It took me years to convince my husband that we should pack up our house, spend our savings on a caravan, take our young kids out of school and travel from southeast England to the wilds and beaches of west coast Scotland. But, as novice caravanners, our trip was going to need some serious planning. Here's what you need to know about caravanning with kids.

A caravan pitched at a campsite; an awning comes out from the side of the caravan; two children sit at a table under the awning eating breakfast.
A whole summer in a caravan with kids takes a lot of planning © Aliex Holliday

How to plan your family caravan adventure

Our adventure lasted two months, and we made 18 stops, took six ferries and drove nearly 3000 miles. I wanted our kids – aged five and seven – to be inspired by what the UK has to offer, and to understand that we wouldn’t have to get on a plane to have an epic adventure or to see nature at its finest.

Planning began by buying a map and sticking it on the wall at home. Every mealtime we would look at it, point out where we lived and where we wanted to go so the kids could begin to understand the distances. I read up on the UK’s wildest spots and campsites to plan the type of places we wanted to stay. Not all campsites accept caravans and there are a lot of caravan sites that are very much like car parks, which didn’t appeal to us at all. We wanted places that welcomed both tents and caravans, had an abundance of nature, and a family-friendly, laid-back vibe. 

A large black car, with roof box and bike rack, hooked up to a white caravan.
Make good use of space with a roof box and a bike rack © Aliex Holliday

We pinpointed places of interest and campsites on the map and then worked out how far we'd be travelling, bearing in mind that driving when towing a caravan is much slower. We didn’t want any more than four hours of driving every time we moved camp. This dictated how many stops we could plan and how far we could go.

I made a spreadsheet of dates, our route, locations, travel distance, ferry times, the names and postcodes of the campsites, prices, website links and a notes column too. Because we were making so many stops and visiting lots of places across such a long period of time, I also printed out a blank calendar, stuck it up in the caravan and wrote our journey on it so we could see where we were supposed to be that day. This helped us appreciate how far we had travelled and how much further we had to go. 

Two notebooks covered in colourful writing, and a map of Glasgow.
The kids recorded their travels in their journals © Aliex Holliday

What to pack for a family caravanning trip

Gaffer tape and superglue were the two items that we used the most! Besides clothes and food, other essentials included:

- Reading books/Kindle
- Laptop for blogging the journey; camera and battery charger
- Torches (including head torches); binoculars; first-aid kit
- Waterproofs; walking boots; beach gear; wetsuits; sea shoes
- Camping chairs; folding tables; blankets
- Fire pit and matches

For easy entertainment for the kids, I packed a small plastic crate with colouring pens and pencils, glue, rubbers and card games like Uno, Donkey and Snap.

We planted a bucket with herbs in it for cooking, which stood outside our caravan when we arrived at each location, and we took spices in a box. I organised a basket that had everything we needed for breakfast in one place, so I could pull it out and plonk it on the table without having to open various cupboards to find everything.

The best thing we took were journals to help the kids record the journey. These included a section for each area we visited, with old road maps so they could draw on our route; and questions for them to consider. It meant they didn't need loads of toys or games to fill their time – instead they drew pictures and wrote notes to keep track of our adventures along the way.

Exterior of a caravan with items scattered outside including bikes, a football, a spade, a guitar, a table covered in seashells and a washing line full of clothes.
A lot of packing away is required each time you move campsites © Aliex Holliday

How to cope in a caravan

No matter how much you plan your trip there will be things that happen that you couldn't possibly have anticipated. For us that was the evening our caravan roof window ripped off in gale-force winds, nearly falling hundreds of feet into the North Atlantic.

I had totally underestimated how much time I would spend inside the caravan too, making breakfast, packing lunches and cooking dinner. We barbecued a lot, but next time we will definitely take some kind of electric outdoor cooker for days when there isn't time.

The number of jobs that come with a caravan surprised us. Before you set off each time, everything from the shelves needs to be packed away – driving shakes the caravan and things fall off shelves and even out of cupboards. Winding the legs up, hitching the van, unplugging the electrics, emptying the grey waste, toilet cassette and clean water tank also takes a lot of time. You need to set all of this up again when you arrive at your next site, so be sure to factor this in to your travel time.

A dad and two children sitting in camping chairs watch the sun set over the sea.
The whole family got to enjoy nature at its best © Aliex Holliday

And of course the kids drove us utterly crazy at times! We knew there would be tough moments that we'd just need to embrace, and sometimes (like with the roof) we learned the hard way. The whole experience taught us that we are more resourceful and resilient than we expected, and sometimes the difficult stuff makes for the best memories. I'm delighted to say that when I tentatively asked, “Shall we do it all again this year?” it was a unanimous and resounding “Yes!” from the whole family!

You can follow our caravanning adventures on Instagram @happywildones

You might also like:

The trip that changed my life: carefree campervan adventure in Scotland  
"Why can’t we just be normal again?" A family's journey around Europe in a caravan  
How I travelled around Scotland on just £3 a day  

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter. Subscribe to our Lonely Planet Kids newsletter and get 30% off your first Lonely Planet Kids book purchase.

Explore related stories

CoolStays - Alexander House Glamping.jpg

Family Travel

The coziest UK camping and glamping sites to stay at this winter

Oct 27, 2020 • 6 min read