follow the sun. 

  • Not having a plan can also be really stressful though. One night at 11pm after driving all day we arrived at lake como and were calling campsite after campsite to be told there was no room at any of the inns. Parking on the side of the road when you have 3 kids in the back and a shed load of stuff isn’t a viable option. 

  • Investing in decent kit really helps make the journey easier and the nights happier. Here are the items that I’ve found especially helpful:

  • Bundle beds- whereas before we used to have to inflate mattresses and make up beds for the kids with sheets and duvets and pillows, we now simply unroll a fully readymade bed! Bundle beds are a genius idea and are so comfy! The duvet enclosed is really good quality and much warmer than I expected. The jersey cotton of the bedding is lovely and can easily be removed and washed. 

  • Sleepyhead Grand – this has been Foxy’s bed for the past 2.5 weeks and it’s been so lovely for him to have his own little cocoon, albeit on the floor (haha).  It’s really cosy and I’m convinced he feels comforted having a small safe space of his own. I feel reassured knowing that nobody will accidentally roll on him. Arlo calls it his “head cot” which makes us all laugh. 

  • Happy Beds memory foam mattress topper – we needed a little luxury given we were spending so long on the road. I don’t know what we would have done without this. We 100% had happier nights sleep because of it. 

  • Berghaus Air 6 tent – a decent family sized tent. Incredible quick to erect and take down as it has no poles and is fully inflatable. It all goes up as one and come down as one so no fiddly attaching inner layers to outer layers. It has a big living space between the 2 bedroom compartments and is full height so you don’t spend the whole time on your knees. Essential if you’re spending more than a night or two in a tent and also if you’re moving from campsite to campsite and therefore need something that’s easy to put up and take down. I can’t recommend this tent any more highly. It’s been my Best Buy!

  • Mountain Buggy Duet – this has been a godsend. It takes up quite a bit of space but so worth it. Not only have we used it as a pram to get from A to B but we have also used it for the babies to sleep in at nap times and to keep them contained (safe) when we’ve needed them to be! Another item I don’t know what we would have done without!

  • Other little useful things include…

  • giving the kids separate toy bags so they were each able to bring a few chosen items with them. I got sent some from occasionally six with the kids’ names printed on them and they did prevent a lot of arguments. 

  • Also very recently discovered miracle 360 drinking cups which have pretty much changed my life. The amount of drinks that used to get spilt in the car seats! These cups are awesome because even if you tip them up nothing comes out! 

  • Finally bobo buddies reins. It’s a cute cuddly toy that doubles as a pair of reins. Used these when out exploring and kids wanted to get out of the pram. Especially useful when on a boat trip!

  • A lot of people ask how we fit a family of 5 in the van… In the van we have Osh sleep up top in the pop top roof, James and I sleep on a rock and roll bed, Arlo on a hammock that rests across the front between the two front windows and Fox on the floor in his sleepyhead. In time Arlo will join Osh upstairs and Fox will get promoted to the hammock. In the tent the kids sleep in one bedroom compartment and James and I in the other. 

  • Things I wish we had packed:

  • Extension lead so we could charge multiple devices when we did have the luxury of an electric hook up. 

  • Plug in fans for the van – no air con sucks in 38 degree heat. 

  • Portable plug in fridge to keep food cool. 

  • On that note eating on the road is disappointing. There’s no way of keeping stuff cool so fresh food becomes a rarity. It ends up being pasta a LOT. Eating out is no better. Trying to sit down in a restaurant and enjoy a meal with 3 kids, 2 of whom are under 2.5 years can be a nightmare. The little ones are on the move and don’t care to do what they’re told most of the time – the worst combination. You end up shovelling food in everyone’s mouths and then wondering if you even ate at all?!

  • After a while you begin to crave a nice fresh healthy dinner at home and feel like you’ve eaten so much stodge and crap. 

  • Waking up and having to go to a shop to get milk every single morning before you can even have a cup or tea or give the kids cereal is a pain in the ass. All because there’s no way of keeping milk cold overnight when camping in a hot country. Yes we have a cool box but no way of freezing ice blocks when on the road. So even the cool box is hot. 

  • Having to drink warm water for the same reason. Buying it cold from the shop is great but about 5 mins later it’s warm already. 

  • When driving long distances on the road with kids (like 9 hours of driving) you will come to love the welcoming and familiar arches of MC Donald’s. (which btw are so much better in France). Air con, food, cold drinks, enclosed spaces, kid-friendly, wifi, charging points. They are mini meccas. 

  • When driving long distances in Europe but especially France you will begin to hemorrahge money via toll booths. There are loads of them. It begins to feel like a joke. TAKE IT ALL! TAKE ALL MY MONEY!!!

  • There will be wonderful days like the day we went to Portofino and it was picture perfect. Everyone was happy, the sun was shining, we took a boat ride, we ate nice Italian food, we drank wine, we took in the sights, explored the area, dipped our feet in the sea and bought stuff from the gift shops. And on those days you will think THIS is why we do it. 

  • Then there will be days like when it was 40 degrees and I felt ill (probably because of the extreme heat) and I was in a van with no air con and felt too weak to walk and there was nowhere cool to walk to anyway. And it was hotter in the van than outside but at least in the van I could lie down and nobody could see me. And you might end up throwing water over your head and crying dramatically causing your partner to wonder if you’re having a breakdown. On those days when you’re googling how many hours it would take and how many hundreds of miles you’d have to drive to get somewhere cooler, on those days you might question why you’ve tried to road trip round Europe with a 1 year old and 2 year old and a 10 year old in the middle of August in a van with no air con? You might ask yourself why the hell you didn’t just book a nice apartment somewhere and go for the easy option? 

  • But then you’ll look at your photos and recall all the places you’ve been and all the sights you’ve seen and although you’re arriving home filthy and exhausted you’ve traveled and you’ve seen a little more of the world and your life is richer and better for it. 

  • And you’ll look at your kids and think they’re pretty fricken amazing! They’ve gone to sleep in one place and woken up in new place, they’ve spent entire days in the van. On one day we drove through three countries with the three kids in the back and not one device charged. And somehow, they managed to entertain themselves. And you’ll have made so many memories! Even the 2yo is talking about swimming in lakes and finding giant beetles and going on boat rides! 

  • And on the long drive home you’ll begin plotting where you’ll get to next year! 

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4 thoughts on “Guest List: What I’ve Learned from Travelling in a Van Without a Plan

  1. Hey Clem,

    I need your email address as Vix wants me to send an email to all of last years Gold Judges? Does the Facebook one still work?

    Also, I bumped into a friend of yours over the weekend at a kids party. Another blogger called Clem!

    xx

    Jeremy Green Creative Circle 22 Long Acre Covent Garden London WC2E 9LY

    http://www.creativecircle.co.uk

    0207 636 1223 07801 802213

    Established in 1945

    10% of all award entry fees are pledged to the Creative Circle Foundation

    100% of all membership fees are pledged to the Creative Circle Foundation

    The longest running advertising awards body in Europe

    >

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  2. This is really interesting- we’ve just come back from a 10 week trip round France and Spain in a van, with our 1 year old. It was amazing and I’d recommend it to anyone, but can’t imagine fitting three kids in there – seriously impressive! Like the Sleephead idea – we used a travel cot but it was a very tight squeeze and meant hubbie and I had to sleep in the roof. Didn’t your son climb out of the Sleepyhead? Well done!

    Like

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