There is nothing better than experiencing nature with our girls. One of their favorite activities is to go exploring. We accomplish this with walks around the neighborhood, hiking, bike rides and the favorite adventure of all is camping in our van.
Any road trip with children can be a challenge. You have the “Are we there yet?”, the sibling arguments and the general boredom from being trapped in a confined car seat that can certainly make a person crazy. Hang in there, it is definitely worth it. Seeing the joy on their faces when they find that special rock, or discover the waterfall at the end of the river or that first bite of a S’more at the campfire with marshmallow oozing all over their faces makes it all worthwhile. These are the things to treasure.
I remember telling my mom that I want to raise my children the same way I was raised. We were outside most of the day playing sports, riding bikes and just goofing around. I think it is especially important for kids to experience nature in our current times. The days of kids leaving the house and telling their parents they would be home before dark seem to be long gone. What’s the alternative? Get outside with them.
My kids light up at the idea of going on an adventure. I have a 4 and a 6 year old girl. They love to get dirty, dress up like princesses, play sports and play with their dolls just alike. Their favorite thing is the idea of a new adventure. Even the most basic nature walk can turn into a treasure hunt or an archaeological expedition. It also helps me to connect and appreciate the little things more. Watching their faces light up as they find a new cactus they have never seen before or their awe at the height of a mountain peak is as rewarding as when I first experienced these things as a kid. One of the reasons I think I like the outdoors so much is from experiences with my family growing up. We were fortunate enough to have a van to travel in and started living the Van life as far back as I can remember. I hope to pass this love of the outdoors through future generations starting with my little ones.
I have also found that the more we do these things, the easier it gets. The kids get a feel for the camping routine and the road trips don’t seem as long as the first few trips did. My wife Aubrey and I have also learned a lot about how to make things nice for the kids while still being able to relax and do some of the “adult” things that we like to do. Being stuck in a car for hours can suck. Being a 4-6 year old with the energy of a wild animal, stuck in a car for a long road trip must really suck. We recognize this and will cave to some electronics and make sure snacks are ready to make things as enjoyable for the girls as we can. Before having kids, I used to go from destination to destination as fast as possible with the least amount of stops. I now understand that with the girls there will be more frequent stops and sometimes for longer periods of time. This was hard for me at the beginning but I have learned to embrace it. I now even try to plan for some stops that the kids can be excited about. Stopping at a park for lunch instead of hitting a drive through is always a hit. We stopped at a rest stop that had huge boulders surrounding it and we picked a rock, climbed it and ate our lunch there. They pretended they were on top of the world. These things help keep the kids excited and engaged throughout the journey.
Fortunately for me, my wife is very organized. She has a gift for packing things to be easily accessible and remembering where everything is. She has the girls outfits ready for each day and meals planned and organized. This can make things flow smoothly when getting ready in the morning or if we get back to camp late after an adventure. She has also learned we don’t need to bring everything. Learning to pack light frees the van from clutter and makes loading and unloading after a trip much easier. The girls get to pack 1 small backpack with toys. They can bring as many toys as they want as long as it fits in the little bag. This keeps them happy and saves a bunch of room since their favorite giant stuffed unicorn won’t fit in the backpack.
At night, we have gone through a few different sleeping routines over the years. The girls now sleep well together but it didn’t start that way. After the first couple of tough nights when the girls were in the infant/toddler stage, we split them up. I slept with one in the upper bed and Aubrey with one down below. This worked out great because we were right there to take care of the girls if they woke up or their sleeping bag got twisted. It was way easier than climbing out of bed every time one sister found their way into the other’s space. Nowadays, they sleep like rocks mostly because of the energy they expend throughout the day when we are camping.
When I am out in the van and get approached by other RVs, they often ask how we can live in such a small space with all 4 of us. My reply is simply that we don’t live in the van, we live outside it. We cook, eat, hang out and play outside. The van gets us there and back, holds our stuff, and provides a comfortable place to sleep. The van is the vessel that allows us to make that happen but nature is where we live.