RVing With KidsNovember 26, 2010 3 Comments
RVing is, in many ways, the perfect method of travel, particularly for those who want to visit multiple destinations. Instead of trying to get kids to sleep in unfamiliar, potentially noisy, hotel rooms, you can put them to bed in the same place each night. Rather than trying to pack everything into carryon bags to avoid checked baggage fees, you can take advantage of the RV’s storage space to carry favorite toys, sports equipment and treasured personal items. You can sightsee all day, and then relax by a campfire at night. You can save money by cooking some of your meals in your own kitchen, or get a recommendation at the campground for a local diner with cheap home-cooked food.
Yet RV travel has its own potential pitfalls and disasters. RVs are relatively complicated pieces of equipment, and must be properly set up and packed away each time. Campgrounds are often located well off the beaten path, and may not be well-lit at night, making it a challenge to find your site and set up the RV after dark.
Choosing an RV
If you do not own an RV, rental units are easy to find. Just run a quick internet search for “RV rental (city name).” What is more challenging is choosing the RV that is best for your family. RVs fall into several basic categories: pop-ups, travel trailers, fifth wheels and motorhomes. Pop-ups can be towed by virtually any vehicle, while travel trailers and fifth wheels require a heavy-duty truck, SUV or van. Motorhomes are self contained, and you can tow the family car behind the motorhome.
Beyond towing capacity, your biggest concern should be sleeping arrangements. Some units offer a big second bedroom with bunk beds, while others use convertible couches or even a dinette set that converts to a bed. Making up a bed each night and taking it apart in the morning is manageable for a short weekend trip, but can feel like a great deal of effort over a two-week vacation.
Planning a Route
RVing is a great way to see the country, but it is imperative that you do not plan for too many miles of driving per day. Some full-time RVers will not drive more than 200 miles per day. Dad and I have been full-timing for nearly six years, and we are comfortable driving up to 350 miles in a day, but not every day. We’ll make a longer trip now and again, punctuated by shorter excursions.
On a short-term vacation, you may be able to push it to 400 or even 500 miles in a day, but again, do not plan to drive every day. Seeing the country through the windows of your RV is not nearly as much fun as actually getting out and touring the area. Plan two or three drives in a two-week vacation, and spend several days in each location.
Dad and I like to use the concept of “base camping.” Consider that everything within a one or two-hour drive from your campsite is within sightseeing range. For example, Dad and I enjoy staying at a membership park in Yemassee, South Carolina. It’s a little over an hour from Charleston and under an hour from Savannah. We get to take advantage of our campground membership and tour two major tourist destinations without moving the RV.
Although RVs are filled with storage compartments, weight distribution is extremely important. Check the weight capacity of all axles on both your tow vehicle and RV, and load items in such a way that you avoid overloading any axle. In general, the heaviest items should be placed directly over the RV axles and balanced from side to side. Take the fully loaded RV (and tow vehicle if applicable) to a nearby truck scale for weighing before heading out on your trip.
Packing Items for Safe Traveling
Driving down a highway at 65 miles per hour is roughly equivalent to putting your RV through a small earthquake. Pack breakable items in cushioned containers, and place things that might fall over on beds or on the floor. RV cabinets are designed to resist flying open, but things inside the cabinets could shift around. Always be very careful when opening any cabinet after traveling down the road.
RV refrigerators are designed to operate on either propane or electricity. Many RVers choose to leave the gas on while they travel in order to keep food cold. Be aware that many tunnel authorities require you to turn off the gas before going through the tunnel.
Most of us rely on GPS systems when traveling through unfamiliar areas. Keep in mind that the GPS does not know you are driving an oversized vehicle, which could lead to challenges ranging from low overpasses to weight limits on bridges. Consider buying a trucker’s atlas (sold at any truck stop) to cross-reference your GPS directions. Trucker’s atlases highlight potential trouble spots, although they do not replace common sense. Always keep an eye out on the road ahead, allowing yourself time to make adjustments for upcoming challenges. Also remember that most RV tires are rated for driving at a maximum of 65 miles per hour. Try to maintain a steady speed and avoid last-minute maneuvers whenever possible.
Setting up the RV
Plan your schedule to arrive at the RV park well before sunset. One person should physically exit the RV, standing well back on the site to provide guidance. Use cell phones or walkie-talkies, rather than trying to shout directions back and forth.
Assign set-up tasks to each member of the family based on age and physical ability. Jobs include plugging in the electric cord, hooking up the water and sewer hoses, and unpacking stored items. If you arrive tired and hungry, consider plugging in just the electric cord and then going out to lunch before finishing your set up procedures.
Keeping Kids Entertained
RV parks and campgrounds are filled with opportunities for kids to stretch their legs, run and play. Hiking trails, boat rentals, campfire programs and activity schedules are common at most parks. Attending the available activities can help kids make new friends, as well as burning off extra energy.