Like many new mothers, I had visions, dreams and expectations related to life with my new baby. Maybe unlike a lot of new mothers, I wondered what van life would be like with a baby. I wondered what my climbing and athletic goals would look like as a mom.
Well it’s been about a year as a family of three and we have taken a bunch of van trips with Ari starting when he was just one month old. And while I think van life with a baby definitely has to be easier than tent life with a baby, it’s certainly not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s not like those beautiful photos that come across my instagram feed that scream, ‘my life is rad.’. It’s not always quiet and peaceful. And things often don’t go as planned. But it is always memorable and it is always worth it.
So after some trial and error (and things are far from perfect and dialed), I thought I might share some tips and thoughts.
Go early but be easy on your body and emotional state
Climbing is our sport of choice and while I always knew that climbing was a rather involved and slow sport, that has become readily apparent since becoming parents. Obviously babies don’t have the attention span to chill at the base of the cliff while mom and dad climb, but when they are still super little they tend to sleep anywhere. That means they can easily nap at the crag, while mom and dad climb. Unfortunately, during these first couple months, moms are often still recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. I certainly underestimated the physical toll that it all took on my body. With an emergency cesarean, a diastasis recti, postpartum pre-eclampsia, and growing a tiny human for nine months, my body had been through a lot to say the least. In hindsight, I should have been easier on my body and gentler on my mind. There seems to be a lot of pressure for woman to return to “normal” very quickly after giving birth. I think there is something to be said for easing into normal and allowing the mind and body to rest. I sure could have benefited from that mindset but its hard to recognize those thoughts in the moment.
Sleep train for van life
Sleep training is such a controversial subject among parents but for us it was a necessary obstacle since Jonathon and I both work full time and really value our sleep. I took a trip to Indian Creek with Ari and some girlfriends when he was about 6 months and that’s when I learned, that he didn’t like to sleep in the van despite being able to sleep through the night at home in his crib. After several more van trips where Ari didn’t sleep, we decided we needed to “sleep train” for the van.
We have a Phil and Ted pack’n’play that fits in the floor space of our van. It is also super lightweight and compact so it can be strapped to a backpack to take to the crag or fit in a duffel to check on a flight. So while at home, we had Ari sleep in his pack’n’play for naps and overnights at times. We even had him practice in the van while parked in our friends driveway (it was perfect temperatures and we had the baby monitor). We brought our portable sound machine for the van and also set up the baby monitor so we could check on him without opening the doors. We made sure that we had all our stuff ready for bed and out of the van and tried to very quietly enter the van when it was time for us to go to bed.
Finally we got desperate and decided that I should sleep outside in a tent. Yes, I did set up a tent next to the van! Some folks suggested that maybe he could smell me or sense that I am there and that was why he wasn’t sleeping. And on those nights, Ari finally slept in the van with his daddy!
Find them a space and build them a seat
When we started our build out of the van several years ago, we knew we wanted to include a car seat compatible back seat as we were pretty sure we wanted to expand our family to three. So we had the folks at New Image Vans (not sure they exit anymore) build a customized back seat. This seat doesn’t fit the base of the car seat but the car seat straps down with a lap belt seatbelt which works just as well. The seat even folds flat to create a mini bed for when Ari is older. We can only hope that he is the type of kid that doesn’t move around much in his sleep as there are no side rails on it.
I also allotted small spaces in the van for Ari’s clothes, toys and diapers so that we can try and stay organized while on the road. And it turns out our kitchen counter also works as a changing table! Who woulda thought!
After having a baby, we knew that we wanted to continue our outdoorsy and active lifestyle and we thought having a van would make that lifestyle a little easier with a baby on board. While its all still a work in progress and I’m sure things will change as Ari grows older, we are feel pretty fortunate to have our van and it definitely makes road-tripping a little easier for us.
Check out this video that Jonathon made that highlights our mobile crib!