Before I launch into my travel tips, let’s quickly address why you’d want to put yourself through an RV roadtrip with kids!
We moved into an RV in 2014 when our children were 16, 14, 12, and 10 years old. The four of them have grown up spending Spring Break, summer, and winter holidays with us on the road. And in 2016, our son Caspian was born. Full-time RV life is all he knows.
It’s a jarring thought, but you only get 18 summers with each of your children. While close quarters can be challenging, they’re also a gift. Fewer doors to shut. Fewer video game consoles to distract. Tons of outdoor space to explore, and sunsets to catch together. Those moments when we’ve had all of our kids in our small RV living room, sharing life together, we’ve felt nothing but gratitude for this mode of travel.
Based on more than five years of experience living and traveling with our children of all ages, from newborn to high school, here are my tips for taking a successful RV roadtrip with kids.
1/ Involve the Whole Family in Trip-planning
What better way to get everyone excited about the upcoming trip than to get them invested in the journey? Sit down with the whole family–even your toddler is old enough to participate–and ask about the destinations and activities everyone would enjoy. Make it clear you won’t be able to do everything on this trip, but you want it to be fun for everyone.
Once you’ve agreed on a manageable itinerary, it’s time to turn your progeny into mini travel agents! This is a great opportunity to teach map reading skills, and practice math on the sly by calculating distances.
By keeping the planning age-appropriate, this stage can be an exciting time for your children, as the anticipation builds and they’re actively involved.
➡️ Keep reading: Become an Expert RV Trip Planner With These 9 Apps and Websites
2/ Hype Up Travel Day
You’ve done all your planning and your departure day is on the horizon. Spend the last couple of weeks hyping up the journey with your kids. Remind them where you’re going and what you’re going to see when you get there. You can even check out some books from the library or search for YouTube videos related to your destinations.
These conversations serve two purposes. First, they’re education in disguise, which is my modus operandi (#homeschoolmomlife). Second, you’re continuing to set yourself up for positive travel days, where your kids can keep the goal in mind rather than complaining about an aimlessly long drive. Put yourself in their shoes: if you had no idea where you were going or why, would you want to be strapped to a chair for 10 hours at a time?
3/ Don’t Try to Do Too Much
This is everything, possibly the most important tip of them all. We’ve all had those vacations when we return home even more exhausted than when we left. It makes sense: our vacation is so short and the world is so big. We end up biting off more than we can chew, and our entire trip ends up feeling like a whirlwind.
Do yourself a favor and slow down. Your entire family will be happier for it, and the experiences you select will be richer and more memorable.
4/ Plan Your Travel Day Strategically
Since Caspian was born, we’ve planned our travel days around his schedule. Whenever possible, we depart just before his regular nap time, so he spends a good chunk of the drive sleeping. In general, elementary-age children tend to be more alert in the morning, while your teen is more likely to sleep in the morning and be active in the afternoon.
As far as distance, our rule of thumb has always been to drive no more than 250 miles in a day. As Caspian’s become a more active toddler, we’ve started to aim for less than that when we can.
If your kids don’t nap anymore, you might want to take a page from my parents’ book. When we would drive from Texas to Canada to see family, they would load my brothers and me up just before bedtime, and take turns driving all night. Pretty genius, if you think about it: peace and quiet, and hardly any potty breaks.
5/ Take Scheduled, Kid-friendly Breaks
No matter what, it’ll eventually be time to take a break. If you’ve set a reasonable driving goal for the day, then taking 20 minutes at a rest stop won’t be a problem. Remember, the idea is to stop before everyone reaches their breaking point.
When you do get off the road, a restaurant and high chair don’t count. I’d encourage you to find a playground or open field where your kids can run around. Those endorphins will get flowing and they’ll run out some of their pent-up energy.
6/ Hunger Is One of Your Worst Enemies
Lately, I’ve noticed that almost every time Caspian is getting out of control, it’s because he’s hungry. Before you take off for the day, pack a snack stash of high-protein foods like mixed nuts, peanut butter celery sticks, and turkey and cheese rollups. By avoiding sugary foods, you’ll save yourself from the hyperactivity and mood plunge that inevitably comes afterwards.
When in doubt, reach for the snacks.
➡️ Keep reading: Traveling With Toddlers
7/ Don’t Underestimate the Power of Novelty
I don’t think it matters how old your kids are, new things are fun. A fresh toy, activity book, or CD doesn’t have to break the pocketbook, so present this novelty at the beginning of the travel day to make the drive go by that much quicker.
You also may want to invest in travel trays, which help kids corral coloring books, Legos, snacks, and even Matchbox cars. Depending on the age of your child, you can select a tray that straps in or just rests on the lap. Some trays even have walls on each side, especially convenient for toddlers who tend to drop everything.
Ready for Your Unforgettable Family Roadtrip Adventure?
If I’ve done my job right, then you now feel equipped to handle an RV roadtrip with kids! It won’t be without challenges. But I can confirm I would’ve given up a long time ago if I didn’t love the way the world looks through my childrens’ eyes. I really can’t get enough of it, and I hope you end up feeling the same way.