A good few years back, I remember being on holiday when a motorhome pulled into a carpark we were stopped at in northern France. At the time motorhomes were less common and were typically driven by retirees and older couples who had the financial freedom and time to enjoy them. So, in line with this I had fully expected an older couple to step out to stretch their legs. Much to my surprise the couple were in their mid to late 20’s and had a baby in tow – mind blown! Maybe I’ve overstated that a bit but it was, and still is, quite unusual to see and it’s one of only a handful of times I can recall seeing a family with a young baby in a motorhome. Young families in motorhomes is becoming relatively common but babies are still a rarity – at least that is my anecdotal experience.

When we purchased our first motorhome our youngest child was only three months old. By the time we managed to take our first trip she was six months older but still a baby. We have four children, the motorhome has six travel seats so logic had told us that we should have no problem fitting the entire family. Melissa would be able to sit up front with me and keep an eye on the left hand drive blind spots and the kids would be able to entertain themselves in the rear dinette with only occasional adult intervention required. Juliette (the baby) would be able to sleep in a temporary cot we could make in the small dinette while the rest of us stayed up and played board games. She would wake on schedule, the scamps would go to bed quietly at the designated time and everyone would get their full quota of sleep and relaxation. Well, that was how it looked in all of the motorhome brochures. Now that I think of it the brochures also feature flower filled vases on the dinette tables so we should have figured not everything would play out exactly as the brochures depicted it.

Baby on board

Babies, as you may know, need to have a rear facing seat up to about 12 months of age. This isn’t a problem for most daily situations because child seats are designed to fit in a standard road car. Occasionally we might need to slide a seat forward or back but the seats generally fit without too much kerfuffle. Dinettes, even in the most family friendly motorhomes, tend to be on the snug side leaving insufficient space for a rear facing child seat. This left us with two options; remove the table from the dinette while travelling or relocate Juliette (the baby) to the front passenger seat.

After much deliberation we decided to put the baby seat on the front passenger seat. Our logic was that if we left the four children in the dinette without a table for support they might find it difficult to stay in the seat when we went around corners. It’s actually a big problem for small children as they can’t put their feet on the ground to stabilise themselves and dinette seats aren’t designed to hold one in place the same way a car seat is.! The other consideration is that the novelty of travelling while in the dinette with the table attached might make the time pass a bit quicker and allow us more travel time before the kids got fed up. Even more practical is the fact that the baby seat fits more securely in the front seat. Everyone’s a winner just don’t forget to disable the passenger airbag!

The solution isn’t without its downsides as, without Melissa to watch for traffic,  the dreaded left hand drive blindspot became a bigger issue. Also, if Juliette decided that she’d had enough time in the baby seat I was the one she would be screaming at – not a big issue on a motorway but more than a little distracting when you’re trying to navigate around narrow unfamiliar roads. Our motorhome has a large window in the dinette which means that by angling the van appropriately the blindspot can be mitigated in all but the rarest of circumstances. Also after three previous children we have a good idea of how to time Juliette’s wake and sleep times to travel while she is getting her daytime naps. So, not ideal but workable.

Each van and family dynamic will be different and may make travel with a baby easier or more difficult. Some vans come with ISOfix points, if you are on the ‘correct’ side of the car for the driving side or your numbers are smaller some of these issues won’t be all that important. Some families try to do long drives after babies bed time to make best use of quiet time for both baby and traffic; that’s not a great option for us but your circumstances might make it a solid option for you.


After you arrive on site

Child seats can be a bit on the bulky side and if space is limited in your van then stowage might be a big consideration. In transit the child seat doesn’t take up an unnecessary space as it provides security for your child. On arrival though it might end up being as useful as a chocolate ashtray. The layout of your van is a big consideration but some child travel seats can be used to provide a suitable place for a baby to sit while being fed. This wasn’t an option for us as our van has forward facing cab seats and the child seat won’t fit at the dinette. As a lot of car seats are now part of what is termed a ‘travel system’ the child seat can be locked into a buggy frame and used in lieu of a separate buggy or stroller when going for walks. We always pack a rain cover so leaving the buggy outside in the rain wasn’t a big a problem and the buggy was at the ready when we decided to go strolling with the kids. It may not have escaped your attention that this particular solution involves bringing additional items to create space but that is sometimes a necessary trade off when space is at a premium.

Consistency whether at home or on the move is (in our opinion) important so as not to confuse your baby so feeding, naps and quiet times will need to be worked into the day (and night). Breast fed babies will require you to pack less bottles, sterilisers and feeding paraphernalia. Either way a space to feed your baby at night will be required so it will be make sense to think this one out before you embark and lay everything out for night time feeds before going to bed. Bottles present their own logistical issues but do have the potential to allow both parents a night off from feeding. As before, consistency is important and if you are already in a strange place with an altered routine it might not be the best time for a sleepy eyed Dad to try his first night feed. Introduce any changes like this before going away to try and maintain as much familiarity as possible. A bit of give and take is necessary on every holiday so maybe planning a couple of outings where one parent can bring older siblings to the beach or an attraction while the other gets to catch up on a midday nap with baby might be a better compromise.


Motorhome arrangements for sleeping babies

If you want to relax on holidays (or any day for that matter) sleep is of primary importance, You will probably have different sleep times to the baby so you will need a suitable bed to accommodate sleep times. As this will presumably be in the motorhome and baby might need to sleep from about 7 in the evening this makes it difficult to stay inside after baby goes down for the night – especially if you have a number of older, louder children. So it might be necessary to find ways to comfortably spend time outdoors after the baby goes to sleep.

