As a full-time RVing family, we often meet people on our travels who are a bit shocked, slightly envious, or even perplexed at how we travel as a family full-time and share 270 sq feet in our travel trailer between 5 of us. (I remember one woman listening to our story at a restaurant, and then replying “Wow. May the force be with you.”)
Two of the most frequent questions we get when someone finds out we RV full-time as a family:
- How do you not drive each other crazy living together in such a small space and RVing with kids?
- How much does traveling in an RV full-time cost compared to living in a house?
While these two questions seem unrelated, they have a pretty close connection, not just for our family, but for how other full-time RV families handle family time on the road and keep their kids busy and learning.
The first answer is that we don’t spend our life in 270 sq feet. Most days, we treat our travel trailer like you might treat the hotel room on vacation. Our goal isn’t to travel somewhere, and then spend all of our time in the trailer. We’re out exploring the place where we’re visiting, and that includes finding things for our kids to do.
Often one of us will take the kids out for the day, or the evening, while the other stays home to work. It’s also common that one of us is dropped off at a coffee shop to work while the other takes the kids to explore.
The answer to the second question is that we keep our costs relatively low. (Here’s an article we wrote about 9 ways we save money on campgrounds). One of the keys to keeping our costs low (and not driving each other crazy in a small space) is that we find ways to entertain our kids for free.
None of the 9 ideas below are probably groundbreaking ideas for you, and they’re not specific to being a full-time RV family, but they are things we make part of our routine and spend time together as a family without breaking the bank. While most of these may be happening out of habit for you, once you get on the road as a full-time RV family, you’ll want to make these a regular part of your routine.
The best part about using this same list over and over is that as you travel, the “new playground” will seem like a brand new idea for your kids. We know it’s a repeat of visiting a “new playground” in the last city, but we won’t tell your kids.
1. Playground or Skatepark Near You
A simple google search will pull up plenty of nearby areas to go to a playground or skatepark (and often both in the same area).
It’s amazing to me how excited our kids get about a new slide. “Daddy, this slide is blue!” To me, most playgrounds look pretty similar: a slide, monkey bars, and a rock-climbing wall or ladder to get up, but to my kids, they are happy to explore new territory.
Skateparks have become the recent rage for our boys. They’ll put on rollerblades or ride their scooter around for hours in just about any skatepark. It’s great that we’re not telling them to go out but watch for cars. It’s simply a place intended for them to skate around and enjoy.
Skate parks and playgrounds are also great stops in the middle of travel days. We search ahead of time, find a location, and then check the satellite view to see how easy it will be to pull our trailer in or out of the area. Often these parks have a large parking lot, are located next to a road with plenty of parking, or in a schoolyard where there is unused bus parking on the weekends or in the evenings.
It’s great to pull our travel trailer into a large parking lot, let the kids out to grab their scooters and helmets, take a break for a snack, and then continue our car ride to the next campground.
2. Enjoy a Local Library
I can’t promise that your kids will love your proposal to ‘hang out at a library’, but besides books (which our oldest can’t get enough of) our kids have found games on computers, comic books to read, magazines to check out, and frankly, sometimes just decent wifi for the iPad and a quiet place to unwind for a rainy afternoon (while I get some work done, or at least a few emails answered).
In our traveling as a family, we’ve found libraries that have evening storytime, afternoon concerts or sing-alongs, movie nights on the lawn, and costume parties at different times throughout the year. It’s not something we plan our schedule around, but it is a great way to get out with a purpose if we happen to be in the area when there is an event going on.
Most of the time, we aren’t able to take books or movies away from the library since we aren’t locals, but if you ask any of the librarians, “What things are there to do for kids near here?” they usually have at least 2 or 3 ideas of things you can do as a family in the nearby area.
3. Free Zoos, Museums & Factory Tours
This free activity for families comes as a surprise to many people, but there are quite a few large and reputable zoos, museums, and factory tours in major cities that are completely free.
Most traveling families recognize that in Washington, DC, many museums and art galleries are free to access, but we’ve found many small, local-run museums that are free to access (or by donation, which can fit any budget).
A quick google search about “Museums for kids or families near me” can lead you to plenty of museum options, and it takes a little digging to find free ones that may interest you.
Sure, museums, but zoos? Sure! The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and the St. Louis Zoo are two of the most awarded zoos in North America, and both are free admission. Don’t let the free ticket set a low expectation. They have lions, tigers, and bears – oh my – they are worth the trip.
Check ahead of time, since there is often a cost for parking, or you may save a few dollars by parking out of town and taking public transit.
Free Factory tours have become one of our favorite things to do as a family as we travel. Our kids are fascinated by the machines, watching the workers, the packaging, and seeing the process of how things are made.
Sometimes we plan for these tours, like The Kazoo Factory tour in Beaufort, South Carolina, and other times, we just happen to see a sign and drop-in, like the Jelly Belly Factory Tour in Fairfield, California.
The factories love to have you come through for free, because you’re almost certainly going to promote your visit on social media, and probably pick something up in the store on your way out.
