Posted: 6/3/2021 | June 3rd, 2021
I don’t have much RV experience — and I definitely don’t have any experience RVing with kids. But, this summer, with many people are planning domestic vacations instead of traveling abroad, RV travel is going to be even bigger than last year.
To help those of you with kids plan an epic domestic trip, I’ve asked Karen from The MOM Trotter to share her tips and advice. She’s been traveling in an RV with her family for almost two years and knows exactly how to make the most of a family RV trip!
RVing with kids is a great way to create lasting family memories. From the excitement of seeing new things to the joy of the simple pleasures like stopping for ice cream or seeing that odd attraction that you stumbled upon, it always makes life more fun.
My family and I took a trip in November of 2019 that introduced us to the world of RVing. We rented one from Outdoorsy and set off on a two-week adventure, visiting all five national parks in Utah, state parks and monuments in Arizona and Nevada, and Joshua Tree National Park in California. We fell in love with RVing after this trip — and a few months after that, we sold our home in California and purchased our very own RV.
This kind of travel requires some forethought, however. You can’t just hop into your vehicle and hit the road. You’ll need to plan, get and stay organized, establish boundaries and ground rules, and generally be prepared for anything the road might throw at you. While that all might sound daunting, it’s quite similar to planning for any other trip in a lot of ways.
That being said, it will not always be smooth sailing. You’ll have bumps in the road — both literally and figuratively. However, it is one of the best adventures you’ll get to have as a family.
These tips will help you prepare for the journey as best as possible, allowing you to focus more on fun and less on roadblocks.
1. Find the Right RV
There are so many different types of RVs, from those you can drive to those that need to be pulled with a truck. If you don’t own one, research the size and type of RV that will match your family’s needs.
When renting an RV or even buying one, it is important that you check how many people it can sleep. When we rented our first RV, I was planning a trip for six people — two adults and four young ones — so I found one with a bunk room so that the kids would have enough space to sleep and feel comfortable.
We love to cook, so finding an RV with a decent-sized kitchen was also high on our list. It’s good to look for one with a spacious living room and dining area as well, but keep in mind that you’ll be spending lots of time outside, so indoor space might not matter as much as you might expect.
RVLove has tons of resources for helping you learn more about what RV is best for you, your family, and your budget.
2. Set Expectations
It’s important to set expectations for your upcoming trip. The kids need to know what’s expected of them and all the ground rules, so they have some sort of structure while on the road.
Talk about the rules for electronics, other devices, and screen time; who will be responsible for what chores; and how much help you expect with setting up and taking down your camp. It’s also important to explain campground etiquette to your children if they’ve never been camping before. With your neighbors so close, making excessive noise and running amok — especially on other people’s RV plots — is frowned upon. Everyone in an RV park has a limited amount of space. It’s important that your kids don’t sprawl into other travelers’ territory.
3. Clearly Define Personal Space
RVing with kids means addressing and respecting personal space, as RVs are quite small.
Before your trip, you should discuss where each person will be sleeping, and emphasize that every member of the family should respect that space when it’s time to go to sleep.
You can also set rules about bathroom time: most have only one bathroom, so setting up some sort of schedule so that everybody gets equal time will help a lot. Defining personal space also includes letting the children know who gets to use the bathroom first in the mornings, as well as reminding them to always knock before entering any space in the RV.
If the RV park you are visiting allows for tent camping, consider allowing your older ones, such as teenagers, to pitch a tent outside, as they may enjoy it even more.
4. Get (and Stay) Organized
When it comes to children, organization is key no matter where you are. This is especially true when it comes to RVing.
There’s a finite amount of space in an RV, no matter how large it is, so it’s critical to create spaces for the kids to store their toys, books, devices, and the like. Make sure they know that their items should always be put back in those places when not in use. Otherwise, your space can get cluttered very quickly. Set up a cleaning/tidying schedule so that everyone gets into the habit of keeping the space organized.
Another way of staying organized is by setting a daily schedule that kids can see and follow, so they know what to expect and when to expect it. For example, having a menu will give them an idea of what’s for dinner and breakfast so that they can start to understand the routine.
RVing is about freedom and fun, but in the midst of it all, whenever possible, stick to the routines that you have at home like bedtimes, nap times, and mealtimes.
5. Set a Cleaning Schedule
We all know how quickly a home can get out of control when it’s full of children. Now imagine that happening in an RV. Things can go bad really fast.
Set up a cleaning schedule for both yourself and the kids. This is a great way to teach them about the RV itself while instilling a sense of helpfulness and a strong work ethic.
Older children can and should be part of the regular cleaning process too. It saves you some work and teaches them the value of helping the family. If they are old enough, they can help with things like emptying the gray water tanks, adding chemicals to the freshwater, and other RV-related upkeep tasks.
6. Map Out Your Stops
While RVing gives you a certain amount of freedom, it does come with caveats. Unless you’re traveling in a conversion van, even the smallest RV is pretty big. So before your trip, research places that make for convenient stops for your rig.
