Tips and tricks for new RVers managing family life in a small space.
By Jennifer Raschig
Now more than ever, families with young children are opting for RV vacations. However, when first setting out, they may not know how to adapt to the smaller footprint in an RV. Unless you’re used to living in close quarters, taking an RV trip can be stressful. Having the essentials at your fingertips can make the difference. The challenge can be figuring out what those essentials are.
Following are some simple suggestions to help you make your RV space work with young passengers. Actually, whether children travel with you or not, these tips gleaned from RVing families can help.
What to take?
When prioritizing what to pack in the RV, consider which items may be hard to find or replace if you don’t bring them, versus what can be bought along the way. One RV couple told me that knowing what to pack and where to put it were the biggest parts of the learning curve when they started RVing with their two young girls. They found it helpful to create a detailed list of what they intended to bring along.
Before you start packing the RV, write down everything you want to take. Categorize the list based on the items or the areas where they’d be used. For instance, have a “kitchen” category in which you catalog the cooking utensils, dishware, and food you plan to pack. When creating the kitchen list, give thought to the kinds of meals you like to prepare when traveling so you can be sure to bring the necessary cookware, utensils, spices, etc.
Other list categories include clothing (broken down by each family member), toiletries, entertainment, and toys. You’ll likely think of others once you get going.
After you have your list created and categorized, go through it again. Did you include duplicate items? Maybe you thought you would bring along two skillets. Perhaps cut it down to one for a shorter trip. More than one pack of diapers? Eliminate the extra. If you run out, and you don’t plan to stay in a remote location, you can almost always find a store to purchase more. It may cost a few dollars extra, but the space you’ll save will be worth it.
Where to put it?
Now that you know what’s going with you, you need to find a place for it. The galley is one of the more difficult spots to organize in an RV. Cabinet space may be limited or shaped in a way that isn’t conducive to stowing all items. You likely have limited counter space also. While you may plan on dining out or cooking outside over an open flame most of the time, you’ll still need some items for use in the microwave-convection oven or on the cooktop.
Consider storing cookware outside of a cabinet. Fasten a pegboard to the wall and insert hooks on which to hang kitchen tools or other items. If you use screws, make sure you check first to see where it’s safest to attach them for securing heavier items. (Make sure to avoid dangling, swinging items that can pose a hazard when the RV is under way.) Magnetic strips on walls or under upper cabinets can work well to organize metal kitchen items.
Attach plastic magazine holders to the inside of cabinet doors. Use them to store plastic wrap, sandwich bags, and aluminum foil. You also may have space to put an over-the-door garbage bin on a lower cabinet door.
Another smart purchase is an expandable cabinet or counter shelf. Expandable shelves can more than double your space, especially if you have a tall cabinet with few built-in shelves. They also can be placed on the counter to increase your storage space there.
If you have a closet with no shelves, a collapsible hanging shelf can
immediately maximize your storage.
Look for kitchenware that stores flat, such as collapsible bowls and colanders. Beyond the normal plates and cups, bottles and sippy cups for babies and toddlers can be challenging to store. Limit the number of bottles or cups you bring along. Disposable sippy cups are a good idea, because both the cups and lids are stackable. Plus, if one gets left behind, it’s no big deal. Bottles can be stored with all their parts in a small, lidded container.
Another trick is to store foods such as crackers, cereal, and snacks in labeled, stackable, airtight containers. Keep them in the same area to make them easy to find.
Shoe and clothing organization may not be quite as challenging but still can pose some issues. Generally, you’ll need to pack more clothes for children than for adults. Accidents happen, and you may not always have laundry facilities nearby, or be able to use your onboard washer if your RV is so equipped. Square storage containers made out of fabric, turned on their side, work well for clothing and fit great in storage areas above beds in most RVs. If you have a closet with no shelves, a collapsible hanging shelf can immediately maximize your storage.
If you’re going on an extended trip, you might think about putting extra clothing in a heavy-duty, watertight container and storing it in one of the RV’s outside bins.
Usually, each family member has several pairs of shoes. You can use an over-the-door shoe pocket and hang it on the outside of a closet or bathroom door. Or, cut it up and attach the pieces around the base of the bed to keep them out of the way. To reduce tracked-in dirt, place a small, waterproof container close to the door and have everyone deposit their shoes in there as they enter.
When traveling with children, you also need to think about packing entertainment in the form of books, toys, and games. One way to organize these items is to designate separate stackable containers — one for books, one for games, others for toys and crafts, and so on. Another option is to give each child his or her own empty “fun box.” You choose the size, of course, and thus limit them to whatever they can fit inside it.
If they’re old enough, youngsters can be responsible for packing up their own boxes at the beginning and end of the trip. Use a storage space that is easily accessible to the kids for their fun boxes.
Think outside the RV
Toys and sports equipment that only are used outdoors can be stored in a mesh bag or a clear plastic tote and housed in an exterior compartment. Once you’ve set up camp, move them near the door of the storage bay so the children can reach them easily. Consider keeping the container or bag out-side while you are camped so they can put away the items when they’re finished.
Other items you use in the great outdoors should be organized, too, of course. Most of the time, anything that is used exclusively outside should be kept in an exterior bay. Folding chairs, an extra table, a portable grill, a tablecloth, and charcoal are among the contenders.
Once everything has a home, label the inside door of compartments, cabinets, or closets with their contents. That way, every member of the family (those old enough to read, at least) knows where things belong and can help tidy up.
When it is time to pack and move out from the campground, the list you created before you started your trip comes in handy again. Use it as a checklist to make sure you have everything back in its place.
With a little planning, a few lists, and several containers, RVing with family members of all ages can be a fun, rewarding, and organized experience.
Room for improvement
Look to online sources for inspiration on specific organizing ideas. One is an FMCA Pinterest page devoted to RV organizing tips, tricks, and hacks: www.pinterest.com/fmcarvclub/organize-your-rv/.