Travelling with a baby in a campervan

17 03 2012

We are back in Berlin, after three months of travelling in Australia and New Zealand. All made possible by the generous German parental leave laws and our gorgeous baby daughter who was three months old when we started and has now just turned 6 months. To make the trip a bit easier for her, we had split the flights from Germany to Australia with a two-day stopover in Singapore on both ways. In total we travelled about 41.000 km: 500 km by rental car and train from Berlin to Frankfurt, with a stopover in Marburg to drop off our doggy and say good bye to the grand parents. Then 10.250 km in an Airbus A380-800 to Singapore, a further 6.000 km in a Boing 777-300 to Melbourne, later 2.600 km from Melbourne to Auckland, 2.400 km in a campervan in New Zealand, 2.400 km from Christchurch back to Melbourne and 16.750 km for the return trip from Melbourne via Singapore, Frankfurt and Marburg to Berlin. 41.000 km is about the distance once around the world, so New Zealand really seems to be at the other end of the world from a German point of view (also 12 hours time difference).
Now here are a few afterthoughts about our campervan trip through New Zealand: Our rental van, a 1975 Devon camper conversion from Classic Campers, came with the standard 1600 cc boxer engine, upgraded with an electronic ignition kit. The average fuel consumption over 2400 km was 12.7 L/100km (18.5 mpg), and we needed to refill only about 0.75L of oil (20W-50). I guess these are pretty good values for such an old engine. Below is a snapshot of the little motor. Based on the VW engine letter code AE, VW built this engine into kombis only in 1971. So it seems the original motor of our 1975 bus was at some point replaced by this AE motor. Below is also a snapshot of the beautifully minimalistic dashboard of this right hand drive T2b bus.

Our campervan and our route through the North and South Island of New Zealand.

The air-cooled 1600 cc flat four boxer engine of our van (AE motor).

Minimalistic dashboard of a 1975 VW campervan.

Travelling with a baby turned out to be more challenging than we had expected. My wife and I have been travelling in a similar VW bus for eleven years, but putting a baby in the equation made everything a bit more difficult. Admittedly, this is certainly also true for our life at home in Berlin, now with a baby. In the bus it took us some days to develop our daily routines around the little one. The driving itself was good when we timed our start with the end of her first playing phase and the beginning of her first nap. The baby capsule we got from Classic Campers was attached to the back bench via a base fixed with a 2-point-safety belt and worked well. Travelling with the baby just meant later starts in the morning, more breaks along the way for playing and feeding, and occasionally one of us travelling in the back to entertain her during longer drives. Obviously there is no separate bed room where we could put her asleep in the evening. We solved this after a few days by placing her bed onto the central kitchen block and securing it with elastic straps to the ceiling. We then built a tent-like structure around it, either from two large towels or an extra blanket, which provided her with some darkness while we had the rest of the evening for ourselves.

Baby bed on kitchen block, fixed to the roof.

Baby bed wrapped up in mosquito netting and with towels arranged around it to keep the light out in the evening.

In retrospect, a wider bed would have been nice because the mornings usually started with the little one waking up early and having some play time with us in bed. In this particular campervan conversion, the bed was narrowed by the sink unit. The next project with Taiga Lily, our bus in Berlin, will be to fit in a similar rock-and-roll bench/bed combination and I will make sure it will span the complete width of the bus. Now it is time to get back to everyday life in Berlin – with getting back to work next Monday (though only part time till our daughter will be one, in September), and with getting back to our bus, Taiga Lily, and the next steps towards making her a functional camping vehicle.