To me it was never about van life or traveling in a van, but I wanted a van as an opportunity to travel with a baby. This summer we traveled in the van for three weeks and we were able to visit Paris, Bordeaux, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Porto, the Douro Valley, Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, La Rochelle and Ile-de-Re. So in that sense I succeeded in my goal. But what was traveling in such a small space like with a baby that just started to crawl? One thing that made traveling easier was that Hielke installed an outdoor shower for our van. In this blog you will find out about both!
Porto had been on my bucket list for ages but COVID kept getting in the way of my plans. So when this summer all you needed to travel in Europe was your COVID vaccine passport, I knew we had to get to Portugal. So I made a rough itinerary that would get us to Portugal and back. Over 4,500 kilometers and 45 hours of driving with a baby, not including detours. We had about three weeks in total and I am a planner and an optimist regarding these things, so it seemed doable…
This chapter is called sleeping schedule, which indicates that there is a sleeping schedule, but actually that is not true at all. We are not living on any kind of schedule, except that Hugo usually sleeps for 3-4 hours during the day and still wants to have a bottle in the middle of the night. While planning this trip I hoped that Hugo would sleep through the night by summertime, because he would be six months old but unfortunately that didn’t ring true. Luckily, Hugo does like to sleep while in the car, so that did offer some perspective for this trip. I was a bit worried that he would get bored really quickly while driving and that I would have to entertain him for hours in the day, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. When we would have a six hour drive in a day, he would sleep for about four hours, he liked to play with his milk bottle for another hour and sometimes he was easily entertained for the remaining hour. So, during the day we had no issues with him at all. We would take stops every two hours, would visit a sight and bring him in the stroller, or we would let him play on the bed or in his swing when it was just a short stop. In the van, Hugo is seated between us, so it is very easy to distract, feed or entertain him. Traveling in the van during the day turned out to be much easier that traveling by car. You might have read in another blog that Hugo has his crib above our bed. We already traveled with him for two weeks when he was nearing three months old and we discovered that he slept better in the van than in his own bed. So that is exactly what we expected this time. Unfortunately, Hugo really had to get used to his van-crib. He is about to crawl and is planking all the time and he also started practicing in his bed, making him hit his head. The van is not as dark as he is used to in his room and he had lots of trouble getting to sleep at night, driving us crazy several times. He also twists and turns a lot and that is something we are not used to anymore, making sleeping harder for us. We couldn’t quite figure out how we could improve his nighttime sleep, but luckily these issues come and go. During the second week he started sleeping better, sometimes even six hours at once and we could relax some more. During the first week we weren’t able to have drinks at night outside, because Hugo was incredibly unrelaxed, but this improved during our trip and in our last week we could finally enjoy our evenings outside the van, while Hugo was sleeping inside the van!
The pros of traveling in a van with a baby
You can bring all the stuff you want: We brought our giant stroller, Hugo’s playgym, lots of clothing changes, his swing, several boxes of baby food, blankets etc. I love to do sightseeing while traveling, so that means I want to switch locations often. Not having to load your car every time you arrive at a new location is such a perk. And compared to the limited amount of stuff you are allowed to bring on a plane, the van is even more luxurious!
A safe place for Hugo: We want the van to be a second home for Hugo, where he can totally feel at ease. Like I said, we often switch locations and because we are in a van, Hugo does not have to get used to different hotel rooms all the time. Hugo loves to play in our bed and at night we are super quick with feeding him, as it is such a small space. Super handy.
We park it everywhere: Compared to some of the campervans we have seen, our van is super small. We deliberately wanted a small van, so we could park it easily in cities. Luckily, this was indeed the case during our travels. We were able to park our car super close to San Sebastian’s city center, so we just had a short walk with Hugo in the stroller and could quickly enjoy the city. Because we are traveling with our “home” we can prepare baby food for Hugo everywhere we want, so we didn’t have to time his meals.
He loves to sit in the middle: Hugo’s car seat is placed between us, making it easier to entertain him while traveling. I found traveling long distance in the van much more relaxed than in the car. I personally do not like to sit in the back of the car as it makes me carsick and in the van we are all sitting in the front.
Campsites are baby friendly: We found most campsites that we stayed at very baby friendly, much more than most hotels. Most campsites have a special baby changing and bathing room, with a bath and a changing table, super handy! We also experienced little to no noise. We know our van is insulated very well and you cannot hear Hugo crying when you stand outside, so we know we don’t bother other guests. Hugo also didn’t wake because of campsite noises, while in some hotels the walls are so thin you can hear everything.
The cons of traveling in a van with a baby
Naptime: Hugo was a bit restless during the first half of our travels, so when he was napping in the back of the van and we needed something from the kitchen we could wake him. Also, in the evening we had to be super quiet while he was sleeping, and sometimes the smallest sounds would wake him up. We didn’t experience that when he was just three months old, but as he is learning how to sleep longer, we noticed that we would interrupt his sleep sometimes. This magically improved during the second half of our trip.
Timing cooking: We usually have an extensive lunch on a terrace in the afternoon and we eat a small dinner cooked in the van at night. However, it turned out that it was difficult to time this properly. Sometimes we would arrive at a campsite around 5 PM and I immediately would have to start to prepare dinner as cooking in the van can take pretty long. Cooking heats up the van significantly and it is quite noisy, so it doesn’t work when Hugo has to sleep. Of course, if you travel on a more relaxed schedule, this does not have to be an issue at all.
Perks of baby travel
I love traveling with Hugo even more than I did without Huug! I found that people are nicer when you are traveling with a sweet little baby and lots of people came up to talk to us because of him. Hugo is always trying to get in contact with other kids and because of that we had lots of funny conversations. We try to bring Hugo everywhere, he joined the port tasting tour in Porto, visited the Guggenheim museum and we went cycling in Ile-de-Re (even though he can hardly sit up straight) and it was so much fun. Traveling with our little sweets brings even more amazing moments during the day. Even a simple moment such as swimming at the campsite can turn into a magical moment because he has so much fun. Concluding, I highly recommend traveling with your baby! Your nights are broken anyway, so why not have broken nights in a beautiful destination?
The outdoor shower
Sometimes we stay at (free) camperspots that don’t have facilities, because they are located perfectly on our itinerary. Just before the big trip Hielke installed an outdoor shower, making us even more independent. We discovered that there were no campsites with good facilities near Bilbao, so we therefore decided to stay in a free parking lot with some other campers. Luckily, our shower was working! As a shower head we can use the faucet of our kitchen, which we can pull out and hang outside our van with a magnet. Hielke installed a shower curtain that we could also hang outside and our outdoor shower was born!