Vanlife: Camping in a Westfalia with a Baby and a Toddler
This past weekend we made a short 1 hour trip outside the city to beautiful Golden Ears Provincial Park to spend 2 nights with some friends camping. For a few reasons, some weather related, some personal, we haven't gotten out in Ferdinand the Van as much as we would have liked so we were pretty excited for this weekend getaway. It was in fact, our first camping trip with 2 kids. I say camping loosely as camping in a Westfalia is pretty cushy. It is not the same as camping in a tent on the ground with no air mattress (like we used to do before kids and was the main reason I didn't enjoy camping very much).
Not sure if you are familiar with the Westfalia layout, but once you fold down the back seat you have roughly a double bed. And once the roof is raised, there is a slightly cosier (read: smaller) bed above. For safety reasons Trevor sleeps on the top bunk, I sleep on the bottom bunk with Theo and Mae is in our second hand Baby Bjorn Travel crib in the space between the bed and the front seats. In our experience, the travel crib is vital for getting the kids to bed at night so the adults can stay up and hang out. Babes are safe and contained in the crib. While that set up may sound good, I haven't had one kid make it through the night in the travel crib yet. They always wake up in the night and I end up bringing them in to bed with me. I think it's because they get too cold. I've tried everything to make them warm enough except some kind of safe down-filled baby sleeping bag. If you have any advice on this please let me know! Also, I have seen safety nets available for purchase for the top bunk so the kids could sleep up there. It might be worth investing in one of these when the kids are a bit older so Trevor and I could share the bottom bunk again.
Another way we have learned to camp in the Westfalia, is to bring a two burner camping stove with us. Though the van has a stove inside, we don't want the van to smell like food and find it easier to set up the cooking station outside. We use a cooler and portable camp stove to make our meals rather than the fridge and built-in stove.
For this trip to Golden Ears, there weren't any services at our campsite, so no running water or showers and only outhouses. We planned for that and didn't find it too much trouble. Though I think the dirt might have gotten to me if we stayed more than 2 nights and I probably would have driven to shower somewhere with the kids. We brought in water and went through a lot of wipes.
We aren't expert campers (though Trevor is a much more seasoned and hardcore camper than me) and we usually forget something critical every time we go. Luckily we travel with friends (Thanks to Jess for organizing so much this past trip!) so they tend to have the item we forgot (and vice versa, we often have something they need). This time it was a frying pan, bbq lighter and all our plates. Last time it was our camping stove! I share this because it's a lot of work packing up 2 kids and 2 adults and all the gear needed for camping and we aren't perfect at it but we roll with it. We have started a list of items that we need or want to bring to make camping easier and will hopefully remember those things next trip.
One of our best camping tricks we have discovered is, we bring a cheap small 2 man tent with us and use it as a gear tent. We put the two car seats inside as well as all our clothes and a bin of food and miscellaneous items. This allows the van to stay empty and safer for the kids to roam around.
I will also add that we don't leave Theo unsupervised in the van (except at bedtime when he is sufficiently exhausted and the travel crib blocks him from the two front seats). Your almost 4 year old may be different from ours but Theo is curious and spirited and enjoys taking things apart or seeing what it takes to break it. We worry about old parts of the van like the turn signal or turning on lights and draining the battery.
Ferdinand is our investment in adventuring as a family. It's an ongoing expense as vans this old need maintenance and care. We have a wish list a page long on GoWesty (the best source for Westfalia parts and accessories) which we are slowly working our way through. I also have dreams of fixing up the interior but it keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the list. I am almost certain that if we owned a larger home, we would not own our Westfalia. Our van is possible because of our choice to live small and with fewer things. For us it feels like the perfect balance of a city life and our cabin on wheels to take us away from it all quickly (ha!! If you have driven in an '82 Westfalia on the highway you would laugh too) and comfortably.
We have another trip planned in mid-August and I will attempt to take a video of the interior and possibly a more detailed packing list. Is there anything else you want to know about camping with kids or camping in the Westfalia? See some of our previous trips here.... Ferdinand The Van.