Travelling with kids in an RV can be a very different experience to travelling as a couple or with other adults. Of course there are a range of practical issues to consider – but beyond this, there are social and comfort issues to think about. Whether you are living in an RV, considering the switch to full-time family RV life, or planning a family RV vacation, these tips for travelling with kids in an RV should help you navigate all the issues, make the most of your time and resources, and avoid the most common pitfalls.
The Joys (and Woes) of Travelling With Kids in an RV
The main challenges of travelling with kids in an RV can be varied, but often include:
- Space and storage issues.
- Mess and chaos. (Especially with younger kids not good at putting toys away.)
- Boredom (which can lead to bad behaviour)
- Travel sickness (kids can be more prone to motion sickness)
- Expense (in energy, water and in financial terms)
- Meeting kids’ educational needs (especially if living in an RV full time)
Fortunately, each of these challenges can be overcome. You will find plenty of tips to help you do so below.
What is more, the joys of travelling with younger members of your family in an RV far outweigh the woes. Some of the great things about RV travel with kids are:
- The fact that they see the world through new, less jaded eyes. (RV travel can be a great way to see the wonders of the world, and seeing them with young kids can help grown ups to see them afresh.)
Seeing something – like the Grand Canyon – for the first time is amazing. Parents can re-live those experiences seeing things anew through their kids’ eyes.
- The chance to spend time with your kids without endless distractions. (RV travel and RV vacations mean plenty of family bonding time.)
- The opportunity to actually be around to watch your kids grow and thrive. (Without the pressures of work or mundane chores to distract you.)
- While there are plenty of things to teach your kids when on an RV adventure, there are plenty of things they can teach you too. Learning experiences for all abound when you are heading to new and exciting places.
- RV travel can also make it easier to instil a positive world view, ethics and morality in your kids, which can, in turn, help you have hope for the future, as you see what an amazing person your little monster is becoming.
Why an RV Lifestyle is So Good for Kids
In addition to being good for parents, living an RV lifestyle (whether full time, or on vacations) can be really good for kids too. There are plenty of ways in which an RV lifestyle can be good for kids.
RV Travel Makes Kids Happier
Kids are happier when they spend time outdoors, in the natural world. An RV vacation can be the perfect chance to let kids be kids.
Unfortunately, mental illness is becoming more and more prevalent in young people. For many, this world is an increasingly anxious, unhappy and lonely place. The global environment is such that anger is on the rise and often it can seem that empathy is in decline. Broadly speaking, we are ever-more seeing the psychological stress that comes from a feeling of lack of control in the face of instability and uncertainty. Worldwide, an estimated 700 million people suffer from a mental disorder.
While not all data agrees that there is up up-tick in mental illness, there is significant evidence to suggest that young people are those most profoundly affected. A number of studies have shown that teenagers have experienced much more of a rise in depression and other mental health problems than the general population.
Spending time outside, surrounded by nature, has been proven in a range of scientific studies to have profoundly positive psychological effects on those of all ages. Green spaces make us happier and calmer, boosting the ‘feel good’ hormones in our brains. What is more, there are even bacteria in the soil which can boost seratonin levels – so digging the dirt can be good for us all.
Travel in an RV is a great way to get closer to nature, and to immerse ourselves and our children in the healing power of the natural world. What is more, by taking us away from many of the major stress triggers of daily life, and allowing us to spend more quality time as a family, RV travel can make kids calmer and happier.
RV Travel Makes Kids Healthier
Of course, improving mental well-being has a considerable knock on effect on general health. RV travel can make kids healthier in body as well as in mind.
We are facing an obesity crisis of epic proportions. More and more children are not getting the exercise they need to stay happy and healthy. RV travel can help you make sure that you and your children are not amongst those who neglect the importance of exercise – and learn to love energetic pursuits. By freeing yourself and your family from the gym and heading out instead to enjoy the natural playground of the great outdoors, you can help make sure that your kids get the best start in life, and form healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
RV Travel Helps Kids Learn:
Rving can be a wonderfully fun and exciting activity for the whole family, but it can also be an educational experience. Kids can learn a lot from a camping holiday, not just about the natural world around them but also about themselves and how they interact with the world. Here are five lessons all parents should concentrate on teaching their kids when travelling with them in an RV:
Care For Our Planet
Our planet is in peril and the only hope is for everyone to get on board with a greener and more ethical and eco-friendly way of life. It is vital that the next generations learn to treat our planet better, and care for the planet begins with an appreciation of its many wonders. By sharing the joys of the natural world with your kids, and teaching them to respect it, you can make them into conscientious citizens of the future.
