Are you interested in hitting the road on a family adventure? Doing van life with kids is a fast track to spending more quality time together, exploring the great outdoors, and building strong bonds. Plus, it provides a ton of educational opportunities for your kids to learn about the world around them, experience new things, and challenge themselves in different ways.
Traveling in a van with kids can be one of the most enriching experiences for the whole family but you might be wondering how to make it work. Sometimes you’ll have challenges just like every family, but all the van life families I’ve met say they’ll never regret doing van life together. One commonality I’ve heard among these families is the importance of designing your build in a way that’s specific to your family’s needs.
In this post, I’m going to share the most important things to consider when designing your family’s dream van plus some of the best family camper van setups I’ve seen for families of three, four, and five (or more). At Bearfoot Theory, we’re passionate about empowering you with the information (and inspiration) you need to feel confident as you embark on an adventure – and family van life sounds like one of the greatest adventures of all!
Here are the most important things to consider for your family camper van, as well as the best camper van layouts for families!
Things to Consider for Your Family Camper Van
How many people does your van need to accommodate?
The number of people that will be sleeping in the van is the most important factor when deciding the best family camper van layout. Regardless of whether you’ll be living in it full-time, part-time, or just on vacations, you’ll need enough beds for all the heads. Since this will become your home on the road, it’s essential that everyone feels comfortable in their sleeping space. Cramming together in one bed might not be the best choice for the long term, so you’ll want to consider what everyone needs to feel comfortable in your family van.
The other area this matters is seat belts. You can’t just build a dinette, slap some seat belts in, and call it good. You need to make sure that any seat belts you install will actually do their job in the case of an accident. When you plan for your conversion, make sure you leave room for safety-approved seating.
How old are your kids?
The age of your child(ren) is important because it will determine what type of bed(s) you need, the level of privacy, and the potential safety mechanisms you might need in place. With living quarters so tight, privacy doesn’t come easily in a van which might be a concern for both parents and children. There are some creative ways to get privacy and I’ll share an example down below of one simple privacy solution.
What sort of activities does your family enjoy?
A big perk of van life with kids is all the opportunities to get outside together! If you like to kayak, climb, hike, surf, backpack, photograph, do yoga – you’ll need to plan storage space for all the gear. Individual interests are equally important as group activities so that everyone gets to do the things they enjoy. Most van life families I’ve met on the road spend almost all of their time outdoors except when bad weather rolls through. So, if everyone in your family is into being outside, they’ll probably love van life.
Is sleeping outside an option?
Rooftop tents are a popular way to add an extra bed but this is only suitable if you know you’ll always be parked in a place that allows camping (campgrounds, public lands, etc.) If you anticipate needing to stealth camp, even for a night or two here and there, a rooftop tent isn’t an option as the main bed. But, it’s a great addition to have for a guest!
Communication is key
Whether you’re already a seasoned road tripper or you’re just beginning your family road trip journey, good communication is the foundation of a successful, happy trip. Having open conversations with everyone you’ll be traveling with is a vital step in setting the family up for success. Talk to your partner if you have one, bring in your kids if they’re old enough, chat with your friends if they’ll be coming along – whoever will be on board, talk to them about their personal needs, wants, concerns, and questions. This is especially important if you’ll be traveling with older kids that want more independence.
Van Floor Plans for a Family of 3
The Moon family has a convertible bench/bed for their toddler with a simple fabric enclosure. The fabric walls easily hook in place at night and come down during the day. This is a great solution for privacy, plus it might help your little one go to sleep if you’re still awake with the lights on.
The Fite family installed a murphy bed and ladder for their young child so she’s able to go up and down at her leisure. Along their travels, they had another baby and modified the van to accommodate their newborn by building a wall and infant-sized murphy bed. The top photo shows their van set up for a family of 3 and the bottom photo shows their setup for a family of 4.
Van Floor Plans for a Family of 3 to 4
Murphy beds are common in camper vans for families. Many van lifers prefer them because you can stow the bed up against the wall during the day. In the image below, you’ll notice the beds are staggered which ensures that everyone has ample head space.
This traveling family of four has murphy beds for their two toddlers. This design doesn’t have staggered beds, so the headspace is a little tight on the lower bed. But overall, murphy beds are a practical use of space and can be customized to your needs. Traveling with an infant? Consider installing a net or rollbar to keep them safe in their nest at night.
Van Floor Plans for a Family of 4 or More
This family Sprinter van has two bunk beds with a ladder for their two kids, ages 2 and 4. What’s great about this family van layout is that everyone gets their own bed without sacrificing headspace.
The Kuhl family traveled full-time in their camper van with their adolescent and young teenage kids. This design is one of the most impressive uses of space I’ve seen in a family camper van! The parents slept in a platform bed, their teen daughter slept in a dinette that opens into a twin-size bed, and their two adolescent sons slept in bunks in the cockpit. The top bunk is suspended by ratchet straps and rests atop the seats. When not in use, it hooks into the headliner. The bottom bunk is about 6 inches longer than the top and is made simply of foam and plywood. It folds into itself to be easily stowed under the platform bed when not in use. Their kids seemed to love their beds (and van life!)
The Calloway family camper van is set up to sleep 4-5 people. The adjustable upper bunk is operated by a power jack system. The dinette table drops down to make a queen-size bed. Not pictured here, there’s a bench in the van that sleeps another person! This open floor plan is a great option because of its smart use of vertical space.
The Morrises managed to sleep their family of 7 in this sprinter van. Cozying up three in a bed might not be comfortable for a full-time van life family, but it is possible. This double platform bed is a popular choice for a family van setup. It utilizes vertical space well but has a bonus of increased storage under the bottom bed. Plus, you can customize the platforms for more or less head space and storage.
If you want bunk beds but you also want more space – check this out. This design by Outside Van called Off Grid that features removable beds and two additional passenger seats with seat belts! It’s a pretty genius idea! Sleep up to four people when necessary or remove a bed or two (or three) and store more gear. Maybe your kids won’t be traveling with you all the time? They even managed to fit a full bathroom with a shower in this van. This is a great option for your family camper van setup.
Source: Outside Van
Rooftop Tents and Pop-top Vans for Families
Rooftop tents for camper vans are great for road trips. They’re easy to set up, and most importantly, they don’t take up any space inside the van. As I mentioned earlier, if you plan to travel full-time and anticipate needing to stealth camp in towns, a rooftop tent should not be used as the main bed. But, it’s a great option for visiting guests or those nights you’d like to sleep under the stars.
Pop-top camper vans are a classic choice for families traveling with kids. Pop-tops, like those installed by Sportsmobile or Journey Vans below, have two beds: a platform inside the van and a loft up top. So, this is ideal for 1-4 people. Another perk of the pop-top family van is that they are typically installed on low-roof vans, so you can fit into parking garages.
Here are 7 tips for designing your Sprinter van floor plan
What questions do you have about designing the best camper van layout for your family? Leave us a comment below and we’ll be sure to answer.
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