Micro Camper Van Holidays With A Toddler And Dog

Riverside Lakes Campsite In Dorset

As we were having a great and unexpected ‘Indian Summer’ I took the opportunity to spend four nights with my two year-old and our lovely dog Lucky on our first solo campervanning trip. It was just the three of us and this blog should hopefully be a helpful guide and confidence boost for anyone planning something similar!

I thought very carefully about the campervan set-up and our destination. For me the priorities were:

Destination

Within 2 hours drive, relaxed and safe campsite, quiet but with some features to entertain my daughter, and any campsite we chose had to be Lucky (dog) friendly.

I found the campsite following a bit of online research and liked that it said ‘It’s a chilled out campsite with the intention of allowing nice respectful people a chance to enjoy a relaxing experience within a natural setting. We do not want large groups of screaming kids or drunken louts, just people that like to enjoy the great outdoors experience where you can have a chat around a real fire’.

I do look at what campsites say about themselves, but some of the loveliest campsites don’t have the best websites and marketing. I do read online reviews but more for guidance than as gospel. I read between the lines as campsites are a very personal choice and one person’s idea of heaven on earth may not be someone else’s cup of tea. So the odd critical review from, eg, someone who clearly wanted to be noisier than the campsite owners were prepared to accept, is not a bad thing if peace and quiet is one of your priorities.

There’s no right answer, just lots of different options out there.Think about what you or your children will enjoy and select a campsite that you feel reflects that.

Van

We have a small Mitsubishi Delica L400 which is plenty big enough for me, my toddler and Lucky to sleep in but I also took along a small easy to pitch tent, which I set up next to the van.

Note here that the tent we took is ‘Easy to pitch’ and to take down I cannot stress enough that toddlers and tent pitching are not happy companions (though this may change once we can get her to help) Minimise stress by practicing taking the tent up and down in the garden before you use it for the first time.

Don’t forget to pack it sensibly in the van, it’s no good packing the tent under all the things you want to store in it!

The tent was there mainly as a place to store the various toddler-related items so they didn’t clutter up our small living space in the van. So we used it to store the car seat, a whole suitcase full of clothes, the buggy, toys as well as kitchen pots and pans.

The suitcase did seem a bit of a space extravagance but being able to bring along lots of changes of clothes made for a far more relaxing break!

We could have stored all of these items on the front seats and foot-wells if we hadn’t had the tent with us.

The Essentials

A lot of campervanning trips ago I realised that having comfortable camping chairs, a table to eat at outside and a waterproof camping rug to play on even when the grass is wet are ‘family camping essentials’.

These were all stored in the tent at night which meant they didn’t get drenched with dew during the night – this is a bit of an issue with later season camping and so we would have stored these items in the van at night if we hadn’t had the tent with us.

If the forecast had been for rain, a drive away awning might have been more useful than a tent, as it would have really extended the living space. But as the weather was really sunny all weekend, we were constantly outside, so this would have been an unnecessary extra.

Here’s the lowdown:

Which van?

We were in a very small campervan, my Mitsubishi Delica L400. We slept in the van at night and also used it as a chill-out space during the day for an hour or two. I did all our cooking on the hob in the van.

Despite the sun, the nights were cold and the gas airblow heater came in very handy to keep us warm and cosy all night.

Where?

We visited Riverside Lakes campsite, near Wimborne Minster in Dorset.

This campsite is set out around a series of picturesque lakes. The pitches are far apart and campfires are allowed. There are by design, minimal facilities – basically a shower / toilet block, and kitchen blocks. But these are well looked after and resourced. There are some lovely mini horses and kune kune pigs at the centre of the campsite.

Because of the emphasis on giving people their own space, the distances between things you might want or need to do – camping, toilet block, mini horses, rope swing etc, can be quite far for small legs. We used our buggy a lot around the campsite and this was fine.

The owners are friendly and obviously very attentive to the needs of their customers but they are not there to please everyone. It was clear from the website and also from various signs around the campsite, that Riverside Lakes is extremely quiet and peaceful but that this is maintained by the owners having quite a few rules, and zero tolerance of any behaviour that could impinge on other guests’ quiet enjoyment. This was borne out in our stay – think of Riverside Lakes as an iron fist in a velvet glove. Absolutely perfect if you want total peace and quiet and to be rest assured that someone else will take care of this. Not so perfect if you and your family’s idea of fun is more noisy and rowdy, if your children love to run around screaming loudly.

Best toddler bits

The campsite was extremely relaxing so the days were focused on playing and having fun together outside. There were other little ones around to interact with occasionally through the day.

An ice-cream van does the rounds of the campsite once a day. Definitely a high-point!

Best me bits

‘We had an absolutely lovely time, I found camping with my energetic and funny toddler an absolute joy, it was fantastic ‘us’ time and we got into a pace that suited us both very quickly. Being away from home we just relaxed into each other’s’ company. It’s definitely something I will repeat.’

Best Lucky bits

How did lucky do? Lucky was welcomed by the owners and although she was supposed to be kept on the lead all of the time at the campsite, there was another dog opposite us for two days that she enjoyed chasing around but we had to be careful not to annoy the neighbours.

And finally…

Before I left for my first solo campervan trip with my two year old and dog I did wonder if I was taking on too much, that it would be so much work and we would be really restricted about what we could do. But I found the opposite. I went with no expectations or agenda, and decided in advance that I was quite happy to spend 4 days at toddler pace.

Only having the three of us to please in such a peaceful and beautiful place was really easy, there were no toddler tantrums, no barking dogs, no seriously stressed working mum. Instead, just a mum, her daughter and their dog having fun in the sun.

I did wonder in general if perhaps we should have chosen a campsite with slightly less emphasis on peacefulness. But as far as I am aware, no-one complained about any of us spoiling their peace and quiet. I would definitely visit this campsite again for a couple of nights and would encourage anyone who likes a fairly wild setting with minimal but very well maintained facilities and a zero tolerance policy of noisy disruptive behaviour, to do the same.

I have no idea what our next campervanning adventure will bring but if you’d like to read more about it, keep an eye on our facebook page and we’ll let you know when.


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