Never before has it been so vitally important to raise future citizens of our planet who understand that it is their role to protect rather than to consume. Low-impact RV travel can be a wonderful way to get close to the natural world, to appreciate its beauty and to learn what we as humans can do to protect it for ourselves and for future generations.
Kindness and Consideration
Have you ever been surprised on a campground by the rudeness and lack of courtesy on display? Late night noise, early morning awakenings and rowdiness are often part and parcel of a trip to a family campground. But you can use this as an opportunity to teach your children more about consideration, and having a thought for others around you. Family campsites are also often a great place to meet like-minded people – a little kindness can go a long way, so parents should lead by example. How about helping another family set up camp? Or inviting some neighbours on site to share your picnic or barbecue? You might all just make some new friends along the way.
Co-operation & Teamwork
The family who camps together learns to work as a team. From pitching a tent or setting up camp, to collecting firewood or cooking camp meals together, camping can make co-operation and teamwork a central part of the experience and teach your children valuable skills that will come in handy throughout their lives.
Teamwork makes the dream work… family camping is all about teamwork and co-operation, whether you are in a tent or your RV.
RV camping destinations are also the perfect environment in which to instil some self-reliance in your children. Many children today rely too much on their parents to do almost everything for them. It can be difficult in daily life the freedoms that we may have had as kids. But on a safe, secure campground, it can be easier to loosen the apron strings a little. Let kids learn how to make a campfire, for example, or explore a little on their own. These are the first, small steps towards independence.
Practical skills like making a fire or camp cooking, putting up a tent or reading a map can also be excellent things to teach your kids, and an RV adventure is the perfect time to teach these things. Having a range of practical skills will stand kids in good stead as they grow.
Less Is More
In our modern, consumerist society, it is easy for kids to just want, want, want. All around them are inducements to buy, buy, buy… but camping in an RV can be a chance to get away from all that and to teach your kids about the joys of living simply – and about how little we actually need to be happy and content. Moving towards a zero waste lifestyle in an RV is a great goal for families travelling in an RV.
How to Relax
RV travel can be a rewarding experience for the whole family. Life is not just about learning – it is about fun and relaxation too. Getting away from it all in a beautiful, natural setting can help you show your kids, by example, how to relax and unwind – an increasingly important skill in our modern world.
What NOT To Do When Travelling With Kids in an RV
Here are a few general tips on what not to do when travelling with kids in an RV, to help you avoid some of the most common pitfalls on your next adventure:
Don’t Let The Kids Rule the Roost (But Don’t Dictate Everything Either)
One of the common mistakes that parents tend to make when travelling with kids is making it so the whole experience revolves around them and their needs. While of course you want your kids to have a great time, the very best family vacations and adventures are the ones that allow the adults to have a great time too. Parents should remember to also think about their own wants and needs. Try to choose camping destinations and activities that everyone can enjoy. Communicate as a family, take everyone’s thoughts into consideration and try to choose options that allows everyone – kids and adults alike – to get their way.
Don’t Bring Everything Including the Kitchen Sink
Kids do often come with a lot of paraphernalia. Those with young children will know that it is nearly impossible to pack light. That said, when packing for a family RV vacation, or planning what to include when downsizing your life to fit full-time RV living, it is important not to get carried away. Remember, the more stuff you have with you, the longer it will take to set up camp, and to pack everything away at the end of your stay and the more cluttered things will be along the way. Be prepared for different eventualities but don’t bring everything including the kitchen sink. Make a list and keep things as simple as possible.
Don’t Forget The Essentials
Making a list will make it easier to make sure that you have the essentials on hand when you need them, and remaining organised will help you find them when you need them while you are away. Don’t forget essential items such as, water, food, clothing, cooking gear, plates and utensils… make sure you have all the basics before you think about adding any extra items to your list.
Don’t Wing It And Just Turn Up At A Campground This Summer
In summer, space in some places can be limited – and can end up feeling more like a car park than a campground! Plan ahead.
