We have been on the road for six months now and have learned a few things about living in small spaces, and now living in a camper (19 foot pop-up hybrid). There are so many freedoms of living this lifestyle but it doesn’t come with its fair share of challenges. Here are 14 things you need to know about living full time in a camper with small children. Some of these items are if you are traveling or WWOOFing, however, they may apply if you are stationary also. This life is not for the faint of heart. It is challenging to be in new situations all the time that require me to be on my game so that the kids are safe. Hopefully, if you are thinking of taking an adventure like this one you will be more informed and equipped to start that journey after reading our tips.
If one baby is up, the whole family will be up. We have an eleven month old and a two year old. There is no other room to take the baby that is awake to, so most likely the whole family will be awake soon. The small space is also challenging during nap times. Typically, the whole family is in the camper, making it even more challenging. The majority of the time, we have to get one of them to sleep, and then bring in the other kid. This can be even harder if you are parked next to noisiness. We have dealt with constant barking dogs, loud people, and just general noise. It can get really frustrating.
- Limited privacy:
Bathroom is barely big enough to change in. So hopefully you are a family that is proud of your figures no matter what you look like and this isn’t a big deal to you. Speaking of which… if you are thinking of having sex, I would like to know where on earth you are doing it. I just don’t see there being a way that doesn’t rock the camper and wake up the kids.
- Where are the kids going to sleep?
There is no room for a crib or bassinet. Co-sleeping is the only option unless you are able to add a barrier somehow and make the sleeping space safe for the kiddo. We were already co-sleeping so this was a natural transition for us. We put in a gate so that the kids couldn’t fall out when I wasn’t blocking the opening.
Requires propane, not just electricity. I don’t know about you, but we are on a well below poverty budget. This forces us to limit our propane use to emergency only. Most places we park the camper do have a kitchen we can access; but sometimes you just don’t want to drag the kids inside just to be able to eat lunch. In addition, you will also have to cart your food and dishes back and forth from the house. So we found other ways to cook without using the propane and not always using the microwave. A rice cooker is a great tool, because you can cook rice, and if you have a steamer on top you can also cook some veggies. A toaster oven is another great tool. Of course, you have to have the room in your camper to store these items.
No matter how much you think you have, most likely it isn’t enough. There are collapsible kitchen items you can buy that will help with space, such as, bowls, measuring cups, etc. We found some good storage-space-use ideas on Pinterest, but it is definitely hard to stay well organized in a tight space with limited storage. For example, we still haven’t found a good place to put the trash can. It is either in the way, or too far out of the way to be handy. Also be mindful that, when you move the camper, the items in the cabinets shift.
- Storing your stuff:
We sold a ton of things before we moved everything into a storage unit. We sold some wrong things and kept some wrong things. My suggestion is to store your belongings for 6 months. After you have lived in your new space for 6 months you should have a better idea of what you, truly, need.
- Kid friendly vs Kid safe:
If you are WWOOFing while traveling, like us, it is good to know that not all places that say they are kid friendly are actually kid safe. There is a difference between your hosts liking kids, and your hosts having safe spaces for them to dwell during play time. Make sure you get information about where the kids will be able to be and play, along with any hazards you will need to be aware of like pools, busy roads, etc.
- Kids and Climate:
Camping is great during the summer but if you are easily susceptible to cabin fever in the winter… don’t travel in a camper during that time of year. Kids have to be able to get out and play. If it is too cold for them to go outside it is going to make everyone miserable. Make sure your destination plans for a warmer climate during the winter if you think that you will be in a camper during that time.
- Food Storage:
Storing your clothes and toys is one thing, but food storage is a whole different situation. You definitely have to be mindful of when you will be ‘jumping’ to the next location so your weight is down for traveling. For example: not buying cases of water just before a ‘jump’ or, on the flip side, a brand new loaf of bread. It will, most likely, be obliterated by the time you arrive to your new destination. Also, your fridge/freezer is typically smaller than you are used to, so it is best to use it wisely. Another thing to know is if your backup battery will keep your fridge cool while on the move.
Please think about your kitchen area and if it is able to accommodate you and your family for food prep and to wash dishes. Also note that to do the dishes you need to use propane again to get warm water to do the dishes. It typically takes around an hour to warm the water in the water heater.
I have only met a few people that actually used the shower in their camper. We use ours as a closet. We use the facilities of our hosts to shower since this, again, would cause us to use propane. If you have small children, this may be an area that you need to think about. You will need to bring something along with you to make this an easy transition when you travel.
Yes, that bodily waste that you never really think of where it goes. Well let me give you the ditty: Dealing with it is a bit yucky. We bought some latex dish gloves that we use just for when we dump the waste. Also, we flush the black water first, and then the grey water. This helps rinse the poo out of the tube you connect to the holding tanks so you don’t have to worry about it dripping on you as much. Yes, I don’t care how careful you are… you will get the poo on you. If you don’t know the difference in the water; black is your poo and pee and grey is your dish water, shower water, and other sink water. If you get the privilege of landing at a RV park for a time, we suggest filling up your tanks with water and draining them a few times to give them a good rinse. You just never know when you will be able to do this again. Also, keep vinegar around. It helps clean the toilet bowl of that ammonia smell; Just fill the bowl with water, add vinegar, let it sit for a bit, and flush. Also, there is a special type of “septic safe” toilet paper you will need to buy. It is thinner and won’t clog up your system. Speaking of clogging up your system, make sure that, before you poo, you use the rinse lever and allow plenty of water to be in the toilet. This way your poo is able to be gravity-flushed down more efficiently and won’t clog up the pipe leading to your tank.
Make sure you find out if you have access to a washer and dryer before you head anywhere. Just add this to your list of questions to ask when looking for your next stop. We also cloth diaper. So I have to make sure I, at least, have daily access to a washer so we have diapers ready.
- Things to bring if at all possible:
- We have a little kid’s wagon that we have used for so much randomness. Biggest use is moving things from the truck to the camper if we can’t park them next to each other.
- Camping chairs. I feel this is a given but they are so versatile.
- Pack N Play. This is if you have small kiddos. There isn’t always a safe place for them to play, so this can be a lifesaver. Especially if you just arrived to your new spot and need to help get the campsite setup.
- Tarps, extension cords, & flash lights. Pretty self explanatory. More than 2 of each is not too many.
- Tools: Bring. All. Of. The. Tools. We store ours in the truck since they are so heavy. You never know what you will need for the camper but also at each farm or Intentional Community you visit.
Also, when you are preparing to move from one location to the next (what we call “jumping”), get your check off lists ready. We have one for the camper, one for the truck, one for the diaper bag, and travel food storage bag.