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Building a Family-Friendly Van Design

3 Family-Friendly Layout Ideas for Your Van Adventures

There are a lot of people out there who would tell you that choosing to do van life with kids is a tall order, and not a very sustainable one. “Vans are just too tiny,” they’ll say. “How could you possibly have any fun with everyone all squeezed together like that? You’ll go up the wall.”

It will probably come as no surprise that we don’t believe any of that is true. Living and traveling in a van with kids isn’t some nightmare scenario. It can be the most wonderful and joyous experience you ever undertake. All you need are the right family travel tips to ensure you’re doing things right. And among those tips? Clever ways to create a family-friendly van design!

As a large number of van-lifers have discovered before you, there are plenty of van layouts for families that can make you and your children’s travels together feel comfortable and flow more smoothly than you thought possible.

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In this article we’re going to share some ideas on how to set up your van space for family travel, including some amazing pro tips we’ve gleaned from other traveling families on YouTube.

Let’s get started!

Why #VanLife With Kids?

Caucasian Dad, Mom, and young daughter smiling  at camera while laying on a mattress in a family-friendly van design

Before we get into the tips themselves, let’s first discuss why you might choose to have your family travel in a van rather than, say, a fifth wheel trailer or a motorhome. Obviously, those would offer much more living space, storage, and amenities than a van can provide. So why would you choose a van over those options?

First off, vans are much easier to get around in. They can fit in places that larger styles of RVs have a hard time with (low clearance bridges, city streets, campgrounds with small sites, gas stations with tight turns, narrow highways like the ones in Baja, Mexico…the list goes on). And they’re simpler to maneuver. Plus, with the right van, you have the option to stealth camp in places an RV never could.

There’s also not a lot of rigamarole (such as hitching up or pulling in slides) that you have to go through to get packed up and on the road again. Additionally, having much smaller storage space to work with forces you to accumulate less stuff as you travel, which in turn can have benefits on your family’s overall closeness with one another, with nature, etc.

Even if your eventual plan is to upgrade to a larger RV someday, starting out in a van is a great way for everyone in your family to dip their respective toes into the traveling lifestyle.

Elements of a Family-Friendly Van Design

Family-Mom, Dad, and young son and daughter having a picnic beside their camper van

With that said, what kinds of things should you be looking to include in your family-friendly van design? Well, everyone’s needs and preferences are going to be different. But we’d bet that there are some nigh-universal truths for vanlife families everywhere.

Some of the key features of any successful family-friendly van design are:

  1. Comfortable sleeping space for each person
  2. A safe place for kids to be buckled into while the van is in motion, whether they’re in a car seat or big enough to use a standard seatbelt
  3. A place to cook meals, indoors and/or outside
  4. A fridge and/or freezer, even a small one\
  5. A bathroom with both a toilet and a shower
  6. Ways of creating privacy — not only for the bathroom area, but also in the living space
  7. Clever storage and organization systems for the family’s belongings, food, outdoor gear, tools, cooking equipment, toys and entertainment, etc.
  8. A communal space where the family can gather to enjoy meals, play games, or watch movies together
  9. A space where the grownups can get work done, as many of us have to maintain remote jobs to fund our travels as we go
  10. A place where kids can study and do schoolwork

Some of the things on this list can overlap with one another. And that’s exactly what some of the cooler family van builds out there have managed to do. We’ll be getting into some of our favorite build-outs in the next section.

Take Virtual Tours of Some Awesome Traveling Family Vans

“That’s all well and good,” you might be thinking. But I need some examples to work with.” Not to worry friend. I’ve curated a few sweet family-friendly van design ideas from families on YouTube that will hopefully give you some inspiration for your own rig. And believe me, this will only be the tip of the iceberg.

A Van Layout for a Family of Five (Plus a Pet)

If the idea of squeezing a family into such a small space seems unmanageable to you, this full-time traveling family’s van layout should put those concerns to rest. Even with two adults, three kids, and a dog, they live quite comfortably with space to spare.

Favorite features: This family makes extremely good use of the area under the master bed, which acts as a generous food pantry, a dedicated place where their dog can sleep, and a storage garage! The pop-top “upstairs” space where the kids can sleep is…well, the cherry on top.

A Van With the Most Unique Sleeping Arrangement Ever

Here is one of the more unusual family van builds we’ve seen (in a good way!), owned by a UK-based family (@jubel_explorer on Instagram) who have actually made the van available to be rented if you happen to be traveling in the area.

Favorite features: We love how they’ve managed to squeeze in all those separate sleeping spaces through an ingenious application of geometry, while still offering plenty of living and storage space throughout the rest of the van. Very, very cool.

A Van Layout With Mid-Bunks

RVs aren’t the only things that can have bunk beds for the kids. This custom mid-bunk van layout is an inspired bit of design, as it gives the family’s daughters their own places to hang out while mom and dad do the cooking or whatever else.

Favorite features: Aside from the bunks themselves, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that hidden wine bottle storage drawer that tucks beneath the raised floor, complete with foam dividers to keep the bottles secure while driving. Talk about living in luxury on the road!

Revamp Your Van for the Perfect Family-Friendly Design

Hopefully, we’ve given you a solid launching point for figuring out a family-friendly van design that works for you. Again, we’ve barely scratched the surface with what’s possible here, so we recommend taking to the internet (and especially YouTube) to get even more ideas. Safe and happy travels!

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