Spontaneity and RV vacations with kids usually just don’t mix. Don’t forget that family-friendly campsites will often fill up quickly when the kids are off school, so book well ahead of time to avoid disappointment and don’t try to just wing it and turn up in hopes of getting a spot. Long, hot journeys will not end well if you have to find an alternative place to stay at short notice.
Don’t Keep Kids Too Close (But Do Keep an Eye On Them)
RV camping adventures offer the perfect opportunity to give your kids a taste of freedom. Many family-friendly campgrounds offer the opportunity for kids to have some adult-free time with other children. Cut those apron strings and don’t hover over your children all the time – it is important to give them some freedom and space. Do keep an eye however, and make sure your kids are safe, hydrated and protected from the sun when they are running around a campsite.
Now we have considered the basics, and looked at the broad picture of travelling with kids in an RV, lets take a more detailed look at the different stages and considerations of an RV family adventure:
Tips for Keeping Kids Happy While Driving
The drive to reach your destination can often be the most fraught part of travelling in an RV with kids, especially if they are very young. To keep things going smoothly you should:
- Take regular bathroom and rest stops.
- Make sure you have plenty of water accessible during the drive.
(Eco-friendly water bottles can help keep everyone hydrated.)
- Keep snacks on hand.
(Healthier snacks could include things like fresh or dried fruit, fruit or vegetable chips, home-made fruit roll-ups, trail mix with nuts and seeds etc…)
- Bring along books, magazines or other entertainment to keep them occupied and entertained on the road. (If you decide to bring ‘screens’ along – make sure that you have the ability to keep them charged on long journeys.)
- Play games as you drive.
(For example, you could play ‘I spy’ or other spotting games, counting games, ‘would you rather…?’ or word games.)
- Have a family sing-along as you drive.
(There are plenty of fun, family-friendly travel songs to choose from, whether you listen to the music or just make the music yourselves.)
- Make up a family story.
(Everyone can take turns adding a word or a sentence as you drive along.)
Tips for Keeping Kids Happy on Site in an RV
One of the first things to bear in mind is that it is very important for kids to know where they are. You might be surprised by how many kids on camping trips don’t have a clue where their parents have brought them. Looking at maps and surveying the surroundings can help them understand the location, and help them to get to grips with what exciting things there might be to see and do there.
It can also be a good idea to involve kids with general jobs around your RV. As you set up site, gently encouraging kids to help can be a teaching opportunity, and could give them important skills for their futures. Get them to help not only with RV jobs, but also with general jobs like fetching water, fetching firewood, starting a fire perhaps, cooking etc… Be sure to make these things fun, so they don’t feel like just a whole bunch of chores.
Once you have set up camp, keeping kids entertained should be a priority. As mentioned above, it is important to give them some agency and freedom. However, it is also important to find things that you can all enjoy doing together. Here are some ideas:
Exploring Nature at an RV Destination:
Nature hikes can take you and your family to the most amazing places!
Taking a walk, whether long or short, can be a great way to see an area at its best. Be sure to leave the RV behind for a while and head out to enjoy nature on your own two feet.
Whether you take bikes with you, or hire them once you get there, cycling can also be a wonderful way to get out there and enjoy the natural world.
Kayaking or Canoeing
You can head out to explore on water as well as on land. Again, whether you take them with you, or hire them, kayaks or canoes can also be fantastic for getting out there to enjoy the wonders of the natural world.
‘Guddling’ in Rock Pools
‘Guddling’ is a Scots word for playing rock pools, mucking around in the water and reaching for fish and other rock pool creatures. Take the time to help little children understand the creatures that they find and take the opportunity to teach them a little about the marine environment if staying near a coastline. Rivers, lakes and ponds can also all allow kids to learn about aquatic life.
Playing on a beach is lots of fun – rockpooling, sand castles and so much more! RVing can take you to some amazing beach locations.
Whether it is in the sea, a stream or a lake, a supervised summer paddle or swim can really inspire children to explore the natural world. Perhaps you could ford a stream to explore the other bank, or reach a small island just off-shore? Again, you can take the time to discuss any other creatures that you see.
Visiting a Bird Hide
A secret den in the woods or on the edge of an estuary, the chance to be an explorer discovering the secrets of the bird world: kids will love this adventure. Encourage kids to learn to recognise different bird species and make a note of which birds you see.