Truck stops, gas stations, and even Walmart parking lots are all great places to stop for a rest, enjoy a meal, fill up on gas, and maybe pick up any essentials that might have fallen through the cracks during your packing.
Mapping out stops helps a lot. Knowing where you plan on stopping for gas, for food, and to park overnight gives you peace of mind for the rest of the trip. With the essentials handled, you can plan accordingly and relax.
Planning regular stops for food and gas can also help if a problem arises. One time, we had a flat tire in a small city on a Friday evening and couldn’t go anywhere until Monday morning because there wasn’t any open tire shop near us. If we had planned our stop in a more accessible area, we could have avoided this situation. (Of course, not all situations like this are avoidable, but the better you plan the less hiccups you will encounter).
This is also important while traveling as a Black family because we need to make sure we don’t end up in the wrong city at the wrong time of the night.
7. Choose the Right RV Park
One of the most important things about RVing as a family is choosing the right RV park. If you’re all about spending time in nature, then you’ll want to choose a state or RV park located close to nature, with lots of trees and hiking trails nearby. If you’d rather enjoy a more glamping-type experience, then pick one with amenities like a pool, a lazy river, a playground, Wi-Fi, etc. (One of my son’s favorites, in Galveston, Texas, has all of that plus a water park and weekly kids’ activities.)
We’ve had the opportunity to experience both types of RV parks and loved them equally. Neither is better than the other — it just depends on what you’re looking for. Call ahead to a few to find out which are best suited to your family size and your travel needs.
Additionally, here’s a list of some of our favorite family-friendly parks.
8. Shorter Travel Days are Best
The thrill of the open road is something that calls to the entire family, but it might call a little more strongly to the adults. Kids — especially younger children — need time to relax. Remember, to a child, sitting in one place for hours on end can be downright exhausting.
Make sure to keep travel times to around 5 or 6 hours if you have older ones and as little as 3 to 4 if you have toddlers. Try to travel during nap times, as that’ll help them not get anxious about the long drive.
If you do drive for long stretches, make sure to have plenty of snacks and activities to keep your kids busy. It’ll be easier on you too.
9. Keep Snacks and Finger Foods Handy
The easiest way to keep children entertained during long drives is to offer them as many snacks as you can. You’ll be surprised to find out that your kids will want snacks so much more than normal on long road trips.
So bring along prepackaged or store-bought snacks and water bottles or juice boxes that they can keep nearby to limit the temptation for them to get up and roam around the RV while you’re cruising down the interstate.
10. Take a Day Off
One of the most fun things you can do when RVing is taking a day off from driving. Of course, you have to reach that final destination, but don’t forget to stop and smell the roses along the way. Nothing beats a day of just hanging out with the family and seeing what an area has to offer.
On our first RV trip, we had almost no days off, as we wanted to see everything in the short time that we had. Because of this, we were so tired after our trip.
Now that we are slow traveling, we plan for lots of days off, when we can just relax by the fire and unwind.
11. Pack Some Entertainment
Board games are a great way to bond as a family, and they’re an excellent source of entertainment. They provide lots of family time, promote togetherness, and are the perfect entertainment platform for the slower pace of an RV road trip.
But kids need variety, especially when playing on their own. In addition to any tablets they might have, think about packing things like coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, and, if your camper has a DVD or Blu-Ray player, their favorite movies.
12. Create an Outdoor Playspace
Once you’re all settled in at a stop, set the kids up with an outdoor playspace. All you need is some sort of waterproof mat that you can unroll to create an area that’s perfect for building blocks, toys, and other fun.
If you’re traveling with toddlers or babies, bring along a baby gate or two or even a collapsible playpen. These are excellent for keeping young children safe while outdoors by the campfire or keeping them out of potentially dangerous areas inside your RV.
13. Safety First
If you’re camping, be sure that they understand the boundaries of the camp and where they can go unattended, if at all.
In addition, it’s important to talk about safety if you plan to hike in any national park. Be sure the young ones understand the importance of paying attention to their surroundings, giving local wildlife plenty of space, and respecting nature. Make sure you have a well-stocked first-aid kit in your RV too. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
From planning to packing and sightseeing safety, these tips for RVing with kids will help keep your trip on the straight and narrow, so you can focus on fun.
One of the biggest keys to having a successful journey is to accept that things won’t go perfectly or smoothly at all times. Children are a constant wild card. They might be crabby out of nowhere; they might get a small owie and freak out — it could be anything. However, all of these things will pass, and in the grand scheme of things, they’ll only be a small part of the whole picture.
But, with these tips, you’ll be able to ensure a relatively smooth trip that builds family memories and togetherness and is full of adventure and fun.
Karen Akpan runs The MOM Trotter blog, a website dedicated to inspiring and encouraging parents to show their children the world. She is also the founder of Black Kids Do Travel which was created to bring about diversity in travel and bridge the travel gap by sharing black travel stories. Her goal is to raise global citizens who are open and accepting of everyone. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Want to Travel for Free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Need Help Finding Activities for Your Trip?
Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace where you can find cool walking tours, fun excursions, skip-the-line tickets, private guides, and more.
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.