For many factories, offering free tours for individuals or families is a promotional opportunity.
4. Local Live Music in your City
Finding live music could be as casual as buskers to listen to in Quebec City, or New Orleans, or it could be a summer festival with music in the park or a local festival. You might hear about a local school performing a Christmas concert, or someone playing at the amphitheater at a park nearby.
Something about hearing live music is exciting, and it doesn’t have to be a genre you already love – just being around people enjoying the music with you is enough to create a great experience.
RV living is about new experiences, not things. In our first month living in an RV, we sat and listened to buskers play in Quebec City. In our second month on the road, we were invited by other full-time RVers to a ceilidh (basically a fiddle dance in a barn in Eastern Canada), and shortly after that, we listened to a Beatles tribute band in Nashville at a library and danced to a DJ in Orlando in an outdoor mall.
My kids were surprised to learn that I didn’t like any of the music that the DJ was playing, but enjoyed spending time together as a family. Life on the road with kids is about appreciation, not preferences.
5. Browse Farmers Markets
Our youngest has a fascination with seeds, gardening, fruits, and vegetables.
While we’re not staying on-site at a farm, we like to find local markets to wander through – often not buying anything, or choosing to spend some of our grocery budget which we would have spent anyway.
We talk about the produce that grows locally in each area, check out new fruit or vegetables we’ve never seen before (did you know purple cauliflower is a real thing?)
Often markets have local crafters, samples that our children love to taste, and simply broadens our horizons in a different way than a family trip to a national park, for instance.
6. Visit Historical Sites and take a family photo
Historical sites not only give something to add to a “to-do” list but also offer an educational opportunity for our kids (and let’s face it, we usually learn something too as parents). While we’re full-time RVing, we homeschool, so visiting ‘whatever is near us’ gives us a way to talk about topics that may not have come up naturally during lessons.
A statue or monument gives us insight into a local historical figure, and often ties into another site we visited a few days ago, or a site we’ll visit a few days from now. A historical plaque will let us know why a city was established where it is, or what the purpose of its location originally was.
Since we travel full time, we have a map that we use to show our kids where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re heading to next. Often, the history of an area plays into their clarity about how certain regions are connected.
7. Have Your Kids Plan and Prepare a Family Picnic
Picnics are not just about eating at a park. An entire process can be built around preparing for a family picnic. You may imagine that when we live in an RV full-time that picnic is an exciting daily occurrence since we often have a picnic table at our campsite, but this often just becomes part of the routine of traveling full-time; eating at the picnic table outside our RV.
Planning a picnic includes deciding what to eat, making a grocery list, shopping for the groceries together as a family, preparing and packing your lunch, then the enjoyment of unpacking it at a park, or near a lake, or in the middle of a hike to sit together and enjoy a meal as a family in a newly-explored place.
You are going to eat anyway, so this is an opportunity for your kids to do some planning and see the whole process of how to make a well-rounded meal.
8. Walking, Hiking, and Biking
Whether you’ve parked your RV near a National Park, State Park, Provincial Park, Municipal Park, or none of the above, traveling as a family almost always puts you in or near somewhere that you can go for a hike.
You don’t always have to imagine a hike as tromping through a forest. Maybe for your family, a hike is wandering downtown in a city you’ve never explored before, or biking through a park and stopping for ice cream, or wandering around your campground and counting flags or taking pictures near flowers.
We usually go for a hike once a week – sometimes more – and the longer we travel full-time, the more frequently we seem to decide to get out and go for a hike.
While a google search can help you find hiking trails in the area, we’ve talked with other families about RVing with kids, and many of them also say that the best way to get a recommendation for a hiking trail to do with kids is to ask a local. Stop by the campground office and ask for an opinion on a great hike to do as a family, or while you’re in a toy store, or ask the librarian.
Most people whose profession includes working with kids will know exactly what there is to do in the area in a way that a google review may not help with.
9. Community Events & Festivals
Many community organizations have free events for kids, from Hallowe’en events to summer programs, to plays in the park, to endless possibilities.
We love going out to do an event, and not just be passive observers. While festivals often have a concert or presentation aspect, we also love to see vendors, exhibits, and craft tables while we’re there.
Search for a community event calendar in the area where you’re staying on Google, or check Facebook for “Events Near Me” to find out what’s coming up in your area while you’re traveling.
We’ve even changed our travel plans to be in a specific area at a specific time for an event we found out about. Usually, it’s because we were already in the area and decided to stay an extra day, or found out about an upcoming event in the next area where we’d be staying and decided to travel a day early.
A few times, we’ve pulled an all-nighter road trip to get somewhere for a specific event that we just found out about, and that freedom is one of the joys of the fulltime RV lifestyle.
Full-time RV living is about staying flexible and gathering memories and experiences, not things. As an RV family, we’re always focusing on what we can do to make those memories, without breaking the bank.
While we’re traveling, we do have times when we choose to treat ourselves and spend a portion of our budget on a unique experience, but it’s possible to both travel full-time and be aware of your budget and stay within it.