Kids will also love building their own dens using the natural materials around them and they will love it all the more if parents join in and help them build their forts, princess castles, wigwams or explorer’s hideaways.
Make (or Enjoy) a Rope Swing
Why not make (or find) a rope swing and enjoy swinging wildly from the trees and leaping off into muddy puddles? Yes, parents too! In for a penny, in for a pound! Embrace your inner child and join your kids in their outdoors play.
Climbing trees is an activity that we somehow usually grow out of as adults – why? Trees are the product of amazing evolutionary processes – the lungs of our planet, ancient, wise, and giving. Make some time to get to know trees better, and make some new arboreal friends.
Conducting a Bug Hunt
Kids love to discover the secrets of the insect world too. Take a magnifying glass and a container and head out on a bug hunt with little ones, helping them to identify the various creatures that they find and discussing their importance in the ecosystem.
You can also let kids go off and explore ‘on their own’ (nearby) to give them more of a sense of freedom. They will soon come running back to show you what they have found.
Wildflower Art Activities
Kids who enjoy art and craft activities can have a great time simply getting out there in the wild and finding some flowers to sketch. Perhaps you could get them to keep a notebook and fill it will pictures of wildflowers they find, along with their names. You never know, you could have a future botanist or nature artist on your hands.
Create Some Wild Art
You could make hand prints and draw in mud with a stick, or arrange natural items to form interesting pictures or sculptures. Bring out your creative side as you foster creative impulses in your kids.
If your kids do not fancy drawing wildflowers and other creatures that they come across, perhaps they will enjoy taking photographs instead? Why not set the kids the challenge of a photograph scavenger hunt. Give them a list of things to take pictures of and see how many of them you can find together.
Stargazing, whether through a telescope or binoculars, or just by looking up, can be one of the fun activities on an RV trip.
Looking at the moon through a telescope or even just through binoculars can help a child begin the appreciate the scale the majesty of the universe. Head to an observatory or use your own equipment to help explore the endless wonder of the stars.
These are just some of the nature appreciation activities that can turn your RV trips into the adventure of a lifetime.
Tips for Child Safety When on an RV Adventure
While part of the fun for kids of an RV adventure is that it can give them more freedom to run a little wild, you also need to make sure that your ‘free range kids’ are safe at all times as you go about your travels. Be sure to:
- Make sure they wear seatbelts/ have appropriate seats for travel on the road.
- Make sure everyone remains adequately hydrated at all times.
- Try to provide as healthy a diet as possible at all times, and make sure everyone gets enough to eat.
- Teach kids about road safety, and to watch for vehicles on a campground.
- Teach kids about ‘stranger danger’ and to be wary, while also encouraging them to be kind and friendly.
- Teach kids how to be safe around sharp knives, fire, and other campground dangers.
- Teach kids about dangers in the environment like rip tides, fast currents, cliffs, sink holes, poison plants etc…
- Teach kids about when it is safe to approach wildlife, and when it is not, and how to behave around different animals.
Teaching a child how to evaluate risk around them at all times is far more valuable than just keeping them close and saying ‘no’ all the time.
Tips for Saving Energy & Water in the RV When You Have Kids
Saving energy in your RV can be essential if you are going off-grid. But kids may not understand why you are always harping on at them about switching off lights or appliances. Educate kids about energy and the environment, rather than just laying down the law.
The same applies to saving water in your RV too. Kids may not be as careful as you when it comes to switching off taps and conserving water. But again, a little education can go a long way. If you get it right – they could soon be the ones ticking you off for wasting water!
Tips for Saving Money When Travelling With Kids
You can’t put a price on quality time spent with your kids – beautiful natural places are natural playgrounds where you won’t have to spend money to have fun.
Choosing to enjoy some of the fun, free activities in the natural world described above is one of the best ways to save money on entertainment while travelling with kids in an RV. Rather than spending money on attractions or excursions, you can find plenty of fun in the world around you that won’t cost a penny.
Some other ways to save money when travelling with kids include:
- Visiting free museums and attractions. (Natural attractions are often free!)
- Buying travel and discount cards to save money on entrance fees for National Parks, attractions and public transportation costs when taking excursions away from your RV.
