From Van To Kid-Friendly Camper In A Few Simple Steps

Lillie Forteau's picture

With accommodation costs constantly rising, and with more and more travellers desiring the freedoms that they see their fellow adventurers enjoying, it’s hardly surprising that converted vans are gaining real traction. 

From Van To Kid-Friendly Camper In A Few Simple Steps

But, in the majority of great van conversion tutorials, one thing is often missing – the sight of any kids. Sure, van life looks great, but many people who attempt it are either childless or have children who have flown the nest. And, given how hard general travel can be with a toddler, this lack of representation could easily leave you feeling like a van conversion just isn’t the travel option for your family. 

What if we were to tell you that it could be?

In reality, there are a great many reasons why a van conversion could be a preferable travel option that’s particularly suited to family adventures. Unlike standard accommodations that see you lugging your kids from one place to another and deliberating about what to pack, travelling and sleeping in one van can mean benefits, like:

• Familiar sleeping arrangements
• More space to bring toys, supplies, etc. 
• The ability for your kids to sleep in totally new places
• A more enjoyable travel experience for everyone
• And much more

Those are all great benefits, and they could elevate any trip that you take together. At least, they could if you make sure that your van becomes a kid-friendly camper in the following ways. 

# 1 - Consider your camper layout

Just because van life can suit the family plan doesn’t necessarily mean that it will. That’s why you should think about the needs of your whole family from the minute you get your van, starting with your desired layout. After all, this is the thing that’s going to make your van either functional or not, and you should plan it with children in mind. 
During the planning stages, ask yourself questions, including:

• How many people will your van need to accommodate?
• How old are your children?
• How far will you be travelling?
• What kind of terrain will you encounter?
• And so on

Once you know the answer to these questions, start looking at some family-style camper inspiration to bring your intentions to life. While van conversion might seem like a single man’s game, once you start researching, you should come across some great family campers like the ones represented by @rebornbyadventure and @bearfoottheory. 

Once you’ve found a family van style that chimes, think about things like the general layout of furniture, beds, etc., and also how you intend to make room for one or more children along the way. Simple things, like cute kiddie dens underneath your bed, or even benches that can convert to toddler beds, should then become focal points in your overall layout.

# 2 - Perfect kiddie sleeping areas

As mentioned, the layout of your kids’ beds should be a huge first consideration, but that doesn’t end when you know where your children will be sleeping. You should also ensure a peaceful night for everyone by designing a sleep-suitable, well-crafted comfortable space. 

For many keen van life advocates, things like blackout blinds and even thick fabric bed enclosures are an absolute must, as these ensure that your kids can sleep well even if you’re still awake. It’s also worth considering your options in terms of beds themselves – do you want something that’s permanently in place, like an easily convertible bench, or something that you can fold away in the day, like a blow-up mattress or a travel cot?

Given that your camper won’t have the constant heating that you get from a hotel, you’ll also want to think about heating controls. These are especially essential for younger children and babies, who need the room at a constant temperature between around 16-20°C. Things like draft excluders and floor insulation can help with this in the winter, while during summer, you might want to consider either air vents or a gazebo that allows for outdoor sleeping. 

You’ll also need to think about your child’s general sleeping safety. Benches or other above-ground options should always have fitted bumpers, or a fabric enclosure as mentioned, to stop children from rolling out of bed. 

# 3 - Storage, storage, storage

Being able to take more stuff for the kids and their care is an undeniable benefit of converting your own van. But, you would be amazed how quickly you’ll run out of space if you don’t consider storage at the design stage. 

Storage is a priority with any kind of van life, but with the need for toys, nappies, changes of clothes, and more, it becomes an even more pressing issue. Yet, as you likely know, not having these things to hand will make everyone’s lives a lot more difficult, especially considering that you won’t have access to any on-site entertainment or room service.

Luckily, there are plenty of places to store things in a van once you look for them. Aside from obvious van conversion storage spaces like built-in cupboards and seating with additional storage, things like backseat organisers and roof racks could make a huge difference. Equally, you may want to fit at least some storage underneath your flooring if you can. Remember, too, that you don’t always have to overcomplicate this. Something as simple as the addition of a toy storage hammock can look a lot of fun and should provide plenty of stimulation for the whole trip if you stock it with the right things. 

# 4 - Prioritise electrical safety

The most basic van conversion will require some electrical elements, even if that’s just lighting and a hob switch. In modern life, it’s also possible to implement all manner of great electrical additions to your van renovation, including charging sockets, internet ports, and more. And, when you’re installing even a few of those things, you’ll end up with a fair few wires around the place. 

As is the case in your home, keeping these wires away from small hands is crucial, but that goal becomes a lot harder to achieve in this confined space. As such, electrical safety is something that you should always prioritise. During the design stages, containing your wires either under your flooring or, where that’s not possible, using something like a Unistrut slotted channel can ensure that they’re never pulled at or caught on anything. 

You should also take care when placing your light switches, and try where possible to put these at head height. That way, by the time your kids do find them, you can guarantee that they’re old enough to stay safe. 

# 5 - Consider your kitchen

Your kitchen area will likely be a huge priority in your van design, but as well as ensuring functionality, you should consider child safety across your kitchen plans. The wire safety that we’ve already discussed here will obviously help, but you also need to take that further. 

For example, an open-flame stove, or even an electrical hob could fall foul to grabbing hands, especially considering that you’re limited on surface height in a van kitchen. You would be far better off with something like an induction hob that’s not hot to the touch. 

Equally, it’s always worth installing covers for things like your sink and hob space (if your hob is inbuilt). This way, you can ensure that your toddler or child never accidentally stumbles across kitchen equipment that they shouldn’t. Plus, with these things covered, you can buy yourself a lot more countertop space, which is ideal for crafting sessions and more. 

# 6 - Don’t forget the car seat

From Van To Kid-Friendly Camper In A Few Simple Steps

While your main plans will probably involve the living section of your converted van, it’s also important to note that young children need car seats. If you rip out every seat in your van other than those at the front, then there’s no way you can safely travel with your child. 

This doesn’t mean that you need to leave back seats in place at the cost of your camper plans. However, it does mean that you’ll at least need to invest in a backseat bench that can fit a car seat as needed. You could also install foldable seating that you can tuck right down when you aren’t using it, allowing plenty of living space, as well as the safe driving conditions that your family requires.


While you might have been keeping your dreams of van conversion on the back burner until the kids are older, there’s nothing stopping you from getting stuck into this new adventure right now. In fact, you may find that travelling with even young children becomes a lot easier once you’ve taken the leap.

Forget expensive hotels and other accommodation struggles, this is a great way to get going with the whole family at a moment’s notice, with the benefit of having all of your home comforts to hand. You simply need to make sure that you’re designing a family-friendly camper at every stage of the process. And, these handy tips are all that you need to do that.