Commonsense suggestions for keeping the fun in the travel experience.
By Miri Rossitto, F434901
It was January 2011 and my husband, Ryan, and I had just bought our first travel trailer. Our daughters were 2 and 5. Our raspy-voiced salesman offered to snap a picture of us proudly standing next to our huge, new purchase. When he finished, he handed me the camera and said, “Good luck to you, ma’am! ‘Cause you are definitely gonna need all the luck you can get, along with a whole lotta patience, with them babies on the road.”
I am fairly sure that I heard him snickering as he sauntered away. I stood there for a moment, stunned, and then I smugly shrugged him off. I mean, come on, how hard could traveling with kids be?
Well, as it turns out, traveling with kids can be really, really hard. Now, I absolutely love to go on the road with my two girls. These days we camp in a Type A Forest River Georgetown 351DS motorhome. However, traveling with small children does require a specialized kind of patience that can be gained only through experience.
In theory, RVing with kids should be as easy as setting up camp, roasting marshmallows over a crackling campfire, and, at the end of the night, the whole family falling into a peaceful and cozy slumber. The reality is that you will hear “I’m hungry” more than 4,000 times. The campfire will be too smoky, too hot, or too boring. And the lack of bedtime Wi-Fi inevitably will bring someone to tears.
The fantastic news, though, is that with a little planning, you can create camping memories that will last a lifetime for you and your children. These are 10 of my favorite must-haves for RVing with kids.
10. Baby Monitor
Some people might say that the real fun of RV camping happens after the sun goes down. This can be true for adults and kids alike. At some point, though, the youngsters need to go to bed. Bedtime depends on how little they are.
I love sitting outside by the fire at night, looking at the stars, but you just can’t do that when your little ones go to bed at 7:00 p.m. So, Ryan and I brought a baby monitor to use on our trip, and everyone was a winner. The kids slept soundly, we got to stay out by the fire, and I wasn’t running into the RV every four seconds to make sure that the girls were okay. Now that they are older, I don’t use the monitor as much, but it still comes in handy.
9. Board Games
I actually refer to these as “bored” games. Now, our family really loves to use our electronic devices. Sometimes we sound like a bustling casino with all of the bells, buzzes, and bleeps. But when we are camping, I prefer not to be surrounded by noise pollution. Instead we bring along some good old-fashioned board games. At first, the girls viewed this as a punishment of sorts, but then they really began to enjoy it. There is definitely a reason these games have been made and remade a million times over. They are really fun! The interaction, learning, and laughter make for a truly wonderful time with family and friends. We highly recommend The Game of Life, Hedbanz, and Monopoly Junior.
8. Outdoor Play Equipment
Bicycles, scooters, tossing games, horseshoes, bocce, croquet, etc. … The list is large, but you really need to bring only a few with you on a trip. Similar to board games, these aren’t activities that kids regularly participate in at home anymore. I would love for my girls to ride their bikes more, but they just don’t have the time when we are at home. Camping removes those usual distractions, and we find that we actually like to be outside together. Just playing catch with kids spurs benefits such as hand-eye coordination and balance. Get outside!
7. Medical Kit
Inevitably, someone is going to get hurt. Turns out that I am that mom on the playground who high-fives my kids at the sight of scraped and bloodied knees — my way to downplay the injury and encourage them to pick themselves up and start all over again (small injuries, of course). It also turns out that I weaken at the sight of my girls in pain. So ours isn’t your normal, everyday medical kit. Yes, it has ointments, bandages, tweezers, and tape. But it also has stickers, jelly beans, glitter wands, and a kazoo. I once had to pluck a deep splinter from my 5-year-old’s foot in the middle of the woods; thanks to the kazoo, all I heard was a buzzing, quacking sound accompanied by roaring laughter. I highly recommend this method.
6. Headlamps And Flashlights
Nighttime brings campfires, s’mores, and stars. Nighttime also brings “I lost my shoes!” and “Have you seen my favorite blankie?” More often than not, these things are outside the RV, instead of inside, and now you get to go hunting for things in the dark. Flashlights help to make this possible, and headlamps keep your hands free for sifting through bushes. Which reminds me: Pack gloves, because one never knows what’s in those bushes.
5. Blackout Curtains
A mathematical equation in camping states that the amount of sleep you get is inversely proportional to the amount of sun that is shining in your RV. Your kids don’t care if it’s 5:00 a.m. or 9:00 p.m., because if the sun is up, their eyes are open. The dark side is better in this instance.
I know that most of you have a GPS, and for some, a paper map seems antiquated and tedious. I also know that teaching kids map skills gives them an essential ability that will help them to view their world through educated eyes later in life. To modify an old adage, give a kid a map and you will be lost for one day. Teach a kid to read a map and you officially have a navigator to direct you on countless road trips.
I can hear you now: “But Miri, you said that camping is a device-free adventure that is meant to bring the whole family together. Why would we bring DVDs?” The answer: peace. At some point on a trip, everyone will hit a wall. Maybe it will start to rain and all of you need to be inside. Maybe someone will get sick. Maybe you just need a moment to yourself and a “Top Chef” marathon is the perfect antidote. DVDs come in handy, and you can make movie-viewing a family affair. We just watched Ghostbusters for the first time with our girls on a rainy trip to Big Bear Lake, California, and they haven’t stopped talking about how much they loved that movie. Grab some popcorn, some candy, and a big blanket. The kids will remember it forever.
2. Extra Clothes
For every outfit I pack for myself, I pack three for each of my daughters. RVing is a magical vortex where anything the kids wear becomes disgusting in minutes. If I were rich, I would buy separate kids’ wardrobes just for camping. On every trip, we have a constant rotation of tiny shoes that are either too wet, too muddy, too small, or too ugly. I believe that kids are supposed to get dirty on camping trips, and we somewhat encourage the mess. I always have a few extra trash bags on hand for the excessively dirty clothes. Thank goodness for the heavy-duty cycle on my home washing machine.
I can’t say it enough. The number-one must-have item to bring when RVing with kids is patience. How we handle ourselves through the knowns and unknowns of traveling is what our children will remember. Once, on a camping trip to Las Vegas, Ryan scraped the entire side of our RV along a thorny bush. I recall biting my lip anxiously, wondering just how angry he was going to be. He took a deep breath, managed a weak smile, and said, “Well, it’s a good thing I brought some spray paint.” The kids thought that was hilarious. Later, when I asked him how he stayed so calm, he said, “I saw four scared little eyes looking up at me and I just couldn’t make it any worse.” Parenting at its finest.
RVing with kids is some of the most fun you will ever have. Like an earthquake, if you are prepared, there isn’t much that can go too wrong. “Family time” isn’t happening enough these days, and RV camping is simply the best way to make everyone happy. Adults and kids alike enjoy great food, great company, and great memories. As I see it, those are the key ingredients for a very happy life.
See you on the road!
You can follow the adventures of Ryan and Miri Rossitto and their children — collectively known as the Roadzies — at www.roadzies.com.