- Bringing water (or other drinks) with you rather than buying them out and about.
- Bringing snacks and picnic meals rather than buying expensive food out and about.
Tips for Keeping an RV Tidy When Travelling With Kids
One of the major challenges of travelling with kids in an RV is keeping things tidy. While getting kids to clear up after themselves can be a challenge anywhere, the problem can be even more pressing in an RV, where space can be very limited. As with so much of parenting, the key lies in not getting stressed. Know when to let things go, and when you really have to lay down the law. Letting things slide every now and then will help them see that you are not nagging at them, and that when you do lay down the law it is for a good reason – and you mean business.
If the mess is getting to you, think carefully about why it is an issue. Sometimes, you might find that a bit of clutter does not really matter. However, sometimes, it really can impede the functionality of the space, and it is easy to understand why it is getting you down. Just sit kids down and make sure they understand not only that you want them to clear up – but why.
Good organisational skills, and good RV storage solutions, can make it a lot easier for you and your kids to keep things tidy. A bunk-side shelf can help kids to order their small belongings, and if they have cuddly toys, why not consider a hanging storage hammock or something similar, to make use of vertical space. A hammock-like storage area could be hung between bunks, or from the ceiling of the RV, for example. Making kids a ‘treasure box’ for all their nature finds and precious belongings can help encourage kids to keep things neatly hidden away. Keeping art supplies orderly in office binder boxes is another space-saving and mess-preventing idea. Recycled glass jars can also be handy for storing pens and pencils, nature collections, or other small items.
Tips for Kid’s Bunks or Sleeping Space in an RV
Kid’s bunks or other sleeping space in an RV are of course, first and foremost, a place for them to get a good night’s rest. No matter what the layout and configuration of your particular RV may be, there are a number of general tips to follow to help make sure kids get the sleep they need. For example:
- Make sure the mattresses are comfortable.
- Make sure bedding is comfortable, hypoallergenic and suitable for the conditions.
- Consider black-out blinds to help kids sleep when it is light outside.
- Consider curtains or other partitions if the space is not adequately separated and you want to use living space after they go to bed, or just want more privacy.
- Consider a night light if kids get scared after dark.
When kids get a good night’s sleep, they are far more likely to have a good time and their behaviour will likely be better than if they are tired and cranky.
Tips for Feeding Kids When Travelling in an RV
One final thing to consider when travelling in an RV with kids is what you will all eat while you are travelling. Kids will often really enjoy trying their hand at growing some of their own food in the RV, or in containers on site. Growing your own food in an RV is a good way to encourage healthy eating, and enthuse kids about fresh fruits and vegetables. Giving them their own little garden to tend and harvest can be fun and educational.
Healthy eating can be anything but boring – especially on an RV adventure! As well as considering growing your own, you should also think about:
- Taking kids on foraging expeditions to pick wild fruits and fresh wild greens. You can even teach kids about weeds that they can eat!
- Taking kids hunting or fishing, and teaching them more about the cycles of life.
- Heading for a farm for a ‘pick-your own’ adventure and learning about ‘farm to fork’ eating.
- Creating a solar food dehydrator and/or solar oven and teaching kids about using the power of the sun to preserve or cook food.
- Building a campfire and learning about campfire cooking.
Some of the very best times on a family RV holiday are spent around a campfire.
- Having a barbecue on your campground.
- Creating cool one-pot, family-friendly meals in your RV kitchen.
Family RV adventures can be a whole lot of fun. Follow the tips above and all your RV adventures with kids are sure to go well.
Elizabeth Waddington has an MA from St. Andrews University and a Permaculture Design Certificate. She is a green living consultant, with a passion for sustainable travel, permaculture and the natural world. She lives in rural Fife, just north of Edinburgh, close to the Firth of Forth on the east coast of Scotland.
No stranger to RV travel, Elizabeth has travelled all over Scotland, the UK and beyond in search of natural wonders in her RV. Her camping adventures have taken her to the Grand Canyon, up the Pacific Coast of the US, to Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons and to explore the wonders of Utah. She has travelled extensively in the Pacific Northwest, and around New England. In Europe, she has taken trips through much of the western part of the continent, travelled up to Norway, and down through Romania and Bulgaria to Istanbul. She looks forward to further eco-friendly adventures.