On the first night of driveway camping as a family in our brand-new RV, something strange happened when we gathered inside those fiberglass walls. We found ourselves immersed in an evening of playing cards, telling stories, and bellyaching laughter. Spontaneous, undistracted connection — which seemed so elusive in our daily lives — filled the air. I knew in those first few moments that RVing had something special to offer. Our tiny weekend-warrior-mobile soon turned into a home away from home for our whole family.
While RV travel certainly provides all the ingredients for enriched family life, you don’t just drive off into a made-for-YouTube sunset. Those moments of connection often have to be earned. With structure and intention, you can take your kids on the road and foster great memories, family bonds, life lessons, and unforgettable learning experiences. Here’s how.
Identify your family’s travel mission — and involve kids in the planning.
Every great adventure starts with a destination in mind — either a physical place or a feeling to achieve. Family trips are group experiences, yet parents often neglect to include their kids in the planning! Unite your family under a common travel goal, such as visiting ten national parks or checking off a must-do list. You’ll ensure your itinerary has experiences that appeal to each person, thereby increasing each member’s commitment and excitement.
Start with a family brainstorming session to develop a wish list of possible travel experiences — there are no wrong suggestions at this stage. Encourage ideas for simple moments, like watching a sunrise together or enjoying a campfire in each state. In addition, include activities to try, places to visit, and things to do, like snow sports, hiking, or attending a music festival.
Next, include school-age children in the process of researching destinations, travel routes, and even costs. These responsibilities prove to be educational and challenging while making kids even more involved in the trip-planning process. Create the shortlist of travel goals for your next trip or season and post them in a high-visibility spot the whole family will see. Keeping your family’s big-picture mission top of mind will help your group ride out the inevitable hiccups of an extended road trip.
Finally, celebrate the checking off of milestones as you achieve them! (And repeat often.) Add stickers to a state map, or mark the occasion with a special meal.
Find your unique travel rhythm
There is no one way to RV. Discover, don’t force, a travel pace that works best for your family, whether that’s moving frequently short distances or staying put for several days with a longer travel day in between.
When it comes to choosing a family RV, your children’s ages, your work schedule, and your pet situation are just some of the factors that will dictate what style of travel is smoothest for your family. All of these elements will contribute to maximizing the joy of your journey. When you’re in your natural rhythm, everything — and everyone — will be more comfortable.
Let each family member have space to be their best self.
It’s just a fact that everyone needs a regular dose of alone time and space. With children, this might not become apparent until a meltdown erupts “out of nowhere.” And while every RV has space constraints, you can foster a healthy diet of alone time by creating small nooks where family members can recharge. Incorporate headphones, space-dividing curtains, fluffy pillows, and cozy blankets to provide comfort and separation. Nooks can even be created outside with a rug or popup play tent.
Scheduling quiet time in the RV is another way to recharge when physical spacing isn’t possible. This can be especially helpful on — or before — a long travel day when everyone will be confined to smaller quarters.
“Home” changes out the window frequently, so create a home inside your RV.
Living in an RV forces a minimalist lifestyle, but don’t go too far when downsizing your whole life into a tiny space. When “home” changes daily, a few comforts like framed photos and sentimental items can help your child — and you! — feel grounded. Older kids may enjoy making their sleeping area their own retreat space, too, when you let them choose decorative touches.
And don’t forget to foster connections with friends and family from afar. Technology tools like shared online photo galleries, a family blog, and video calls help you stay in step with and feel close to loved ones when apart. Incorporate these connections as part of your daily life — in fact, make it a point to schedule them in — not just when a case of homesickness wells up.
Assign responsibilities to create structure and stability.
As much as kids need space, they also need structure, though your children will never tell you that! Establishing daily routines and assigning chores can provide a framework within an otherwise flowy, flexible lifestyle and continue instilling core values like responsibility and teamwork while on the road.
As kids get older, teach them the critical tasks required to set up and pack up camp to ready them for travel adventures in their adult life. They’ll be RVing on their own before you know it, and you get to offer them years of invaluable experience — before they need it.
Take advantage of the best classroom opportunity ever.
Educational experiences enrich trips of any length and offer a nice balance between mellow downtime at camp and the intense physical activities common on family vacations. Historical destinations and educational tie-ins make RVing the optimal real-world classroom and can easily be incorporated into your road-schooling curriculum. And, really, any destination can be an educational one.
The even better news is that you don’t have to spend a bunch of money on museums to infuse educational experiences into RVing. Websites and apps — like Autio — can help you find free or low-cost historical, educational, and “off-the-beaten-path” sites. Many of these online tools enhance visits with photos, tips, and background information. Travel days can become less routine and more educational with voice-guided road trip apps. It’s kind of like installing a museum in your RV.
Start with these practices and go from there, learning what works best for you and your family. Remember, RV travel is meant to maximize the joy-filled memories and keep you wanting to adventure together. It’s a way for you and the kids to truly travel different.