Meet 7 Real Families Living Their Best #VanLife — With Kids

At some point, you’ve probably thought about what it would be like to leave it all behind: hit the road, travel the world and not be tied down to any one place. Perhaps you’ve even done a deep dive into researching #VanLife culture — you know, when folks pack up and live on the road out of vans, airstreams, trailers, and other vehicles of varying degrees of chicness. But is #VanLife with kids even possible?

#VanLife — both the hashtag and the bohemian lifestyle movement — has gained an impressive amount of traction in recent years as photos of people living on the road have both inspired some serious wanderlust and have elicited wistful sighs of, “I wish I could do that.” But more often than not, people who have dreamed of living in a van or bus have their dreams come to a screeching halt when they add kids to the mix.

Van life isn’t all shiny photos of yoga by a hot spring or cozy nights under the stars — add to that some carsick toddlers, diaper blowouts and/or annoyed teenagers with zero privacy, and everything gets a little more complicated. It’s not easy, and it takes commitment. But it’s also not  impossible to live this amazing nomadic lifestyle with kids in tow. In fact, more and more families are seeing the appeal of living rent-free, traveling the world and showing their kids what planet Earth has to offer. Marie Kondo’s got nothing on the kids in these families, who have pared down their belongings and manage to function without all the crap the rest of us seem to accumulate with kids.

SheKnows talked to seven families who live on the road to find out just how they do it — kids and all.

Contented Nomads

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Hi everyone! We’re the Schannep family and we do life a little bit differently than most. We sold everything and hit the road in our converted school bus almost 3 years ago. At the time we had no clue how long we would be living in the Bus and traveling; but now, we can’t imagine life any other way. • • Our initial motivation was to move together as a family. We wanted to foster a tight knit relationship between our children and us so time spent together as a family was very important. Also fostering a spirit of adventure and flexibility was a driving factor. • • We have learned so much from our time and we are feeling particularly reflective these days so stick around to hear how our journey unfolds and what we have learned along the way. • • Are there any questions we can answer for you? Living tiny with kids? Full-time travel? Lay it on me! 📷: @betsyandjohnphoto

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Robin Schannep, her husband, and their four kids are the sweet family behind @contentednomads. They live in a converted school bus and are currently crisscrossing America. 

SheKnows: What initially made you want to pursue living in a bus?

Contented Nomads: We had the “normal” American life. We had the three children, the house and a good job, but selfishly, we wanted more. More of what we didn’t have — and we would gladly trade in the housing security and job security for this “more” that we were craving.  We wanted more time together. More good-quality time as a family when our children were still little. When we started cooking up this plan, our oldest was 4, our second was 2, and our baby was only a few months old. We just got to talking one night and dreaming about what life could look like. What if moving together as a family was possible? What would it look like to show our kids the diverse and beautiful country we lived in? At first, we started talking about it being a trip with a set time line, but then, we quickly dreamed it up into being a lifestyle.

We set off on the road the night before our oldest child turned 6, and we have never looked back. We have been living full-time in our bus for the past three years and traveling full-time for the past two and a half years. In our first week of bus life, we found out we were pregnant with our fourth baby. This is the only house and way of life our littlest knows, and that’s really special.

SK: What do you find is the most challenging part of bus life with kids?

CN: The most obvious answer… would be to talk about the lack of space being the primary hardship, but that would be too easy. That’s a given. In our years on the road, the most challenging part to all of this is managing your own stress. Nomadic life is equal parts frustrating as it is liberating and exhilarating, and kids don’t help that at all. What we have learned in our years of travel is how to manage our own stress and deal with it pretty quickly before we turn an adventure sour. In my opinion, this has been the biggest growth point for us all. Being able to work together when a plan goes haywire, I think, will be the most grounding lesson we will take away from this way of life.  

SK: What do you hope bus life imparts on your kids as they grow up?

CN: We hope that through this lifestyle, they will be more flexible, adventurous and brave as they grow up. We hope that all of these shared experiences will give them a common glue that will hold them together. I hope that when they are young adults sitting around the dinner table, they will be able to talk about all the adventures they had together and maybe how weird (and brave!) Mom and Dad were to pursue this lifestyle for them. They are all already starting to talk about their own travels they want to pursue when they grow up, and that’s been neat to hear. Our oldest son want us to help him outfit a van when he gets older, and we are so on board with that!

This lifestyle is not easy. Don’t be fooled by the perfectly curated Instagram feeds. It’s messy and frustrating, but it is so worth it. Life is going to pass you by too quickly no matter where you live or how you raise your children, so if you can double-dip and have some adventure while you’re at it — now that might be worth pursuing!

