Many families who never thought they would consider long-term travel or homeschooling are suddenly pricing RVs and mapping out cross-country routes.
My guest blogger set out for a year-long RV trip with her family. They called it quits after six weeks.
Here’s her list of 20 dos and don’ts for planning and successfully completing the road trip she didn’t. We hope it will help you decide if long-term RV travel is the right move for your family. —Eileen
20 Dos and Don’ts For Long-Term RV Travel With Kids
Table of contents
Our 31-Foot, 6-Week Learning Experience
Our plan was to sell our enormous dream home in Southern California. We’d go to San Francisco in our RV and work in the city at high-paying jobs while living like paupers and stashing away all our extra earnings.
When we hit or saving target, we could become nomads, traveling to 48 states within a year on a giant RV adventure, working sporadically as digital nomads along the way.
It turns out living in 31-foot RV was not a good fit for my two English Bulldogs, moody tween, 3-month-old baby and claustrophobic husband.
We lasted six weeks. And the best thing I can say is that in that time we learned a lot about ourselves and our travel style.
Should you ever consider this crazy idea for yourself, here are 20 Dos and Don’ts we wish someone had told us.
Tips For Planning Your Trip
1. Don’t empty your emergency savings account to buy an RV and a giant diesel truck. Wait until you have a emergency fund that is bigger than you need for, you know, emergencies. Then save for these big purchases.
2. Do practice living in an RV for a few one or two-week stints to see if your family can handle such tight quarters and pared-down living.
RV owners use sites like RVshare to rent their vehicles out when they aren’t using them. It’s an easy and inexpensive way to try out RVing close to home.
3. Don’t buy an RV that is more than ten years old; some RV parks won’t let you in.
4. Do set a budget before you head out on your adventures and stick to it. Plan for unexpected expenses because they always happen.
More Budget Tips:
• If you sell or rent your home while you’re on the road you’ll probably have to pay to put your stuff in storage.
• Reserve a financial cushion to cover your expenses while you transition back to your old life when your trip is over.
5. Don’t try full-time nomadic living if you are a packrat. You will not have the space for all your treasures. And your spouse and tween will roll their eyes at you when you try nevertheless.
6. Don’t go on the road too soon after a major life event (like, ahem, birthing a baby). Make your life is on an even keel, because nothing in RV life is!
7. Have a backup plan.
There might come a point where your family just wants to go home. If that happens you’ll want to have a home (or at least an understanding relative’s home) to go back to.
Even if you like the nomadic life, you might want to take breaks now and then, so the kids can catch up with friends and cousins. And to keep a foot in the life you plan to return to.
Tips For Living in RV Parks
8. Don’t gossip about your neighbors in your RV. They can hear every word you say.
9. Do be prepared for unexpected creepy crawlies. Our RV was infested by field roaches at one RV park, one of the worst experiences we’ve ever had.
10. Don’t expect to grocery shop like you did while living in a regular house.
Plan to go to the store or farmer’s market every two or three days. This can make it harder to keep track of your food budget.
It also makes it harder than you would imagine to put a realistic limit on non-essentials. Kids won’t willing accept that you can’t buy cookies as soon as you run out of them just because you’re going to the supermarket.
11. Do cancel your Netflix subscription. Redbox will be your best friend when you don’t have enough bandwidth to stream movies, which will be most of the time.
• Give RVing a tryout with one of these 4 Alaska Road Trips.
• Consider these 5 Reasons To Try an RV Vacation
• Check out Dotting the Map: This family of six has been happily living as RV nomads for a several years now.
Tips for Being a Digital Nomad
12. Don’t expect a fast internet connection. They are hard to come by, even at the campgrounds and resorts where we stayed.
If you have an online business, you might have to gear up quite a bit—and spend several hundred dollars—to have enough bandwidth for the road.
• Check out our list of essential travel tech items for parents.
13. Do look for places with free WiFi for those days when you need to do heavy online work.
Libraries are very handy resources. They don’t require you to fork over for a latté. And your kids can read or do their own online stuff while you work.
Remote School Tip:
If you’re remote schooling rather than homeschooling, make sure your kids’ teachers know what you’re doing.
Explain that you might be offline for a few days at a time and discuss how that will work for both teacher and student.
Be prepared for your kids to have to a few days worth of school work whenever you’re near wi-fi.
Make sure your kids are comfortable with that. For some students routinely playing catch up and turning things in late would create a lot of stress.
14. Don’t forget your noise-canceling headphones for those days/nights when you cannot handle another raucous neighbor (or your family) and you need to get some work done.
Don’t be surprised if you teen wants a set, of noise-cancelling headphones, too.
15. Do get creative with your schedule. If you’re not flexible, you won’t survive working on the road for long.
Remote Work Tip
Keeping your full-time job makes the financial part of this much easier.
But you’ll need to figure out how and when you’ll fit work around driving, family demands and seeing all the sights you want to.
You’ll probably want choose RV parks near sizeable towns so you can be sure of finding a nearby place with good wi-fi on workdays.
If you plan to consult or freelance, get that going before you start your trip so you have a sense of what your workload and cash flow will be.
Tips For Actually Completing Your Trip
16. Do plan to get out of your RV several times daily or you will go crazy.
Take a walk around the park, go to the grocery store– anything to get out of that tiny space.
17. Do make friends while you’re traveling, as you never know what incredible people you might meet.
Travel with Teens Tip:
• Young children will find playmates wherever they go and are the family members most likely to like cozy RV living.
• Tweens and teens are more likely to be homesick, crave privacy and miss their friends.
Expect them to spend a chunk of time texting, checking Instagram and doing other online teen stuff when you have good wi-fi.
Expect them to be a little moody when you don’t.
18. Don’t splurge. It takes time to figure out how much things really cost on the road.
Live as frugally as possible until you discover where you have wiggle room and where you don’t.
19. Do try to get some time away from the kids. Realize that with your children sleeping a few feet away from you it will be difficult to have necessary adult conversations, not to mention some occasional “romance.”
20. Do remember that no matter what happens on the road, you will eventually be thankful for the experiences and the memories you shared.
I don’t regret giving RVing a try, and I don’t regret giving up and coming home after only six weeks.
I do wish I had been better prepared, done more planning and research and tried some practice runs, Had we known what it would really like for our family to live in an RV we might have prepared better—or not gone at all.
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Mindi Rosser is the Chief Marketing Strategist and Founder of Mindi Zone Marketing, where she is all about doing marketing that matters for online entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses.
If you’d like to see more of what it was really like for her family in the RV, check out her video diary here.
Photos by Mindi Rosser©