10 Tips To Make Your Van Build Kid-Friendly

Adventure vans are everywhere! People are doing everything from day trips, weekends, longer trips, and even living in adventure vans. The beauty of these rigs is their versatility to be built out in so many ways. When we started our journey gathering ideas for our van, we were just a family of two. However, during the design process we found out we were expecting! Building a van for a couple is much different than building a van for a family. We wanted to share our experience designing and using our van as a family with a newborn for those adventures out there considering, building, or even renovating their builds to accommodate kids!

1. Car Seat Compatibility

Safety is number one! A seat for baby Mar was our first and primary driver of our entire van build. Everything started from this piece. We opted to go with the Mercedes crew van for this very reason. The crew van comes from the factory with a bench that has all of the appropriate tethers and anchors for car seats. We didn’t want to have any questions about seat construction or car seats so this was the best bet for us. For those wondering, the factory bench seat can fit three car seats across it. It’s big!

2. Roof Height

Being able to stand up in a van with kids is crucial, especially with younger children. When our daughter was just a few weeks old, we were traveling and camping in the van. During the night if she woke up, we could easily stand up and rock or bounce her back to sleep in our arms. If we hadn’t opted for the high roof, we either would have needed to crouch over in the van or if we were at our wits end, open up the van and go outside…yeah, get the high roof if you can!

3. Fabrics

If you have kids, pets, or both, fabrics are a big decision. All of the fabrics in our design are water-, stain-, and odor-resistant. If you’ve seen our van, you know it has white bench seats. WHOA! Yes I said white! We hike, camp, surf, and have a baby and our seats are still white. They clean with just water and washcloth or tooth brush. If the stain is really tough, like soot from a fire (which we had blow into our van), we used a little mild soap to help lift the stain. In addition to picking a durable, easy-to-clean fabric, having the option to remove and wash the fabric is also important.

4. Running Boards

If you have little ones climbing in and out of your van, running boards can make it easier (and safer) for them and you to get in and out of the van. When we need to lift the baby and her car seat into the van, having a step to get in and out is so helpful. When we were designing our van, we thought we might just use a step we could take in and out in order to save money, but the running boards are worth every penny. It might seem like common sense to have these, but just in case you are on the fence…get them!

5. Location of Switches

Are you planning to have a switch to turn lights on and off, or maybe a switch for your refrigerator? If you have little ones, it would be wise to put those switches out of reach. If your kiddos are older, you might want to put the switches lower so they can access them. It just depends on where you are in timing with your family. Our daughter is young, so opting to put them out of reach was the best decision for us.

6. Height of Platform Bed

We have a convertible dinette-to-bed set up in our van. Our platform bed is low to the ground. We feel a low platform bed is kid-friendly for the following reasons:

  • Ability to easily sit up at night to attend to and/or comfortably nurse little ones
  • Line of sight when the baby is on the platform. We can see the bed from outside (both rear and slider door) so we can keep an eye on her while she plays.
  • Lower bed height allows for kids to safely climb in and out of bed

7. Cooking Areas

Cooking in a tight space can be tricky and potentially dangerous with kids around. Propane and traditional electric cook tops can get very hot during meal prep and take an extensive amount of time to cool afterwards. We opted to go with an induction cook top to sidestep this issue. The induction burner doesn’t get hot like a traditional cook top because it uses an electromagnetic field to transfer current directly to the pan, not the cook top. The cook top only gets warm from the pan so it cools quickly. We love our Duxtop Ultra Thin Induction Cooktopand it was less than $100!

8. Potty

Long road trips, or even short runs around town are much easier when you’ve got a potty on board. Kids tend to need to use the restroom more often and have trouble waiting for the next exit. Plus if you are potty training, having quick access is crucial!

9. Storage

With babies and kids comes gear! Diapers, clothes, chairs, games…OH MY! We found many useful places to store odds and ends to make room for our daughter’s gear.

  • The area beneath the second row passenger bench seat offers space for small items.
  • We built in a headliner cockpit shelf to create additional space for bulky items like bedding.
  • Adding a roof rack up top makes for a great place to store big items
  • We use a Thule rooftop carrier to store larger items like strollers and bouncers to help free up the inside of the van for items that we use more often. We were initially concerned with road noise and a reduction in fuel economy but we’ve been pleasantly surprised with this model.
  • Seat back organizers are helpful to utilize otherwise dead space. We have them on the back of our captain’s chairs, and on the second row passenger bench.

10. Sleeping Arrangements

Sleeping spots are crucial to make sure everyone gets a good night’s rest. Our goal in design for Mar’s sleeping spot includes:

  • Ability to block out light in her sleeping space so we can stay awake after she goes to bed
  • Bumpers or some sort of wall to keep the baby/kid from rolling/climbing out
  • Ease of set up or if it’s permanently installed, intrusiveness
  • Temperature control. For example if the bed is on the floor, is there insulation in the flooring for cold winter nights or is there airflow for the summer?

In our build, we have enough room to set up a pop-up bassinet for our daughter in front of the refrigerator. As she grows, we are planning to add bunk beds to the cockpit area of the van. We like this type of set up because we will be able to pull our curtains and block out all of the light from the rear of the van when she’s sleeping upfront. Stay tuned as we work on this bunk bed project!

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