Father and Farmer

Ethan DeLorenzo and his son Ode live part-time and travel in an ‘87 VW Westfalia van. Ethan is the talent behind @fatherandfarmer and balances dad duties with his love of photography and farming in an intentional community. His main priority is his son, being present with him and helping to nurture his development in a compassionate and humanistic manner, to which van life lends itself easily.  

SheKnows: What’s the most challenging thing about van life with a child?

Father and Farmer: Van life promotes being outside. It’s an ideology that the comforts needed are minimal, so you can focus on living. With that means weather can hugely guide what your freedoms are. Being with a small child, a rainy or snowy day means a day perhaps spent in indoor public places, such as libraries or cafés. I usually use days of questionable weather to frequent the local museums, aquariums and bookstores. Sometimes, in cities, finding safe places to have freedom are challenging as well.

SK: What do you think Ode enjoys the most about van life?

FF: Ode loves the van. It’s like a magical fort for him at his age and size. He calls it Daddy’s bus. He has such an imagination. Some days, it’s a pirate ship. Other days, an airplane or submarine. He sleeps so well in our van; many days are spent co-sleeping and cuddling him.

SK: Is there any advice you would give anyone thinking about living or traveling in a van with kids?

FF: Van life is not what social media portrays it to be. It’s not glamorous. It’s not easy, and if you’re a person who prefers to have security and control over situations, well, I would say van life is not for you. The main necessity is being adaptable and creative. A love for being outside is helpful. It’s slow — lots of opportunities for breakdowns and needing to stay in random towns longer than expected. It’s a life best lived if self-sufficient and you like to cook. Eating out all the time gets old quick. Temperature! Too hot or too cold or just right? Finding ways to create a comfortable environment with the insulation a vehicle provides can be challenging. Proper clothing is a helpful remedy.

Broccoli Bus 6

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Skooliepalooza movie night at our bus

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Amanda Bockelie, her husband, Aaron, and their four kids — Ava, Audrey, Brixbee and Anders — make up @broccolibus6. They have been living and traveling full-time in their bus since September 2018, when they sold their house and hit the road. We caught up with them to find out the worst and best things about bus life with four kids.

SheKnows: Why did you initially want to pursue living in a bus?

BroccoliBus: We pursued bus life because we wanted more time together as a family. We realized even more how precious life was after we lost two babies (one at 20 weeks pregnant and another at 16 weeks) We homeschooled our kids from day one in preparation of travel.

SK: What’s the most challenging part of living on a bus with kids?

BB: One of the most challenging things is downsizing — we used the KonMari method years ago, but staying on top of that is very important when living in a small space. It’s easy for too many things to creep in (especially after visiting their grandparents for the holiday season). We have a washer and dryer powered by solar, which is helpful to have, living with four kids. We’re also currently remodeling our design so they all have separate kid space.

SK: What’s the best part of bus life with kids?

BB: The kids love baking and cooking in the bus together. Our 5-year-old had his birthday here in the AZ desert, and another kid from @deliberatelifebus that we are parked beside had her 6th birthday party yesterday. All the kids made cards and homemade necklaces, and a very sweet moment was when her sister gave her her favorite doll, knowing her sister loved it. The kids are unplugged way more since traveling. They play games and have fun outside. Plus, there are amazing interactions with young and old from different walks of life. So many opportunities to learn and grow. The kids even made a lemonade stand and sold to friends at a Skooliepalooza festival!

The Step Van Diary

Meagan and her daughter, Mollie, are @thestepvandiary and have been living on the road in a 1985 GMC Fire Command vehicle named Major since October 2018. They are full-time van dwellers traveling across North America, and Meagan told us how she managed to go from living paycheck to paycheck to buying and converting a van all by herself (like a rock star).

SheKnows: What initially made you want to pursue van life?

The Step Van Diary: Three years ago, while painfully pushing through the nine-to-five grind and suffering from work- and routine-related ups and downs, I decided I wanted to pursue a more free-living lifestyle with my daughter, Mollie. Mollie and I have been a single mother-daughter duo for the last eight years, and I simply wanted more for us than to be stuck in one place all the time without new days and adventure. My biggest dilemma was, “How does a single mom living paycheck to paycheck live a lifestyle of constant travel?” The most practical thought (and somewhat comical at the time) was living in a van. Over the course of three years, I began to make this possible — downsizing, yard sales and starting a small soap business for extra income. Switching from a house to a two-bedroom to a one-bedroom to a bachelor. In the end, I saved $15,000 to buy and convert a van. I did the conversion myself to save money, and now we are here living our best life.

