Children love to travel, but they’re also notoriously troublesome when actually on the road. They get fussy, hungry, throw tantrums, or want to play at really inconvenient moments. But that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying an amazing family vacation or even an early childhood lifestyle in your favorite RV. While older kids are well-known for their cool adoption of RV life, it’s also possible to take your toddlers and even infants along for the ride as long as you are prepared to be expert travel-parents. For those just getting started or looking for a few tricks to perfect your techniques, these ten tips for camping with your kids should help you pack, plan, and enjoy a great family vacation.
1) Watch Out for Kid Tax Campgrounds
Many parents don’t discover this until they pull into a planned campground destination, but some RV hotspots don’t like kids. Crazy, right? RV people love dogs, camping, and outdoor activities so you would think that kids would be a normal and acceptable part of life. While you may not be surprised or bothered by another camper’s children, some people go RVing to get away from what they consider the hassles of suburban life, including other people’s children.
How do you know which camps are or are not kid-friendly? Watch out for a little something we like to call the ‘Kid Tax‘. This is an additional fee per-child that campers are required to pay on top of the cost of your spot and hookups. Some campsites want a fee per passenger and some specifically tax children. If your children must be paid for individually, chances are the park is trying to discourage their presence. Don’t go where your little ones aren’t wanted, find stops with parks and playgrounds instead.
2) Don’t Forget to Baby-Proof
It may seem like an RV is small enough that it’s safe to treat as a nursery and for older children, this is true enough. However, if you have crawling infants or curious toddlers, it’s vital that you take the same child-proofing precautions as you would in a stationary home. Always start by locking cabinets with chemicals inside, then start thinking about sharp corners and dangerous places to climb. You want to make sure your toddler does not manage to pull anything loose, suck on anything dangerous or bump their head on anything too terribly hard or sharp.
Your best friend here will likely be baby-safe foam strips that come in rolls a lot like weather stripping. These stick with adhesive onto table corners, cabinet edges, and the built-in furniture so your little one can’t accidentally hurt themselves while exploring. You may also want to build a safe play area in the bedroom with a baby gate in case containment is necessary.
3) Pack Extra Supplies in the Basement
Infants and small children need more supplies than kids who are old enough to handle the bathroom and cleanliness needs by themselves. If you still need diapers, pull-ups, wet wipes, formula, or any of the usual infant and toddler supplies, make sure to pack a lot of them. If you run into a health disaster or the RV breaks down for a few days, you may well need more supplies than your day-to-day planning would suggest.
That said, you only need a few days worth inside the cabin itself. Pack your emergency bulk baby supplies in the basement of the RV where you can retrieve it in small sets. Not only is this useful for emergencies, but it can also save you from having to stop at grocery stores along the way and allergic reactions to unfamiliar brands.
4) Plan for More and Longer Stops
If you’re used to RVing alone or with only other adults before your baby, prepare to stop a lot more. Ten-hour driving stretches may be reasonable for grown-ups and older kids who can entertain and take care of themselves, but little ones are going to need a lot more time and attention. The most likely scenario is that parenting will override your ability to focus on driving even if there are two adults and only one small child.
Tantrums will happen and you can count on at least one or two happenings while you are trying to drive. It’s important to show your kids that they matter more than the steering wheel so plan ahead and expect to stop a lot more often. When hugs and snacks have been distributed and smiles are back, only then is it safe to get back on the highway.
5) Build an Arts & Crafts Cabinet
Kids of all ages need to be occupied and handheld devices aren’t as universally fascinating as we’ve been led to believe. Especially for smaller children who are still in early mental and social development. Toddlers need a lot of stimulation and their development relies on doing things like science experiments or arts & crafts. The best way to deal with this is to dedicate or build a cabinet in your RV to toys, crafts, and play kits that can be deployed strategically.
You will need some things that can be played with while the RV is in motion and a lot of things to do when you are parked and camping. Board games are great for stationary time while a coloring book or a pack of pipe cleaners to make sculptures with are better for in-motion time. Pipe-cleaners are a traveling parent’s secret weapon because they don’t make a mess, can be twist-attached to furniture, and are infinitely reusable.
6) Bed Rails for Beds at Any Height
Many family-style RVs come with at least two bunk beds and possibly an additional loft above the driver for kids and guests as well as the master bedroom in the back. If your toddler has graduated from the travel crib, this doesn’t mean that they don’t still need to be secured in bed, especially if you plan to drive while they sleep. Arrange for padded railings on any bed your child sleeps in whether it’s the bottom bunk or the loft above the front seats. This can keep them safe while you’re in motion and prevent them from falling out of bed during particularly active dreams. It will also slow them down if they decide to go for an adventurous toddle while the parents sleep.
7) Wash Up at the Door
Teaching your child to love the great outdoors will stick with them for the rest of their life. And the dirt they pick up will stick to them well after they climb into your nice clean RV. Toddlers especially love to play with sticks, mud, wildflowers, river stones, and anything else they can wrap their little hands around. Needless to say, a really good adventure or play session outdoors is going to come back a little messy. Prepare a wash-up space outside your front door and a place to leave damp muddy shoes. This is almost as useful for the adults as it is for your little ones in keeping the RV clean after fun outside time.
8) ‘In Motion’ House Rules
There should always be very different rules between when the RV is in motion and when it is stationary. Especially for smaller children who haven’t yet developed the ability to balance when a moving vehicle changes velocity. You will need to come up with several solutions to keep your child in place and safe during travel whether they are energetic, fussy, or sleepy. A suspended bounce-chair might be just the ticket for very small children as it keeps completely off the floor and safe from tumbling. A booster seat on the kitchen bench can also work and older toddlers approaching five may be fine in their beds or a play-pen as long as the borders are padded in case of a tumble.
Make sure your children understand the very important difference between the inside rules when the RV is stopped and when it is in motion. You might want to set up a colored light to let them know what ‘mode’ you’re in or go through a routine to change modes so your child knows how to behave and what to expect.
9) A Complete First Aid Kit
Never underestimate a child’s ability to get sick or injured on a camping trip. Often, they aren’t even that upset by their change in health, but you as the parent should be constantly vigilant and prepared. While you might have a minimal first-aid kit for the adults with a few bandages, ointment, and Tylenol, make sure to fully stock up your first aid capabilities when bringing a child along.
You will want band-aids and ace bandages, gauze squares, paper tape, a child-sized sling, inflatable splint, child-strength painkillers, antihistamines, rubbing alcohol, ipecac, and antacids just to get started. Don’t be shy about clearing out your local pharmacy aisles and creating a mega-pack for the basement as well as a quick-kit for the cabin.
10) Take Pictures of Everything
Finally, don’t forget that while your children will be permanently influenced by these memories, their little brains will reorganize and the details will slip away. Take pictures of everything that happens and create an album to help your child relive and remember all these wonderful adventures you had together during their tiniest years. Snap a picture of them in their DIY playpen, doing arts & crafts, playing in a mountain stream, meeting their first deer, and anything else you can quietly point your phone camera at. And don’t trust the phone to keep these memories safe. Download them onto several storage locations and consider getting prints to make sure these memories last forever.
For more tips for camping with your kids, RV camping tips, tricks, and useful suggestions check out our blog and contact us today!