This year we used a system of getting the kids ready for bed when Juliette was being settled. Then, fleeces on, the kids would sit outside with us at the main table and use up their screen time watching videos on YouTube or Netflix or playing Minecraft until it was time for bed. Having mobile internet was a life-saver this year. Of course if the weather turns bad, as it often does in Ireland, then the plan could come unstuck. This actually happened us for a couple of nights in Ballina at the start of the year. On day one the rain started to pour and continued to do so for day two. The novelty of being on holidays likely carried us for a couple of days but with poor weather forecast for the rest of the week we had a rethink and followed the good weather which was set to shine in County Waterford that week. Had there been strong winds pushing rain under the awning we would have had no option but to retreat into the van but sitting out under the awning in the pouring rain in Mayo was actually quite relaxing. Mind you, if we had to do it for a full week we might have ended up requiring treatment for extreme cabin fever.

A full rain-proof awning would be a distinct advantage. Many of the modern awnings are easy to set up using air supports rather than the traditional metal bars. Modern awnings are relatively light when compared to the more traditional canvas designs and when you take away the necessity for steel support bars are compact when properly packed for transit. The space offered by the awning can positively expansive relative to the amount of space it takes up in transit. There are also canvas awnings which offer advantages in warmer weather albeit at the expense of weight and a greater maintenance requirement. Regardless of the type of awning, having an additional room that can be shut off from the main body of the motorhome but still allow the family to relax while baby sleeps is an obvious advantage, especially if rain is forecast..

Sleeping arrangements are another major consideration. The majority of bunk beds and overcabs will have some form of netting to prevent children from rolling out of bed but we would not recommend it as nets are insufficiently high to prevent a toddler from falling out over them and if your baby is squirmy he, she or they could easily squeeze out at the side of the netting or get entangled in it. Netting has a particular design purpose and the warning stickers on motorhome bunk beds attest to this. It may be possible to fashion something for one of the low beds that would make it into a suitable cot-like bed. We did consider this for our van but it would have necessitated drilling holes in very prominent positions and wasn’t something we considered worthwhile for a single season of use. We instead elected to bring a full sized travel cot and roll it out in the dinette area. We had to sacrifice two bed spaces and it required us to pack a travel cot and additional (small mattress) but gave us piece of mind. In transit and during the day we folded the travel cot up and placed it under the dinette table where it doubled as a foot rest for the smaller kids. The mattress was placed in the overcab bed and folded away out of sight. This was workable for us because Juliette is used to sleeping in her own bed and settled (relatively) well in the travel cot.

Co-sleeping is an option for some especially if that is something that you already do and are used to. Changing sleeping patterns for a baby to accommodate different timings on holiday might be problematic and would require forethought. If your baby is used to sleeping in a separate cot and your intend co-sleeping only while on holidays I’m not sure we could recommend it and would advise that you read up on the potential dangers of co-sleeping (especially if you enjoy a drink on holiday) or even better discuss with your GP, public health nurse or a midwife for up to date guidance. There are more views on parenting than there are parents and sleeping arrangements and routine are among the most contentious issues so going with what you are comfortable and confident with is crucially important. Think it through before you go, practice, plan and have a backup plan. It doesn’t sound like much fun but a bit of military precision can take a whole lot of stress out of a situation by allowing you to almost run on autopilot.


There are advantages… right?

Now that we have thought through and mitigated any potential difficulties inherent in bringing baby along for the trip it’s time to think about the obvious advantages. The most notable advantage, and one which we mentioned earlier, is having the facilities available to stop, feed and change the baby – as well as take a welcome break yourself. We have been caught in traffic going around cities, three hours into a 5 hour drive and with crying children in the back of the car; it probably only lasted an hour but memory bias makes it feel like 50% of the holiday. With the van we have the facility to pull over and take a break, get something to eat and let everyone get out of their seats and stretch their legs. This can be done with a car too, albeit with greater difficulty as you are at the mercy of the facilities available at any given rest stop or service area. If you are staying off the motorways then the options can be even more variable but with all the necessary facilities on board the whole trip is made less stressful. Having a van comes with it’s own difficulties and doesn’t mean you won’t get stuck in a tailback but it does take a whole lot of stress out of the situation.

Added to the comfortable feeling you get from having everything you need to hand, is the feeling of knowing that everything is clean and safe for your baby. Babies have a habit of picking up anything they find on the ground for a taste. We don’t have to worry if Julliette decides to crawl around the motorhome while we are stopped. She gets a bit of stimulation and we don’t have to hover over her to make sure she doesn’t crawl through or ingest anything unsavoury.

In addition to the obvious advantages while on the road the general advantages of holidaying in a motorhome hold true. We have our second stroller, nappies, baby wipes, snacks etc all packed into the motorhome for the season. When we head away, packing and preparation time is minimal and the whole experience of getting ready to go is no different to visiting someone for the day and picking up a few days shopping before we leave. When you have a baby in-tow that’s a pretty good result.


What are you waiting for?

Taking a holiday with the family offers us a great opportunity to stress, destress and spend time together. Adding a baby to the mix often makes people skip a year until the baby is ‘old enough’ to take away. With a motorhome that isn’t necessary. With a bit of planning and and preparation you can get through most headaches as long as you remember to keep your baby and the rest of your family’s safety and wellbeing the main priority.