*Thanks to JUCY campers for helping Matt, Emily and I make this road trip possible. Find out more at www.jucyusa.com and follow them on social media @JUCYworld.
Roadtripping with a baby in California…in a campervan. It might not be everyone’s idea of fun, but if you plan it right it’s the best way to explore and a fantastic way for kids to enjoy the outdoors. We’ve done a lot of road trips over the years; our last one with JUCY was back in 2013 in Australia and New Zealand. This trip was a bit different as we now have Emily who is 20 months old. Planning involved choosing shorter drives with more stops and campgrounds with good facilities. We chose to hire a campervan with JUCY as we had used them before and loved the compact size of their vans.
One thing that I love about JUCY is that they provide everything you could possibly need to camp very comfortably. Pillows, duvets, bed linen and towels are all included as is kitchen utensils, crockery, cutlery and the kitchen sink. Not all camper companies provide all of this. For an extra charge you can hire camping chairs, sat nav, car seats and add-on mileage packages.
The trip didn’t get off to a great start, after landing in San Francisco I received a text from our airline to say our car seat hadn’t made it on our flight. Not good for a road trip! After the initial stress we hatched a plan, rather than wait for it to arrive which would ruin the beginning of our adventure we chose to hire one with JUCY. We found a taxi company who provided car seats to get us to the Jucy branch in Oakland and on arrival explained our problem. The lovely JUCY crew were so accommodating and had so many seats to choose from. At $40 for our whole 19-day trip it was a bargain.
The JUCY Trailblazer Van:
So let me tell you more about our van. We hired the JUCY Trailblazer, its compact size is perfect for winding national park roads and means you can park up anywhere and fit into pretty much any campground you fancy. This seems to be quite a unique concept for America as it’s all about the huge RVs that are the size of buses! We loved the size of this van, it was comfortable to drive and didn’t feel too big. The Trailblazer sleeps four, two in the roof and two in the main part of the camper. Inside the two bench seats convert into a bed and in the floor there is tons of storage space plus a table for use inside the van. The roof pops up with the turn of a handle or with the push of a button and reveals the comfiest double bed with canvas sides. The kitchen is at the back in the boot and comes complete with cupboard space, a chiller, sink and two gas stoves. There is everything you need from cutlery, to pots and pans, crockery and most importantly a kettle for a cuppa and a bottle opener for beer! I should mention the campers also come with DVD players. Emily and I slept in the main part of the van while Matt had the roof ‘penthouse’ all to himself. This set up worked well and it meant that there was plenty of space for Emily to move around in her sleep!
Useful tips and tricks:
Pick up your van and head straight to a supermarket to stock up on essentials, food, water, baby food, alcohol, (definitely an essential when camping with a toddler!) etc. We found this really useful to do before we set off, that way we knew we had all our supplies with us.
Hire a car seat or take your own, if we hadn’t needed ours for the car journey to and from the airport in the UK I would definitely have just hired it through Jucy.
Be sure to have a good supply of water with you as a lot of campgrounds, especially national park ones don’t have water on site. There are no on site stores either so it’s a good idea to take everything you’ll need with you. If you camp at a private campground that’s not owned by the National Park Service they will often have a camp shop with a few basic supplies.
We booked our campsites in advance but you can often turn up and enquire about availability. Some campgrounds only offer walk up sites while others have to be booked months in advance as they are so popular.
Be flexible, if you don’t have fixed dates, book campgrounds as you go along. Although now we have Emily we prefer to pre-book, but it’s sometimes fun to change plans and head somewhere different. Our plans altered slightly due to the wildfires in California
I would definitely recommend getting to campgrounds early in the afternoon to get set up and organised. On a few nights we were racing against the light and nearing Emily’s dinner time so it was sometimes a bit stressful. I struggled to get used to living with Emily in such a small space for the first few days but once we got organised and into a little routine it all worked out perfectly. She had so much fun checking out her new little home and loved exploring the penthouse.
Cooking was really easy, Emily enjoys a lot of finger food so we could whip up a little buffet style meal for her straight from the chiller or use the camping stove to heat up something warm. The kettle came in handy to boil water to heat through her bottles and she loved eating at the bench by the campfire.
We factored in our drives along our route to fit around Emily’s daily nap, which worked out really well.
We tried to pack as minimally as we could due to space restrictions in the van, it was made a little bit harder by having to pack for colder conditions in northern California as well as for the sunnier part of our trip further down the coast. Plenty of private campgrounds do have washing machines so if you pack lightly you should be able to find laundry facilities at some point on your trip.
Some things I couldn’t live without when camping are:
Anti-bac wipes, tea bags, washing up liquid, sponge; snacks for Emily and nappies are all on my essential packing list. I love to have a few things with me before I arrive. Knowing I’ve got tea bags for a decent cuppa is always high on my packing list!
A torch or led lights are perfect for campfire cooking and going to and from the toilet block in the middle of the night.
Zip lock bags are great for storing perishables on the road.
A portable charger for your phone is always a good thing to have. There were USB ports in our Jucy van so we were able to charge phones on the road.
Our favourite campgrounds:
Morro Strand State Beach Bay: Right on the beach, the facilities are basic and there are no showers but it’s worth it for the views and beach access. Pitches have a fire pit and bench. We had a pitch overlooking the beach, I loved lying in bed listening to the ocean.
Carpinteria State Beach: A really nice, clean campsite by the beach, walking distance to a few local shops and a lovely spot for building sand castles.
Lake Jennings Campground: Around 30 minutes east of San Diego this is a gorgeous campground overlooking the lake. Popular with fishermen it’s a quiet spot. Sites have a bench and fire pit, we chose a really lovely one with fantastic views of the water. Don’t expect much from the toilet and shower block as it was pretty basic but they were clean and tidy. The campground also has a play park.
A campervan is perfect for a road trip, choose your route, stop for a cuppa along the way and park up for the night at beach campground. It’s really easy to do with a baby too, it just involves a little bit more planning and organisation. We soon got the hang of it and enjoyed exploring at a slower pace than before we had Emily. There’s nothing quite like having the freedom to explore in a very cool van with everything you could possibly need to have an awesome adventure!
Do you camp or go on road trips with your kids? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear all about your adventures…