It happens every summer. The family RV road trip. It’s either your favorite trip of the year or the most dreaded event of the summer. Want to make this year’s family RV road trip the best ever? You can! It just takes a little planning.
Route planning the family RV road trip
Hopefully by now you’ve reserved your RV campgrounds along your travel route. If not, you still may be able to secure a spot. You might have to stay further off your planned travel route, but that’s generally proven to be a bonus for us. The smaller, privately owned campgrounds offer their own local “flavor.” You just might discover hiking trails, local attractions, and other gems that others miss.
Planning each day
Once you have your campsites secured, you can plan individual travel days. Do you want to get to your campground as fast as possible each day? Or do you prefer a slower pace? Remember that traveling in an RV may take longer than in the family car. Truck stops may be busier than at other times of the year. The same goes for rest area restrooms and roadside attractions. Even small delays will add up to longer stints behind the wheel and a later check-in time at the campground. Keep this in mind as you plan.
We like to break up the actual travel time by stopping at roadside attractions. Whether it’s a historical marker or an eclectic museum, we stop. Our mindset is “once we jump in the truck, our vacation begins.” This is different from folks who consider the vacation to begin once they reach their destination. You can teach youngsters the value of “enjoying the journey” by making frequent stops along your route.
How do you find out about roadside stops? I like to Google “things to see and do near (name of town).” You can also research parks and playgrounds the same way. By allowing kids a chance to get out and burn off energy, our trip goes much smoother.
Skin in the game
Involve every traveler as you plan your stops. If kids participate in planning your family RV road trip, it’s likely they’ll be more cooperative and have more fun. Our grandchildren help us plan our travel stops along the way. (We give them a list of pre-approved sights and activities available for them to choose from.) When all decisions are made, we use a highlighter to mark the route and stops on a paper map. That way, even younger kids can follow along as we travel.
If weather permits, we plan to have outdoor picnic meals. I keep it simple with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit, raw veggies with dip, and yogurt for dessert. Sometimes we’ll grab something to eat at a fast-food place. But, honestly, it’s really hard to find healthy choices there. Besides, we seem to interact more with one another when sharing a picnic table together.
Individual backpacks are key
We begin the “packing ritual” weeks before the actual trip begins. This helps generate excitement and enthusiasm for our trip. Generally, the older grandkids use their school backpack to hold personally chosen travel items. Kids fill their backpacks with things to do as we travel. We provide smaller backpacks for the little ones. Everyone understands that all of their travel things must fit inside the backpack and zip completely closed. Older “grands” are responsible for their own stuff while we’re on the road. Little ones learn as we go. Note: No food or snacks go into the backpacks. Clothing is already packed inside the RV.
Dollar store run
Often we’ll go to the local dollar store right before the trip. Kids will use their own money to purchase a new toy, word search book, or coloring book for the trip. (Note: No crayons are allowed onboard. They will melt in the summer heat. Ask me how I know. Sigh. Use colored pencils or washable markers instead.)
My husband and I usually shop at Aldi’s for “trip food.” After shopping, I make individual portions of crackers, raw veggies/fruit, and trail mix. Then I put the portions inside individual, lidded, plastic containers. (I used to use small zip lock bags. Now I prefer the lidded, plastic containers. Food doesn’t get smashed, containers easily stack inside the cooler, and I can reuse the containers, time after time.) Hint: Use clear containers so that you can easily see what’s inside.
Share the drive
I like to take a turn at driving during our summer RV road trips. It gives my husband a break from driving, and he’s in charge of the grandchildren while I’m behind the wheel. It’s important that all adult passengers know how to drive the RV. Here’s why.
- Audiobooks. We borrow family friendly books on CD from the local library. The grandkids love listening to Magic Tree House mysteries and, honestly, I get drawn into the stories, too!
- Music. While the older “grands” will use headphones to listen to their music, the little ones like hearing nursery rhyme songs. I also play some CDs from my time as a kindergarten teacher. (My husband can tolerate this for about thirty miles. Then he suddenly discovers that we need to stop and get fuel. As if.)
- Routine. It’s been best for us to try and keep the littlest travelers on their daily schedule. This helps determine our stops, as well. We all sleep better on the road if we have individual neck pillows. They’ve been a worthwhile purchase, for sure!
- Satellite radio. One year we splurged for a subscription to satellite radio. No more losing radio stations as we drive out of range. We discovered everything from news stations to kid-friendly programs. You might want to check it out.
- Change up seating. This can be a hassle for kids still in car seats, but I’ve found it to be well worth the effort.
- Emergencies. At least one “grand” fights car sickness, especially on windy roads. I’ve learned to keep a zip lock bag handy—just in case. I put a paper towel inside the bag. That way, the car sick person can wipe their face afterwards. Everything goes inside the bag. It gets zipped up and disposed of at the very next stop.
- Keep it clean. I keep a plastic grocery bag handy for snack scraps, torn paper, etc. I empty it at every stop, too. That way, the inside of the truck stays relatively clean, and we have a “fresh start” after every stop.
- Surprises. I like to buy or borrow magnetic games/activities for the grandchildren. Before boredom sets in I’ll bring out a surprise and it’s a whole new atmosphere inside the truck. I also wrap up little gifts for each “grand.” It might be money for a souvenir, a new book, a special candy treat, or (my favorite) a trip journal.
- Trip journals. The older kids can record their own memories inside their journals. I encourage them to write at least once a day. I let the little ones scribble in their journals and then I add comments about our trip. After our trip, I give each grandchild photos of our trip together. They put the pictures into their journals.
- Shoes. It must be in our family genetics. None of us (except the driver) keeps footwear on our feet as we travel. As a result, we used to have a mad scramble at every stop while all of us searched for shoes. Not anymore. Now each person puts their shoes inside the back pocket of the seat in front of them. For the seats without pockets, I hang a plastic grocery bag from the headrest. The front seat rider scoots shoes under the seat for safe keeping. When we’re about to stop, everyone can easily locate their shoes. When the truck stops, we all unbuckle and are ready!
Do you have a secret tip or two that makes your summer family RV trip better? Please share them with us in the comments below. Don’t travel with young kids? Send this to someone who does!