SK: What is the best part of van life with kids?

TSVD: When I used to pick Mollie up from school, every day was a roller coaster. Some days would be full of tears, some full of celebration, some sadness. It was so hard, because I was miserable at work and Mollie was miserable 80 percent of the time coming home from school. The best part of van life with kids so far is Mollie is happy every day. Life is easier; she doesn’t have to deal with judgment or bullying. The people she meets on the road celebrate her and her art. Everyone is relaxed and interested in what we’re doing, and she learns new life lessons and skills from everyone we meet. Emotionally, van life has given us no bad days, and we are so thankful for that.

SK: Any advice for people thinking about living in a van with kids?

TSVD: This lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Do your research, watch videos, and get advice from people actually living in a van so you see the real “van life.” People want to post the beautiful photos they take and celebrate their best moments from their experience on the road. Often, this is all you’ll see online. That’s OK; these are beautiful things to look at, but behind all the pretty there is also a struggle. Make sure you’re comfortable with the struggles before you jump in head-first.

So We Went

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⁣Are you a travel bug or homebody? 🌎 🏡 ⠀ ⠀ We consider ourselves travel bugs, craving to hit the open road and see new places. The thrill of researching new destinations, planning the trip, and getting out there is what motivates us through long work days or sleepless nights with a baby. ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ But being on the tailend of a heavy travel period, we’ve found ourselves wanting to stay home more. There’s just something about being home that’s comforting. It gives a chance to visit with friends, enjoy our home turf, and get organized. The pull between traveling and staying is real. Let’s be honest, there’s some real #fomo going on when we opt to stay at home. ⁣For those of you that identify as a homebody, do you experience FOMO when you travel? This got us wondering is there a middle ground? Can you be both a travel bug and a homebody?

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So We Went is comprised of Ash, Margaux and baby Mar, who are self-proclaimed adventure opportunists exploring in their converted Mercedes Sprinter camper van, affectionately called Bruce (named after the shark in Finding Nemo). They live and work in San Diego and leverage their van to travel as often as possible, hauling their camping, hiking, fishing or surfing gear in a cozy, safe place to sleep wherever their adventures take them. Check out their travels at @sowewent.

SheKnows: Why did you want to start living in a van in the first place?

So We Went: We decided to build a camper van because we love the concept of being able and ready to travel on a moment’s notice. We aren’t big trip planners, so having a van that has everything you need in it helps us. The whole idea is to be more comfortable and travel on a moment’s notice. It makes it a lot easier to go if you have everything in the van and everything ready for the baby. In a tent, we’d have more concerns about her comfort and safety.

SK: What’s the biggest challenge about van life with an infant?

SWW: The biggest challenge we faced when transitioning from traveling as a couple to traveling as a family of three was patience and adjusting to a slower pace that an infant needs. Mar’s favorite times to travel in the van might not be the same as ours, and she likes a break every few hours. It took us some time to figure out what time of day she did best for travel, what baby gear she needed and how to pack it all with us and that traveling slower isn’t just better for her; it’s better for us, too. Since we’ve had her, we’ve really come to love slow mornings in the van, making breakfast, hanging out in our hammocks together instead of rushing off to pack in miles on the toughest trail we can find (like we did in the past). While we always had a deep appreciation for nature and the desire to protect it, she is our new reason that we want to get out there, take it in, share it and protect it.

SK: What do you think is your daughter’s favorite part of van life?

SWW: Although Mar is too young to make memories, we can already tell she loves all of the places and adventures that our van helps us get to, in particular the hikes. On a normal day, she will usually cry at different points during the day, like most babies do. But on days where we hike, she is very mellow. She either naps or will sweetly coo as we hike along, no matter if the hike is 3 miles or 10. Hiking with her has also helped us to enjoy the little details on the trail that we didn’t always notice before. For example, we love the way she looks up at leaves as we walk under a canopy of trees. The awe in her little eyes has brought us a new, fresh appreciation for something as simple as a leaf. We know we’re making an early imprint on the way Mar is growing up to love the outdoors and our family adventures. We hope that through her adventures in the outdoors, she learns to appreciate the beauty of nature — and that she will want to protect and share it with her friends and family just like we are doing with her.

