7 Tips to Surviving Vanlife with Kids

Guest Blogger: Kaitlin Musser

I live full time in a Thomas short school bus that is a roomy 18 feet in length and less the 100 square feet of living space inside.

Not so uncomfortable for a fabulous trekking duo.

Except that is not our case. No, we decided to throw in not one kid but two; ages 10 and 6, plus a puppy!

Have I lost my mind? Perhaps.

But here are 7 tips to surviving vanlife with kids.


1 - Give experiences not gifts

Who is the Scrooge who asks friends and relatives to not give their kids presents on birthdays and holidays? Me. Yup, owning that one.

Practicality means you just cannot have a play room, a walk in closet or any closet for that matter in a tiny home on wheels.

Our children each had to pick one prized possession with accessories to bring along in our new house.

After that, outings, adventures and one on one time became the vital force for happiness.

So instead of a new mega-whatever-overpriced-plastic toy - try giving a day at the roller rink and see that magical joy blossom.


2 - Find some alone time.

And yes this is for everyone in the family.

We tried to carve out ways and areas for each member of the family to find space.

My 10 year old, Buckets, finds solace in the back ‘sleeping nook’.

It is the tiny shower stall size area we fold up the beds and blankets in each day.

She will curl herself on top of the Japanese mattress and pull down the shade and immerse herself into whatever book she’s taken from the little neighborhood libraries we pass.

This small world all to herself can prevent meltdowns, give chances to reset and make the claustrophobic bus world more manageable.



3 - Figure out a homeschool curriculum

Education is important.

Education has so many threads of thoughts behind it.

Education is much too complicated to assign to a ‘one size fits all’ mentality.

I have friends who follow an online curriculum.

I have friends who believe in an unschooling way of thinking.

I have friends who roadschool their own way.

The biggest education I gave myself was one where I realized that they are learning, and the way we teach truly is the way that fits our family.

So try different methods, blow up a few failures, but most of all have grace. This experience driven life is teaching tremendous lessons all on its own.


4 - Stay fresh with your meals

I am serious here.

Not only will fresh, home-on-wheels made meals save your budget; it will honestly save your sanity.

Did you know the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion?

Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings can trigger symptoms in the gut.

If you work hard to fuel your body with the nutrients and proteins it craves, you will see a balance in moods.

And trust me, when you have no ‘rooms’ to hide in, a person's grumpy mood will bring the whole family down. So stay fresh. Stay clean. And stay happy.


5 - Patience. Patience. Patience.

Everything on the road takes longer, is more complicated and takes more muscle to do.

For example making the bed each morning is a ten minute transformation of three sleeping areas, a bunch of folding and filing away; plus a puppy that thinks pillows are chew toys.

Take a deep breath. Go with the flow. Patience will be the gift you fight to give yourself every single day!

6 - Find your nomad community

Being on the road means you must be saying goodbyes and see you laters often.

Honestly if you are craving nomadic movement, then you have that zeal to explore understanding all you leave behind.

Does it get lonely? Yes.

There are nights when you cannot find a safe place to camp. Or something inevitably breaks.

There are nights where you look from one fire to put out to another and feel very, very alone. What do you do?

As silly as it sounds you pick up your phone and find the “on the road” community lifeline that exists. I have become insanely close to strangers I have never gotten the pleasure of hugging in person.

Yet this community is a die hard support system, will pull you off the ledge and give you a good chuckle.


7 - Embrace a new mindset

This is the trickiest to describe.

I will quote my beautiful friend Heather from wheelingtodream: “So traveling with kids when we took vacations was always filled with stress of do I have this, do we need that.

Don’t forget the kids toys so they stay entertained.

We always planned around our children whether it was food or activities or even the place we stayed.

We don’t do that anymore. Our children are with us and that’s just how it is.

We changed our mindset around needing to entertain the children and catering to their needs….. We changed from, we need to cater to the kids to, we do this as a family. It’s been so much less stressful.



Overall life on the road in a van, a bus, a camper or an RV with kids is an incredible adventure unlike any other.

There are terrible days full of tears and breakdowns.

But the moments where you look from face to face and see that joy that is planted in a foundation of love unwavering; you would have it no other way!

Happy exploring and I hope to see you on the trail!


Kaitlin is a former bunhead ballerina turned skoolie dwelling mountain woman. After eleven years being the mom to 34 children in foster care and at risk homes, she has decided to trek the PCT solo. Follow her journey on Instagram @runawaymusbus.

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7 tips for surviving van life with kids

tips for van life with kids

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