Taking an RV vacation sounds fun, but is it? What are the pros and cons? Does it make field trips better or worse? Is it camping or not?
Our family recently tried our first RV vacation this summer. I’m going to share what I learned, so you can all learn from my mistakes. Here goes!
First, before you choose an RV trip, you need to take a short quiz.
- Are you on the verge of a divorce?
- Are you constantly angry your spouse doesn’t help with chores?
- Do you fight over chores?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, don’t take an RV trip together. Taking care of the RV, the water, your own sewage issues, setting up your RV inside and out, making tables into bed… there are a TON of chores on this trip and a million reasons you could have a marital fight on an RV trip.
Thankful for my marriage, my husband volunteered to do all the work for this trip. This means he did all the RV set up and take down and even grilled dinner a few nights. Which left me with a perfectly reasonable number of things to do to help our trip go smoothly. We also chose to reduce our work by bringing paper plates so there would be fewer dishes to do. And we dropped off a bag of trash every day on our way out of the campsite. So there were fewer chores to worry about in total.
Before You Start
We rented our RV from a local family through Outdoorsy.com, which is kind of like Air B&B for RV’s. We found a great deal and were super happy with our choice. However, whatever kind of RV you are going to use, take some time to watch some YouTube videos to learn how to use it. Things like how to hook up the water and drain lines, how to work the kitchen, etc. There are all kinds of things to learn to make the most of your trip, so do a little prep.
Also, be sure to allow extra time to load your RV before you start off on your adventure. You basically need to move into this tiny house for the extent of your trip.
One mistake we made was having a schedule that was very tight, so we didn’t have time to put everything away before we pulled out of the driveway. We had a reservation for our first activity and needed to get on the road. We packed the fridge and put food into the cabinets. But our clothes were tossed in backpacks on the bed to be unpacked later. The downside was that, for the rest of the trip, there were backpacks to figure out storing or using. One of my kids did a great job organizing their stuff. One of them seemed to perpetually have things from one end of the RV to the other. All week long we were finding their things strewn about. I don’t know if assigning them drawers before we left would have helped or not. But if we do this again, I’ll be trying that.
One other aspect of spending some time packing is that you can check to see what your RV includes that you won’t need to bring. Ours came complete with some games, soaps, and other odds and ends. I packed several of those things, thinking I would need them. But had I had the time to check what was in the RV when we moved in, I wouldn’t have needed to bring those extra things. And space is at a premium.
Is this Camping?
I’ve talked before about my family participating in a scout group. My husband takes the scout group, along with other leaders, camping at least twice a year. My family and I love being out in nature. My husband really truly enjoys camping. We hike, kayak, and bike as a family all the time. But, the truth is, I hate camping. Hate it! I am allergic to woodsmoke and can’t stand feeling dirty all the time. I am never sure what to do. I just really don’t think camping is a fun activity. So, I was worried I had been tricked into camping for my vacation when my husband presented this idea. I wasn’t sure how this was going to go at all.
We parked our RV at both state park campsites and at national parks. I guess that means it is camping. However, the RV fixed all the things I hate about camping. Having both a toilet and a shower made me a lot happier. My teenage son was a lot happier because he had a whole kitchen full of food with us at all times. And honestly, we all liked having real beds to crash into at night. I enjoyed the quiet of having my coffee outside in the woods when I woke up. And having an actual coffee maker instead of having to boil water on a camp stove first thing in the morning. That said, different campgrounds offered different amenities and some felt more like camping than others.
Speaking of beds, we did technically have enough beds. But not all the beds were quite as long as a regular bed and were clearly designed with kids in mind. My tallest teen fit in some beds but not all. You may want to double-check who fits where before making any official sleeping assignments.
How does it Drive?
My husband did all the driving but he said it drove a lot like a U-Haul once he was used to it. He did say he needed to drive it a few hours to really reach a level of comfort with it. You will need to be comfortable using side mirrors and remember that your RV is a lot longer than your normal car, so you don’t hit things with the back tires. Ours was about 30 feet long, which made it about two parking spaces long. This means the size we rented could be parked at the grocery store, for example. Much bigger would have been more challenging to park anywhere that didn’t have bus parking. We did find that several of our field trip locations had parking for buses and RVs. But if those aren’t available, you may have to be creative.
The state park we stayed at came with a campsite and a pull-through parking spot. It was the biggest campsite and had the most space for our family to use in our camp area outside the RV. The national park we chose has smaller campsites that had to be backed into. The RVs and campers there were much closer together. Every park is different. So you have to read carefully if your site will be pull-through or require you to back in.
Do you have a child who doesn’t want to go on field trips? Well, now they live on a bus and it stops wherever you want! Our choice of field trips also involved some national and state parks and we kept things moving. The fact that we were on an RV trip, somehow seemed to help everyone’s attitude. We did make a big deal that everyone had gotten to pick some things to do on our trip, so maybe that helped with the part where some of us chose more educational activities than others. We planned our route and trip in advance to include days of high adventure things the kids wanted and some educational stops. Mixing them together worked well for us.
We planned our trip to go to several locations that were within a 4-hour drive of our house. Some of them could have been a day trip, but driving there and then camping turned it into an adventure. The fact that we didn’t actually go super far meant the driving was easier and left more time for activities. There were many things we could try that were within a reasonable drive with good campsites nearby. I’m actually really glad we didn’t make our first trip a 3-week road trip across country, like we had discussed early in our planning. One week of “forced family fun”, as the kids called it, was enough.
Would I do it again?
Yes, without a question!
We planned this vacation more aggressively than usual. We knew where we’d spend each night and what we wanted to do each day. We had to make a few rain plans. But overall, we did most of what we had planned. We also meal planned and packed food to take with us. While we did eat out a few times, the stress of not worrying about what we would all eat was helpful. Since my family has several food allergies, meal planning can take all the fun out of a vacation for me. My husband brought a tiny grill and charcoal and grilled for us a few nights. The tiny RV stove didn’t cook great, but it was up for reheating the frozen gluten-free pizzas my kids brought.
Next time, I’ll try to plan to use the microwave more instead for their lunches.
A few last thoughts and ideas to keep in mind if you are thinking of an RV vacation.
- Give yourself time to pack and unpack the RV after picking it up and before dropping it off. Loading and unloading a tiny house may take more than a few minutes.
- Plan your food and take advantage of the tiny kitchen.
- Lock everything down before you pull out! Cabinet doors can pop open if they aren’t latched. Things on the countertop won’t stay there when you go around a corner!
- Make a list of your campsite rentals and information. Knowing what time you check in and out is very helpful!
- Be flexible! Some things are going to go wrong. Don’t freak out.
- Bring a cooler for drinks, you can add ice as needed, and then the drinks don’t take up room in the tiny fridge. We were able to wedge one between the front seats so it didn’t slide around.
- This is a great time to try board games, card games, or other family fun. You’re all there with nothing else to do! My family learned several new games on our trip! This is a nice way to wind down from your day or as a backup plan for bad weather.
Does your family like to RV vacation? Tell me about it! I’d love to know where you go and your best tips for RV camping!
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.