The Deliberate Life Bus

Adam, Elizabeth and their daughters, Sadie and Wren, are the folks behind @deliberatelifebus. They are traveling in their bus full-time and don’t have any expectations with regard to an end date; they’ve decided to stay on the road as long as it works financially, and as long as all four of them are happy in this incredible lifestyle. We chatted with Elizabeth about what her daughters love most about bus life and how they started on this crazy adventure.

SheKnows: What initially made you want to live in a bus?

The Deliberate Life Bus: Adam and I have always wanted to build our own home, designing it exactly as we want. We like unique homes and have looked into yurts, cob houses, tiny houses, etc. We initially started building the bus with the idea that we would buy property and live fairly stationary on the bus — until an opportunity came up to move with my job, at which time we could just drive our home to our new city. During the two-and-a-half-year process of building out the bus, we started to shift our plan. We used to take one “big” vacation every other year, and this wasn’t enough for our adventurous spirits. We decided we wanted more out of our lives and more for our kids. We wanted to be able to explore new areas in depth and not just quickly visit and get back to “life.” So we decided to uproot and travel. Sometimes, I call it a “midlife retirement,” although it’s not really that, since we both still work and have to have an income. But I think this should be a new thing that people do. Why wait until the end? Travel with your kids now — if you can make it happen!

SK: What do you think your daughters enjoy most about bus life?

TDLB: Two things: First, they get to spend much more time with me. I worked full-time back before we moved onto the bus, and I often worked hours that kept me from seeing them for entire days. I rarely had time to do projects with them when I was around, but now, we can cook together, make art or just check in and talk between them running around the desert digging holes and building parachutes for their toys.

Second: the other road kids. Road kids all seem to know that they share a connection. They friend so hard with each other in a way I didn’t see kids friend with strangers at parks in regular life. We’ve been lucky that we have pretty regularly been camped near other kids who were full-timing in vehicles. The kids all band together to run wild and experience life outdoors. Our safety rule (in addition to having to be able to see the bus) is that you don’t go inside anyone’s house/car/van/bus unless you talk to us first. We typically just keep the kids playing outdoors because it’s easier to find them and easier to check on them, and since you may not know the other parents well, it just makes good sense to not expect them to watch your kids the way you would.

SK: What is the best part of bus life with kids?

TDLB: I love, love, love seeing them have more freedom to explore and imagine than they did living in a regular neighborhood. We stay mostly on free public land, like Bureau of Land Management land. Out there, traffic is not a concern, so they can bike and run and explore without my being worried. There is so much open space that I can let them roam as far as I feel comfortable (it changes based on each site), and the rule is: Stay close enough that you can see the bus.

Cheerfully Imperfect

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Finding campsites like this for free last year was one of my favorite parts of traveling. When you have an 80 gallon fresh water tank and solar power for electricity, you don’t need any hook ups. Just land beneath your wheels and an amazing view… Travelers, where is your all time favorite place to camp for free??? This was in the Alabama hills in Lone Pine, California. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #buslife #skoolie #schoolbusconversion #fulltimetravel #roadtrip #vanlife #roadschooling #worldschooling #tinyhome #busconversion #tinyhomeonwheels #bushouse #tinyhouse #offgrid #boondock #cheerfullyimperfect #kirstenmccormick #wildernesswandering #homeiswhereyouparkit #nomads #mybuslife

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Kirsten McCormick and her husband, Justin, plus their sons — Nathaniel (15), Anthony (13), Connor (6), Isaac (2) — and their daughter, Molly (8) make up @cheerfullyimperfect. They lived in a converted school bus full time for 18 months, sacrificing personal space and physical possessions for the adventure of a lifetime. They recently moved back into a house, and we spoke with Kirsten about bus life with kids and why they made the decision to settle down in a house. (Hint: It involves her husband being a total badass.)

SheKnows: What’s the best part of bus life with kids?

Cheerfully Imperfect: The best part of traveling with the kids was the constant adventure and exploration. I could never give them the kind of education, experience and exposure to the world while simply living in a house. They got hands-on learning — learning about sea creatures and ocean life at the ocean. Learning history while touring historical homes and lighthouses, and exploring the desert ecosystem while hiking through the cactus in the desert. Nothing replaces firsthand experiences like that.

SK: What made you decide to move back into a house?

CI: We loved the adventure and travel and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, but we missed our friends and community. I missed performing in choirs and community theater, and the kids were excited to plug back into our homeschool community and rekindle their in-person friendships. My husband also wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a five-month trek from Mexico to Canada, and I decided I would be able to more easily be a single parent in his absence in a house with a little more space. We still have the bus and are currently using it as a guesthouse in our driveway until we are ready to resume our traveling adventures.

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