Top 10 survival tips for taking an RV trip with kids
Summer vacation is just around the corner, which for many means getting out on the open road in an RV. If you’re thinking of booking a RV trip, you’re smart because studies show it’s a lot cheaper than other forms of family travel. And you only have to unpack once!
If you’ve been afraid to try it because of cautionary tales (and scenes from the movie RV), don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. Here are my top 10 tips for not only surviving a family RV road trip but thriving!
Photo courtesy: Mighway.com
1/Get the right RV for your family
If you don’t own an RV, be sure to rent one that is the right size and has the necessary amenities for your crew. You may want to consider a peer-to-peer website like Mighway or Outdoorsy. These sites operate like the Airbnbs of the RV rental world. You can see pictures of exactly what you’re getting and ask questions. Some owners will even allow Fido to come along.
An RV that sleeps eight generally means four adults and four kids, or six adults. The dinette and sofa turn into beds, but those are usually too short or narrow to sleep two adults. And make sure to pick an RV size that is not too long for the roads that you want to drive. Some national parks, like Glacier, have length restrictions.
KidTripster Tip: Slides - walls that pop out to create more space when parked - can be invaluable. Ideally, look for an RV that has at least two slideouts.
KidTripster Tip: RVing is not only popular in the USA. Mighway offers rentals in New Zealand, too. Read why campervaning in New Zealand makes a lot of sense for a family.
Photo courtesy: Mighway.com
2/Plan your trip in advance
Although a lot can be said for spontaneity, you don’t want to be completely spontaneous on an RV trip. Make sure the roads that you are traveling are safe for your RV size, and reserve spaces at RV resorts and campgrounds in advance, especially during high season.
Need suggestions for RV trips itineraries? Check out our Outdoors section, where we’ve kid-tested the best road trips across the country, including dozens of national parks.
KidTripster Tip: Consider downloading a mapping app that’s specific to RV driving.
3/Pack lightly & use soft-sided luggage
One big rookie mistake is packing too much. Pack lightly and use soft-sided carry bags, which are easier to store. And be sure to secure them so they don’t become a safety hazard. Don’t forget your comfy pillow and bedding with enough blankets for those cooler nights when you don’t want to run the furnace.
KidTripster Tip: Limit each family member to four or five changes of clothes, even for a 2-week-long trip. Nearly every commercial campground will have a laundromat.
4/Ban the electronics
Sure, the kids will want to stage a coup at first but bring board games, books, and audiobooks. The best part of the RV lifestyle is reconnecting with each other. Don’t worry, kids quickly get over the withdrawal symptoms.
For safety reasons, it’s best to pack some portable snacks that kids can keep with them between stops; that way, they don’t need to get up for food while the RV is moving down the road. Getting up can be risky if the RV has to make a sudden stop.
KidTripster Tip: Speaking of food, you don’t want to spend your whole vacation cooking in a kitchen with limited space. Make meals in advance that just need to be popped in the microwave to be heated.
6/Don’t drive every day & make frequent stops
One of the biggest mistakes that newbies make is planning an overly-ambitious itinerary. Shorter stretches with regular stops for bathroom breaks and food make everyone happier and more relaxed. Break up the drive with surprise stops at offbeat or unique attractions to engage the kids in the local culture and inspire a sense of adventure.
Avoid driving and booking a different campground every day. Take a couple of days to unwind in each destination and do off-the-grid activities like hiking or biking. These in-the-moment adventures together will mean more to your kids than you can imagine. And it’s easier on the parents doing the driving and trip coordination.
7/Stay some nights in a full-service RV park
RVs can go for a few days without recharging, and that’s good because most national and state park campgrounds don’t have hookups (water/electricity/cable). Make sure the RV’s house batteries are fully charged at non-hookup campgrounds where generator usage is not allowed during “quiet hours.”
KidTripster Tip: Monitor your battery usage in cold weather. Running the furnace uses a lot of power which can drain your batteries overnight.
But roughing it can get old quickly. Build your itinerary so that you’re stopping at an RV park with full hookups at less every few days. You can recharge batteries and use amenities like a pool.
8/Think barbecue & s’mores
Many campgrounds offer grills (or you can rent your own) which can be a fun way to make an easy meal that requires less cleanup. Bring heavy duty aluminum foil as campground grills can be greasy or rusty. Take advantage of picnic tables to spread out; bring an outdoor tablecloth, in case the table is dirty. Also make sure to spend time after dinner around the fire making s’mores, which taste best when paired with good stories. And when the kids go to sleep, mom and dad can break out the wine and snuggle by the fire.
9/Avoid extreme temperatures
Camping in the desert during the summer is not the best choice for RVs, most of which are not built for extreme temperatures. An RV’s air conditioner can only bring down the temperature so much. Also, avoid locations where you may encounter snow or ice. If the RV’s water system freezes, you may end up with busted pipes and no water.
Still want to head to the desert? Read why national parks like Joshua Tree and Death Valley are great choices in the spring.
10/Check with your insurance company
Even with the best planning and top-of-the-line RVs, things can go wrong. Give yourself the peace of mind of having protection, especially if you’re going to be in the wilderness. Check with your auto insurance provider to see what coverage you may have on a rented RV. You also may want to consider purchasing additional insurance through the website where you’re renting to cover road service, repairs or possible replacements. No matter what company you use, better safe than sorry!
Based in Auckland, Dave Simmons enjoys RVing all over New Zealand with his wife and three children.
Also contributing to this article, Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah travels to national parks with her husband and two sons. She’s logged thousands of miles behind the wheel of the family’s RV.